Entrepreneur gets the picture

Entrepreneur gets the picture

sguy@suntimes.com / August 22, 2007


Photo.com, a Chicago-based Web site that will start
beta testing in mid-September, aims to let people do more than share
photos: They can buy a camera, edit a photo or plaster a photo on a
coffee mug, order it and mail it to friends.

The site, Photo.com, will go live in time for the holiday shopping season.

The site, nearly a year in the making, differs from social networking
sites such as MySpace and from photo sites like SnapFish and
PhotoBucket because it enables users to do everything from shop for
cameras to customize their photos, to network with other photo
enthusiasts.

"Photo.com is a next-generation social networking community — it
allows users to customize what they would like the site to do for
them," said Justin Jarvinen, CEO and founder of Chicago digital media
company VerveLife and Photo.com.

Web site visitors also may post and read user reviews and build a
private community of friends, to whom they can send everything from
slide shows to specially edited photos.

The site is aimed at being fun and simple to use, said Jarvinen, a 35-year-old native of Northfield.

Photo.com is now looking for a CEO, and is hiring 10 to 15 people for
content development, content management and financial and technical
work.

Calumet Photographic, a professional photographer’s retail chain with
roots in Chicago, obtained the domain name Photo.com a decade ago, but
hadn’t developed a Web site. Despite that, Photo.com received 728,934
unique hits from February through July.

The retailer turned over the domain to Photo.com, and the CEO of
Calumet Photographic, David Drew, became a part-owner of Photo.com.

Mohanbir Sawhney, a technology professor at the Kellogg School of
Management, said Photo.com reflects the convergence of e-tail and
e-commerce as evidenced in music and radio-based social networking
sites. But Sawhney questioned whether a Web site can do both well.

"Does it make sense to combine them?" he asked. "I don’t know yet whether [e-commerce and social networking] come together."

Jarvinen cut his entrepreneurial teeth 10 years ago when he and a
partner developed an online tool that let users figure out how much
they were saving, or should save, in their 401(k) and mutual fund
accounts.

About seven years ago, Jarvinen started Strateg, a social-networking
site at which seasoned executives mentor start-up companies, and help
broker deals.

Jarvinen’s focus today is on Photo.com and VerveLife, which creates
unique promotions for its clients using free downloads of music, movies
and games. VerveLife is creating a promotion for Body by Milk, a
drink-milk campaign, that will reward high school students who
participate with free music downloads and music videos that match their
tastes. A sweepstakes will let the students win coveted items such as
guitars autographed by popular musicians.

VerveLife delivers content without Digital Rights Management so the
music and video can be downloaded to any device. It also uses a
proprietary media-delivery platform, Rhymba, to send billions of the
downloads simultaneously.

VerveLife, with 22 employees and $10 million in revenues this year,
reports that revenues have grown 3,600 percent in the past two years.
The company was named one of Red Herring magazine’s "Hot 200" companies
in North America. Its revenues are expected to leap to $35 million in
2008.

Jarvinen advised other would-be entrepreneurs to keep their day jobs and see if their business idea can fly locally.

"The first idea is rarely the one that makes you successful," he said.

Jarvinen said it can be challenging to operate Web-based media
companies in Chicago, rather than in media-rich New York or
record-company-centered Los Angeles.

"But there is a tremendous amount of talent in Chicago, especially in
technology companies and at advertising agencies," he said. "I don’t
believe Chicago is viewed as a ‘Second City.’"

 

sci-tech scene | Jarvinen testing Photo.com next month, and expects it to be up and running in time for holidays

SANDRA GUY

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