Ratscratch Photobooths is a Los Angeles-based photobooth rental and party photography company. Founded by Dennis Roberts and Nicholas Fehr, they are a self-described group of “young, hip college students that understand what it takes to make a good party.” In addition to understanding what makes a good party, they also understand a basic rule of entrepreneurship: keep your overhead low. Now, they are experiencing great success. If I was in Los Angeles I’d be throwing a party just so I could rent a photobooth from them.
Young Money: Tell me about your business.
RS: Well, we (Dennis Roberts and Nicholas Fehr) bring our portable photobooth, which we built, to parties that have hired us. We stay on hand to make sure nothing goes wrong. The user gets in, sits down, reads the instructions on the screen and presses the big silver button. Each event is different, so we design a custom banner design that prints on the bottom of each print. They get as many free pictures of themselves to take home for as long as they rent us for.
We then put all the pictures online where people can view them for free or order prints for a small fee. The pictures can be looked up by their ID number as well.
YM: Why should people rent a photobooth?
RS: It’s fun! What do people love more than one picture of themselves? Four pictures of themselves! A photobooth sets the party apart from others because it is unique and fun, and very, very affordable in comparison to our competitors. Here is an excerpt from our website:
• STYLISH: There is nothing quite like the hip, classic look of a photobooth picture.
• MEMORABLE: A custom logo on each photo ensures that your name will be on everyone’s minds for as long as the pictures exist. Plus, every guest gets to take home a copy of the photo at no charge. Put it on the fridge, frame it on your desk, stick it to your mirror… bottom line: everyone remembers your party.
• RIGHT FOR EVERY PARTY: The elegant formal or the all-out rager. How is this possible? Because no matter the circumstance, whether dressed in suits and dresses or as pirates and schoolgirls, people enjoy seeing themselves reproduced on a glossy 4×6 piece of photo paper.
• FREE PRINTS: There’s no need to buy prints – you get one for free right there at the party, and all the pictures are free online the next day.
YM: How did you start your business?
RS: Dennis and I attended a party after we graduated high school in 2005 and figured that we could probably figure out how to make a photobooth ourselves.
Soon after, we had worked out a rudimentary way of doing it with a computer and a camera, but it got shelved as soon as we started college (me- UCLA, him- USC). Four years later, before our senior year started, we revisited the idea and finalized the programming end and built the booth. I built the booth in SanFrancisco to be portable enough to take on the roof of a car all the way down to Los Angeles, where in a month’s time, we had a fully operational photobooth.
We have only been running it for a month and a half and have done six parties, with increasing interest. We have been getting a lot of bookings and still have yet to advertise ourselves beyond word of mouth and facebook. We are currently in the process of producing press materials with the money we have made, so that we can grow in the next couple years.
YM: How did you get funding to start your business?
RS: We only put in around $200 each from our personal finances. This was for initial materials, which we made back after our first rental. Our overhead is extremely low, which allows us to make a considerable profit while remaining drastically cheaper than the seven leading competitors in the area.
YM: What plans do you have for growth?
RS: We would like to expand to the San Francisco bay area. Eventually we have ideas for different effects and services we can offer, and eventually we will need employees, but for now our friend Lindsay has been helping us out as our intern, so to speak, which has been really helpful. We plan to keep the business staffed with college students and hope to someday franchise the idea to other college campuses.
YM:How is the economy affecting your business?
RS: Well, we started our business in a poor economy, but we find that people always like to party, perhaps even to distract from the troubles of a failing economy. So we haven’t found any difficulty selling our product. It almost sells itself.
YM: What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?
RS: Keep your overhead LOW. We’ve seen so many young entrepreneurs take on business ideas that failed quickly due to high overhead and low demand.
Come up with a product that is fun, it doesn’t have to necessarily be useful in the traditional sense. Also, it is very important to take advantage of your skills.
For example, I had skills in web development coming into the thing, so we didn’t have to hire a developer to design our website. Friends with skills, popular blogs, or other connections (fraternity/ sorority for example) are also very useful.
YM: What is the most important thing you have learned from starting your own business?
RS: It is always a lot of fun, whether or not you encounter financial success and I have learned that follow-through is very important. If you start with an idea, then it is essential to live it out to its maximum potential, because you will learn a lot on how to become more or less successful in future ventures.