Jaws of death
To our friends it seemed we were following our hearts into the jaws of death. It was 2002, when Internet companies were collapsing. Our competitors would be Microsoft, Sony, Canon, and Kodak.
We were hopelessly in love with the Internet and digital photography.
What's better than priceless photos of life's best moments, summoned with a click? Everyone has a shoebox in the closet where irreplaceable photos decay, alone and unseen. We believe in our souls that a photo online is worth ten in the closet.
It was a moment of truth for our belief that passion is the most important thing in business. We all know passion explains why Apple, Harley-Davidson and Starbucks thrive but we swallowed hard when we considered the odds against us.
If you really care about your photos, do you want ads alongside them? You don't put ads in your photo albums at home. The big brands can't resist inserting ads in your albums, and requiring your visitors to register so they can market to them. Our hearts led us to design ad- and spam-free albums. One point for passion.
They won't let you hide their logos and decorate your albums like you can at home. We love to see it. Two points for passion.
They won't let your mom in Atlanta download high-resolution versions of your photos to print at home. Three points. No full-screen slide shows. Four. There are many more.
Three years after starting, we became the trustees for the priceless photos of 50,000 families, the equivalent of a medium-sized city. Gone are the sharing sites of many trusted brands.
We did it without taking debt because we felt a great sense of responsibility for the photos we store. Our pay in the beginning was huge: the joy of working with each other doing what we love, and the bonds that form when you struggle for a great cause. Delayed gratification was worth the reward.
SmugMug was started by CEO Don who hired me (his father).
Along the way the contagion spread to the rest of the family. They left their promising careers and two SmugMug MacAskills became seven, solving the Silicon Valley problem of not enough time for family. Our favorite activity is to work long hours together on exciting new features. And the rest of the SmugMug team has become family too.
Even our customers consider themselves part of the family. We revel in seeing their photos of weddings, newborns, Peace Corps assignments, athletic triumphs...
My jaw dropped when I heard that my former employer, Steve Jobs, would give the commencement speech at my alma mater, Stanford University. Had he ever been to a college graduation?
But he said something powerful there I knew he believed: "The only way to do great work is to love what you do." It's how our family's dreams came true.
Co-Founder, Photographer, Regular Guy