Can you build a successful business in an extremely competitive environment while living in a frat house and attending college? Tyler Ward, the founder and CEO of Letter Photography, an online photo alphabet site, proves that it can be done – in 24 months.
“With no previous experience as a photographer, the only thing I really knew how to do well was design a website,” said Ward. “Over the next few months I spent countless days designing my business. In March of 2009, I made my first online sale, which opened my world to possibilities.”
Learn how Tyler Ward launched a thriving company, created a joint venture with a leading industry player and marketed his way to success without prior industry experience — and while still in college.
|Founder, Age:||Tyler Ward, 21|
|Location:||Egg Harbor, NJ|
How I Got Started
I own and operate Letterphotography.net, a website that explores the art of creating names and phrases out of photographs. I operate this business out of my home – a college fraternity house.
Yes, we use pizza boxes as plates, the front door handle is always broken, and city hall doesn’t like us. Yet somehow, I’ve managed to build a successful online e-commerce website. I wouldn’t say I’m rich, but my experiences operating a business far surpass those I read about in class. That, to me, is successful entrepreneurship.
Letter Photography started when I was a freshman in college, when I had seen the idea at a store in Delaware. Each photograph was $9, and my immediate thought was: “I can do better than that.” With no previous experience as a photographer, the only thing I really knew how to do well was design a website.
Over the next few months I spent countless days designing my business. In March of 2009, I made my first online sale, which opened my world to possibilities. “Somebody out there on the internet saw my website and decided to trust me with their purchase,” I thought. If that was possible, so was much more.
Best Success Story
I asked myself, what other edge does my competition have on me? The answer was frames. About 85% of other companies offer frames with their photographs – a much more convenient point of sale, and I wanted in on the idea.
I ended up getting in contact with the largest ready-made and custom framing company in the US. Several e-mails, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings later, they wanted to partner with us. Letter Photography is now in the process of merging and creating a co-branded website with a multi-million dollar framing company.
Not only are my photographs going to be offered with thousands of framing options, but customers are going to have the opportunity to design on anything and everything. From coffee mugs to tote bags, Letter Photography is going to be everywhere. In two years I’ve managed to climb to the top in an extremely competitive marketplace while living in a frat house and attending college.
Biggest Startup Challenge
After that first sale, I was confused by why I wasn’t making many more. I had reached my goal, built a website and provided the cheapest Letter Photography online, but it wasn’t enough.
Soon enough I learned the true value of an online business: internet presence, or internet personality as I call it. Having a website just isn’t enough, you have to create a personality that your customers can relate to through design, content, and customer service.
Just because my photographs were the cheapest, doesn’t mean that customers truly thought they were worth it. Customers ask questions. Why are these photographs so much cheaper than the next site? I was faced with the goal of building an online reputation that Letter Photography was the cheapest, yet the best.
I hired some freelancers to write the content I desired and redesigned the website using psychological color theory. Letter Photography now ranks #1 on Google under those search terms and is featured on blogs across the internet.
#1 Tip for Entrepreneurs
If you own your very own business, then you are in the business of marketing. I cannot stress that enough, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you will be.
You can spend a year designing your perfect storefront or online website, years developing a plan or product, but if you don’t market it no one will buy it. I spent a whole year changing web designs and taking better photographs and still wondering why sales weren’t pouring in like I expected. Then it hit me, how would potential customers even find me? With the right marketing you can sell literally anything.