Rachel LaCour Niesen, head of Market Intelligence for Foreground (ShootProof and Collage), tells us about her passion for photographing weddings.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you joined Foreground.
Rachel LaCour Niesen: My background is professional photography and entrepreneurship. I spent the first few years of my professional life as a photojournalist. Those were tough years; it’s hard to make a living as a photojournalist. During those first few lean years, I discovered that I’m actually a storyteller who believes photographs play a role in preserving world history and family history. So when a friend randomly asked me to photograph her wedding, I thought, “why not? It sounds like another way to tell family stories.” And guess what? I absolutely loved photographing weddings, using my training in photojournalism to document real moments as they happened.
In the end, I traded my front-row seat to world history for a front-row seat to family history.
Photographing weddings helped me merge my interest in storytelling with my love of family history. For over a decade, I photographed hundreds of weddings for families. I was humbled to be a family historian with a camera. However, I realized that I wasn’t just running a photo studio during that time. I was trying to scale a business. Without the experience to grow a business, my partner and I started looking around for tools that could help us scale by working smarter, not harder. We were putting in 18-hour days and worked nearly every weekend photographing weddings. So we thought there had to be a more efficient way to manage our appointments, photoshoots, and sales leads. Let’s just say we were drowning in documents, spreadsheets, and sticky notes! Business software designed to manage leads for large sales forces was expensive and didn’t fit the needs of a small creative business. So we did what a lot of founders do – we identified the problems we faced, outlined our use cases, and got to work iterating on a SaaS product that would become the first CRM for photographers. About four years after founding our company, we sold it to the leading online gallery provider for professional photographers. As part of their executive management team, I got a crash course in leadership and product development. It was an exhilarating and humbling time.
Fast forward a few years, the company that acquired ours shuttered, and I was wondering what was next for me. I took some time off for professional development and to start a family. When I had a chance to meet one of the co-founders of ShootProof, an online gallery provider for professional photographers that were scaling rapidly, I jumped at the opportunity! After a few months of working as a consultant, I joined the team full-time, leading Product Marketing and Brand Strategy.
In 2021, ShootProof expanded its product portfolio to include Collage.com, a leading provider of personalized photo and home products, including wall art, books, textiles, and a variety of photo gifts. Under the umbrella brand, Foreground, ShootProof, and Collage together harness the evolution of the category, marrying the business needs of professional photographers with large-scale knowledge of consumer purchasing behavior.
Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?
Rachel LaCour Niesen: Keeping a written journal is simple but powerful. I have paper journals for personal and professional reflections and set aside at least 15 minutes each day to capture thoughts and action items. I keep those journals and revisit them quarterly and annually to consider the challenges I’ve faced and overcome. I also can take a critical look at what I have not yet accomplished and hope to in the coming months and years.
I also drink tons of water, which sounds so basic, but helps me feel energized and mentally sharp. Plus, having to refill my water bottle regularly ensures I step away from my desk! Usually, one of those water breaks involves a brisk walk around the neighborhood.
How does Foreground market your brands (ShootProof and Collage) specifically online?
Rachel LaCour Niesen: We’ve grown over the years through organic channels – content marketing, in particular, has been part of our growth strategy. During the e-commerce boom during Covid, we leaned into paid ads, primarily google ads. This is another channel we’ve fostered, specifically for Collage.com, which is affiliated.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Rachel LaCour Niesen: We have social media and competitive marketing to help us track and engage with customers, paid media placement through the platforms ( FB, Google, etc.), and email marketing to help customers engage and succeed on the platform. We also have lots of success with seasonal content like Black Friday, wedding season, holidays, and Mother’s Day, which brings awareness to prospective customers.
What is your hiring policy/process, and how do you retain employees?
Rachel LaCour Niesen: I approach hiring like a cultural anthropologist. Said differently, I evaluate the person first rather than the accomplishments or professional experiences they may include on their resumé or LinkedIn. There are specific traits that I look for, including these top 3: problem-solving aptitude, curiosity, and empathy. Candidates who are inquisitive and ask questions during an interview are more compelling than those who simply answer the questions I pose. My management style is to lead with empathy and consider the whole person when giving critical feedback. To me, the best mentors have been the ones who coach me with candor and address difficult topics with transparency and sincere care. I try to emulate those qualities in my own team. One of my team members mentioned that he views me as an ally rather than a boss. That was wonderful to hear and helped me understand that walking alongside a direct report, even if it means slowing down a bit, helps retention and engagement. Retention is simpler – when a teammate understands the vision and is engaged in trying to do the hard work to accomplish it, they’ll stick around! Pragmatically, I believe in encouraging team members to have regular conversations with customers. The more connected they feel to the customer, the more likely they are to connect with the company’s bigger vision.
How are you funding your growth?
Rachel LaCour Niesen: We are lucky to have great partners. PSG backs Foreground, a leading growth equity firm that focuses on partnering with middle-market software and technology-enabled service companies. They believe in our vision to revolutionize the highly-fragmented market for photography industry solutions and make it easier for photographers to access the tools they need to start, run and grow their businesses.
Who are your competitors?
Rachel LaCour Niesen: Our primary competitors are Pixieset and Pic-Time in the photo industry. Our competitors include Shutterfly, Snapfish, Personalization Mall, and others in the photo personalization segment.
Tell us a customer success story of yours.
Rachel LaCour Niesen: It is always inspiring to see a photographer grow their business by delivering a delightful experience to their clients. It’s challenging to be a professional photographer now because consumers have access to many e-commerce sites that enable them to take the photos a photographer delivered to them and create something like a blanket, book, or wall art. The photographer loses out in those situations because the client didn’t create photo products through them. So one particular success story that stands out is from a photographer who had never sold any printed products to her clients but wanted to give it a try. She used one of our sales features that enables a photographer to offer Collage.com products directly to their clients. She reported back to us, “My clients absolutely loved the outcome of their orders and the options they had at their fingertips. The print quality was great, and orders came in super fast!” (Lauren Durham)
Your final thoughts?
Rachel LaCour Niesen: Even though social media is where a lot of photo sharing happens, I think there’s actually a deep desire to have something tangible, like a printed photo or an album. There’s just something special about holding memories in your hands and gifting them to loved ones. As we create content at warp speed, we’re accumulating more pictures than ever before. We’re burying ourselves in digital photos that may never leave our phones. I think photos – especially family photos – deserve to be enjoyed in tangible form.