Lights, camera, selfie: Simple Booth makes photo technology for the Instagram age. Above, revelers at Austin's South Congress Hotel crowd around the glowing light of Simple Booth's "halo"--an illuminated ring that wraps around an iPad--waiting for a tablet to capture the moment. Co-founders Jeremy Cox, an ex-DJ, and Mark Hennings, a former wedding videographer, know what partygoers want: fun pictures, delivered immediately. Their startup makes the halo hardware, app software, and an online platform that allows people to take a series of photos and instantly review them before sending a copy to themselves--or sharing copies on social media. "There's always laughing and screaming, in a good way," says Cox. "It's always a surprise how it's going to turn out."
Simple Booth counts more than 100,000 app users and 1,000 halo customers, who pay installation fees of up to $3,200 and for software subscriptions that run from $29 to $399 per month. Top customers include the in-house marketing departments of Uber and Amazon; bars and restaurants; and even dentists or orthodontists, eager to show off patients' toothy "before" and "after" shots.
The company is growing internally as well. It's No. 414 on this year's Inc. 5000 list, after booking $3.3 million in revenue in 2017, an increase of 1,210 percent from three years earlier. What's more, the startup added 21 employees to its staff during the same time period, a huge jump from just Cox and Hennings in 2014.
While Simple Booth has customers grinning, coming up with the idea for the company wasn't as transparent. Several years before launching, Hennings and Cox ran separate businesses--and they didn't know each another. However, a common desire for a better photo solution and a drive to teach themselves the necessary skills brought the strangers together.
Hennings wanted to offer the customers of his Denver-based videography business something extra--an image they could take and share instantly on social media. He built a studio background that he brought to events, but couldn't find an app that allowed different users to share the picture across their personal social media accounts. So he built one.
He spent his days working for his startup and evenings at the kitchen table, bent over his computer learning how to program and creating an app that met his needs. In 2012, he finished the app LiveBooth, which became the predecessor for Simple Booth, and he got it into Apple's app store. The app acted as sharing kiosk that paired with Henning's existing photo booth.
Meanwhile, Cox was yearning for something similar. As a professional DJ working in Austin, he was looking for something that would enhance the party experience for his customers and noticed a dramatic uptick in photo booths at events. He added one to his DJing services, but it was a large and bulky trailer he had to cart around. He began constructing a better hardware system, learning building skills along the way, and made a device that would work with an iPad to snap and distribute pictures. As he searched for apps that supported this desire, he came across LiveBooth.
"The goal was to provide lighting paired with a good app so the quality would be good enough to produce prints," Cox says. "That's when I found Mark."
A Timely Email
Cox tested the app, loved it, and wrote Hennings to share his views. Over the course of several emails--and one panicked call about a print not working--the two clicked over their shared goal to make a better photo experience. They met in the person in 2014 and shortly thereafter decided to launch a business that blended both of their ideas.
While their research into launching a startup told them that one person should be in control, in case a tiebreaker is necessary, the two decided to split control of the company evenly. They believe this helps maintain their relationship and ensures that both parties are in agreement over every development and decision.
"Jeremy is more of an idealist and I'm a pragmatist, which creates fun tension," Hennings says. "But we leverage it to get ideas and we both have a great sense of humor," he says, adding that at the end of the day, they both want what's best for Simple Booth.
The duo still work remotely, with Hennings operating in Denver and Cox working from Austin, but every six weeks they visit one another. Each trip includes a fun activity for the duo. Most recently they both learned how to ride dirt bikes and have taken up the hobby when reuniting in Denver.
"We don't let things spiral--when times are hard for both of us, we don't blame each other," Hennings says. "We are both in the same boat."