Nicole Smith
Credit: Courtesy of Flytographer

Former Microsoft consultant turned holiday snapshots into a global enterprise

Like all entrepreneurs, Nicole Smith is at the front line of seeking funds for her business. We’re meeting in Vancouver between her appeal at the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs’ Pitch for the Purse competition (after skipping breakfast with a “nervous stomach,” she’s making up this lunchtime) and meeting potential investors in Flytographer. In 2013, two years after being reunited with a close friend in Paris and asking another friend to take pictures of them, Smith set up the company, which connects world travellers with trusted local photographers.

This much I know…

“The worst feeling in the world is pity—it totally fuels me. There was a time just when I quit Microsoft and was working on Flytographer full-time—and watching my bank account dwindling on my mortgage and my two young kids during the fall’s toughest months for sales—that I had to sell my lovely BMW X5. My dad lent me an old beater, so I had transportation, but I remember thinking that everyone else was ascending financially. I knew it would’ve been different if I had stayed consulting—yet I woke the next day realizing that I would sell my house next; I believed in it so much, I was like a train that couldn’t be stopped. So you absolutely have to get back to brass tacks when you’re living through a startup.”

“It was hard in those early days in 2013 because we had no brand presence—now people can see the calibre of the work our photographers deliver. The world is troubled, and we’re in the business of love and joy where people can book from 400 photographers—all vetted by our full-time recruiter—on every continent except Antarctica for their special trips abroad. We all have great cameras on our iPhones, but just because you have the tools doesn’t mean you’re an amazing photographer. There’s an art to it where people train for years. Besides, we all have kitchens, but isn’t it lovely to have a meal out where you can focus on each other? We’ve seen 7,000-percent growth since then, with just over $3 million in sales, and now we want to double down on Facebook paid customer acquisition as well as investing in Pinterest and Instagram influencers. I project we will hit $100 million in sales within five years.”

“I also realize that life often comes full circle. My late grandfather, Harry Holland, ran a realty company near my home in Victoria and was an avid traveller—to the point he would take off for up to two years all around the world with his family. He’d show me his slideshows—saying, ‘Let’s look at Morocco today’—but he would tell me in the end, there is no better place in the world than right here. Now I’ve lived abroad in South Korea, Mexico and the U.S., I’ve been everywhere through my job, and as a traveller, I really understand him and wish that he could see what I built. He would have loved it.”

Nicole Smith

Age: 45
Position: Founder and CEO of Victoria-based Flytographer, which has a staff of 15 and partners with global brands such as Expedia Group, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and travel advisory service Virtuoso
Previous roles: 13 years working at and consulting for Microsoft, where she was previously a marketing manager; product manager at software developer Ripcord Systems
School: Business administration degree from SFU
Accolades: Flytographer won the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs’ 2018 Pitch for the Purse competition in February; last year Profit and Canadian Business magazines ranked the company No. 16 on their Startup 50 list and named it Canada’s fastest-growing consumer services startup
Lunch: Burger and fries at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s Notch8 Restaurant & Bar