Meet the woman who pushed Photojojo to the top with quirky gadgets and plastic dinosaurs

photojojo-slr-lens-mount-1

As Photojojo’s employee No. 1, Jen Giese wears a number of hats. Her title is officially store manager, but she oversees operations and a stable of writers and photographers, negotiates with vendors, and also happens to be the one curating the fun goodies that fill up the online store.

Photojojo is a beloved online photo superstore that specializes in the most eccentric and nifty of camera gadgets. The site is the brainchild of Net entrepreneur Amit Gupta. After burning out from the dot-com bust at the end of the 1990s, he wound up in New York City and rekindled his interest in photography. Gupta started an e-mail newsletter called Photojojo highlighting quirky DIY photography hacks, publishing twice a week. After a year the newsletter grew in scope, and carried its first item, Magnetic Photo Rope, because it wasn’t available in the U.S. at the time. Fast-forward five years later to today, Photojojo has grown its catalog to about 200 items, all under Giese’s guidance.

The Magnetic Photo Rope, the first item Photojojo sold.
The Magnetic Photo Rope, the first item Photojojo sold.

As Photojojo’s buyer, Giese is often trotting the globe in search of the next big hit, from the New York International Gift Fair to the Tokyo International Gift Fair – the latter of which is her favorite, as far as trade shows go anyway. It’s Giese’s hope that she might stumble onto another gangbuster gadget, as she did when she discovered an iPhone mount for SLR lenses.

“We were on a sourcing trip in Hong Kong,” Giese said. “We were in an anime mall, a manga mall. From some of our research, we heard some stores there sold camera stuff.”

These closet-sized stores were lined wall-to-wall with boxes. “You really have to dig through, and I find something that looks like it has a lens mount on it. … It was this huge moment when I figured out what it was and ran across the mall, ran to get Amit [Gupta, Photojojo’s founder] because I knew it was the coolest thing ever. We wouldn’t have come across that if we didn’t go to this strange anime mall in Hong Kong.”

At $249, the item was a bit up there for the clientele. Photojojo exists to excite inner photo geeks by making photography fun and accessible. “The things that do really well usually are about $50 because it’s more of an impulse buy,” she explains, highlighting in particular the popularity of smartphone accessories. “You don’t have to save up to buy it. There’s a lot of expensive camera stuff out there and we don’t want to add to that.”

That the mount would sell out within two days was unthinkable. “It got crazy,” she recalls. “We didn’t have enough supply. We probably lost a lot of unit sales because of that, and we couldn’t get more for months because it was this sleeper success.”

Media coverage hastened the frenzy, and those links continue to bring visitors to its website today.

photojojo-slr-lens-mount-2
The iPhone SLR Mount, which Photojojo discovered in an anime mall in Hong Kong, was an instant hit.

 

Fans of the store – if we’re going by newsletter subscribers, that puts the number at half a million – are fond of the little things that make Photojojo Photojojo. Its sunny personality evokes a sense of wonderment among its visitors, further conveyed by the little friend each package is shipped with: a toy dinosaur. 

Users like to take to social media about their dinosaurs. First-time buyers are sometimes surprised by the gesture. These toys are often the subject of fans’ images. The newsletter, which came before the store (which founder Gupta admits is kind of “old timey and weird”), even featured a how-to on making photo stands out of them.

A camera-shy Jen Giese, Photojojo's first employee.
A camera-shy Jen Giese, Photojojo’s first employee.

You can thank Giese for the injection of fun. “I wish I had a genius reason for doing it, but I think it came down to me just having a thing for plastic dinosaurs. I’ve always collected them,” she says. One time, the store ran out – “world dinosaur shortage or something” – and disappointed customers wrote in about the matter. “We ended up sending tiny dinos in business envelopes to them.”

This past holiday season, Photojojo did the unconventional, bringing its online presence to the offline world. The company cleared out its studio, used for taking product shots, in its office in San Francisco’s Mission district, lining shelves with photo toys for its holiday pop-up, purposely kept low-key. The Secret Store, as it was called, was Giese’s brainchild and gave local users an opportunity to play with these goodies before buying them.

“[It] wasn’t done because we wanted to make a bunch of sales or draw a bunch of foot traffic,” she says. (High foot traffic would’ve been difficult since visitors had to be buzzed in to get to the second floor.) “We did it because it was a fun idea and it was something different from what we normally do.”

And there you have it. Jen Giese, who has arguably one of the most fun jobs in the world, just described her favorite thing about working at Photojojo. Not the loan policy (employees are encouraged to check out equipment), quirky decor (including an installed dental chair), or world travel. “We just want to have fun. That’s the ultimate perk really.”

Product Review

Don't hate. Samsung's first 8K TV dazzles even without 8K content

Samsung gave us a day to put its Q900 85-inch 8K TV to the test, and we did our level best to poke holes in its performance. In the end, the TV proved it is worthy of its existence, even if 8K content is nowhere to be seen.
Movies & TV

Peter Dinklage gets cryptic about two 'Game of Thrones' characters' fates

With the eighth and final season looming, Game of Thrones fever has officially become a pandemic. Our list of all the relevant news and rumors will help make the wait more bearable -- if you don't mind spoilers.
Movies & TV

'Spider-Man: Far From Home' photos and video reveal Spidey's new costume

Despite some mystery surrounding Spider-Man's future after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into theaters in July 2019. Here's everything we know about the movie so far.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Photography

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera just isn't giving you the results you're looking for, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses - something no phone…
Social Media

Instagram is testing a new way for you to look through your feed

Instagram is constantly tweaking its app to help give its users the best experience possible, so how do you like the sound of tapping — instead of swiping — to look through your feed?
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Photography

Photography News: Raw edits on iPad and an A.I. research lab for PicsArt

In this week's photography news, Canon launched an iPad app that allows for RAW edits on the go. Popular mobile editing app PicsArt now has a research lab dedicated entirely to A.I.-powered tools.
Photography

Adobe MAX 2018: What it is, why it matters, and what to expect

Each year, Adobe uses its Adobe MAX conference to show off its latest apps, technologies, and tools to help simplify and improve the workflow of creatives the world over. Here's what you should expect from this year's conference.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
News

Kodak’s ‘Digitizing Box’ service saves precious memories stuck on old media

If you've been meaning to convert your old family photos, videotapes, films, and audio recordings to digital but never seem to get around to it, then a new service from Kodak may prompt you to add it to your "to-do" list again.
Photography

You can finally throw away your PC; Photoshop is coming to the iPad

A full version of Photoshop is coming to the iPad -- and soon, other tablets, as well. Adobe also launched several new features for Photoshop and Lightroom, including a new Content-Aware Fill tool.
Photography

Adobe’s Premiere Rush is a video-editing app designed for social media projects

At Adobe MAX 2018, Adobe unveiled updates across the board for all of its Creative Cloud apps, from the release of Premiere Rush CC, a social-focused video editor, to Project Gemini, a digital drawing and painting tool.
Photography

Sony crammed 28x zoom, 4K into a $450 camera that weighs as much as a smartphone

The Sony HX99 is a tiny compact camera that mixes 4K and fast burst speeds with a 28x optical zoom. The travel zoom camera upgrades the processor over the earlier model for better video and super-long-burst captures.