The content of this article first appeared on Disrupting Japan. It has been reproduced by The Bridge with the approval of Disrupting Japan and the article’s author Tim Romero.
Tim is a Tokyo-based entrepreneur, podcaster and author who has started four companies and led Japan market entry for others since coming to Japan more than 20 years ago. Tim hosts the Disrupting Japan podcast and is deeply involved in Japan’s startup community as an investor, founder and mentor.
Yuka Fujii considers Famarry to be the happiest company in the world, and looking at who her customers are, I think she just might be right.
But behind this happy company is an aggressive plan to disrupt a cartel of photo studios that have dominated the Japanese market for decades. Changes in technology and demographics have opened up a small crack in this wall, and Famarry plans on using it to gain a foothold and then to change the entire industry for the better.
Tim: Can you explain a what Famarry does?
It’s basically crowd-sourcing of photographers, and we’ve started with pre-wedding photography. About 70,000 couples get married in Japan every year, and about half of them do pre-wedding photography. That’s the initial market we are focusing on.
Tim: So they go to a romantic spot with a beautiful back drop and take pictures?
Exactly. The wedding photographer is usually arranged by the venue, so the couple has no choice, but people find pre-wedding photographers by word of mouth or by searching online.
Tim: How have you marketed to this audience?
We’ve had great success using Instagram. It’s nearly a perfect fit for us since it’s all about sharing photos. We run promotions, of course, but most of our customers want to share their own photos, so it’s a more modern version of word-of-mouth. It makes it easy for people to hear about us and to find a photographer they really like.
Tim: On thing that worries me about this business is that you will have very few repeat customers. Since most people only get married once, you would always need to be recruiting new customers.
We plan to build on that. A wedding is the start of a family, so naturally our customers will soon want baby pictures and then family pictures. In the future we’ll be offering these other kinds of photography services so we can grow with our clients.
Tim: You mentioned before that the photography business is changing in Japan?
The industry is becoming more accessible. Quality camera equipment used to be very expensive, but that’s not the case any more. There are many more skilled photographers with high-quality equipment than their used to be. Also, until recently, the studios controlled just about everything. They had a set of standard backdrops and poses and the customer mostly did what they were told to do. People are now starting to see photography differently. More and more people want something that suits their own character and tastes.
Tim: So there is more independence in the industry now?
There will be. It’s much easier for a photographer to be independent these days, and we try to match those photographers up with clients who suit their style. In the future, it will be very hard for the photography studios to stay in business using their current business model. Independent photographers can deliver higher quality at a lower cost and with a style customized to the customers’ personal tastes.
Tim: What made you target the wedding market? With Japan’s aging population, it does not seem particularly attractive.
The overall market may be shrinking from year to year in Japan, but it’s still a huge market. Not much has changed recently, so it’s a market that’s ready for disruption. As you said, the market is not growing, and many Japanese companies are trying to grow business overseas rather than innovate at home, which makes it easer for us.
Tim: Do you think being a women entrepreneur has made things easier or harder for you?
A bit of both, I suppose. Being different makes it easier to get press attention, but it can make it harder to do certain deals. With a startup you have to just deal with whatever advantages or disadvantages you have. I don’t think too much about it. In our case, however, most of our customers are women, so perhaps I can relate to them better.
Tim: I thought they were couples.
They are, but the woman generally take control of the wedding, and they are the ones who make the decisions about things like pre-wedding photography.
Tim: That makes sense. And even when it comes time for baby pictures or family portraits, it will be the wives driving the process.
Tim: What surprised you most about running your own business?
Both how hard it was and how fun it was. I knew it was going to be hard, but I guess you don’t really understand something until you go through it. I’m not complaining. It was just harder than I expected it would be. But I was also surprised ho much I enjoy interacting with both our staff and our customers. It’s a very happy business. To hear the voices of our customers every day and how happy they are with our service is a very encouraging thing.
Tim: I had not thought of that, but actually you are working with people at some of the happiest times of their lives. I can see how interacting with these people every day would be wonderful, and put you and your staff in a good mood as well.
Yes. that’s true. It’s also a pleasure working with the photographers. They are artists who are happy to be chosen to work with couples who like their style. Everyone is really nice, and I really want to help them. I think that we are doing a very good thing here.
I love the fact that Fujii-san considers Famarry to be the happiest business in the world, and she just might right about that.
Famarry, however, also represents a text book example of a beneficial disruptive businesses. The fundamental structure of Famarry results in their costs being much lower and their flexibility being much higher than traditional photography studios. The studios will be forced to either change the way to do business or go out of business.
Hopefully, Famarry will remain a happy business as they continue to grow.