Gavriel Staloch didn’t just develop an interest in photography at a young age, he did it in the age of Instagram. Now, at just 18, the Seattle native is running his own business and reaching millions of users who share his love for urban photography.
“My interest in photography began when I was 13 years old and traveling in Poland, Israel, and Italy with my family,” Staloch said. “A couple of years later, I became intrigued with the idea of building an Instagram community of people passionate about street photography. Starting with @206shooter and @citykillerz, my Instagram community has now grown to more than 700,000 followers who share with each other their passion for images that capture urban life in cities around the world.”
Our latest Geek of the Week is the founder and CEO of CityKillerz Ventures, which serves as a platform for both Staloch’s unique role as a social media influencer and the sale of his custom photo “presets,” or digital filters. Images across his various Instagram feeds showcase his images and the work of others, filtered with a distinctive “urban” feel.
After graduating from high school in June, Staloch accepted an offer of admission to Washington State University, where he intended to major in entrepreneurship. But during a month-long trip to Australia, Bali, and Japan, Staloch started to rethink whether or not school was the right thing for him at the time.
“After contemplating for several days, I decided to make a phone call to my parents to see how they felt about me taking a year to work full-time on my business,” he said. “Although my business was already doing well, working full-time on it would allow me to see what I could build. After several hour-long phone calls, they were fully accepting of my decision.”
Staloch, who said his top city to shoot in right now is probably Shanghai, lives on his own in an apartment about 10 minutes outside of downtown Seattle and he works every day, mostly from an office space at WeWork.
“I’m taking one step at a time right now,” he said. “I’m loving the freedom to focus full-time on my business. Although I recognize the importance of college, I may consider taking a second year off. I’m learning more right now than I’ve ever learned before.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Gavriel Staloch:
What do you do, and why do you do it? I’m the founder and CEO of CityKillerz Ventures. The company was established in 2016 as an Instagram-driven company focusing on urban-oriented millennials interested in street photography. We operate a group of Instagram pages with a weekly reach of more than 1.2 million people, more than 73 percent of whom are age 18-34 years old. Our Instagram pages generate nearly 4 million impressions each week, have more than 700,000 followers, attract 15,000 new followers every week and are growing rapidly.
We use our highly-engaged community to drive traffic to and interest in our e-commerce store, which specializes in selling custom-made photo-editing tools. These tools, which are known as “presets” and are digital downloads that are compatible with Adobe Lightroom, are essentially filters that can help enhance photographers’ images in a single click. Some presets are made by me, but most of them are made by photographers around the world with whom I enter into revenue sharing agreements. Prices range from $15 to $75.
We are in the midst of launching two new business lines — online photography-related tutorial videos and corporate advertising services. The tutorial business will be similar to our preset business and will involve collaboration with photographers here in the U.S. and abroad. Our advertising business is focused on helping companies reach urban-oriented millennials through our social media platform.
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? I’m considered a social media influencer. Obviously, we are living in a time when social media is having a vast influence on our everyday lives and influencers are leveraging their communities for the benefit of advertisers. It’s pretty crazy to think that companies in the past have had to spend millions of dollars to advertise without the kind of meaningful metrics we have today to measure the effectiveness of that advertising. Now with social media, companies can more easily tailor their advertising with greater effectiveness.
Where do you find your inspiration? My inspiration initially came from being a photographer and wanting to build a community of like-minded individuals. When I started CityKillerz, I had no intention of building a brand. In fact, I didn’t even know at the time that I could make money from my Instagram activity. As I continued to shoot and build my community, I was approached by the Four Seasons Hotel to do a photo shoot for them and was also approached by someone who wanted to sell my Lightroom presets on his company’s website. At the time, I was 16 years old. I agreed to sell my presets for 30 percent of the revenue from sales of the product. I remember receiving my first $250 through Paypal after the first two weeks of sales.
Although I was excited at the time to make that money, I eventually realized that I could make more if I created my own community and sold products to my followers. So, I decided I to launch my own preset company and instead of making 30 percent of revenue, I would get 100 percent. After launching, I made over $1,000 dollars in 24 hours. Since then, I have continued to grow and expand my brand and business, and I have sales in over 50 countries. I have found that I truly love building a business and creating a community of loyal fans and customers to whom I can provide value.
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My phone. On a daily basis, I am posting 10-20 photos to Instagram, emailing/texting dozens of people, engaging with my communities, and so much more. For these reasons, I couldn’t live without my phone or run my business effectively.
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I work from home and at an office in downtown Seattle. My home office is perfect to work from when I’m home for the night or need to be closer to home during the day. Most of my time working is spent at a WeWork co-working space, which I love because there are so many different people in different industries there and it is great for networking and potentially meeting future employees. Working at WeWork has been great because it adds some structure that helps me stay on task on a day-to-day basis.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Managing my daily tasks can definitely be hard sometimes, but I think the main thing that allows me to stay on task is to focus on the bigger picture. Lots of things that you do in life and work aren’t going to be fun, but overall it helps if you can focus on the bigger picture and realize that the not-so-fun things get made up for down the road. It is also key that you are doing something you love. I have ADHD and one of the main things I have noticed is that is that if I am not doing something I’m passionate about it’s going to be 10 times harder to stay on task and stay motivated when things aren’t going your way. DO SOMETHING YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT!!!
Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Not much of a Star Trek fan.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time Machine.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … invest lots of money into marketing and building my brand. The rest would probably go towards product development and hiring an effective team.
I once waited in line … all night to get a pair of limited edition shoes!
Your role models: I try to look at everyone who is succeeding in my industry and try to understand what they are doing right and how I can replicate their success in my own ways. One of my biggest inspirations, though, is probably a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk, who is the CEO of Vayner Media. Gary also is extremely influential on the internet through his podcast, YouTube series, and continuous flow of social media content. I think the most admirable thing about him is his drive. Gary is one of the most energetic and driven entrepreneurs I have seen.
Greatest game in history Not much of a gamer, but if I had to pick one it would probably be the biggest hit right now — yes, “Fortnite.”
Best gadget ever: I use my AirPods every day and find them to be one of Apple’s coolest products to be released.
First computer: Dell laptop.
Current phone: iPhone XS Max.
Favorite app: Instagram.
Favorite cause: I think a big one for me is suicide prevention. In 2015, a close friend of mine committed suicide. I knew I wanted to do something to help and at the time I met with his parents and ended up releasing a preset pack in my CityKillerz store with a picture of my friend on the cover of the product. I gave all of the money made to the family’s choice of charities.
Most important technology of 2018: I think that one of the most important pieces of technology today that also ties into my business is the way and the speed at which social media is evolving.
Most important technology of 2020: Blockchain and AI.
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: If you aren’t already using the internet to pursue your passions and dreams, you need to hop on it now. There are millions of ways to make money in any industry on the internet now, it’s more just a matter of your willingness to put the grind in.
LinkedIn: Gavriel Staloch