Co-founder & creative Director of exposure
Photo by Katy Viola.
As if the entrepreneurial space isn’t already a crowded one, much of it consists of startup-ers who believe purpose, profit, and sustainability can’t coexist within a company. So, when I come across a founder who’s able to successfully challenge this belief, it’s always a refreshing chat. Luke Beard – co-founder of Exposure, a tool that turns your photos into stunning graphic narratives – is building something very meaningful at his company. In the following interview, Luke shares with us a brief, yet very valuable conversation about building a product that lasts.
One of the first places you worked creatively at was a design agency. You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you often felt restless, and at times, even under-appreciated there. Why did you stick around for so long before making the jump to do something else? Simple answer, I was pretty broke. Being the clichè millennial I am, I was terrible at personal finance and the job at the time did not pay me a whole lot. So no savings plus living paycheck to paycheck most months was a good reason to be apprehensive about taking a risk on something else. It was reliable income and looking for a new job or taking a chance on a startup was scary for me. But there was a tipping point, where the need to move forward overcame that financial fear. That mindset of just going for it has stuck with me as I moved from job to job over the years since then.
Talk to me more about that “going for it” mindset. Many people want to dive into intimidating decisions as confidently, but the fear of failure often holds them back. Oh totally, I’ve missed some great opportunities over the years, some could have been life changing. Almost any fear you have is driven by loss. Scared of losing your salary, the city you live in, so on and so forth, and I was totally in that boat for a long time.
What made the differences to my mentality was the realization you have to make your own luck. Putting yourself out there when it comes to your career is so important (important in life too) and it gets overlooked for the traditional routes that are “safe”.
I’m by no means a success (yet,) but I’m certainly in a place I want to be.
After leaving Zerply, you did some consulting before transitioning back into creating products. What is it about belonging to a team that you’re drawn to? It was my first time in “startup land” and everything was new. Nearly every problem was the first time I had encountered it and I was not jaded by anything, that kind of stuff is sticky. When you are in the mix for a specific culture for a time you notice the problems, you notice the crazy stuff. When you are brand new it’s all amazing and it’s like, “Who cares, I’m here! Let’s make stuff”.
As with the first time for anything, you don’t get to experience that again. Team Z are some of the most important people I’ve ever met and the memories of those times really solidify that.
“Almost any fear you have is driven by loss … What made the differences to my mentality was the realization you have to make your own luck.
In a world where many creatives were naturally able to find their calling at a young age, it’s really encouraging to learn that you only took your first step at 18 years old in a college class. Have you ever felt the pressure to “catch up” to others in the creative field, or have you always been confident with the path you’re on? The tech and design press love to get excited about 12/15/17/ etc year old wizkids with their companies or apps. For the most part, that’s great. It’s the best time to be alive for this industry. Do I wish I had started sooner? Sure, but it’s not a regret. Am I happy/excited about what I’m doing right now? Absolutely. If you want to be good at something, it takes time. It’s not worth that time feeling super bad about not starting sooner.
I am confident with my path, and I’m glad I can give interviews like this that might help steer some younger creative in some direction they had not thought about.
“If you want to be good at something, it takes time. It’s not worth that time feeling super bad about not starting sooner.
You’re building something really meaningful at Exposure. From my understanding, you’re greatly focused on building a product that lasts, as opposed to one that gets bought. I’d love to hear more on your thoughts about this. It’s never been easier or cheaper to build internet products, and at the same time, it’s never been easier to shut them down. In most cases, if a product fails to become a business, it goes away and users lose anything they invested in it. Be that data, writings or photos. Throw the culture of raising tons of money to grow like crazy with no business plan, and you get a lot of fireballs. And it sucks for everyone, especially the end user who might have really enjoyed your product and felt it was important to them.
Exposure is enjoyed by over a hundred thousand members and has some incredibly important stories from many walks of life. We have scaled slow, stayed small and made sure that our members can depend on all their stories being available for as long as humanly possible. We have passionate paying subscribers from individuals, brands, and businesses, and we communicate they are part of the plan for sustainability when they become a customer. It’s always a positive reaction. You can build a good product, make it sustainable, and make money. You don’t have to choose one of the three.
“We have passionate paying subscribers … and we communicate they are part of the plan for sustainability when they become a customer. It’s always a positive reaction.
Well put! What’s another business trend you’d advise against for starting entrepreneurs? You don’t have to listen to everyone. Most advice can be very distracting or misinformed, choose wisely who you listen to. In the age of the internet, there are tons of people who don’t know what they are doing.
What have you found to be most challenging in these past years of business? What’s your solution? There are always 5-2000 things that are difficult at any given time, but something that is always on my mind is how to keep the perspective that what you are doing matters to (hopefully) many people. You lose sight with internal issues or problems that you prioritize on a personal level. Even if you use your own product all the time, it’s not really for you. Your users matter more than you.
I’ve been working on this by focusing more time on support for chunks of time and really reading what our customers and members want or how they feel about the product.
Luke’s personal Exposure page
Besides reading up on reviews, how involved are you with the Exposure community? Do you think it’s important for founders to have some form of a personal connection with their users/subscribers? Very involved. I read as many stories as I can per day, curate the best ones and always give feedback when asked. A lot of folks know me by name if they are invested in the platform. A lot email directly with questions or ideas. Having a direct line to a founder is fairly rare and really is valuable to your services members.
We need to do a lot more to cultivate our community, but what we have done so far has been great. It’s provided Exposure with a level of organic growth that is very rare.
As a subscription-modeled business, do you ever feel the pressure to constantly innovate new builds for the site? Or would you say you and your subscribers are completely satisfied with where Exposure’s product stands? Software is weird, as it’s never “done”. Especially for a products like Exposure. Thankfully we got some things right at the start with regards to design and experience that really held its value. We have of course iterated and have plans to improve a lot more, but the raw purpose of the product still remains very similar since launch day.
I don’t think anyone is 100% satisfied with any software. You can always improve.