CEO Corner: 10 Years of Supporting Local Entrepreneurial Passion

Alan Pinstein
Alan Pinstein - September 22, 2017

As Tourbuzz reaches an incredible tenth year, we wanted to share the story of why we built Tourbuzz in the first place.

How We Got Started

Stuart had a problem. His real estate photography business, Envision Virtual Tours, was growing, but he was struggling to get his work into the hands of his clients. The chief problem was a poor online experience.

It didn’t matter how good his photography was if small, fuzzy photos took 10 seconds to load; his clients (agents) weren’t getting full value from his service.

Stuart presented this problem to Alan, and together they prototyped a new tour system with full-screen, high definition images that loaded quickly with minimal production time.

He used it for a year — and it worked!

Stuart could deliver high-quality images quickly, easily and professionally. His clients loved the solution as it helped them sell properties, and business flourished.

Photography was becoming a core part of real estate marketing, and this new era of real estate imagery represented a huge business opportunity. We loved seeing Stuart's success and wanted to help 1000's of others realize their entrepreneurial dreams, too.

A simple vision came together: build a platform to make properties look great online and reduce complexity for everyone involved. Tourbuzz was born.

Creating Our Business Model

It was important to us that our values underpinned our business model and the service we provided. We believed deeply in two key values: equity and sustainability.

Equity means setting up a business model that is fair to all parties, doesn't create incentives for rent-seeking behavior, and enables all parties to work together productively and in good faith.

Sustainability means having a business that is viable on its own merit. We wanted to ensure we can build a great company that provides high-quality support, runs reliable systems, and is resilient to market shifts and changes in technology.

The Road Not Taken

One possible choice was to build a “vertically integrated” company, such as a national photography business with many local photographers or a franchise model where entrepreneurs are granted an exclusive contract for a geographic area.

We saw several problems with this approach and concluded that it is incompatible with our core values.

Vertically integrated companies aren't equitable:

  • Vertically integrated companies own the customer relationship, effectively making photographers into de facto employees regardless of the "terms" of the partnership. Any decision to part ways effectively means choosing to start over from scratch and competing with your prior partner while finding new customers.
  • Exclusivity sounds great on paper but doesn’t work in practice - other photographers in your area could mimic anything you do - your equipment, services, photo editing, prices, and even designs.

And they're not sustainable:

  • Vertically integrated companies collect revenue on behalf of photographers and then distribute it, putting photographers in the weak position of having 100% of their income coming from a single source.
  • Central coordination prevents these businesses from responding adequately to the individual dynamics of the different local markets they serve.

The Tourbuzz Business Model

We decided that instead of building our own centralized photography company (which was not in line with our values of sustainability and equity), we would partner with entrepreneurial photographers to provide them with infrastructure and support.

That allowed our customers to focus on what they’re good at, providing a tailored service to their local market, while we focus on what we’re good at: delivering key infrastructure that enables them to create value.

Benefits of the Tourbuzz Business Model

Our business combines the best of centralized scale (the infrastructure and services we provide) and distributed scale (the entrepreneurs we support). This combination means that agents get the best possible service and everyone in the ecosystem benefits.

Delivering infrastructure using centralized scale works because:

  • We can tackle problems that an individual photographer could never economically justify.
  • Our single database gives us the scale and leverage to interact with industry partners (such as MLSs, listing portals and technology partners) who wouldn't normally integrate with the thousands of individual photography businesses we represent.
  • We can bulk-buy services such as Google Maps, WalkScore and servers, which means better prices.
  • We can provide tailored solutions (such as invoicing and scheduling) specifically tuned to the idiosyncrasies of the real estate photography business, thereby cutting our customers' operational costs and improving the value they provide their clients.
  • By using an IT stack that offers multiple redundancies, backup systems, and ongoing maintenance, we can protect our customers and ourselves. That helps us meet our core value of sustainability.

And the ecosystem is more sustainable through distributed scaling:

  • Instead of investing time and energy to manage thousands of geographically distributed photographers, we can spend that energy investing in the platform.
  • Real estate photography is a local business. Local entrepreneurs are better positioned to set appropriate prices, respond to local market needs, and provide more personalized services than a large brand.

Looking Forward

We hope you now have a better understanding of how our strategy and values have influenced our approach to the real estate photography industry over the last ten years. In that time, we have seen Stuart’s story again and again, with many new customers realizing both the immediate and long-term benefits of switching to Tourbuzz (in some cases, overnight!).

We are proud to see the businesses of the photographers we serve continue to grow year after year with us. The ecosystem we’ve created works for everyone, helping thousands of entrepreneurs become more competitive, resilient and successful.

Tourbuzz in 2017 is a completely different company than ever before. With our enormous customer base and growing market share, we are in a position to take our product to the next level of scale.

Things that just didn’t make sense to attempt even a short time ago now present a huge opportunity for all involved. We are doubling-down on our investments to help you service your customers better while running your business more efficiently. We look forward to continuing to develop our “international company resources” so that we can better support your “local entrepreneurial passion.”