Meredith Gradle

Founder of Iris Works

Meredith Gradle is the Founder and CEO of Iris Works. After nearly a decade as a photographer, it became clear that out of all the project management tools, and customer relationship platforms – there was nothing that was made for the creative mind. Meredith realized that there was a huge opportunity to help photographers, and creative entrepreneurs, succeed in business and even thrive, without causing additional work and headaches for them.

Meredith created Iris Works out of necessity, not only for herself at the time, but for many of her colleagues and counterparts in the professional photography industry. Iris Works is now known for being the simplest studio management platform available, serving thousands of photographers.

While she now considers herself a recovering photographer, Meredith works hard to stay at the forefront of the photography industry and her commitment to making the community stronger is what has motivated her to grow Iris Works into the workhorse that it is now. And while the company is continuing to grow year-over-year, Meredith is passionate about keeping her scrappy approach to running her business.

In addition to running Iris, Meredith is also a mom to three kids – Audrey (8), Elias (7) and Lucas (1). Meredith and her husband, Drew, live just outside of Indianapolis, IN.

Where did the idea for Iris Works come from?

As a professional photographer, I loved taking family photos. My clients were fun, providing them with lasting memories was so rewarding. But managing the clients, images, editing, contracts and invoices was bogging me down. After I neglected to deliver on time to a client, I realized I needed some organization and a system in place. I created Iris to solve my own problem – which turns out was a huge problem in the photography industry. Creatives are fantastic at delivering quality work, but many times, creatives fail to deliver a quality client experience. That’s where Iris comes in.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I wake up every morning around 6 am – often times to the sound of my 1 year old. The mornings are usually rushed with trying to get my two older kids up and out the door in time for the school bus, followed by getting myself ready and my youngest to his preschool. After all the kids are off, I can start my day.

We start each day with a standup with my development team, going over progress in our current sprint and identifying any blockers. After I get my dev team off for the day, I typically spend 30 minutes or so sifting through emails and handling any urgent matters.

I’m still pretty involved with our support team, so will often spend some time in the mornings identifying and prioritizing any outstanding issues and bugs we need to address.

The rest of my day usually consists of one or two meetings with team members, as I meet with each employee once a week; a few phone calls with some of our power users and partners to explore ways to expand our efforts; and a large focus on our digital marketing efforts.

I’m out the door to get home in time to make dinner and get the kids to bed, just in time to spend a little time relaxing and maybe even a little more work.

As a mom and entrepreneur, I have to be productive or I won’t survive. I typically don’t leave my office once I get here – lunch is always at my desk, and I’m usually focused and motivated while I’m here, so that when I get home, I can feel good about what I’ve accomplished and spend some time with my family.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m known for coming up with entirely off-the-wall and random ideas for Iris – I love the product and I love to create. I typically throw an idea out there to the team and see if anyone gets as excited about it as I do. If I get a good reaction, I’ll typically go put my ideas down on paper – writing out the purpose, value and logistics of how we can build it into the platform.

Prioritizing is the hardest part – as we always have so much work to do. But after I’ve made the decision to proceed with an idea, then I can start prioritizing and determining how and when to make it happen.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One of the big trends in the photography industry is the shift back to products. In the past 15 years, the shift into the digital photography world has been huge. Photographers not only shifted to entirely digital cameras, but also to digital products – offering their clients downloads. And while that trend took off and was (and in some cases, still is) popular, so many photographers are now reverting back to physical product sales. It’s a great shift and is helping so many photographers truly run successful businesses, while providing their clients with an end-to-end experience that matches their talents.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I make decisions fairly quickly – which I never noticed about myself until someone pointed it out. And I do think it’s what has helped me to continue to move forward. Often times, entrepreneurs debate and ponder things to death – which delays any outcome, good or bad. I make decisions knowing that not all of them are going to pan out as expected – and that’s OK. If a decision doesn’t work in our favor, we acknowledge that and move in another direction.

What advice would you give your younger self?

If I could give my 18 year old self some advice, I’d tell myself to take a year off before starting college to really think about what I want to do. And if I could tell myself anything as a new entrepreneur, I’d tell myself to dream bigger and be confident in yourself.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Working in the office is all-around better than working remote. When COVID happened, we were forced to work 100% remotely – and while we did an OK job, productivity did suffer. And while we can (and now even more so) be productive remotely, I feel that the collaboration and camaraderie is so much stronger when we can physically see one another in person. My team has helped me to come along a bit with this belief, and they are proving that they can be productive working from home and keep up the team cohesiveness – but I still think I will always be a little ‘old school’ in that I prefer to be in the office.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I continue to seek out other entrepreneurs who can help me grow. No matter how many years I stay in this role, I will never know everything nor will I be the best at everything. There are so many entrepreneurs who want to help, want to offer advice, and want to see you succeed. But you do have to seek them out and ask for their help.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The biggest lever for our success has been partnering with strong photographers who have built up a solid and successful business for themselves. When a photographer can not only deliver consistently on the artistic side, but also the business and client-experience side, they are a wealth of knowledge for others. And once they realize how important business management is to their success, they want to tell other photographers the secret to success. This has helped us tremendously grow our user base and consistently outperforms traditional methods of advertising.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We tried launching a lower tier option in the early days of Iris. We thought that some photographers may only need limited use of the software, and felt that we could increase our user base with a lower-priced subscription.
We spent some time setting this up and marketing it, only to find out that nobody really wanted it. Photographers wanted and needed access to the full suite of what we offer – not just a watered down version.
In one way, it validated that what we originally built was meeting the needs of the market; but we definitely learned that we didn’t do quite enough research.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Completely unrelated to the technology industry, recently I had the idea (possibly ridiculous idea) to create a running/jogging stroller that you don’t have to push, but that could sense your pace and move with you while running. I was running with my nearly 1 year old son in the stroller, and he’s a hefty little guy! And although the challenge of pushing a baby while running is great, sometimes it’s just too hard for me.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Personally, after we had our third baby, we bought the Baby Brezza – why didn’t I think of inventing this? It’s genius – saves me time; and I’m all about convenience! I love products where you can instantly tell that whomever created them was solving their own problem!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I really enjoy using ProfitWell for my business. As a SaaS company, I’m able to consistently view and analyze important metrics and always have a strong pulse on the financial health of the business.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Favorite book by far is Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeir Hansson. It was one of the very first books I read when I started Iris, and I’ve revisited it many times since then. It’s an easy read with great practical advice and knowledge.

What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t be intimidated by something you don’t know” – Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx.

I admire Sara Blakely for a thousand reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is because she is authentic and real. She doesn’t pretend to be someone she is not – and I’m the first to admit when I don’t know something. I’ve been around many professionals who pretend to know answers when they don’t, always to their detriment. I believe in asking for help when it’s needed, it’s the best way to learn and grow.

Key Learnings:

  • Ask for help when you need it. You should never be the smartest person in the room.
  • Don’t dwell on decisions – make a decision and run with it. If it doesn’t work out as planned, pivot and try again.
  • Be open to other ideas. Often times, your team will suggest ideas or ways of doing something that may not be your way – but they’ll work and can improve morale.