An editing revolution in Adobe Lightroom

Hi, there! Who are you?

Hello! My Name is Mikko Kesti, and I’m the founder and CEO of Loupedeck.

What is Loupedeck?

Initially, the Loupedeck console is a way to improve the user experience in Lightroom, Adobe’s photo editing software.

Why did you come up with this?

Simplicity. I wanted to build a device that people would understand instantly. We are accustomed to pressing buttons and dials in everyday life, so it’s very intuitive, all you need for editing your photos is here in plain sight. Software has become so complex nowadays that lots of features are buried within menus. In CAD and all kinds of design software, features are hidden because it’s obviously impossible to put every single one of them on the screen. And if you’re an artist, like a photographer, you want quick and easy access to everything because you want to concentrate on what’s important – your photo. So we don’t think we’re in the business of making consoles, but in the business of improving the user experience.

Please tell a bit about your origins.

I was born in Liperi, eastern Finland. It’s a small village (5.000 people) close to Joensuu, on the countryside. Since there was not much to do, we kids were into riding and fixing mopeds and cars. I wasn’t actually good at fixing stuff, my father was. I was good at taking things apart but not so good at putting them back together! (laughs) I learned to drive a moped when I was nine, and a car at twelve. In the winter, my dad would take his tractor and shove off the snow from the top of the frozen lake, and we would drift the car on the ice, that was great!

You could have ended a rally driver.

I’m not sure why is it that Finns are so good at the wheel; rally, Formula F1… Heikki Kovalainen, Mika Häkkinen, Kimi Räikkönen, Valtteri Bottas… I think we Finns can be very good at shutting down external stuff and concentrating. In general, Finns don’t like to talk. But I love to talk, I even start conversations with strangers!

You must be drunk, or a foreigner!

(laughs) My wife says I’m not a typical Finn. When we walk outside with the kids, I start to talk to people I don’t know and she rolls her eyes.

What did you do after high-school?

I wasn’t sure what I wanted, probably something technical, maybe the welding industry. I think I’ve played my whole childhood with technical stuff. My friend’s older brother had told me they had great parties at Lappeenranta University, so I applied for Mechanical Engineering. (laughs) After two years I moved to Tampere and into the Technical University, where I got my Master’s degree. It took me like eight years because I was very active in the students’ union, and I was the chairman of the guild. To me it was very important to network, to know people, and it was so much fun to arrange things.


Because I like to work with people, and I like to learn things about myself. I was taking leadership courses, but I thought it was nonsense, learning to lead from books. Of course, you can learn some tricks and procedures, maybe. But as a person, are you a leader? I didn’t know myself, so it was a great place for me to find out. And everybody was telling me I was at the wrong university, that I should be studying sales and marketing, because I’m so open. But I was interested in the technical side of things as well, I could pass the courses with ease. And in the end it was the right thing to do, to study technical stuff and learn the rest later. It was like a playground for me; after running a large non-profit organization (16 board members and 4.000 members) and keeping the people happy, it was a natural thing for me to want to have my own company.

What happened after graduation?

I got into the paper industry. During research for my thesis, which was about UPM Raflatac (part of the UPM-Kymmene Oyj group, a paper company) I had the opportunity to visit many of their factories all around Europe. I worked for them for three years, in sales. I was reluctant at first, but it was a very good thing for me. I made good friends, travelled the world for a while, got married. Then I was a Sales Manager for Mondi, for the Nordics, Baltic, and Russia. It’s a company that demands a lot from their employees, but it’s really good, it was the best school I ever had. Even though I was traveling like 200 days per year, I stayed because I was learning so much. When I stop learning, that’s the day I start itching to move somewhere else. So, after three years, one of my customers was retiring and offered me a good deal for his company. I sold my car and some stocks and bought it! It’s basically distribution of specialized paper products. After a year the business was going so well that I had room in my head for something else. And that’s when I had the idea for a mechanical controller for Lightroom, which had been on the back of mind since 2013.

Were you into photography before?

I’ve always taken pictures with my dad’s film camera. I’m not so much into details, and I don’t read books about photography. I only like to shoot, and if it’s good enough for me, then it’s fine. I never intended to publish anything, or to be a pro. It’s just to satisfy my artistic side. I know a lot of technically oriented people who like to express themselves through photography, it’s a popular hobby among engineers.

So in 2013 I got my first SLR camera, a Fujifilm X-T1, which I still have. I asked my friends about a good editing software and everybody said “try Lightroom, it’s easy to use, and very intuitive”. I remember that one! (laughs) After two weeks I was like “this is not intuitive, and not easy at all! There must be some keyboard or something to make this easier, with shortcuts or something!” So I Googled “Lightroom keyboard” and… there wasn’t one. So I started to ask around, from people not in the photo industry, about my idea. And they all said, “that’s crap!” Even my wife said “if it’s such a good idea it would exist already…” (laughs) I went back to my networking and asked around for a small company or crew who could do a feasibility study. Was it even possible? Can you even hook up anything to Lightroom? A friend of mine mentioned a company in Tampere, three guys who were let go from Nokia and started their own business. I contacted them, we signed an NDA, and they came back to me with a single unit that had one dial and one button and proved that “it works with Lightroom!” With the feasibility test done, I went to Tekes (the Government’s Funding agency, which is now known as Business Finland, horrible new name) with the console, my laptop and Lightroom.

At the first meeting they laughed at me. They said “people already use a keyboard and a mouse, they don’t need that! Go home.” I spent many sleepless nights because of that. I was like “there is something about this, I’ve got a strong feeling about it!” Even the guys who did the feasibility study told me “this is a brilliant idea. It’s simple, it works.” And I love simple ideas. So I asked for a new meeting with Tekes -with other representatives this time- and they loved it. They gave me 50.000 eu.

With that money plus a personal investment we launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Miltton, one of the largest communication agencies in Finland, helped us with the strategy and execution. The campaign took several months to build, but within 30 hours of launching we reached our goal of 75.000 eu. The campaign was up for 30 days and we ended up with 366.000 eu in pre-sales. And the publicity was huge.

Sounds like a big gamble, creating such hype without Adobe’s pre-blessing. What if they hadn’t liked the idea?

Yeah, I took a big risk there, not telling them I would go live with a crowdfunding campaign with such a product. But think about it. A one-man company founded in 2016, calling for permission to build it. Would I have gotten it? Never-ever. The risk was to go live and hope for people to love it and create interest at Adobe, so they would contact me. It was a 50/50 chance. The bad outcome could have been that they would hate the idea and tell me “you can never sell your product! We will lock the interface and it won’t work anymore”. Luckily everything went well! (laughs)

What happened then?

After that I began to make phone calls. Lightroom is big in the US so I called B&H, the largest photo and video retailer. They liked the idea and they wanted it, but I said, “I don’t have any units yet!” The Indiegogo model was a demo, intended to show people that it worked, but we didn’t have any stock yet. They were cool with it, they said they would list the product in advance and start pre-sales, and to let them know two weeks or thirty days in advance, when we’re close to having stock and able to ship.

In Spring 2017 I was acting like a product manager and building the company. We had proved the idea was great by selling more than 1.500 units in more than 60 countries in 30 days. I first hired Felix Hartwigsen, who was at the time working at Miltton and had been involved with the campaign, he’s a Co-founder. Then in the summer of 2017, we started shipping the goods. By August there were four of us, and now we’re 17. Only in one year! In 2017 our turnover in six months of sales was 1.9 million euros. We’re still growing since then and we’ve made 3.5 million euros in turnover. We’re growing rapidly, and that’s the big challenge. I knew that going from zero to one million was not as hard as it is to go from one to ten. So the growth is always challenging. But it’s fun, and I learn new stuff every day.

Can you buy Loupedeck in Finland?

Yes, of course. But I’d like to talk about that. In Spring 2017 I contacted the biggest local retailers in Finland for photography and computer hardware. Unlike the American B&H, they both told me “without stock we can’t even list your product or start pre-sales; contact us when you have stock and an EAN standard code”. So we focused on the bigger markets instead. We built a web-shop where people can buy our product directly from anywhere in the world, which turned out to be a great move: to start strong with e-commerce.

Why this local resistance, you think?

I don’t know. They stick too much to processes. “You must have stock, price discussions, codes…” I wanted to jump-start all that and go right into pre-sales, but because of a silly code they wouldn’t list my product. B&H found a way, they worked with a made-up EAN code and updated it when we had the actual one. I proposed that here and they said “oh, it’s a mess to do that!” Since I don’t like to surround myself with negativity, I told them to contact me if they’re ever interested.

And did they ever call?

Oh, yeah. They said “hey, we’ve seen your product, it’s fantastic! We want to start selling it!” And I was this close to tell them “great, and we have the EAN code now!” It was a good day for me. (laughs) Now the product is also available through Amazon.

Does Amazon need stock from you?

Yes, because they have a reputation to maintain for quick delivery. If you’re, for example, an Amazon Prime customer, they need to ship NOW, otherwise their reputation suffers. Their payment terms for us are awesome. Amazon have teams that identify the rising stars, and when Loupedeck was listed they said the ratio of people coming to the product’s page, reading the description and reviews, and clicking on BUY was outstanding. Quality and shipping management have become very important for us. We work closely with Adobe, and last spring I pitched Loupedeck to Apple. Our brand has been identified on many levels.

Are you also looking beyond the photography industry?

We started with photography because I understood what was required, it was easy to build. But now we’re jumping into video editing and color correction, which is a slightly different market, but it’s the same idea: how to improve workflow from the interface, the right combination of hardware and software.

Loupedeck only works with Lightroom?

Now it also works with Capture 1 (beta) and Skylum Aurora HDR. And there’s more compatibility on the way. Since our goal is the best user experience, we develop the plugins jointly with other software vendors. We make the framework through a shared SDK, and they can implement the integration parts by themselves, to get the best out of their software. That’s how it’s been built, this concept is very important for us.

It seems Lightroom should come bundled with this. Can you make enough of them?

That’s not a problem. It’s made in China, so it’s very easy to ramp up production values if necessary.

I myself love the tactile feel. It makes editing more… fun? It seems you and your silly idea were proven right.

(laughs) I love it because it makes it easy to access everything. I used to work in black and white, but I have switched into color since I started using LD. Lightroom’s interface is so clunky, you have to go through two or three sub-menus to find the color management! So yeah, I’ve been experimenting a lot in Lightroom because Loupedeck makes it fun.

Do you still divide your time 50/50 between your paper company and Loupedeck?

No, I work fully on LD! I wouldn’t learn anything new in the paper business, so I have a CEO managing it. With Loupedeck, I learn something new every day! I want to see it fly, I don’t intend to cash out. It’s exciting and half of our staff has invested in the company, and I’m really proud of that. I want to work with brands like Logitech or Hewlett Packard, for example. I’ve got plenty of new ideas.

But your goal is always to improve the human / machine interface.

Yes! Wherever you use software in your work, there must be an improvement in the user experience. And people want to feel something. Remember the blob passengers of the spaceship in the Wall-E animated movie? Do we really want to become blobs looking at a virtual world through a screen? Loupedeck takes you back like 30 years, where you controlled things with dials and buttons, and people love that feel.

The Loupedeck website is here, and this is their Instagram.