Soona reinvented photo and video distribution for brands when it launched last year. But with the company’s studios closed under the governor’s stay-at-home order, Soona had to make a quick pivot.
The company remains focused on providing social-media-friendly content for brands, but now video shoots are conducted remotely. Co-founder Liz Giorgi says she’s taking the time to develop a more user-friendly online experience for clients.
An influential leader among Minnesota’s startup scene, Giorgi is focused on balancing optimism and realism. And to keep some levity, she’s embracing her team sharing funny videos via Slack.
TCB: How has your work changed or been disrupted by the pandemic?
Giorgi: Our studio stores in Minneapolis and Denver are considered nonessential businesses under shelter-in-place orders that have come down from the state and local governments. We don't anticipate we’ll be able to open them back up to folks until mid-April at the very earliest. There’s a huge amount of intense emotion with our customers right now. Our customers feel deeply saddened that they’re not able to come in and collaborate with the crew and get the access that they want. We have been able to effectively move a lot of our clients to online, and allow them to experience Soona through our virtual shoot experience. But it has changed a little bit with how we’re interacting with customers, simply because it has been such a stressful time for them.
As a company we’re not used to all sitting in our houses all day Zooming and connecting that way. And so we didn’t really have a work-from-home culture prior to this. We’re all trying to figure out what our new culture really looks like, given where we are today.
Q: So have you lost work because of coronavirus, or have you been able to shift the majority of that to virtual?
A | We’ve been able to shift about 50 percent of our clients to virtual shoots. But the other 50 percent are in a state of limbo right now, where we’re hoping that we’ll be able to service their needs in late April when our studio stores are able to be open. But at this point it’s hard to say because we don’t know how long these shelter-in-place orders are going to be in effect.
Q: Is there anything you’re able to do in the interim to compensate for that lost work or pending work? Or to create new streams of revenue while everything is so uncertain?
A | We had been working diligently on getting our application into the Shopify store, but with this time that we’ve all been home, it just seemed like the perfect timing to really double down our focus on product companies that are in e-commerce, because it is once of the things we are able to service right now. So, we launched our Shopify application. We’ve been really gratified to see the pickup our customers have had there.
I think the other thing we’ve been really focused on is just trying to make it easy for our virtual shoots to be as seamless as possible. So we’ve spent a lot of time enhancing that product for our customers really trying to look at what are things that would make it easier for them to be able to get a true sense of how the shoot is going.
And that’s definitely been a really interesting experience for us as a company. We’re a startup, so we’ve never really had the time before to just focus on one aspect of our product really in that specific of detail, so we’re just really honing in on that. I had a friend say to me, “You know when the economy is booming that’s when you sell, sell, sell, and when the economy is struggling, that’s when you try to build, build, build.” So that’s kind of been the mentality that I’ve been using. Right now, we’re just trying to build, build, build.
Q: Do you anticipate work and business bouncing back pretty quickly, or are you bracing for the worst?
A | It’s interesting because I will say the creative and the creative economy is one of the things that does tend to get pinched in moments like this. And one of the things we’re thinking about as a company right now is how we make sure we are creating some opportunities for our creative employees to be successful in this time.
Soona really was founded as a more affordable option for creating photo and video as opposed to having a giant photoshoot or having to hire a massive crew that’s going to cost you thousands of dollars. So, we’re optimistic that our approach is actually going to be representative of an opportunity in a downturn. But we’re obviously hoping that the economy recovers, and we’re all able to go back to work and go back to business as usual at some point.
I’m trying to the best of my ability to be realistic about what we’re going to be able to do and accomplish, given the way that we’re having to change how we’re working. And I think that’s how a lot of leaders in our community feel right now, is that they’re trying to stay positive and optimistic, and they’re trying to help their team get through this. But they’re also trying to bring a dose of reality to the conversation so that we’re not ignoring the pain that really is out there for so many.
Q: With that in mind, are there any bright spots in mind that you’re seeing in this crisis?
A | I was talking with some female founders across the country as part of a group that I’m in. And we were discussing some of the ways in which maybe we’re seeing this moment as an opportunity to support some of our friends in business during a time when we really need each other. And the way I’m seeing it is folks are really looking for opportunities to help each other.
To me, that shows how much people are really invested in the entirety of what our community has to offer and are really invested in showing up for each other––not just with a tweet but with their money. And that matters a lot.
I have a really good friend who has an ice cream shop in Brooklyn and they’ve been closed a lot longer than we’ve been closed down here in the Twin Cities. And you know, the thing she said is she doesn’t know how she’d be making it right now if people weren’t buying gift cards. And it’s such an act of optimism, right? It’s such an act of optimism to say you will reopen, and I will show up, and I will be able to get that scoop of ice cream when that happens. I think that’s the kind of optimism that does make people feel really good right now when it doesn’t feel like there are that many opportunities to be optimistic.
Q: I’m also wondering what your home setup looks like.
A | I have my dog, who is still under a year old. She’s really a puppy, which makes it hard to get anything done. My husband and I made an agreement to have “work zones,” and not have the whole house become work from home. Otherwise, you just never stop working. So, my work zone is in our dining room. My dining room table is now my desk. And it’s covered in paperwork and notebooks and different things I need to look at. I’ve definitely had more than one cup of coffee pile up here a couple of times a week, but so far, so good. We’re making the best of it.
Q: Do you have any advice for people staying at home?
A | The biggest thing has been trying to make sure that we’re taking time to talk about how everyone is feeling. I think sometimes at work “feelings” can be a dirty word, but we do a check-in at the top of our team meetings. We all have parents, we all have family, we all have friends who may be impacted in some way by what’s going on. We want to show we’re there for each other.