SmugMug smiles for the camera
Chris MacAskill spent childhood life on Oakland's streets and could easily have become a homeless statistic. Instead, he gained a master's degree in geophysics from Stanford, learned from Apple CEO Steve Jobs at NeXT and sold his company, Fatbrain, to Barnes and Noble.
When his programmer son Don wanted to start a business, Chris leapt at the chance. Together they founded a photo-sharing site, SmugMug (www.smugmug.com), and created jobs for family members. Today, 25 employees take the responsibility of caring for 230 million photos and 350,000 paying customers very seriously, while generating creative fun.
"It's wonderful to be in a business where you do what you love and help customers develop their creativity," says company president Chris. He enjoys being surprised by the photos his customers present him with each day.
At SmugMug's fifth birthday party, pictures of guests were sent instantly from digital cameras to large computer screens using a service provided by Eye-Fi (www.eye.fi), also from Mountain View. Eye-Fi makes an SD-format wireless memory card that works in most cameras. It transmits pictures from a camera to a computer, Web site, popular photo-sharing site or photo printing store. It also supports Apple's iPhoto application. Shasta Ventures and Opus Capital fund Eye-Fi.
SmugMug is self-funded and profitable, with no venture investors. Users pay from $40 to $150 annually. Nonprofits can apply for a free account and there is a 14-day free trial program.
At SmugMug, as at Apple, good design counts. SmugMug also competes by going way beyond photo sharing. At the low end it sharpens five different sizes of your original photo; at the high end it enables you to run a photography business and sell pictures. SmugMug takes a 15 percent cut and sends out tax forms for high-volume sellers.
SmugMug's customers are its biggest fans. One customer lovingly showed me a photo book she had compiled using SmugMug's partner, Blurb. Another customer had enjoyed a photo-shooting vacation in the Sierras with SmugMug. The site encourages people to join communities of like-minded photographers and participate in its Digital Grin forum.
You can see which photos are the most popular using SmugMug's analytical stats. It is really easy to create personalized gifts from your photos.
SmugMug is not just online — it meets customers in person. It has teamed up with a veteran Atherton photographer, Marc Silber, to give a series of free photography workshops at its offices. Silber will tell you the secrets of great photographers like Ansel Adams, who meticulously recorded landscapes, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who impulsively captured the moment. (The next class is Feb. 13.)
As company financing gets tighter and layoffs increase, I hope Voice readers will dream up more businesses like SmugMug, which provides customers with really enjoyable experiences and gives family members the opportunity for fulfilling employment.
What: SmugMug offers a free introductory workshop, "Capturing the Spirit of Photography," which gives novice photographers tips on how to use their camera, frame shots, find great shots and more.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 7-8:30 p.m.
Where: SmugMug, 67 E. Evelyn Ave. Mountain View.
Contact: To RSVP or for more details, visit www.silberstudios.com
Angela Hey can be reached at email@example.com.