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Photo booth reinvented for the Net Add to ...


Ray Kanani, Aman Bhatia and Nathan Ganapathi had a product they believed could change social media marketing – a photo booth that feeds images directly to the Internet. But they had limited resources and little experience. How could they establish credibility for this new form of online marketing?


SMART Pics Images Inc is the brainchild of Ray Kanani, a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business and a social media-savvy entrepreneur.

Mr. Kanani’s parents, who run a hair salon in Vancouver, needed marketing help. So Mr. Kanani created a blog and a Facebook page for them, but they found they didn’t have time to update content.

So he went another step further, creating a digital photo booth in the salon that could take before and after pictures of clients, and automatically upload them instantly to the Web. Thus, the first SMART Pics kiosk was born.

The salon kiosk was moderately successful, but it was not until Nathan Ganapathi, a university classmate, recognized the possibilities for entertainment events that the company started to take off.

The two saw opportunity for entertainment companies to use the kiosk to market their events through social media, by posting pictures in real time to the Web. Event goers could post their own candid shots, providing organizers with publicity that could be used to market subsequent events.

It sounded like a great idea. But how could SMART Pics convince entertainment companies to sign on when the product was unknown and unproven?


Mr. Ganapathi managed to arrange a meeting with Donnelly Group, which runs nightclubs and other venues in Vancouver. The Olympics were on their way, and Mr. Ganapathi pitched his kiosk concept as a novel way to help Donnelly promote events at its nightclubs during the Games.

Knowing it was an opportunity to generate awareness of their product, Mr. Kanani and Mr. Ganapathi agreed to a very low rate for use of their kiosk. Although they knew this would mean making no money, they realized the potential publicity would be worth the financial risk. Donnelly agreed to a deal and installed a kiosk in its nightclubs for the duration of the Olympics.

Half-way through the Games, the kiosk experienced technical problems. The two recognized that failing at their first contract would have been a major, and possibly insurmountable, setback. So they called in Aman Bhatia, a friend with technical expertise, who solved the problems and subsequently became a partner in the company.


Its successful deal with Donnelly during the Olympics gave the company the credibility it needed. It has since signed a number of contracts, ranging from other nightclubs in Vancouver and Las Vegas to the Vancouver Canucks and Microsoft Corp.

Mr. Kanani credits success to focusing on the concept and the customer, not on money. “You will never be successful if your focus is to make money. You have to be passionate about an idea that can provide value to others.”

JoAndrea Hoegg is an assistant professor in the marketing division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Your Business website.

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