PANO Kalogeropoulos, 31, of Fairmount, is a photographer who founded Bokeh Fire, which considers itself the Netflix of camera lenses. The company offers a curated set of lenses for rent monthly. Bokeh owns all the lenses rented out on its website. Bokeh launched a $20,000, 30-day crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter on Nov. 13 that has so far raised more than $15,000.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea for Bokeh Fire?
A: I moved here in 2013 after graduating from business school at Northwestern, where I started thinking about this. Most really good professional lenses cost $1,000 to $2,000. The issue is how we can make professional lenses more affordable.
Q: What's the biz do?
A: Lots of people in the U.S. own Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras. We estimate 2 to 3 million are professionals. Cameras come with a basic lens, but it isn't very good. Photographers know there are lenses that are much better but are expensive. We provide an easy way for any photographer with a DSLR camera to afford the best lenses.
Q: The biz model?
A: We have a monthly subscription and two levels, Basic and Pro. Basic is $125 a month, Pro is $225, based on types of lenses. It's always one lens at a time, you can swap them as many times as you want, shipping is free. Use the lens as long as you want, then put it back in the box with a prepaid mailing label and ship it back to us.
Q: And the name?
A: Bokeh is the background blur in a photo. When you take somebody's portrait, you want the face to stand out and the background to be blurry. Fire is our passion for photography; the best lenses create better bokeh.
Q: Your customers?
A: About half are amateurs, people who don't make a living from photography, and the other half are professionals who make more than half their living mainly shooting weddings in the summer or sports in the fall. We have about 500 customers.
Q: The value prop?
A: There are 85 lenses for Canon, 85 for Nikon. You're never going buy them all. We think the market will evolve to a place where people are not buying lenses to keep but renting to have them when they want.
Q: What differentiates you from competitors?
A: Our fee includes rental, shipping and partial insurance coverage if the lens is broken, so you only have to pay for a small part out of pocket. Other places charge extra for shipping and late fees. If you break a lens, you have to pay for it.
Q: How big a biz is this?
A: I'm the only full-time person and I have two part-time people. On revenue, we're doing better than I expected at the beginning of the year.