How we started ScanCafe

Management Team

When I was at business school, my buddy Laurent, who is from Switzerland, had to attend his grandfather’s funeral back in
Lausanne. His grandfather was the de facto family archivist (every family has one, whether they recognize it or not) and the family was unsure of what to do with the dozens of photo albums he had left behind, some of which contained photos dating to 1898. Laurent stepped up to the plate and said that he would return with them to the US, scan them, burn discs for everyone, and then return the originals to his grandmother. After spending 6 consecutive Saturdays trying to scan the material (and after spending about $800 on equipment and software) he thought “there has to be a better way”. So, he looked around online and, although he found a huge cottage industry of professional scanning companies, he failed to find a single one that offered decent pricing and, more importantly, a user-centric experience. He was discussing this frustration with me, Naren Dubey and Damon Mercadante when a collective light popped on over our heads. “Hey, sounds like a great opportunity for a service unlike any other.”

Voila, ScanCafe was born (although the original name was “ScanMyMemories” – a little trivia for you). But we didn’t want this to just be about price – for which we are the clear and unchallenged leader. It needed to be about more than just cost effectiveness. Photography is emotional, as is all art, and we had to leverage that to provide an excellent experience for the customer. The highest level of frustration for Laurent initially was not the prices in the market, which we thought were exorbitant, but that he had to spend so much of his very valuable time on the project. If you accept the high prices, you still have to spend many hours sorting through your images to determine which ones to send in for conversion. “This” we thought “is the right leverage point”. So we decided that we would offer a “no hassle” service. People are quick to point to our pricing – but I know from talking to the customer that the idea of “no pre-sorting necessary” is a more valuable part of our offering.

Think about it, all you have to do is grab your shoe box, package it securely, print out the label from our website, and send it in. That’s it. It can take as little as 3 minutes of labor on your part to fully convert your entire analog archive. That is pretty powerful and it is unmatched in the industry.

We spent the next 7 months hammering out the specifics of the business, developing the back end infrastructure, and exercising the right international logistics chain. We also spent a lot of our own money – but this was important because it showed that we all had “skin in the game” and believed in what we were doing. We officially launched the service on the 30th of October, 2006, and haven’t looked back since.

3 thoughts on “How we started ScanCafe”

  1. Scan Cafe did a great job scanning slides and negatives for me! Good luck to you guys, and I’ll be sending more – Mike

  2. Great biz model. But, perhaps there could be improvements made with the “pro” service. When someone like Laurent who wants digital copies of the old family photos, details and clarity are probably the most critical elements the customers expect.

    When it comes to scans that were shot for photography purposes, however, the scanning gets a bit more tricky. If the scanning crew sharpens a shot that was meant to capture the misty fog on a New England morning or erase the yellow-hue in a shot of an old colonial street in Brazil at night, he/she has effectively eliminated the TRUE element of these shots. After all, when it comes to photography, clarity and brightness are not always the essence.

    Of course, the scanning crews were not the original photographer – and no one expect them to understand the thousands of the shots that they process daily. However, if Scancafe were to become a true “pro” scanning services, probably both the customers and Scancafe should realize that the majority of the scans may not be right on the first try. As such, may be a functionally could be built in under the “pro” section where the customer can provide a brief comment on what they are expecting to see on some of the shots after the initial round of scanning (instead of just trash vs keep). With such detailed feedback and customer expectations on each photo, the scanning crew can easily go back and produce exactly what the customers want on the second/third try. Whilst there’s always the element of increased cost & time associated with such enhanced services, as a customer, I’d rather wait a bit longer, and perhaps even pay a bit more (NOT that much more) and receive what I expected than something I will just “trash”.

    Sorry, it’s a mouthful, but as with every business, processes take time to evolve and improve. I think scancafe is a great idea. Please keep up and keep improving.

  3. Thanks for that feedback – and you are correct that the pro or high end enthusiast requires a more delicate touch. We have actually worked quite tightly with several professionals on their portfolio – and we encourage folks to send us special instructions for the scanning process. I can say that a customer could today send special instructions with their order that says “please scan 5 images and contact client for confirmation of processs” and we would then work directly with the client to insure the images are scanned per their specific desires. That said, your comment has a great deal of merit in that we have to make this more well known in our “ProZone”. Thanks for the feedback – if you have more specific questions you can reach us at [email protected].

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