The rise of smartphone cameras and social media in recent years has fuelled a new level of marking and sharing memories using photos, but one startup is betting that people are prepared to go the next level and spend money to hire professional photographers to make their photos even better.
Focused on travel, Sweet Escape is an Indonesia-based startup that to work with over 2,000 photographers across over 400 cities in some 100 countries. The idea is simple. If you’re traveling — overseas or locally — and want high quality photos of your trip, or just part of it, you can use Sweet Escape to find and book out a local snapper for you and your group.
Photo shoots last for two hours and are charged at $300, Sweet Escape founder David Soong told TechCrunch in an interview, while activities vary from regular holiday snaps, to weddings and honeymoons, proposals, anniversaries, family get-togethers, graduations and more. While he didn’t disclose revenue, Soong said the three-year-old business has seen its revenue grow by 8X over the last year.
Sweet Escape has raised $1 million to date, including a recent seed round in August. Now it is aiming to raise its Series A to broaden its global focus, starting with more offices in Southeast Asia, and go beyond travel customers.
Though the thought of forking out $500 for photos doesn’t immediately appeal to me — the ultimate social media humbug — it isn’t hard to imagine a large demographic of travelers are open to it. Particularly when that cost is shared across a group and the photos are far higher quality than your average camera or selfie stick-mounted phone.
Already, Sweet Escape claims to have served 10,000 customers. It encourages users to book in advance but it also offers last-minute matching to photographers, all of whom are tightly vetted, with the photos themselves returned within three days. That’s a figure that Soong said will drop to 24 hours next year thanks to Sweet Escape’s in-house team, which handles all editing for the photographers.
But travel is just the starting point for Sweet Escape.
“Behavior has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” Soong said. “We were more private but social media has changed the way people share — now, if you don’t have a picture of the trip then it isn’t real. But photos are an investment”
“More and more people are booking us for occasions like birthdays, holidays, graduations and others events, and we increasingly see more use cases than we originally envisaged. The travel angle allows us to scale much faster — if you look at Airbnb, you have to go global right away — but once we have a good amount of usage in a city, we can go deeper,” added COO and co-founder Emile Etienne.
Soong and his team of 70 are primarily in Jakarta with some staff located in the Philippines, but he is aiming to expand the on-the-ground presence in travel spots in Southeast Asia. That’s likely to include Singapore, Thailand and beyond, although the business isn’t just present in Asia — Sweet Escape already has a network of photographers covering 40 cities in the U.S. The idea is to help raise awareness of the service among consumers and photographers and explore more local services that the platform could host.
For photographers, Sweet Escape seems appealing because it can help remove the toil of having to bring clients in. Those for whom photography is a part-time hobby, in particular, can build it in and around their working and daily lives, Soong argued. Beyond taking quality photos — all photographers provide samples for assessment to join the platform — Soong said that would-be Sweet Escape snappers need to know their city, be proud of it and able to host guests who visit.