Aug 6, 2022
It was a typical August evening in the SOMA neighborhood in San Francisco. I meet Luke Beard outside Will Miller's apartment studio. He was hanging out on his skateboard, tapping away on his phone. It’s hard not to immediately like Luke because he’ll certainly remind you of at least one friend you had growing up -- the kind of guy you could grab beers and shoot the shit with.
Over vodka lemonades we talked shop about design, photography, our mutual friends, and politics; What America would be like if Donald Trump were president.
Luke Beard is the Creative Director and Co-Founder of Exposure. People often dream of "just doing their own thing," but Luke's living it. He has been able to carve out his own path, working on a project that perfectly aligns to his lifestyle and passion.
Derek: How did you decide who to work with on Exposure? Luke: KB (Kyle Bragger) and I are very much cut from the same cloth. We make rad stuff that people enjoy and try to make some money. Saying that, it’s kind of a ying/yang relationship, pretty sure we drive each other nuts half the time.
He's built and sold companies before we met. I’ve learned from his entrepreneurial experience while building Exposure. Even meeting with investors on my own while he was in Berlin. I could not have done that 2 years ago or before we started working together. He’s got a level head and I respect that a lot.
While at Elepath, I told him about my idea for a “photo-centric medium-esk platform” and we started from there really. Early 2015, after a year and a half of hacking on Exposure, we started making real money, and it was time to spin it out into its own company.
Derek: What have you learned about photography since creating Exposure?
Luke: Photography is such a weird one. Once you get to the top tier no one can do your job easily. Designing interfaces is relatively hit or miss because it has been a bit standardized. Photography is much harder!
"Out of all the things that I've ever tried to learn, taking a good photo will forever be the most difficult."
People get better very fast! Photography is so vast. Just give people the medium to shoot more and they will get better. At Exposure we want people to just throw the photos at us and we will do the rest. It's not about Instagram or a single artifact. It's about the body of photos that work together. If you give people a place to put up lots of photos they will genuinely try harder. We just hope to enable people to be more thoughtful so they can improve.
Derek: Who was the person who made the greatest impact on your life?
Luke: I can’t really say one person at this point. Tanniel Jakobs and Christofer Karltorp of Zerply: They took a chance on me and brought me into the startup world. I would not be where I am today without them.
Kyle Bragger: My co-founder and good friend. He helped me bring Exposure to life and eventually form a company out of it.
My fiancée: for truly being my better half.
"The white space around photography is increasingly tiny."
Derek: You are very well-connected, which is hard to become. How do you think you have been able to do that?
Luke: I really don't know how I've gained that perception. I just take coffees with everyone. People look at these folks like they are these big dogs and at the end of the day, everyone is just human. People ask me all the time. "How did you meet them? It must have been so hard to do that." I just emailed em! But with some people I still get somewhat star-struck. Though once you meet you usually find they are normal and you are more similar than expected. Usually, you find people are more interested in talking about life, and not so much interested in talking shop.
Once I started Exposure, I have been able to meet a lot of really interesting and talented photographers. The times that have been really gratifying are when I get an email from a photographer using Exposure and they thank me for being part of their success. Shit, that's the best part!
When an industry leader like Scott Kelby uses Exposure and loves the product, that is what gets me excited! This is a guy that has seen the evolution of the industry and he uses my product. It's crazy and feels really good.
Derek: How do you deal with adversity and challenges?
Luke: Up till recently pretty badly to be honest. I would tend to ignore problems until they go away. The last couple of years have been very eye-opening in terms of emotional maturity and that's had a direct impact on my work. I try very hard to keep away from knee-jerk reactions and take challenges one step at a time. As easy as it sounds, simply thinking through problems first has always been my approach.
"I’ve learned that perspective is everything and taking the time to see that is important."
Derek: How do you spend the first hour of your day?
Luke: In bed with my cat (Whiskey Ginger) catching up with the night's notifications and emails while my fiancée gets ready for her day around me. I usually go get a coffee with her and walk her to the bus before sitting at my desk.
Derek: What do you imagine life will be like in 2050?
Luke: Hopefully in a cozy home with my wife far away from the world since I'll be 64 and the kids will have moved away (hopefully). Maybe some goats would be nice.
Derek: What is the biggest challenge for today's youth as they enter the workforce?
Luke: The world telling them this is how it is and these are the jobs that are “good." There is so much to what defines someone as a “success." You should mold yourself into you -- not into a job applicant that will fit what someone else needs.
When it comes to the part of your life where you have to earn money, you make your own luck, and that's a very important thing to keep in mind.
Derek: Do you have any advice to others who would want to start their own business?
Luke: Don’t act in a silo. There are very few people that can create, build, and ship end-to-end. Even if you get someone just to act as a sounding board, that is still great. Talk to other people you respect who are making rad stuff. Tech people are generally approachable.