Founding MainBoard.com in the 90’s was the right step in the right direction for Bradley Zetler as it fulfilled his vision to improve efficiency and invent revolutionary technologies that will become industry standard in the model and fashion industry. Still the CEO of the company and a major shareholder, Zetler juggles this role with being a husband and father of two.
Taking control of his destiny after graduating from the University of Cape Town and for 2 years working for a financial service company, he shifted his focus to the importance of emerging digital technology and this later resulted in the formation of MainBoard.
What motivated you to get into digital technology?
In the mid 90’s the internet and software was really starting to take off. I found it a fascinating industry. I believed it was the future and it seemed a good fit for my skills. From an early age, I always wanted to know how things worked. I would take my toys apart and then try put them back together. Coupled with being a good problem solver, the idea of building software solutions that solved business problems seemed like something I could be good at.
What was missing in the industry of fashion and modelling that you felt needed to be addressed?
When I started, agencies were couriering models’ portfolios to clients all over the world. This had high printing and courier costs and took several days.
I immediately knew that we could build an online image delivery system that would allow agencies and clients to share images in real time at a fraction of the cost.
Once we started working with agencies, models and their clients, we identified many more workflows and processes that we could streamline through new software solutions.
Digital technology and fashion/modelling: how do the two connect?
Technology is the connector and allows the entire industry to connect. Our solutions connect models, agencies and clients. When we started, most agencies had one computer in the office, with one general email account. Everything was done manually with paper, fax and phone. If you walk into an agency today, all agents are on computers and you hardly hear the phone ring as everything is done electronically. Models walk around showing clients their portfolios, using our app on their iPhone or iPad instead of carrying around a physical book. Clients are casting on Portfoliopad or Castingpad, which often replaces the need for a physical casting. When I started, every single agent I spoke to said that a client would never book a model without seeing the physical images and viewing the models in person. It seemed incomprehensible to them that a model could be booked by someone just viewing their images on a computer screen. I knew I was right and continued building something that no one was asking for, but knew that once they could see it work they would be convinced.
Why did you start Mainboard?
I had been out of university for almost 2 years and was working at a financial services company which I could not see myself doing for the rest of my life.
I always knew I wanted to have my own business and be in control of my own destiny. The internet was gaining traction and something I wanted to be part of.
In 1997, while spending a day on Camps Bay beach, myself and a friend decided to quit our jobs and start a website for people planning events. At the same time my friend started modelling part time, which gave us insight into the modelling industry. We quickly identified many opportunities and problems we could solve for modelling agencies with the use of technology.
What would you describe as Mainboard.com’s core purpose and what is your greater vision as the CEO?
Disruption is a key term thrown around these days in the tech business. Software development companies need to constantly evolve and innovate solutions based on anticipating future market trends and then ensure clients are informed and educated on how to unlock these new-found potentials. Mainboard’s core purpose is to develop and constantly evolve customized software and web development solutions that manage and accelerate key areas of the world’s leading modelling, talent, fashion and production agencies’ business and daily workflow. After 20 years, we understand the industry’s pressure points and what a successful agency needs in order to stay ahead of the curve, cut costs and run efficiently. Between Portfoliopad and Castingpad, as well as countless integrated website solutions, we have conceptualized and developed an entire digital ecosystem for creative agencies that has revolutionised how they operate and manage their businesses.
For me context is everything. In recent times, I’ve witnessed the role of influencers and data analytics becoming a determining factor in how I evolve our software solutions. The rise of competitor companies who offer watered-down copycat services impact upon our market share. This has meant that our focus has been to consolidate our product features and ensure clients get a more cohesive and all-encompassing software offering. I’m also focusing my time on looking at how to standardize the website development process, from a business to consumer perspective, with a new product that will be available in September.
Tell us more about some of the software solutions that Mainboard has designed for the fashion industry over the past year.
We started with Portfoliopad, which is a media management and delivery system which agencies use to manage their talents and present them to their clients. Soon after that we created a booking application which became the operating system for a model agency. It is a centralised database of their talent and clients, allowing them to schedule their appointments, know who is available, who is not and who has been told about what they must do. This system also does the invoicing and talent accounting. Castingpad is the application that allows clients to brief agencies and consolidate submissions received from all the agencies they brief. This solution also acts as the content managements systems for the hundreds of integrated websites we develop and maintain for many of our clients.
What would you note as your biggest innovation within the business to date?
Twenty years ago the model agency casting process involved agencies making laser copies of their clients’ portfolios and printing Z-cards (a concise model’s portfolio) which they had to courier overseas in an iterative process. This cost a lot of money and it took a lot of time. This sparked the thought that an online file sharing application could solve this problem. In a few months, we created the first version of an application that would become Mainboard’s flagship product: Portfoliopad. Bear in mind, this was not yet the real boom of the internet. At the time there were less than 2 million website users on the World Wide Web (today we have close to 1 billion), and people were using Netscape Navigator to surf them. An email address was a toy. The product was the first of its kind in the world, and its instant traction and popularity encouraged me to seek other opportunities in the industry. This led to the release of the booking system and Castingpad, all of which facilitated agency digitisation while standardising and streamlining their operations.
What is Mainboard offering agencies and its clients that makes it the best in the market? In essence, what sets the organisation apart from the rest?
For me the two most important things are innovation and support. Today, almost every process in every software application for the industry, whether supplied by us or a competitor, was invented by Mainboard. We have also innovated and continually strive to push the boundaries with what’s possible. Coupled with the best solutions on the market, we offer our clients amazing support. No matter how good the software, users often need help when they run into a problem they can’t immediately solve. This is where our support team becomes so important. Our clients know we are never more than an email, online chat or phone call away.
What are you doing your way to ensure that the modelling and fashion industry gets the best out of digital technology?
At Mainboard we pride ourselves on delivering fanatical support to our clients in all aspects of their business – whether it’s through our technical support team providing training and guidance on how best to operate and utilize our software, or through our strategic business development team that keeps clients abreast of the latest trends and software feature developments we offer. After a user is trained, not only will they know how to use our software, but they will know the best practises and workflows for their job. The key focus is in ensuring that our clients don’t just lease our software and then our job is done. This is the point at which our real work begins in guiding them and being responsive to their business needs. This intimate/close relationship with our clients also enables us to constantly evolve our products, based upon their ever-changing needs and feedback. Whilst it is our role to innovate, it
is equally important to innovate based upon individual client requirements.
What was the idea behind TouchMeUp.com, the professional photo editing app?
Looking your very best online is becoming increasingly important, as billions of us now socialise, look for love, jobs and networking opportunities. Decisions about who to engage with are made within seconds! Since people do not get as much face-time with their clients, friends, and prospective dating partners, it is critical that people present themselves in the most effective way online to achieve that face-to-face meeting. Image retouching is a service normally reserved for models and photographers and is expensive, but our app brings this service to the masses and at a low cost.
With so many photo editing apps on the market what sets TouchMeUp.com apart from the rest?
We are one of the only apps services where the images are retouched by professional retouch artists. Most retouch apps just use filters and are never as good as the real thing. We have re-touchers who work 24 x 7 x 365 who can get your retouched image back to you in 24 hours or less. People can get anything, from their bust size increased, teeth whitened to losing 30 pounds.
30 second bio with Bradley Zetler
- Family: Wife Brie and 2 beautiful daughters Jaime and Riley
- Favourite food: Burger and fries
- Favourite quote: It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared
- Favourite technology invested: iPhone
- Most memorable moment: Birth of my children
- Biggest inspiration: My late Grandfather
- Future Goals: Continue to build technology that people don’t realise they yet need
- Unwinding time means: Spending time with my wife and kids, in the gym or on the golf course