Written by Andrew Seale
Khasan Aripov had a stack of 400 high-end scarves in resale limbo. He couldn’t sell them through his online store Original Luxury, which specializes in hard-to-get European designer clothing and accessories, because he didn’t have any high-quality product photos. And he couldn’t get the scarves photographed because the studios he visited charged an exorbitant rate to snap product shots.
“I thought ‘I'm smart enough, I know a bit about photography,’ so I (rented) a very high-end camera, put down some white paper and some lights, and a holder…” says Aripov. “It took me five hours to snap maybe four scarves – they looked disgusting, I thought ‘you know what, this is not working out.’ ”
But while watching Youtube videos of how to shoot photos of a scarf, Aripov came across StyleShoots, a Netherlands-based company that builds photography machines for eCommerce, slick all-in-one systems that handle lighting and photography and automate the types of content seeing an increase in demand from small businesses.
“We knew it was kind of a gamble – they were ridiculously expensive,” says Aripov. But it got the entrepreneurial gears working, so he and his brother, Husan, bought one. It took a few months to ship but they were ready, having set up a space in Concord, just north of York University where Aripov had graduated from the Schulich School of Business.
“The first machine came in and we put a scarf on it, we snapped it, and right away thought – what else do you guys have?” says the entrepreneur. And it only took three days to shoot 400 scarves, a fraction of the time quoted by the studio they’d initially approached. They ordered two other machines, including the Live which shoots video in 4K, and by the end of February, their new eCommerce product photo studio Stylephotos was up and running.
“(We realized) we could offer the services to smaller designers and shops that don't have the big-budget of someone like a Harry Rosen,” says Aripov. Today, Stylephotos offers several packages, a rental service where clients pay an hourly rate from $200 to $275 dependent on the machine, and a drop-off service where Stylephotos does all the shooting.
“We have at least six-to-ten every week – we've shot everything from meat to water bottles, to tiles, marble flooring, clothing… whatever you can imagine we've probably shot it in the last three months,” says Aripov. “Technically we needed that equipment for ourselves (but) right now the photography business is bringing in way more money than our online store.”
This past winter, Aripov and his brother also launched Ottofact, an online platform for buying new cars at more cost-effective terms than the traditional car-buying experience. The service took two years to get off the ground, time predominately spent sifting through regulation and red tape. But that’s what drives Aripov to be an entrepreneur. “I'm one of those people who likes to grind on the daily.”
Ottofact recently graduated from YEDI (the York Entrepreneurship Development Institute) and has moved into the LaunchYU accelerator in Markham. Aripov says that although there have been appeals to move the automotive startup to Michigan, he likes it here, saying that he’s proud to build Canadian companies and plans to set up more Stylephotos studios across Canada in the coming years.
He points out that the sleeper success of Stylephotos has drawn his focus, while his brother is focusing on Ottofact, but collectively, their mission remains the same – they’re always looking for ways to support the “little guys” whether that’s consumers, startups or small businesses.
“We immigrated to Canada 13 years ago,” says Aripov, crediting his roots for his scrappy mentality. It’s that mentality that saw him through the two-year battle to get Ottofact off the ground. And the same mentality that spurred him to try to figure out his own photos, stumbling on Styleshoots in the process.
“Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur – you can be extremely smart, you can be extremely talented but (you need) the passion that drives you when people tell you no.”
Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)