In Korea, self-photo studios are trending and this experience can now be done right here in Singapore thanks to Kevin Chu.
The Hwa Chong Institution graduate previously interned at GovTech, where he worked on Form.gov.sg. He then enlisted in the Air Force in 2018, where worked at SWiFT office, solving problems with coding.
After finishing his national service, he worked on his own software projects and freelanced as a software developer for clients all over the world.
He will be pursuing a degree at Singapore Management University this fall but also took the leap to become an entrepreneur two months ago.
Call your own shots
Fotomat recently opened for business on 2 April 2021 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
I enjoy coding and creating new systems. My sister has a hobby in film photography so I had an idea to tap on her knowledge in photography and combine it with my interest.
I wanted to create a new photography experience in Singapore by letting people take their own portraits with the use of a camera trigger.– Kevin Chu, founder of Fotomat
This was his way of making portrait photography more fun. By removing the photographer from the equation, he hopes that it would encourage more bold, expressive and innovative poses, which come out more when people are given a private space.
Offering only black and white photography, Fotomat is targeted at all ages.
“For the older generation, black and white photography would remind them of the days where formal portraits with family members, especially on significant occasions, were often taken in studios. For the slightly younger generation, Fotomat might be reminiscent of the ‘neoprint’ machines which were all the rage back then,” said Kevin.
“For the youngest of them all, these exclusively monochromatic pictures might seem unusual. Whatever it is, the experience at Fotomat can be enjoyed by everyone.”
More than just a “photo booth”
Fotomat is located at Stamford Arts Centre in the Bugis district, which is an incubator for arts projects.
“We are grateful to National Arts Council for accommodating us … This has allowed us to focus on developing this new visual arts concept and continually innovate,” said Kevin, adding that Fotomat has done plenty of trial and error to improve the user experience.
He went on to stress that Fotomat is more than just a photo booth.
When I first came up with the idea for Fotomat, I wanted to make it accessible and affordable to everyone, especially students and young adults.
Taking professional studio shots used to be reserved for special occasions like weddings and graduations, but that is no longer the case with Fotomat because we are the first in Singapore to provide an artistic, unique and fun photoshoot experience at a nominal cost.– Kevin Chu, founder of Fotomat
Prices start at S$30 for a 15-minute shoot (unlimited shots for two persons) which come with two prints. Additional prints and digital copies are available at additional cost. In addition, students and active military personnel enjoy a discounted rate.
When Fotomat first launched, Kevin said that his customers were “full of praise” of Fotomat, sharing that they enjoyed the unique experience.
“They liked the space, the private experience of directing their own shots, seeing the product of the shoot, and the personal interactions with me.”
Being a boss at only 22
Despite starting the business at the young age of 22 and kickstarting a very novel business idea, his family and friends never once doubted or criticised him.
“My father was an entrepreneur in his early career and encourages me to be curious and adventurous. I have always been coming up with entrepreneurial ideas since young and have developed a few personal projects since his school days,” he explained.
He added that everyone around him has always been supportive of his ideas, and he often bounce ideas off his family and friends.
Kevin also holds a unique perspective — running Fotomat as a business is his secondary priority. Instead, his main goal is to use Fotomat as a platform for others to freely express themselves and have fun.
“We have enlisted the help of students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), polytechnics and La Salle who are doing arts and media-related studies to run the studio,” said Kevin.
“Besides offering job opportunities to the youth, Fotomat has become a platform to teach students interested in studio photography about operating professional studio equipment. We are also giving them a platform to share their artistic ideas with us and work with us on collaborations.”
As a team of young adults, he believes that Fotomat is well-positioned to create new trends and better adapt to the changing markets.
High growth since inception
Covid-19 has been detrimental to many businesses, and Fotomat is no exception. Right after the heightened measures were announced, they received some booking cancellations.
“To ensure the safety of our customers, we have limited the group sizes to two per session and sanitise our equipment before and after each session. We had to turn away bookings with more than two people (but) we are comforted that everyone has been supportive of Fotomat.”
According to Kevin, their slots filled up quickly, especially over the weekends. Although Fotomat has been experiencing high growth since its inception, it is not resting on its laurels.
“We will invest our earnings to expand Fotomat so that everyone can experience this fun photography concept. We will continue to innovate and test new concepts,” he said, adding that they are exploring collaborations with strategic partners to accelerate its growth.
“My philosophy is great customer service. I enjoy having personal interactions with customers. I am confident to say that every single customer has left with a smile on their face.”
Featured Image Credit: Fotomat