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James Cole of The H Hub: “Try street photography”

Try street photography. People are fascinating. Streets are alive. Nothing will be the same again. If you lack talent let the stories find you. The key to street photography, like entrepreneurship, is consistency dedication, being OK sucking, and showing up anyway. A great story can save bad lighting, bad framing, blurry focus or any other […]

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Try street photography. People are fascinating. Streets are alive. Nothing will be the same again. If you lack talent let the stories find you. The key to street photography, like entrepreneurship, is consistency dedication, being OK sucking, and showing up anyway. A great story can save bad lighting, bad framing, blurry focus or any other beginner mistake.


As a part of my series about “5 Strategies To Take Stunning Photos” I had the pleasure of interviewing James Cole of The H Hub.

A veteran in the marketing realm, James began his career as a Brand Strategist for Young & Rubicam, standing out against the other 7,000 employees and being given the “Rising Star” award for excellence in his field. Now, James heads all marketing and growth initiatives at the H Hub, the pilot behind all business strategy and the architect of the company’s business model; also serving as CMO for several businesses, consulting companies like Alchemista and Veda Warrior on marketing and business strategy. Having graduated from Princeton University with a joint degree in Visual Arts and Art History, James knows the ambitions of a budding photographer, fueling his desire to help thousands of creators make a living on their passions.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was creative. I went to a Liberal Arts college. I knew that investment banking would destroy me from the inside out. So, I went into advertising — it seemed like the only thing my parent’s friends would approve of that also matched my temperament. Then, I went to a start-up that quickly went up in flames (the bad kind). It took a chaotic dying company to awaken the entrepreneur in me. The flames made me realize I like fighting fires. I took my training (advertising) and my calling (entrepreneurship) and wedded the two.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

This question is almost a one-question-litmus-test of whether or not you are an entrepreneur. If you are, you don’t believe in silver bullets, only lead ones (famed investor Ben Horowitz said that). On a panel I was recently on, someone said that entrepreneurship is equal days ‘pirate’ and ’Navy SEAL’. But that’s dead wrong. It’s just not that glamorous. It’s a game of attrition. Of grit. Of fundamental belief in self-will absorbing millions of inputs. I have stories of meeting Gary Vaynerchuk, three times, or of throwing out the script moments before a Fortune 500 pitch, or of selling a client’s company with no prior experience. But the real story is the boring story. The daily grind. The calm within the chaos.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the next 8 weeks my company is slated to send over 30,000 emails to 8,000 leads. This will generate 10 new contracts for us. 30,000 emails for 10 contracts. When I first started, I wrote my sales emails one by one. The first email I ever sent took me 45 minutes. I got a response. He told me it was the best sales email he’d ever read (and that he gets dozens a week). He paid me 4,000 dollars exactly once for our services and we are still friends to this day. In the hundreds of thousands of emails that have been sent from my account since I’ve learned that you need to lever yourself. You need to be bigger, louder and bolder than is humanly possible (literally, using technology). But I also learned from that email that caring matters. Human connection matters. And taking the time matters. Scale what can’t be scaled.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My company is equal parts machine and human. For a long time, we had a panel of 15 diverse photographers (gender, location, sexual orientation, race, photographic style). We built a custom portal with ‘flash cards’. They would play what we called “The Game” where they’d be shown 9 images taken by another photographer on our platform. They’d rate the anonymized work a ‘1’, ‘2’, or ‘3’. Every photographer (and we have 40,000) has over 150 reviews. The reviews average to one rating (e.g 2.41221). This rating fuels our search. We do this for style. We do this for sub-skillsets (i.e editing, food styling). Human beings built our engine brick by brick. Machine learning at it’s finest.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Measure your progress in 100 day increments not less.

Learn to love the grind. The struggle. The pain. Learn to relax in it. Like accepting it’s raining when you forgot an umbrella.

Find a time you love working when no one else does (it’s 4:30AM right now) — it makes you feel like a badass.

Take time off when no one else would (I regularly take walks or baths or naps at 2PM) because f*** the system that’s why.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I started an advisory board 6 months ago. It’s the best decision I have ever made. When I am lost, I have people who care, who are ‘read in’ and who want to get in the weeds. When I am proud, I have people to share the journey with. I feel less alone than I ever have. Get formal advisors before you have to. It will flatter them and support you.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

We just wrapped a project for Kellogg’s. 150 shoots by 90 creators…in 3 weeks. Almost 1,500 images, GIFs and videos. One member of my team orchestrated these shoots. He is 17.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We provide jobs for photographers without a voice. Female photographers in a male dominated industry. Remote photographers in an industry ruled by LA and NY. Even a blind photographer, believe it or not. We will pay the lion share of the bills of over 1,000 photographers this year. With a team of 5 people. I am proud of that.

Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please provide an example for each.

Use your feet. Never zoom. Buy a “fixed” lens (not one that zooms in and out) they are better dollar-for-dollar. Also, it forces you to be in the photo. To be the zoom. To feel the image.

Shoot the context not the subject. A subset of this rule is “The Rule of Thirds” which basically stipulates that you should but the true ’subject’ on a ’third line’ in the frame, never in the center. Never take a picture of a flower, take a picture of the flower in the garden. Never take a picture of a chef, frame her in the kitchen. Context matters.

Fill the frame. Painters make every brush stroke matter. Nothing is left to chance. Just because the frame of a camera is definitionally filled with stuff doesn’t mean it’s your stuff. Make it your stuff. Make every pixel count. Once your subject is in the frame how you like it, what else can you add to the frame to add context, texture, juxtaposition or intrigue?

Shoot film. Learn how the variables of photography work — shutter speed, aperture, ISO. Slow down. Digital photography is like a machine gun. Film photography is like a Revolutionary War Era rifle. Each shot, if executed properly, can take minutes to set up. It will train you to see beauty and understand its parts.

Try street photography. People are fascinating. Streets are alive. Nothing will be the same again. If you lack talent let the stories find you. The key to street photography, like entrepreneurship, is consistency dedication, being OK sucking, and showing up anyway. A great story can save bad lighting, bad framing, blurry focus or any other beginner mistake.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I will sell my current company in less than 5 years. When I do, I will take 80% of what I make and start “The Happiness Project” (working title). “The Happiness Project” will be an app that asks users to fill out a form inquiring about daily Anger, Happiness, Depression, Fulfilment, and Relationship Satisfaction (it’s based on a CBT protocol designed by Dr. David Burns). Then it will ask the user questions about various factors of their day — work, alcohol consumption, who they spent the most time with. Finally, it will pull data from wearable technology and the users’ phone — step count, phone usage, weather, geo-location. The app, after 100 days, will help indicate trends in Happiness vis-a-vis life choices (how many alcoholic beverages the user had in the past 10 days, where they spent their time, who they spent time with). It will recommend changes “walk more”, “drink less”, “date Peter not Joe”. Then, we will level up and anonymize the data — Asian Americans at Goldman Sachs are less happy this month than last. This will enable institutions (companies, schools etc) to help cohorts of people be happier and better taken care of. I will start this as a 501c3 (non-profit). It will always be free. I will seed it with at least 10MM dollars of my own money to get enough data points to build a functioning algorithm. I will then raise (charitable donation) funds from institutions to scale to help 100MM people before I die.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@jamesgriffincole

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