Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in photography but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Gary Martin, Founder of PRO EDU, located in St. Louis, MO, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I founded PRO EDU to be the ultimate resource for visual artists. The company's purpose is to give photographers and retouchers access to WHY artists make the decisions they do with an all-access pass to photoshoots, retouching sessions, and workflows that the top pro's in the industry use. We focus on "Working Pro's" and try to blend documentary-style filmmaking with step-by-step instruction on every artist we collaborate with while giving them the tools like RAW files, Photoshop Actions, and every resource to inspire artists to adapt the workflows to their own. We aim to help artists learn these principles as quickly as possible. The easiest way to think about our business model is that it's like Netflix for creatives. It's like the Matrix but for learning visual arts.

Tell us about yourself

I first had the idea in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Moldova in 2006. I was pretty cut off from the outside world living in a small village with muddy roads and outhouses for bathrooms. I wanted to learn photography and filmmaking, and the only option at the time was buying books that took a month to arrive or going to school. I didn't have those options. While there, we made a documentary about the Soviet Union and Corruption. In that process, I wanted access to a million small questions about composition, lighting, audio, etc. It didn't exist. When I returned from the Peace Corps, I spent a few years working in Commercial Photography and ended up continuing my documentary-style filmmaking but with photographers. I tried to create a cinematic learning experience that was both beautiful and educational. What came about was what I call a "docutorial." I've been bootstrapping the company ever since and reinvesting the profits and money into new projects and the tech and staff that runs the company now.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Being in business still. Running a company is complex and requires a lot of patience, planning, and putting in the work. Add on the recent years of a global pandemic that shut our productions down, and it's a miracle that we survived when so many other businesses didn't. So my most significant accomplishment is maintaining a nontraditional business without outside investment and with no formal training in running a production/education/e-commerce/ed-tech company.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Running a business can be overwhelming, and you need to learn how to trust others, and knowing whom to trust is that extra special skill that is often learned the hard way. Hire slow and fire fast is a great tip that I constantly remind myself of. In my early days, I would rush into ideas, rush into hiring awesome people before outlining a specific job description with KPIs, and expect that everyone understood the business and the goals/objectives the way I did. It's really humbling to learn that everyone thinks and communicates so differently. As a business owner, you must constantly adapt to changes, listen to feedback, and make your expectations/goals clear from the get-go to get everyone on the same page for the mission. It takes an army of people to be successful, and no one person can be responsible for everything. Leadership is challenging and an ever-adapting philosophy to your company culture. There are a million nuances to ownership, responsibility, and trust. If you make this clear and support this level of transparency and vulnerability with everyone, it makes it easier for everyone to participate in contributing their all.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

You are going to get punched in the face, and then kicked in the groin, and then punched in the face again pretty much on a regular basis. Running a business is like riding a roller coaster. You have to get secure with being insecure and try and stay positive throughout the entire journey. Staying positive is key because if you are freaking out, then everyone who sees you freak out will absorb that and may start to freak out. My dad always used to tell me that you need a backup plan to your backup plan, so you know how to act and what to do in every scenario.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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