Even as a child, I remember looking through my parents’ photo albums regularly to get a glimpse into what their lives were like before I was born. There were photos of my parents as children, photos of when they were still dating, their wedding, and their first apartment together. Even then, the images as objects struck me as a powerful language printed on small pieces of paper.
Those photographs as well as countless VHS tapes my father recorded of family gatherings are still in my parents’ house still in the analogue format. However, what would be more convenient is those images and videos converted digitally so that they could be easily viewed on our family’s laptops and devices This way the content would be digitally archived and we would no longer put wear and tear on the analogue format which has a finite lifespan.
Luckily, there’s a Los Angeles based startup, ScanDigital, which specializes in preserving and converting prints, negatives, and videos from analogue to digital. It’s as simple as sending them your prints, negatives, and videos so that they can take care of the rest. It’s an excellent solution for archiving and especially for allowing you to take a second look at those memories without having to drag out old boxes, albums, or having to break out and plug in a VCR.
We had a chance to talk to ScanDigital founder Anderson Schoenrock about what it was like launching ScanDigital as well as how his startup has rapidly grown. He’s had to make various adjustments but he’s proven quite a capable entrepreneur who’s been able to learn from experience and his mistakes. Here’s what he shared with us:
Can you tell me about your background in entrepreneurship and how it led to launching ScanDigital?
I have been an entrepreneur most of my life and was raised in a family of entrepreneurs. My introduction to entrepreneurship came by watching my parents build their real estate business in Kansas where I was born and raised. My own adventures started with a lawn mowing business when I was 12 years old. After college, I decided to take a bit of a “safer” route and landed a job as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers.
That was a tremendous learning experience and helped me to understand the amazing things that can be accomplished quickly when you have a team of highly intelligent, hard working people on your team. I was with Lehman for three years, but it seemed that every time I was in a client meeting I felt like I was on the wrong side of the table. I had a strong urge to be the one running the business and making decisions. We were helping facilitate that process, but I always felt like the clients were the ones with the better gig.
In 2004, I was approached by a managing director who was branching off and starting his own boutique firm. Despite being told by numerous colleagues that I was crazy to leave and making a really bad decision, I jumped at the opportunity to start something from scratch. As it turned out, market timing played in our favor and we successfully grew and ran that firm for almost 3 years before selling it to Jones Lang LaSalle.
For most people, that would have been a moment for celebration; however, I found myself with a serious decision to make – I would either walk away from the upside in the deal and be free to start something new or I could go work for a 20,000+ person company as a mid-level manager. I obviously decided to leave the upside on the table in exchange for the freedom to start something new. Looking back, it seems like the obvious choice, but at the time it was one of the most difficult decisions of my career.
Serendipitously, Mike Mothner, a close friend from college, approached me at the same time with an idea for a company that would help people preserve and share their favorite memories captured on photographs. The idea was born out of an experience he had with his family. We brainstormed, discussed, debated and researched the space. It became clear very quickly that there was a tremendous need for an incredibly user friendly, direct-to-consumer online service. We settled on the name ScanDigital, secured the domain and began quickly working towards launching the business.
What challenge did you find the most difficult to tackle when you launched ScanDigital?
Overall, the process of building the service and getting it to launch was fairly smooth. We were about 3 weeks behind schedule with the programming (which we actually thought was pretty good given the number of features we added along the way). Once we launched, though, we realized we’d be facing a couple of uphill battles. First, was consumer awareness. Everyone we spoke with had old photographic materials and saw the need for our service, but we needed to tap into the thousands of people who had never thought about what to do with all those old photos.
Second, once they heard about us and saw the value they lacked urgency. These materials have been sitting in boxes for years – why send them in today versus next week or next year? Finally, once we had overcome hurdles 1 and 2, we had to convince them that the process was safe and secure – we’re entrusted with our customers’ one-of-a-kind materials. This is an amazing privilege, but it also comes with some very stringent operational requirements.
How did you secure the funding needed to launch ScanDigital?
Mike and I were fortunate that we had prior business successes that provided the ability to self-fund ScanDigital. This gave us a huge advantage when we launched the business in that we were able to move quickly without the burden of a fund-raising process or the obligations that come with having investors (board meetings.. etc.)
Do you think launching in Los Angeles has been a particular advantage?
Our process is labor intensive and we need a ton of people. Los Angeles has provided a significant labor pool for us to tap into and, more importantly, one that has a diverse range of skills. I’m not sure that there is a better metropolitan area that could provide a great pool of hourly employees as well as key marketing, financial and technology gurus simultaneously.
As the founder, how has your role and how have your duties evolved since launch?
It has changed tremendously. We recently made the Inc. 500 with a growth rate of nearly 1,100% over three years. Early on, I was very hands on in the business. Myself and Matthew Stone (our first employee and now COO) handled 100% of the process. With our growth, we’ve moved three times and added employees in a wide variety of roles. Fast forward to today and my role primarily is leading our strategic direction, focusing on our marketing efforts and ensuring that our operational processes are able to scale with the business. I can tell you that there is not a single thing here that Matt and I ask our employees to do that we have not done ourselves.
How do you keep up with the latest scanning and archiving technology?
We keep in touch with people in the industry and trade organizations. Additionally, we build and own some of our own technology, so our engineers are on the forefront of these technologies.
What’s the demographic of a typical ScanDigital customer?
Our customers span a very wide-spectrum; however, 60% of our customers are female and most are between the age of 40 and 55 with at least one child.
As far as the content of the images people ask you to archive, can you tell us any funny stories about what you’ve been sent?
Some of the most interesting stuff we’ve seen has come from bands or others in the entertainment industry, but we typically sign confidentiality agreements for those projects. There are some funny images, but none that I can tell you about!
One funny thing that happened to me personally was that a scanner came up to me one day and said “You have to come check out this guy in some photos I’m scanning. He is your long lost twin!” So I went to his workstation and took a look at the photos. The guy looked exactly like me…upon further inspection, though, I realized it actually was me! Turns out, unbeknownst to me, a college friend of mine sent in a bunch of photos to be scanned and I happened to be in a bunch of them (a head’s up from my buddy would have been nice before images of my college days hit the scanning floor!). Luckily, it was nothing too incriminating!
What do you think is common but bad advice typically given to startups?
I think there is a lot of focus on having fun or making it fun. Don’t take that the wrong way; being an entrepreneur is an exhilarating experience. There are amazing days where you’ll feel on top of the world. There is nothing that can match taking something that was an idea and turning it into a business that is growing, thriving, employing people and providing an awesome service or product. That said, it is not all puppies and rainbows.
There are really tough days, there are long hours and sleepless nights. If things start to go really well and grow quickly, there will be days you feel like you cannot keep up. That’s a great problem, but it is still a challenge and it will come with days where you feel like you’re beating your head against a wall. I believe, the more of those days that you can still come back the next morning with a level of focus to keep pushing is what creates many successful entrepreneurs.
I think entrepreneurship is easy to glamorize, but there is a lot about what entrepreneurs do that is not glamorous at all. That rule, I believe, extends from Steve Jobs to the guy that runs a lemonade stand on the corner. Building a successful enterprise is hard work. I would not trade my experience for anything. Building ScanDigital has been the most rewarding and challenging thing I’ve done.
It has been and continues to be a very enjoyable experience, but I think it is terrible advice to tell someone to go into business and make sure they’re having fun. You should make sure you have a good idea and the stamina to pursue it. You should make sure you generate enough revenue to cover payroll. If you put in the effort it will end up being really enjoyable because you’ll be doing the right things and moving in a positive direction.
If I only had 48 hours in Los Angeles, what should I do and where should I go?
If it is during the NBA season and you like sports, go to a Lakers game, that’s one of my favorite things. I’d say go to the beach as well; southern California is fortunate to have some of the best beaches in the world. I’d also recommend going to the Getty museum or Griffith Observatory. Really interesting places with a view to really get a feel for the size and scope of L.A. And then, of course, there is always Hollywood. I’m not a big Hollywood guy myself, but there are tons of great nightlife spots there.
Are there any new developments you could share with our readers?
We have some big things happening in the next couple of months that should kick of 2013 with a bang, but nothing I can discuss publicly yet.
How can our readers get in touch with you?