Gameface Media set out to disrupt a small corner of the photography market: capturing amateur athletes as they compete in marathons, triathlons, and mud runs. Race participants typically pay $15 to $30 for such photo packages, but Boston-based Gameface gives them away for free, striking deals with sponsors and event coordinators to cover the costs.
The startup has enjoyed some success, raising $10.1 million from investors since 2013, including $2.6 million in a fourth round completed this week. Some rivals have adopted its advertising-driven model.
“Based on contracts already booked in early 2017, we expect to grow revenue again this year and are now on track for our first year of profitability,” said cofounder and CEO David Lavallee.
But it hasn’t always been an easy run, and money got tight last summer.
Some of the money Gameface recently raised from angel investors and wealthy families will go to photographers, many of whom have been waiting months to get paid for events they worked.
In an e-mail to the company’s network of 1,600 freelance photographers, Gameface said it got caught in a bind: The independent contractors were promised payment within 15 days of their assignments, but sponsors weren’t required to pay for 120 days. The problem was compounded by delays in raising more money from investors.
“In hindsight, we should have insisted on down payments and a payment schedule [with sponsors] instead of waiting for a lump sum,” Lavallee said. “We faced similar challenges from many of our event clients.”
Lavallee said the freelancers will all be paid in full within the week. The former investment banker declined to say how much the company owes contractors.
Jeff Young is one of the freelancers waiting on a paycheck from Gameface. Young said he began seeing late payments in May but was paid in full after he threatened to take the company to small-claims court.
The photographer decided to give Gameface a second chance because he enjoyed the events and the pay was competitive. When delayed payments continued, Young contacted the company again.
“They told me that they felt our working relationship had deteriorated to the point where it was no good for either of us,” Young said. “That was likely the result of me continually pestering them for my money.”
Young said his current tab with the company is around $2,400. According to complaints on professional forums, most Gameface freelancers are owed between $200 and $2,500.
Still, Lavallee said service to sponsors and event organizers has continued without interruption. For the 2017 race season, Gameface has partnered with Tough Mudder and Rugged Maniac. The company hosted a slew of corporate sponsors in previous seasons, including Nike, Jeep, Reebok, and Skechers.
“We communicate with many of our photographers every day and almost all of them look forward to working with Gameface again in the future,” Lavallee said.
Nick Sutton is waiting on $700 from Gameface photography assignments last year. He said he’d consider working for the company again, but won’t rely on prompt payments.
“We all just want to be paid whatever they told us they would pay us,” Sutton said.Shelby Grebbin can be reached at email@example.com.