— Pamela Roth
Four years ago, Nicole Smith was on a business trip in Paris and met up with her best friend. There were no husbands or children, just the two friends together in Paris, marking a rare occasion.
The two friends wanted great photos to remember the special trip for years to come, but were disappointed at the end of the day with the awkward floating head selfies or blurry photos taken by strangers.
A friend of Smith’s friend met up with the pair the next day and snapped photos of them for 20 minutes with an iPhone. When Smith looked at the pictures she had goosebumps.
“She really chronicled the spirit of my trip in a way that selfies or awkward stranger shots never could,” said the 43-year-old. “To me, that was the best souvenir I could bring home.”
The trip sparked an idea that has now become Smith’s livelihood, and one that generated a phone call out-of-the-blue from CBC’s Dragons’ Den — a reality show where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their business concepts and products to a panel of Canadian business moguls who have the cash and the know-how to make it happen.
Working full-time for Microsoft at the time, Smith launched her business, Flytographer, two years ago from her home office in Oak Bay. The business connects travellers with local photographers in their region for quick, candid photo shoots, resulting in wall-worthy photos of everyone together.
Today, Smith has a team of six full-time and two part-time employees working in a downtown Victoria office. She also works with more than 300 photographers in 160 cities worldwide.
When looking for a photographer in far-off destinations, Smith typically connects with local wedding photographers, interviewing them on Skype and doing test shoots first. The photographers can be booked for as short as 30 minutes or up to a few hours, and also provide advice about the region from a local’s perspective.
“Part of the experience is not getting these stunning vacation photos with everyone in the picture, but it’s also that authentic connection with a local showing their favourite coffee shop or taking you off the beaten path a little,” said Smith, adding the business has exploded in the last year.
“We see photos every day coming in from all over the world. Whether it be surprise proposals or 50th anniversaries or family reunions or an adventurous solo trip, it’s all these amazing moments in these people’s lives when they are travelling to all these beautiful destinations. To be part of these moments, it’s a joy.”
Smith knew she was onto something big, but never expected to receive a phone call from the producers of Dragons’ Den.
Seeing it as a great opportunity to get in front of Canadians and meet powerful business moguls, Smith and her oldest son flew to Toronto last May to make their pitch to the dragons, who are known to be ruthless given their own personal money is on the line.
The episode will air on Wednesday, Oct. 28. Until then, Smith is not allowed to talk about the outcome of her pitch, but said the experience was one filled with many emotions.
“It was really exciting, really scary, overwhelming, but it happened so fast that I think almost that was a benefit because I didn’t have weeks and months to stir and think about it,” she said.
“It’s been the busiest two years of my life and it’s also been the most exciting. I’ve never had a job that I loved so much before.”