About a year earlier, I was juggling my portrait photography business. I thought I was doing a pretty darn good job. I had a full client load, I was booked up with family sessions and newborns consistently. I was making a decent profit, too. But something was wrong, and I knew it needed to be fixed.
The problem? I wasn’t operating my business like a business. I was delivering galleries to clients, and they were happy with the images. That’s all it takes to be a photographer right? Take the photos, deliver them to your clients, make them happy – then move onto the next client. Except that’s not even close to how to run a successful photography business – in fact, it’s probably the worst way to run a photography business. After I dropped the ball with a client, I knew I needed to implement some structure and consistency to my operations. Long story short – what I needed didn’t exist. What was a budding business owner to do? Apparently, launch a tech startup to solve my own problem.
The first iterations of the Iris Works logo. I partnered with The Foundry at Purdue University to not only come up with these designs, but also the name of the company.
I created my initial business plan with my young sister as we sat drinking wine! I met with as many entrepreneurs and business minded people I could pull from my contacts. I can’t help but to remember the feeling of being told by so many that I didn’t have a good idea. Or instead of my idea, I should take a completely different route. When I showed my first pitch deck to some of those contacts, I could hear chuckling. I remember sharing my plans with one person in particular, who completely tore it apart – pointing out all of the gaps and issues with it. To say it was discouraging would be an understatement.
But I also remember fondly the first conversation when someone encouraged me, “This is a great start.” From that point on, I had some confidence that my idea to have a super simple management system for photographers wasn’t all that bad.
Flash forward a year to March 30, 2015. I had a two-year old daughter and one-year old son running around the house the morning Iris officially launched – plus a brand new puppy (what in the world was I thinking). I can so clearly remember seeing the first photographers sign up! So many of whom are still using Iris today! From that moment on, everything changed.
The beginning was tough. I struggled in nearly every area of my life – professionally, mentally, and personally. Starting a technology company with no experience (aside from some pretty sweet Excel skills), is a pretty risky move. I had so much to learn – how to talk to developers, how code is built, how long it takes, how one little change can break an entirely different part of the application, how expensive development can be, how nothing is ever simple, easy or quick when it comes to development. The list goes on.
Despite the bumps in the road I loved what I was doing. I pulled in as many resources as I could to keep growing Iris, further developing the product and making it better and better for those we serve.
We’ve come a long way from my dining room table in the last seven years. Iris looks entirely different today than it did launch day. We have added countless features and enhancements to Iris, we’ve changed our look (a few times), we’ve added employees and brought all departments in house, we’ve moved out of my dining room and into a real office, and then out of the office during COVID, we’ve now become a fully remote company.
The one constant is my passion for this business and the people we serve. I have always loved this industry – being around such creative individuals who are pursuing what they love to do. I always said I wasn’t a great photographer (trust me, it’s true) – I’ve always been more analytical than creative. So I really believe that this ‘job’ I now have is exactly where I’m meant to be – still working in the creative industry, but applying my skills in a different way.
I’m truly grateful for what this experience has taught me, the people it has brought into my life, and the people who have supported me in one way or another. And I am truly proud of the company we have built – it was most definitely not done alone. To everyone who has had even the smallest part in helping Iris become what we are today – thank you. And to the photographers, and the like, who have used or currently use Iris – I’m most grateful for you. Thank you for your continued support, grace, feedback, input, and patience with myself and the Iris team. You are the reason we continue to work hard and keep pushing forward.
This year marks seven years in business – and I’m thinking this will be our best year yet! Here’s to many more years helping you thrive in business!
One of many WPPI trade shows, where we had some Iris Ambassadors speaking at our booth. Pictured: Sarah Hill and Emily Lucarz
In 2019, I was selected as a Tory Burch Fellow; and it remains one of the best experiences of the past seven years.