TapSnap founder is smiling over reinvented photo booth
Anyone can take a selfie, but who will take your photo when you find yourself ‘in a zombie situation’? TapSnap handled that one for a client. Founder Scott McInnes tells how he’s re-imagining an old business.
FT: You call TapSnap a photo entertainment franchise. Aren’t photo booths obsolete?
Scott McInnes: What we’ve done is sort of a reinvention of the traditional photo booth. Our company has done a lot of technology-based business opportunities over the years, and most recently we had a DVD kiosk rental company called DVD Now, sort of a version of Redbox.
We had a couple of DVD Now kiosk owners that were in the photo booth business, and we learned there was a lot of money being made but the equipment being used was pretty out-of-date. It wasn’t taking advantage of being able to share over social media. We saw an opportunity to make a machine that was more fun to use, more suitable for a wider variety of events, and then had the up-to-date ways to share photos.
Originally we were doing something that’s a competitor to traditional photo booths, but now we’ve found that we can get the business from weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, but also we can get corporate clients, multi-day, multi-machine events. That’s been pleasantly received.
FT: Describe one of your big corporate events.
McInnes: We did three or four auto shows for Hyundai. They’re a sponsor of The Walking DeadTV show. They had a zombie presence, starting at the Chicago show, so the booth was entirely zombie-themed. So they wanted us to take photos and then use a green screen background and insert on a zombie-themed background. You can still have the physical props, but ours is much heavier on the digital props. In this case we had the people hold digital chainsaws, rifles, the kind of things you’d use if you found yourself in a zombie situation.
FT: Which most of us do, regularly! What else?
McInnes: We did the premier of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire sequel. They did a pre-release of the movie in 24 cities around the U.S., so the people are standing in front of a green screen, and then the photos are taken, and it looks like they’re standing in a Hunger Games scene with the Subway logo. We were hired by Lionsgate Studios to do this and they wanted to get their photos pushed to Facebook, so we handle all that for the client.
FT: What kind of revenue do corporate events bring in?
McInnes: The largest corporate event we did was about $50,000. But it certainly is not unusual to get corporate events for $20,000. And it could be multiple cities. We did the final four tournament, March Madness, we were working for a client in 12 cities.
Oftentimes the initial contact will be through a franchisee. So the franchisee in Michigan was the one who introduced the Hunger Games opportunity to us. After that they call us at corporate and say what the client wants to do and hand it over to us. We handle the coordination and billing, and then the franchisee will get a commission.
FT: What made you choose this business to develop?
McInnes: At first I wasn’t too excited about it. We found out our existing customers were in the business and we found out they were actually doing pretty well with it. But we also found out what they didn’t like about it. The equipment was difficult to transport, and it wasn’t technologically advanced. The idea evolved and we saw an opportunity to do a re-imagining of a photo booth, using a better quality camera and speaking with customers and what they did and didn’t like.
FT: And what did they and didn’t they like?
McInnes: Things like the inability to take a group photo. People would complain about the cleanliness of the business. We just thought there’s got to be a better way to do it. And one of our owners said, we could do so many more events if it wasn’t so difficult to move the machine around.
It’s really a one-person set up. The unit splits in two so there’s a base and the top unit, so the base is 60 pounds and the top is 100.
FT: How do you make the booths?
McInnes: The company that planted the photo booth seed, they’re a custom kiosk manufacturer in Southern California. We worked with them 10 years ago on a couple of different projects. They did a thousand machines for the British lottery in Vancouver, for example, where TapSnap is based. We relied on them to lead the way on the hardware side of it. We did all the software side ourselves.
I’ve been in the kiosk business since 1999, dong a variety of projects. The biggest one we’ve done is DVD Now, where we’ve deployed 4,000 DVD rental kiosks over the past years.
FT: There’s another business that I thought was obsolete, renting DVDs.
McInnes: Believe it or not there are still a lot of people that do rent movies. Regular video stores have gone away; it used to be a trip to the video store was a special trip. Most people think that Blockbuster video disappeared because of Netflix and iTunes, but really even before those services existed Redbox took giant chunks out of their business. You’ve got to get groceries, and you can pull in to the grocery store and rent from Redbox for a dollar.
DVDs would have ceased to exist many years ago if it weren’t for kiosks, but certainly that business is approaching the end of its life. The people still in the business are doing really well, but we’re putting our efforts into TapSnap now.
Our latest adaptation, Snapcast, allows us to broadcast what’s going on at an event to remote screens all over the world. So let’s say we’re doing an event for your company. You’d tell us that hashtag in advance, and then we’d start pulling in all the tweets and photos and blog posts and then display it on screens all over the event.
FT: Why do people need a photo booth when everyone takes their own selfies?
McInnes: I think it could be because there’s so many selfies, there’s nothing special about them any more. It’s a much different experience, to use TapSnap. You see people come out of their shells. You can do digital effects, you can make pictures that are funny. You can write a personal message to the bride and groom.