Wednesday 17 January 2018

Meet some of the clever start-ups making money from the 'selfie'

Celebs have started a trend for posting 'selfies' on Facebook.
Celebs have started a trend for posting 'selfies' on Facebook.

Rebecca Burn-Callander

The selfie has truly come of age. Kim Kardashian, the one-woman superbrand, is about to publish a book of selfie shots.

Selfish, which will feature her most popular selfies alongside unpublished and “racy” shots to husband Kanye West, is set to be a best-seller for the reality TV star.

Kim Kardashian regularly posts 'selfies'
Kim Kardashian regularly posts 'selfies'

Last year, the Oxford dictionary voted the term, which refers to a picture that is taken of oneself, usually on a smartphone, as its word of the year.

Usage of the term increased by 17,000pc in 2013, according to ABC online.

There’s even a song to celebrate its existence: in January, US DJ duo the Chainsmokers released #Selfie, which sold 865,000 copies in the US alone as of June this year.

The viral popularity of the song prompted Universal Music to create Selfie The Album. This compilation, featuring selfie-related tracks by Duke Dumont, Gorgon City and, of course, the Chainsmokers, will go on sale on August 24.

A photo taken on stage at Limerick, tweeted with the caption
A photo taken on stage at Limerick, tweeted with the caption "Totally tweeting a @ULSUEnts Limerick stage selfie...". Photo: Twitter/wheatus

To capitalise on the selfie craze, hundreds of companies are coming up with apps, gadgets and even courses to help users take, share and improve their selfies, creating a new, fast-growing selfie industry.

Plymouth-based Selfie Pods launched just two months ago, selling an extendable arm for taking selfies – also called a “selfie stick” or “monopod”. The Selfie Pod works with any smartphone and the start-up has already sold out of its first batch of 1,000 units.

Retailing for £10 each, the gadget proved a huge hit on the festival circuit, as revellers snapped their costumes and posted selfies listening to their favourite bands. The women’s English Rugby team can also be seen tweeting pictures post-match using the gadget.

Selfie Pods founders Neil Harvey and Steve Pengilley, both 31, had the idea for the business on a recent holiday to the Philippines.

Una takes a 'selfie' (Photo: Instagram/Una Healy)
Una takes a 'selfie' (Photo: Instagram/Una Healy)

“Everyone had a monopod out there and people were taking selfies everywhere,” says Harvey. “The craze was huge across Asia but hadn’t come to the UK yet.

“We’ve been friends since school and have always wanted to start a business together and this idea was too good to pass up.”

The pair knew they were on to a winning business idea when they received three orders on the same day they launched their simple e-commerce website. “We hadn’t done any marketing,” says Harvey. “People were coming to us.”

The company is now waiting to receive a further 5,000 units to meet demand. “As soon as we get the stock in, it disappears,” says Pengilley. “We’ve started offering discounts on pre-orders as an apology for keeping customers waiting."

The frequency of the word selfie - a self-portrait photograph - in the English language has reportedly increased by 17,000% since this time last year
The frequency of the word selfie - a self-portrait photograph - in the English language has reportedly increased by 17,000% since this time last year

Fans of the gadget are tagging the company in selfies across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “Social media has been a huge sales driver for us,” says Harvey.

The young entrepreneurs launched Selfie Pods with “a few thousand pounds” in savings and the business has grown organically through cashflow to date. “There are only two of us in the business, and we do all our own marketing, which keeps costs down” says Harvey. “But we’re looking to bring on a network of resellers around the country by the end of the year.”

To use the Selfie Pod, users have to download apps like Timer Cam that deliver a delay of up to 30 seconds when taking a picture. “We thought about introducing Bluetooth technology so users could take pictures remotely but we wanted to keep the design simple,” says Harvey. “And there’s another issue – once the battery dies or if there’s a fault, you have to throw the monopod away.”

The selfie stick has become such a popular product that there are even accessories being developed to use with it. A British firm, QDOS, is about to launch a remote control “selfie shooter'”, which can be used with the monopod and bypass the need for Bluetooth or wireless technology to take the picture.

GoPro, the wearable camera maker, has also been cashing in on the selfie craze. Its products can be mounted to a range of accessories for shooting selfies but are aimed at the sophisticated user, as the camera retails for upwards of $200. The US-based firm, which went public earlier this year, recently reported a 38pc increase in revenues to $244.6m.

Companies aren’t just selling users the tools for taking selfies, they are peddling courses and content to teach them how to improve their selfie technique.

There are 970 selfie apps on the iTunes App store. The majority are photo editing suites for removing blemishes, adding text and fine-tuning images but some turn selfies into monsters or cartoon avatars. Other niche apps, such as Selfie +, claim to “sell your selfies to the press and media”.

App development isn’t the only way to make money from the selfie movement. Some of the highest ranked “How to take the perfect selfie” videos on YouTube have achieved well over 2m views, which nets the content creators revenues of up to £24,000.

Oliver Lang has a career in IT but moonlights as a mobile photography specialist. He launched Selfie School, working with big-name brands like the Tate, V&A, and ASOS to teach hundreds of students how to perfect their self-shooting.

“The idea of a Selfie School may seem like a ridiculous idea but it works because the world wants to turn a camera on itself like never before,” he says. “There is now some incredible selfie art out there, it’s not all pouts and duck faces.”

Countless brands have jumped on the selfie bandwagon over the past year, from Tia Maria owner Illva Saronno, to Gillette, launching giveaways and competitions searching for the best selfies with their products. Selfie marketing is now firmly on the corporate agenda, so much so that it has spawned its own satirical Tumblr.

The selfie craze has generated some unexpected winners. According to Alice Blackie, founder of Pink Boutique, the trend has increased sales at her online fashion store by 500pc in the past year.

“The selfie generation is the heart of our business,” she says. “Girls are so active on Facebook, posting photos of themselves and their friends on nights out, that they don’t want to be seen in the same outfit twice. Some of our customers buy three dresses a week from us for this reason.”

Blackie was advised to tap into the selfie trend by GrowthAccelerator, a coaching organisation for entrepreneurs. According to the entrepreneur, it was the best move her business could have made: “We’re selling up to 2000 dresses a day and that’s showing no signs of dropping. I think the trend is only going to grow.”

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