Swipecast allows models to book jobs, producers to coordinate shoots and castings, and more—in an efficient, cost-effective, and timely manner.
After years of running his own modeling agency, Peter Fitzpatrick realized that there was a need for a more efficient way to book models, produce photo shoots, and pay out vendors, so in 2015 he teamed up with developer Matthias Wickenburg to create Swipecast, a one-stop shop that allows for an easy way to produce every aspect of a shoot, from booking models, stylists, photographers, and more, to actually paying them in a fast and easy manner. Now, thanks to Swipecast, brands don’t have to fly a model to Saint Tropez for a shoot; they can just search for one there and book them through the app. Document spoke to Fitzpatrick and Wickenburg about the genesis of Swipecast, and why they think it could change the future of fashion shoot production.
Ann Binlot—What made you think of creating Swipecast?
Peter Fitzpatrick—The original idea was to create a more efficient agency business and then sell it, but once I started running the business myself I was struck by how there were some pinpoints that were pretty obvious to me and that the industry had never been able to solve. One of the big ones seemed to be payment, as all of the models need to live—especially having to be flown to different countries, most of the times not coming from wealthy families and most of the time seemed to be the agency’s fault or sometimes the clients would take a while. It’s just the cycle—
Ann—It’s called the cycle of brokenness.
Peter—Ha ha! Yeah! It takes a while right?! You know the job has to be completed, then the invoice needs to be sent out, then someone sits on it and then there’s a problem with the invoice, the booker calls the client asking for the money, if they do that, and then eventually the client pays 90 days later then the agency gets around to paying the talent. So the model then who does a job on Jan 1 and gets paid in April or May, in what the industry is that even possible? If you think about it, it’s a significant impediment for people to enter this industry, if you’re a model you might think twice about kind of leaving the security of university or day job to doing this. If you’re really inspired to be a photographer but you know aside of the creative side it’s almost impossible to get paid, that’s the impediment. I think people that want to be respectful and people that really care about what they’re doing are going to gravitate to this platform, as they want to be able to stand out as someone that treats everyone really well. Just the idea of transparency is really powerful. That was another thing that was a big thing for me that seemed so broken and had not been solved. All the talent out there wants to be able to find jobs, and find work and many of the agencies don’t, like stylists, hair/makeup artist, manicurists, video directors, video editors, photographers…
“People that want to be respectful and people that really care about what they’re doing are going to gravitate to this platform, as they want to be able to stand out as someone that treats everyone really well.”
Ann—Especially if you’re beginning.
Peter—So we covered payments, safety and security, and ratings, reviews, and transparency, were very important. Third part is, there are all these people out there that would love to be in the creative space, but until recently, there was no infrastructure. There was no way to connect people, specifically for jobs in a transactional setting that specifically catered to the needs of creatives. Which is, the visual needs to be able to display your work. Like if you are a designer, LinkedIn makes no sense to say, ‘Oh this is where I went to school, and this is what I studied.’ You know, you want to show your collection.
Matthias Wickenburg —So it’s transactional plus discovery essentially. The allowing clients to find the talent that… We’re creating a platform that services the very best talent that the clients are looking for.
“We’re creating a platform that services the very best talent that the clients are looking for.”
Peter—In the most efficient manner possible. If you think about it, if you are a designer. And you’re like, ‘Hey I’ve got to do a shoot, I’m based in LA, but I’m going to do it in Saint Tropez, because there’s a job in Saint Tropez on Swipecast, or something.’ Or this client was in Australia. They had to contact a photographer in France, and then they had to find a model, and they were like, kind of scrambling.
Ann—So how did you two match up?
Matthias—He just tells me this thing, and I’m so excited by the idea, and I can’t believe that it actually doesn’t exist, like I did my research. Then I ended up basically joining the same day. Almost right there at the spot.
Ann—You didn’t need to think about it?
Peter—You’d have made a good trader, Matthias. Should have gone back to the hedge fund.
Matthias—Wouldn’t have been as fun.
Ann—How did you guys look into raising funding?
Peter— I had a little less than half-a-million dollars in the bank at that point. I had myself put in $75,000 and I had gotten some friends to put in some more money. So we had cash, I wasn’t paying myself anything, we didn’t have any costs and so literally just need to build it. And I had budgeted out what it would cost to build Swipecast and I had talked to a bunch of people, and they were quoting me anywhere between $300,000 and $400,000, just to do a first cut prototype that had nothing, and like a team of ten people.
Peter—And I had talked to Matthias and I was like, ‘Okay, you went to Harvard, seems like a smart guy.’ He told me he had been building video games since he was 10. So I could tell he was a modest guy and he said, he told me he taught himself [Sergei] Rachmaninoff, which I thought was insane. Rachmaninoff is not easy to play. So those are things that I was like, he’s probably not an idiot.
Matthias—Verdict is still out on that one [laughs].
Peter—I was like, hey do you think you could build this thing. And he goes, yeah it’ll probably take me three months. I was like, give me a second. I’ve been talking to all these companies that told me it’s going to take like eight to ten guys and it’s going to cost me $300,000 to $400,000, and this guy is telling me he can build it in three months, that’s kind of insane.
Ann—How close is it to the current interface?
Peter—Aesthetically, it’s similar. Yeah, like on day one you could only book models on Swipecast.
Ann—How did you populate it with people?
Peter—There were just people, we got so much press. You know the model community, they all talk to each other. So I knew a bunch of models and they signed up, and we just got the word out there.
Matthias—In the first three days we had like thousands of sign-ups because of the articles. It went everywhere, like Vogue, Business of Fashion—everyone picked it up.
Ann—And it was initially models only?
Matthias—Well, initially anyone could be on it but only models could be booked. So the universe was clients and models.
Peter—In the first week, we started having all of these kind of high powered creative directors, art directors, fashion magazines signing up. And I didn’t quite understand why they had signed up, because there were no jobs for them at the time, and all these photographers. And so I called some of them, said, hey it looks like you signed up, but you know only models can be booked on this. And they said, well why are you limiting it to only models? And I literally heard that repeatedly. Like, why are you limiting it only to models?
Matthias—Like a little lightbulb went off…
Peter—You start with a small market, disrupt that, then you…and it also just made so much more sense because, of course, when you’re doing a photo shoot you’re not just hiring a model, you’re hiring the entire team. You need even caterers, you need photo studios, and we have photo studios on Swipecast, we have retouchers, we have parts models, we have manicurists, we’ve got probably 20 categories.
Ann—How deep into the release did you decide to add on all these other categories?
Peter—The other categories probably came about six to nine months later.
Matthias—I think a key point is that those categories were already getting populated at the beginning, they just weren’t bookable. Our universe already had like a photographer, and we just made it so you could book them after a while.
Ann—Once you added all the other categories, how did you see the activity change?
Peter—Well, you need to get the word out there, so we started promoting the fact that there were photographers on Swipecast, and stylists. Quickly, photographers were being booked on jobs pretty regularly, and then the more we started promoting the fact that you could create an entire project.
Matthias—Yeah, that’s big. Like it’s not just that we made it so that you could book other people in addition to models, we started getting the idea in peoples’ heads that you come here to book an entire project, so it’s like check, model, check, photographer, check check check.
Peter—It’s almost like, you start here. Not, oh did anyone remember to hire a manicurist, hey could someone go on Swipecast, it’s kind of the opposite.
Matthias—It’s a one-stop shop for putting together your shoot.
Ann—Do producers benefit from this a lot? They’re listable, aren’t they?
Peter—Absolutely, there’s like hundreds of producers on Swipecast.
Matthias—We’re like a super-tool for producers. They want to organize a shoot, they just go, check check check and pick all of their people. And that’s it, everybody gets notifications, everybody gets reminded when the shoot happens, all of that.
Ann—So there’s a project management aspect to it?
Matthias—Yes that’s another piece which we didn’t step on, which we didn’t talk about enough, which is for the clients, we want to be also—when we say a one-stop shop—we want to be able to put together call sheets, and mood boards and all this stuff from one spot, and send them to everybody in your shoot.
Ann—Oh, so you could do a call sheet from there?
Matthias—Yeah, it’s huge.
Peter—It’s amazing that something like call sheets always gets everyone’s attention.
Ann— That’s where all the info is!
Matthias— No and imagine this, a call sheet that actually updates itself, right? Like it’s not a PDF, it’s a call sheet that if someone changes the details it actually changes in real time. That just doesn’t exist in this industry.
Peter— Right? Like this little green thing says, Oh! Ann received the call, she checked in!
Matthias— We changed the location.
Ann— Oh yeah that’s a big one!
Matthias—Isn’t it crazy that this doesn’t already exist in this industry?
Ann—How have people benefited so far?
Peter—Yeah, there’s multiple girls saying, ‘I would not have been able to make rent.’ I’ve had photographers tell me ‘I haven’t been reimbursed for some other job I did through whatever, and I booked a $1,500 job, $2,000 job on Swipecast’ and they tell 50 people as a result.
Ann—So everyone has to pay on the day of the project?
Peter—Generally speaking, yeah. I mean, We’ve worked with some large enterprise clients that have to have paid in net 30 and we’ve agreed to that just because they’re very recognizable businesses.
Matthias—They may have to pay 30 days sooner, but they save 20 percent or more.
Peter—In this kind of environment, everyone needs to save money right?
Ann—And what’s the range of experience on there?
Peter—It’s a very curated kind of platform. So if you’re a photographer, your work’s been published in at least decent level editorial magazines online and better, all the way up to the top, mainstream fashion magazines, or independent magazines such as yourselves.
Ann—Who vets these people and what criteria do they use to decide whether the person should be on the app or not?
Matthias—So we have an in-house vetting team and its usually a bunch of different criteria. So like past work, Instagram presence, that sort of thing. So it’s a bunch of different things that form a holistic picture of whether that person is a right fit for Swipecast.
Ann—What if you’re really brand new to the industry?
Peter—I mean one of the reasons that we were so excited to collaborate with Document on the New Vanguard is precisely because that was the vision. It was to discover new talent. It was not signed with a gallery or with a new agency. But yet, it’s not like anyone can walk off the street. They submit their work and people voted and there was a jury—it was great for me to be on the jury—that was comprised of the most esteemed people in the industry. And so Document, and Calvin Klein, our collaboration there of helping surface up new and exciting talent, really did run the gamut of people that were still in school, that were in different countries, that were inspired, from really diverse backgrounds if you will—that’s exciting to us. Someone could have been a photographer for 20 years, and they’re still on the waitlist on Swipecast. And someone who just picked up a camera nine months ago and is just taking killer pictures, we’re dying to have them on.
“One of the reasons that we were so excited to collaborate with Document on The New Vanguard is precisely because that was the vision. It was to discover new talent.”
Ann—How has it evolved since the beginning?
Peter—The evolution has been really interesting. I think that certainly the step of going from just being a platform for booking models to being a platform for the entire creative industry — the execution of that is very important.
Matthias—It literally went from being an app where you could just book models to being a one-stop production shop for creatives. You know, it’s just a much broader vision.
Ann—Yeah. Let’s go to safety and security because Model Mayhem used to get a lot of creeps on it. How are you making sure that the people using Swipecast are not creepers?
Peter—This comes back to ratings, reviews, transparency. Everyone signs a digital contract when they sign up to Swipecast. And these other platforms are the Wild Wild West—who knows what’s on there? We did the opposite and we put in place an infrastructure that enables talent to flag improper content anytime along the way. Like we don’t allow nudity on our platform. Now I now that so much involved nudity in fashion but we just don’t allow it right now. And the reason there is that we want to be very clear that our platform is for professional work and if you do want to shoot naked girls, or naked boys whatever, that’s fine, but not on our platform. And so very early on, the messaging is one about inclusiveness, about respect, of transparency—like what’s the usage, what are the hours, is this a campaign or is it this or that? We require people in the sales file to be specific about why they are here. Everyone knows that they’re being rated and reviewed. The feedbacked that we’ve gotten back from our talent that’s worked on Swipecast is that some people have made new lifelong BFF friends with people because they’ve had such a great time and everyone was excited to work together on our platform and everyone rated each other afterwards.
Ann—As you know, fashion’s really slow to change. So there’s a lot of questions. One is, how are you reaching into like random markets to spread the word?
Peter—So people are spreading the word for us. The word of mouth is so powerful. The engagement and retention numbers are off the charts for certain of the talent categories.
Matthias—They use it more than they use Instagram, which is nuts. If you create something that just solves a problem for someone in a way that’s way better than what they’re used to, they’ll talk about it. It doesn’t matter who they are, it doesn’t matter if it’s your 80-year-old grandma. They’ll still talk about it
Matthias— Yeah. We want to provide such a good solution.
Ann—What’s next for you guys? What are you trying to do in the future with Swipecast? Where do you see it going? Where do you see the industry going?
Peter— Yeah, that’s really exciting I think that everything we’ve done to know, we’re really proud of. But, I think we feel like we’re almost the future of the industry [ Laughs]. Because just look at what’s happened in the last few years. Instagram has fundamentally changed the fashion industry. Fundamentally.
“We feel like we’re almost the future of the industry.”
Ann—For better or for worse?
Matthias— The point I’m trying to make is that whatever, ten years ago, Instagram basically didn’t exist and now it’s kind of at the center of the fashion industry. Everyone is making decisions based around it. If you think about it, if you look at a fashion person’s brain, Instagram is right at the center.
Peter— Like, I think the industry has been fundamentally changed by Instagram and I don’t see the traditional businesses kind of really reacting to that in a way that I think is the right way. When you think of where the industry is going, certainly right now, everyone is going to Instagram for inspiration.
Ann—Can you organize a go-see on Swipecast?
Peter— Yeah, of course. In about five minutes!
Matthias— You post a project, like how many ever models or photographs apply to it. You can call a casting, just go check check check, and everybody you’re interested in, they get a casting invite and that’s it.
Ann—That’s a nice way to filter out.
Matthias— The new way feels almost like magic, and that’s kind of the goal, right?
Peter— Today, it’s a lot more economical to use Swipecast, it’s a lot more convenient, it’s a lot faster.