David Soong has an eye for what makes a good business. A serial entrepreneur, David has co-founded several successful ventures such as the Boga group, a lifestyle company behind prominent brands in the country like Sushi Tei and Bakerzin, wedding photography service Axioo, online wedding vendor directory Bridestory and printing service Printerous. What’s next for David? A new online service called Sweet Escape, which provides professional photography services to travelers.
Sweet Escape’s idea came up from David’s experience when traveling on holiday with his family. Despite being a photographer, he found that he rarely had good family pictures. “I figured that it’s not just me, that others want to have good memories to remember. However, it should be easy and affordable,” David says.
With Sweet Escape, one can book a professional photographer in more than 300 cities around the world, who will meet you, take your photos and return results within three days. It’s something like AirBnB or Uber, but for photography services. So far, the startup has a network of over 2,000 selected photographers, with more being added all the time.
The pricing is also simple, from $300 to $500 for a two-hour session depending on the city–Jakarta costs $300, while Tokyo $400. European cities such as Barcelona cost $500. The prices can be checked beforehand on the site or its app, with Sweet Escape taking a standard 20% commission.
While not cheap, David says the service is targeted at high-end tourists. David wants his clients to have a good experience with the local photographers, so each one is tested for interpersonal skills and knowledge of their city. David says the photographer should have lived in the city for at least five years, so he know the good places for pictures and the best time to do it. Many of his photographers are semi-professional freelancers with a full time job in a different field, but have the passion in photography and meeting with new people. David says some have interesting backgrounds such as a firefighter and a civil engineer.
“In other words, they are also a good tour guide as well, knowing where to find a good coffee shop or place to eat, for example. Our photographer in Quebec brought a heat pack for his client, an Indonesian family not used to the minus 24-Celsius degree cold. This good experience is priceless, but they also get good pictures,” David says.
To ensure the quality of the photos, Sweet Escape’s team in Jakarta does all the editing. Clients get to select from over 150 photos and can download their favorite 40 as high-resolution pictures. Additional photos are charged at a fee of $10 each. David says orders coming in last year were up five-fold from the year before, even he does no marketing of the site—it is all word-of-mouth referrals. During the yearend holiday season, David says Sweet Escape received thousands of orders from around the world. Most are Indonesians who want photos taken in cities such as Paris, Tokyo and New York, but he says about 30% are overseas customers, with special interest coming from the U.S. He is confident that Sweet Escape has a good chance in the global market.
“We want to be an Indonesian startup that caters the global market. Other local startups only looking only at the domestic market potential—and there is nothing wrong with that since the market is huge. We see a good global opportunity,” David says. By starting with a global ambition, Sweet Escape is naturally differentiating itself for other local competitors. David says competitors coming joining the market are also a good sign that this market has good prospects, among them is Frame A Trip cofounded by actress Dian Sastrowardoyo.
While initially Sweet Escape was meant for travelers, the site’s competitive pricing means it has started to get orders for graduation, corporate events, pre-wedding sessions and family portraits. After booking the service, customers can chat through the app to let Sweet Escape know about their photographic needs. As new markets develop and the startup expands to other countries, the business will become less seasonal, says David. David is planning to synergize Sweet Escape with Printerous, so soon there will be a print button on the app for client to order their picture to be printed.
David claims he’s conservative in business, so he built Sweet Escape to be profitable from day one, although David has done an undisclosed round with East Venture to help expand. David says he may raise more money this year. Despite having many ventures, David say he’s is now focusing on growing Sweet Escape and other businesses run by his partners. However, being passionate about photography himself, David still occasionally take pictures for Axioo and Sweet Escape clients. “I also need to see the service from the photographer’s perspective, for example whether two hours is enough, and what can be improved,” he says.