I’m the CEO of Passport Photo Online, a Polish startup specializing in biometric photography. In other (less serious) words, we offer an app to make document pictures online that relies on our AI technology.
The idea is to save time and money by doing the picture yourself rather than going out to a professional photographer. Essentially, we were trying to create a tool that simplifies that process and makes it accessible to every person while simultaneously meeting all government requirements. Alert spoiler: it worked. Let me introduce it quickly.
You start with going to a website or app and selecting the document you want a photo taken. There’s a wide variety of picture opportunities: from US Passport Photos, through China Visa or Green Card, to LinkedIn Profile pictures. In fact, almost every nationality can make use of this tool. Once you choose what you need, the journey begins! Firstly, with detailed guidance, you take a photo of yourself. Next, it is adjusted: the AI technology checks if it meets requirements, then the tool crops it to the correct size and removes the background. Finally, it’s time for expert verification.
Since our technology is trustworthy, we also want to provide unfailing service, so we established double-checking with additional human verification. Whenever something goes wrong, our experts tell the customer what needs to be improved. Using that approach results in not only 100% government acceptance but also excellent customer satisfaction. Feedback like this proves this point:
The team of guys worked really hard to make my photo accepted and didn’t give up until it was. I have received a trail of email communication informing me of every step they take to make sure passport photos will be accepted. Very prompt and polite communication from start to end. Highly recommended and will definitely use this service in the future. – said Karolina from Poland.
Our business story is the classic Disney-looking tale about the rewards of patience.
It all began with three brothers, who maintained their individuality while having a shared mission. Honestly, until today I see great power in our diversity because numerous viewpoints help us tackle business issues creatively. But more to the point, we started the company as university students who built their first photo booth from savings. We invested the earnings in the second one, and the third one, and so on… Suddenly, from newbies with no experience and no network, we became owners of almost 200 photo spots! (See? I told you it’s a Disney story!). But it’s not the end.
While building our photo booths network, we felt that we wanted to create something more significant. Besides providing fun photo booth experiences, we also wanted to simplify the lives of our customers. For example, I noticed that I was more interested in changing the world than interpreting it when I studied philosophy. Indeed, simultaneously we have invested in AI technology and new devices to become a leader in passport photo processing.
It’s just another example of how we used our diversity. It looks like young students of computer science, philosophy, and law. It sounds like a crazy mixture, right? Yet, each of these skills served us well while building our business. Now, throw in patience, persistence, and mission-driven thinking. I suppose those traits we learned at home have helped us succeed.
Looking back 11 years after our start, I feel a great sense of satisfaction. Today we are a company with 80 highly talented employees, serving clients from over 100 countries and processing thousands of photos each month. Our service allows people to take lovely document pictures with a guarantee of acceptance. It is our own AI technology and expert-checking that made us so unique on the market.
It all began with a single photo booth, can you believe it?
The pandemic affected tourism. In the same vein, it affected us.
Suitcases are buried deeply in vast wardrobes, maps are getting dusty, and passports are hidden under face masks since COVID-19 shut up international borders. Loads of restrictions, additional paperwork, the unstable world situation, and the risk of infection effectively deter people from taking journeys abroad. It is not only the tourism market that suffers from travel difficulties but other industries as well.
Thus, our passport and visa photo services are also vulnerable to a crisis.
We are powerless to influence world conditions, so we have to look for ways to cope with that. We share the same hope with all travel enthusiasts that traveling the world will become more accessible to all along with vaccination. However, there’s no point in wasting time just waiting. By taking advantage of that time, we can improve our services and prepare the product for the future.
Our company’s culture is disappearing in a more detached environment.
A company’s culture is one of its most valuable assets. Creating it is much more complicated than building the business itself. It cannot be seen, it cannot be touched, but it is decisive. It is what makes the difference. Recent data shows that employees who do not work in the same location as their managers are significantly more likely to say that no one cares about them working there or imply that their input and opinions are not recognized. While we try our best to instill and follow the commandments of our business culture, even for those who work from home, we are concerned about the data cited in the surveys. We try to involve those working remotely as much as possible in those activities taking place in the office. Either through virtual lunch meetings, or breakout meetings with the rest of the team, or just by setting up a Slack channel that is not work-related – where they can discuss and share any random thought with the rest of their colleagues.
Online services draw the world’s attention.
Do you want to see a movie at the cinema? Come on, turn on Netflix. Going to a restaurant? Just order dinner. Meeting with friends? Video call. Shopping? Go online. For the last decade, we have been adapting to online services more and more, but the pandemic skyrocketed it to the stratosphere. Once we have tried how easy it is to do everything online, it is a convenience we do not want to lose. Generally speaking, we love comfort. If you can do everything staying at your cozy home, why get stuck in traffic, get soaked in the rain, or lose time walking between places?
Honestly, the fact that people are more and more familiar with online services is an excellent opportunity for our business. We hope it will make customers more likely to search for documents pictures in search engines than to look for on-site photographers. Also, the growing possibility of making documents available online across government agencies can further enhance that opportunity.
Remote work is blooming.
According to Intuition, 62% of employees expect their employers to allow them to work from home in the future. Indeed, the same study revealed that 47% of company leaders would enable employees to work fully remotely after the pandemic. Statistics such as these just reflect an increasing trend toward a remote or hybrid work model in the hiring market. Why do we see this as an opportunity? Because simply put, those circumstances allow us to hire international talents. Since the pandemic started, our workforce has increased by 20%, reaching more than 80 employees from ten different countries to be part of our virtual and international office. By creating a global working environment, we will be better equipped to lead the international business, as we will be closer to understanding the needs of our customers. At the same time, our team is more qualified to handle multilingual web content and provide multilingual customer service. Last but not least – working in an international environment means more creativity, diverse thinking, and a broad outlook.
Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. Nowadays, people want to have everything regarding their personal life and business at light speed like never before in history. It’s here where patience loses the battle. When a person is not capable of waiting and loses their patience completely, they quickly become frustrated – therefore, they miss out on a chance to know how beautiful their labor’s fruit, dreams, or visions could have been.
Having experienced it firsthand, I know that it isn’t easy to stick to these principles. Over a decade ago, my brothers and I founded a company with just our savings. We began manufacturing photo booths, from scratch, without assured business knowledge or experience to guide us in this journey. But we believed in our project – with what we earned, we created a second one. And with the earnings from those two, we could have stopped and spent them on ourselves. But instead, we made a third one. That brings us to this very right moment, with a network of almost 200 photo booths in Eastern Europe. We decided to take the patient path, reinvesting everything we had into new devices without paying ourselves any salary. That’s how we built for scale and, in a competitive and harsh environment, stayed afloat.
Throughout the period, we faced many temptations because the fruit that could have given us energy and enthusiasm took a long time to appear. Despite such suggestions, we did not give up on our efforts, and we did not sell the company. It was vital for the future of our company that we tasted and felt its sweet fruits by ourselves.
And these are the fruits: from a 4-person startup, we became a company employing almost a hundred extraordinarily committed people, operating on four continents and creating unique solutions based on artificial intelligence. I know it is not easy to wait, but when you see the final result, the waiting is all worth it.