For anyone used to making multiple calls and scouring the Internet to secure a decent space for a photo shoot, there’s a new platform that wants to streamline what can be an aggravating process.
What started a few years ago as more of a community space for photographers and editorial creatives, Space for Arts recently morphed into a platform for the search and booking of studio spaces. Cofounders Betsy Davison and Van Gothner (who are married and have worked, respectively, in Internet tech and finance for decades) said it wasn’t until they launched the platform with off-the shelf technology and added a “concierge” button for user problems did they start to realize how cumbersome the booking of studio spaces for photo and video needs still is.
“Initially, the problem we were out to solve was just putting together vetted studios you could search specifically — a claw foot bathtub, space in a freight elevator,” Davison said. “Then I was in the middle of being the concierge and it became really obvious the whole process of booking was very, very challenging.”
“The last technological advance here was the colored sticky note,” Gothner said.
They started speaking directly with studios and creatives who needed spaces to shoot and all agreed the whole endeavor was “a headache.” When it came to the process of creatives putting “holds” on spaces, basically a reservation that can be — and often is — rejected by the owner of a studio, Davison was surprised to learn that bookers often had to put dozens of holds on as many spaces just to ensure they got one. For editors and photographers usually working on a time crunch, this is a painful reality.
“For the layman, you look at a picture in a magazine or an ad and you assume they planned this shoot months in advance. We couldn’t be more wrong — it could be only days,” Gothner noted. “A Rolodex and the Google machine don’t save a lot of time in finding studios, and then you have this wacky booking process.”
In an effort to streamline the whole booking experience, Space for Arts now offers around 500 studio spaces for online booking in major cities around the world and just added its own “hold” tool, with a patent pending. There is no cost to sign up and search the platform, instead SFA charges a studio 10 percent of its booking fee once a space is booked. SFA is also planning to add a “challenge” feature for users who want a space that’s already booked. Clients so far are a mix of media companies and brands, like Vogue and The New York Times, Urban Outfitters and Adidas.
And the platform is growing as word of mouth is spreading. After being self-funded from its soft launch in 2017, Davison and Gothner last year secured a seed round in the “mid-six figures” led by Elevage Partners, a California investment firm, and including SimpleWeb, a product development firm in Bristol, England, allowing it to build the current bespoke platform tech. SFA has also grown from offering 150 studio spaces to 500 in that time. Davison and Gothner are now looking to a Series A round “in the low millions.” The Series A will go toward some formal marketing efforts, mainly social and Instagram, and the hiring of its first full-time employees.
“The business model we have is very capital efficient,” Gothner said. “And we don’t need to find millions of users, we believe there are only 40,000 to 50,000 studios to be booked by a few hundred-thousand creatives.”
Even with something of a small audience to target, Davison and Gothner think the venture capital community will be excited by the fact that SFA has a pending business process patent and that they already have some idea of where they want the platform to go next. That would be as a service to larger companies operating their own in-house studios.
Gothner said SFA can help in-house operations in much the same way it helps more independent ones by offering management tools for the use of their space and “reducing the cost of doing so.” Space for Arts would license its platform to a company, but with a threshold of bookings, the license would be free.
While a larger roll out of the platform for in-house purposes isn’t likely until 2021, the goal of SFA is to effectively create a closed loop for the booking process. The more people and companies use SFA, the more studio operators will need to have their spaces listed on it.
“That’s what we’re sharing with VCs now,” Davison said, “there is this broader mission.”
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