Million Dollar Monday

The Power of High Quality Media in eCommerce

May 02, 2022 Greg Muzzillo
Million Dollar Monday
The Power of High Quality Media in eCommerce
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Liz Giorgi is a two-time media entrepreneur who challenges the norm. She is Co-Founder and CEO of Soona, a same-day photo and video studio designed to help brands get professional content for less than the price of stock. Previously, she started Mighteor, a production company that was one of the first in the country to provide online video strategy to brands as large as Facebook and U.S. Bank. Giorgi is an Emmy award winner, advocate for women in business, and recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30. 

Chapter Summaries

  • 0:42 - Introducing Liz
  • 4:54 - Creating Soona
  • 8:14 - Solving a Problem
  • 12:01 - Virtual Photo Shoot Tour
  • 15:54 - Dream to IPO
  • 17:47 - Big Mistakes & Big Dreams

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Key Takeaways

  • We both just said to each other, there's something undeniable about how much more impact we could have, and we took the leap and started working on selling my first business. We applied to Techstars, which is a technology accelerator. We were accepted to Techstars Boulder. And as the ball kept rolling down the hill, we launched our product in the world. And you know, I'm incredibly proud of that decision, but boy, oh boy, it was scary.
  • We've really decided to turn everything on its head and say, we want it to be as easy as anything else that you do online and take away all these extra decisions that distract businesses from being able to just focus on what matters the most, which is making their product look its best.
  • And so I went about that process, very naive, but learned very quickly that it's very much about convincing people that your version of the future is going to be real.
  • We believe we're building the fastest and most affordable way to create professional content online.
  •  We have seen data that says that as much as 97% of the purchase decision comes down to a picture. And so it is really the most important asset. I like to say, it's the equivalent of making a photographic first impression for every single one of your product.

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Intro:

Hello, and welcome to Million Dollar Monday. I'm your host, Greg Muzzillo bringing you real successful people with real useful advice for people with big dreams. I understand and big dreams. I turned an investment of $200 and a lot of great advice from some really successful people into my big dream Proforma. That today is a half billion dollar company.

Greg Muzzillo:

Well, we have a fascinating guest today who describes herself as a media entrepreneur and general badass. And , she is currently the co-founder and CEO of a company called Soona. I am excited to visit with Liz Giorgi, Liz. Thanks for joining me.

Liz Giorgi:

Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love your story. So let's start at the beginning. Just tell us a little bit about the growing up years or your educational years, where did you learn your general interest in business itself? And then what I wanna hear is take us through, where did you eventually learn your desire to own your own business?

Liz Giorgi:

Well, I like to say that I was born into business. I grew up in Northern Minnesota and the reason that we lived in Northern Minnesota is that my grandparents owned a canoe outfitter that serviced the boundary waters canoe area, which is the national park between Northern Minnesota and the Canadian border. And we would take people on canoe expeditions and rent canoes as they decided to go on their own vacations and the boundary waters. And my grandfather had that business for 25 years. And I grew up in the back of the shop meeting customers and sweeping the front stoop and just being generally part of the day to day . Right . And it was a really formative experience. One of the things that you realize growing up in a family that has a business is that a business can both be a community builder and something that really helps to create the identity of the people who are running it. You know, so you go back to Northern Minnesota. There is nobody who doesn't know about my grandfather's Canoe outfit. So it's definitely builds community around it. But the second thing that I learned is that some businesses can be hugely influential for the community and not be very profitable. Uh , that business was not wildly successful by any means because it was very seasonal . And so in the winter we sold Christmas trees and I learned a lot about hustling and grinding and doing really hard things in order to be able to survive and support your family. And naturally I thought, well, this seems really hard. I can't imagine possibly doing this for the rest of my life. And so I studied in college , I studied Broadcast television. I wanted to be a rich and famous news anchor. Um , that was my dream was to be Barbara Walters and that at the time really suited my ambitions. I love production. I still love production. It's something that I built my businesses around. But you know, the thing about it is that you start to absorb business if you are born into business. I think by sheer force of the universe, you know, when my grandfather passed in 2012, I literally went , uh, came home from the trip to, to be there for my grandfather's funeral and realized, well, this tell careers now are where I have to start a business. The Baton has been passed. It was really just natural for me to decide to start my first business. And so in 2013, I started my first business. It was called Mightier, very proud of that business. I bootstrapped that business and we were a production company that serviced companies with their video ads. And we worked with the biggest brands in the world, old brands, like General Mills and Wells Fargo and Facebook. And it was an incredible experience. It was my version of getting an MBA , uh , was actually starting the business, learning the business inside and out. And I'm always amazed by how those foundational lessons that I learned around paying your taxes and how you hire someone . Uh , they still resonate with me now today where I've got 7,000 customers and a hundred employees at my company today . It's a totally different world.

Greg Muzzillo:

I tell people I have a very expensive MBA , right. And so do you right with all of the mistakes I made and of course the things that we've done right we're still talking, all right . So take us from Mightier to Soona, tell us how you , uh, why you wanted to transition into a different kind of an organization and how you transitioned into a different kind of business.

Liz Giorgi:

I know that it's going to sound kind of silly, but I kind of felt like I had no choice. I was on a vacation in 2018 with my director of animation Hailey . At my first company, we went to Palm Springs together to hike in Joshua tree and just take some time off. And we spent most of that vacation talking about how we were saying no to far more customers than we were saying yes to, and how there was more technology in the production process that there were no tools that made it easy for someone to plan a photo shoot. If you wanted to participate in a photo shoot, you had to do it inside of a studio. You couldn't do it online. And we became kind of obsessed with this conversation. It just never stopped happening. We got back from that trip and every weekend and every free moment that we had, we would spend time kind of working through, well, what would this software look like? And how would we build it? And talking to people who could help us build it. And by the end of 2018, Hailey and I had a prototype for our virtual photo shoot platform, it actually wasn't great, but it worked <laugh> , it made it possible for someone to take a picture on a camera and within five seconds for it to show up in your browser in real time for you to review and give feedback on. And so at the end of that year, end of 2018, we went on another trip to California and we said, boy, are we gonna do this? Are we gonna sell our successful first company and go after this interesting thing that we've been building kind of as a hobby. And I think we both just said to each other, there's something undeniable about how much more impact we could have with this business . Yeah . And , uh, kind of took the leap at the beginning of 2019. We , uh , started working on selling my first business. We applied to Techstars, which is a technology accelerator. We were accepted to Techstars Boulder. And as the ball kept rolling down the hill, by the end of 2019 , we launched our product in the world. And you know, I'm incredibly proud of that decision, but boy, oh boy, it was scary.

Greg Muzzillo:

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. But you had already taken a huge leap in starting your own business, but that was working and it was paying the bills and it was doing well. It grew to , uh , what did you tell me? 4 million a year.

Liz Giorgi:

Yeah. I mean, my first business was, was a life changing experience. Yeah . I went from, you know, making maybe 20, $30,000 a year as a freelance editor to, you know, being able to set my family up for life. It was yes , completely life changing gave me the capital. I needed to build the initial prototypes of Soona. I put a half a million dollars of my own money into building the first prototype for Soona. And that's why I often say it's like, I have two kids and one went off to college. Uh , my first business had to graduate into a , another business to service another need and to do a different job than what it did for me. And now I've got this new business that is the new child that needs to be raised and taken care of,

Greg Muzzillo:

But a big leap because you were doing very well in that business. And uh , many people chew off their left arm to do as well as you were doing with that. All right . What was the problem you already explained it to me, but explain to our audience, the problem in doing photo shoots, all of the steps that are involved and how Soona has solved that problem,

Liz Giorgi:

Creating content for the internet. It turns out is a slow, painful, and expensive process for brands. If you are not usings, you have to find a photographer for you might go online and book them on a site or ask your friends on Facebook. If they know a professional photographer, once you find a photographer, then you have to find a studio. And so you'll book a studio for maybe a thousand dollars or more a day. Then you've gotta rent the equipment and find the props and decide what shots you wanna take and come up with your creative concepts. And this whole process takes months and can literally cost up to $50,000. That's what the average project costs at my first company. With Soona, we've really decided to turn everything on its head and say, we wanted to be as easy as anything else you do online and take away all these extra decisions that distract businesses from being able to just focus on what matters the most, which is making their product look its best .

Greg Muzzillo:

So I know you had two fundraising rounds. You wanna tell us about how those came about because you truly bootstrapped the business with a significant some of your own money. How and when did the two fundraising rounds happen?

Liz Giorgi:

Well, coming out of Techstars, you know, you go through a Techstars accelerator program or maybe Y Combinator 500 startups . There's a lot of different accelerator programs, but most of these accelerator programs are designed around how can you do more faster? And one of the ways you can do more faster is actually having the capital to build your product as quickly as possible. So coming out of Techstars, we knew that we were gonna raise venture capital in order to continue to build out the software platform that we had started building. And I really came about the process, very naive. I had worked with business bankers primarily in my first business, you know, using debt capital is a way to finance our growth and make strategic decisions. But what I found is that there's a lot of analogous parts to venture capital. It's a just bit more chaotic. So, you know, you still have to build a relationship with an investor, build an relationship with a fund, but they, maybe aren't looking at business financials so much as they're just looking at. Do I believe that this is a possible big business? Do I believe that customers love it? You know, they're really analyzing your business based on market realities versus the simple numbers in your business. And so I went about that process, very naive, but learned very quickly that it's very much about convincing people that your version of the future is going to be real. And I've been really fortunate that I've been able to work with funds like starting line ventures in Chicago and mastic ventures here in Colorado, as well as union square ventures in New York, which, who recently led my series a and they all really are bought into the belief that enabling easier e-commerce, which is what we do here at Soona. And the photography side of eCommerce is a big opportunity. And part of the future of how we'll do business,

Greg Muzzillo:

I told you've raised almost 15 million, I think, right. Is that right?

Liz Giorgi:

A little over 15 million?

Greg Muzzillo:

Is it public? Is it public? What your current valuation was in your series? A or you don't wanna talk about that?

Liz Giorgi:

No, it's not public. And, and that's mostly because we, we wanna make sure that we keep what we can keep in our control in our control

Greg Muzzillo:

<laugh> Absolutely. I , and I think that's a delicate balance for a bootstrapper to say, when do I need to cut up this pie? So that at the end of the day, my piece is still worth more than the whole pie would've been. If I'd held onto the whole thing, it is a delicate balance. I know you're gonna be able to show us maybe sharing your screen or something. Exactly what some of the work is that you do so that we can , so our audience can understand it.

Liz Giorgi:

Yeah. Why don't I give you a tour of what a worked photo shoot is , and actually explain how this looks for our end , user.

Greg Muzzillo:

Great.

Liz Giorgi:

A couple key things to just express before I share my screen, the first is that anytime a student , a customer needs a photo, they're gonna book a photo shoot online. So they're gonna go to soona.co And they're gonna create their photo shoot. Now, why might they need create a photo shoot? Well, just think of all the things you purchase online, whether it's gonna be your lunch on Uber eats, or maybe a new outfit on Nordstrom, there is a photo for every single one of those purchases. Every one of those transactions is powered by a photo. What Soona does is we provide those photos to the brands. We help create those photos for them. And so what I'm about to show you is a virtual photo shoot , which allows our customers to participate in their photo shoot in real time and power what ultimately is the visual part of their eCommerce store? So let's get right into it. I'm gonna start by showing you just a few of the examples of photo shoots that are happening right now. And let's go ahead and take a look at this pumpkin themed photo shoot that is currently occurring. So this is live in the moment. The customer is able to see each of these photos within five seconds of the photographer, shuttering in our studio spaces. We have studios in Minneapolis, Denver, and Austin, where we service these photo shoots. And the customer is able to work with these photos in a completely manual manner , meaning they're able to make favorites that they can share with their teams so far. These are their favorites today. They can see what the photographer's favorite images are from this shoot . And they can give feedback in real time here in the chat where we can actually sneak a peek and see how this photo shoot is going. It looks like they wanna have some falling leaves on each, on each of these products. And so that's what they're gonna work on. Now. They can also combine these photos into gifs. So here's an example of how the customer was able to combine these photos and create this adorable little gif , that they can purchase right now on the platform. One of the best parts of Soona is that these photos are entirely alacarte. So as I mentioned before, having to plan a photo shoot and put a lot of money up front is a huge cost, but actually this customer will pay $39 for each one of these photos, $93 for each one of those gifs or video clips. And we'll deliver them in 24 hours. We believe we're building the fastest and most affordable way to create professional content online .

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah , fascinating. Um, and I guess I never really thought about how do all of those pictures end up online, but, and I'll tell you a little secret why I know you are doing the right thing because when I go on DoorDash to order food, and if I happen to go to a , um, a restaurant or a provider that doesn't have good pictures, I go, I bail out and I go try to find somebody, cuz I don't know, what does this look like? So many times when you're trying to order sushi, or you know , uh , different things without a picture I'm not ordering, I even know from my own experience, the importance of a picture in making sales happen.

Liz Giorgi:

So we have seen data from the national retailers association that says that as much as 97% of the purchase decision comes down to a picture. And so it is amen. It is really the most important asset. I like to say, it's the equivalent of making a photographic first impress for every single one of your products.

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah. I love it. All right . I I'm really intrigued by you. Uh , you're a fascinating person and I think you're building an amazing company that hard to know how huge the upside is. So that's, that's very exciting. Um, I know you shared with us one of your goals and uh , you wanna go ahead and share with everybody cuz I love it.

Liz Giorgi:

Yeah. One of the things I really believe in, especially being a female founder is that we need more examples of success and I've been so fortunate that my businesses have been successful. You know, my first business, I remember reading the statistic that less than 1% of women own businesses will ever make more than a million dollars in a year that is outstanding and outlandish at the same time. And when you look at the amount of venture capital, that's been raised by female founders so far in 2021 only 2.2% of all venture dollars have been given to female founders. And so I really see part of my journey as being a journey of showing people that it is possible that women teams can actually build exceptional and giant businesses that can be very successful. And so now the goal that I'm putting out into the world and sharing with people is that I'm truly looking forward to the day when Soona IPOs. I believe that Soona will be a business that IPOs. And the reason that I wanna IPO is because I know that it will be a massive wealth generating event for the amazing people that have gone on this journey with me, other women leaders that have joined me on building this business and a fun fact is that, you know, my co-founder Hailey and I, we met on Halloween. It was actually at a Halloween party that we met. Oh ,

Greg Muzzillo:

This is making sense now. Yes .

Liz Giorgi:

So my personal ambition is to IPO on Halloween, wearing our favorite costumes to really just show the world , uh , that I love it . Two women can do impossible things.

Greg Muzzillo:

I love it . I love it. All right . Um , you're very inspiring person and just listening to you, I can feel the energy and I have no doubt you're gonna achieve all of that. And more as we close our time together first, tell us one or two of the biggest mistakes you made along the way and what the lessons were from them.

Liz Giorgi:

I think the two biggest mistakes that I can point to are, first of all, really understand how to make a business legally <laugh> and how to do it okay . The right way. Uh , because it will cost you a lot of money to do it the wrong way. And that's everything from making sure that you're filing in the appropriate states and that you're paying your unemployment and you're doing the things that actually make it possible for you , a business to flourish. But my second massive mistake was really underestimating how much power I have in setting the tone of our culture. You know, how I treat people, gives people permission to treat others the same way or you know, really mirror my behavior. And so every single day now, based on some of the mistakes I've been when maybe I was too short or too impatient or didn't have enough empathy, I've really tried to look at my leadership as an opportunity to show everyone else how to treat each other. And so that was a massive learning for me,

Greg Muzzillo:

You know? And I don't think it's because I have the same problem and I have struggled sometimes with the same problem. And it's never really, because anybody wants to be unkind. It's just that we're in a hurry to get whatever we want done done. And yet , uh, it, sometimes it , it , that's just not the emotionally intelligent route to go. So , uh , it is a very important lesson alright but more importantly because you're doing a lot of things, right. Liz tell us about a couple of the huge successes that you've had so far in building this business. And the lessons learned from them.

Liz Giorgi:

The successes that I'm most proud of are the day when I found out that 50% of the creatives on our platform were women. Uh, that is something I'm exceptionally proud of. Commercial photographers, only 9% that make a living are actually women. And so the fact that 50 50 are men and women is something that I'm exceptionally proud of. Another massive success though, is that we opened additional capacity in our Austin studio in the middle of a pandemic. Uh , last year we were able to add another 3000 square feet of photography space and we're gonna continue to add more space this year. We're about to open a facility that's 20,000 thousand square feet. Uh , and I can't wait to open that facility at the end of this year. And I think another success for me at the end of the day is really just being able to live my values in this business. I really believe that when you meet the people who work at Soona or when you encounter Soona as a customer, that you can tell that there's a great deal of integrity in what we do here. And that feels like it really was hard one, but very important,

Greg Muzzillo:

Hugely important. Liz, you are an amazing young woman, an amazing entrepreneur, an amazing general badass. And I really appreciate our time together. Thank you very much, Liz.

Liz Giorgi:

Thank you. Have a wonderful day .

Introducing Liz
Creating Soona
Solving a Problem
Virtual Photo Shoot Tour
Dream to IPO
Big Mistakes & Big Dreams