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Bruno Kongawoin: Ex-NBA basketball player turned Perth’s headshot & portrait specialist - Ep 50

  • Ask Alyka

11 Jul 2018

It’s time for Episode 50, boom.

This week I sat down with the best portrait and headshot photographer in Perth, Bruno Kongawoin.

I learnt a lot from Bruno just in the first few minutes, from how to pronounce his name to his incredible story of being an ex professional basketball player in the US - this guy is full of surprises.

The best part of our chat is his journey to success. Bruno has trained with the best photographers in the world and has built a solid reputation in Perth as a photographer. Bruno is also another local LinkedIn influencer with 20k+ connections.

Bruno Kongawoin: Ex-NBA basketball player turned Perth’s headshot & portrait specialist - Ep 50 - Transcript

Zion: Welcome to episode number 50 of Ask Alyka. We’re at the the big five-oh and I'm excited today because I have with me Bruno Kongawoin. Did I get that right Bruno?

Bruno: Kongawoin.

Zion:Kongawoin. Bruno is a master headshot photographer based in Perth Western Australia. After more than dozen years working in the corporate/accounting industry Bruno entered the world of corporate headshot photography. Bruno crafts corporate headshots that exude confidence, approachability and authenticity. Bruno is one of seventy hand-picked associate headshot photographers of the world renowned headshot and portrait photographer, Peter Hurley. So Bruno is a big deal when it comes to corporate headshot photography. Welcome aboard Bruno!

Bruno: Thank you Zion, it’s great to be on board with you today.

Zion: Happy to have you here. I'm even more excited than I was before. I've always been excited about this interview, for many reasons. We've met earlier and I know about you from Perth, you’re actually really well known. I recently found out you used to play in the NBA! Basketball Association. I'm a massive basketball fan. So let’s start with a big bang. When did you start playing in the NBA and for whom?

Bruno:Playing in the NBA is one of those hidden parts of my life. At the time when I played in 1980-something, 1988, we didn't have the internet, video and YouTube as we have now. So for that reason people find it a bit hard, if I say I was in NBA, they would look for footage and they can't find. For that reason they just have to go back and find some old articles or newspapers to eventually find it. They say "Oh yeah, you were!” But it was in 1987, I finished college and I didn’t get drafted. I was fortunate that enough that Del Harris, the head coach at such the time. He used to be at Houston. He used to be the head coach at Houston. He watched me play against his son, and play college basketball locally. Our stadium at my college used to be the designated stadium for visiting teams to practice. So that means if the Lakers are versing the Houston Rockets, we may be finishing practice and Magic Johnson and the guys were walking in to the training room at the same time. They could be seen getting there when we are getting our ankles strapped. We get to mix with a lot of those guys and they got to know about ourselves. When they come in they look at the newspaper and "Hey mate, you threw 35 last night!" and so we get to chat with those guys. Having those guys come into the training room with us for four years and eventually get to find yourself someone in the vicinity and share space with them, it was unreal. But I didn’t get drafted. The coach Del Harris took the liberty of inviting me to training camp for free, so I then went to training camp. They have 35 people there. I was one of the two people they selected. They wanted to use me as a credit player. So for them, it’s someone they want to grow to be a particular type of player. Due to my versatility at college, they wanted to make a defensive player who could also play in offense, because I could guard someone my height or size. For that reason, I ended up in Milwaukee I ended up on the bench for quite some time. Sometimes I got to run the court for a couple of minutes. So basically, that’s how I ended up and its one of those things I don’t talk about very much, but when the opportunity presents itself.

Zion:Amazing. The things you find out about people. So basically, the coaches were trying to develop you into a Dennis Rodman type role.

Bruno: Dennis Rodman type that can run the court, shoot the basketball, and put the foot on the floor if needed.

Zion:Ok. So you had your stint in the NBA. After a couple of years, what did you do after that? Did you go into the corporate world straight after that?

Bruno: No no. I took the chance to go abroad. I went to France because I spent some time there as a youngster. So I went to France, I played 4 months in France, After France I went back to Houston and a team from Australia, the Illawarra Hawks, they were touring the state at the end of the Australian season, so they were looking for players. I mentioned to them "hey if you’re looking for an all round player than this player would be someone to look at". So they invited me to go on their last Labour Day tour in the US. I played 2 games with them, and things didn't work out. I left the NBA, you get a few zeros behind the number, and coming to Australia when they offer you something like $56,000 for the year it’s like "what are you crazy?” So for that reason I didn’t want to turn down the offer to come to Australia, because the pay package wasn't there. They picked up one of my good friend, who we played singular tap, very tall 6"5'. He came over and did very well. For some reason they kind of referred me to a SEABL which is South Eastern Basketball League. They pushed me to come and at that time my contract was just expired. the likelihood of me going back was, my coach wanted me to go back to Houston, get myself sorted out, lift weights, get bigger, get stronger, then go back the following year. During that time they released me from my contract so I could go do whatever I want. If I wanted to go back to Europe to play, I could do that. I got to do whatever I wanted to do. Because on a contract, even if your injured, you can’t play for anyone else. So since they released me, a team from Tasmania contacted me to come play for a team in SEABL and I said "yeah, I’d think about it". But then I said "nah id rather come to Australia but go to Illawarra and see, because I like the guys" I wanted to play with them. Anyways, things didn't work out and I met a girl from Tasmania and the girl happened to be from Devonport. I ended up in Tasmania to see how things go. I stayed there for 11 years, got married to Chris and didn’t play basketball as much. But I was fortunate enough to meet the right people along the way. They came to help me set up a business which I ran for 11 years when I was in Tasmania. While I was doing my own thing, I finished college with a Finance degree. I didn’t want to pay for accounting fees, not too much at the end of the year, sp I wanted to do my own accounts and just give the bookwork to the accountant to file the tax return for me. The company was a manufacturing company. I don’t know anything about manufacturing; all I knew is that I could run a business. That was it. So I got the right people to run the business and I was just there to make sure everything was okay. Bills are paid, and I had plenty of time on my hands to do whatever I wanted to do. So, I decided to go back to uni, and I decided to go back to uni to do Commerce. So once I finished commerce, I went into do CPA, and that’s where the accounting bit kind of fell into it. So I was doing all of those things in my own time. So when I split up with my ex and decided to sell the business and move on, that’s when I started working as an accountant. I didn’t actually want to work for anybody; I wanted to work for myself. For that reason I decided to pack my bag, left Tasmania for Melbourne, then 6 years in Melbourne I decided to come to Perth. That was 10 years ago when I arrived in Perth. I’ve worked with the government superannuation board for a little while and worked with a pharmaceutical distribution company for a year or so. Met my current wife and we decided to move on and do our own thing because our company was sending her to Indonesia. So it’s there that things kind of changed for me as well, because when I encouraged her to go, I said I would go with her. As an accountant, I could go and get a job anywhere. Unfortunately, I got a lot of work, but the package wasn’t there for me. I would get up in the morning and go work for not much. For that reason, I took up my photography and that where my photography came in.

Zion: Right, so did you start doing it on the side?

Bruno: Photography was always my passion since high school, besides basketball. So if I wasn't playing basketball, or if you were on a trip, I was always with my camera, taking photos of passers-bys and beautiful girls or this guy over there. You know, I had so many CD's of negatives and so on. It was in Jakarta where my wife and I was, that’s where photography jumped in.

Zion: Wow. So now you’re really renowned. Like, what makes you different from the others? You are well known in the industry and a few of us didn’t know that each of us knew you. But then your name came up. So you’re quite renowned. So what makes you different?

Bruno: The thing about the difference between what I do and what most people around do as well is that when I wanted to approach a headshot as a full time endeavor, I actually purposely sort out the best headshot photographer in the world. To know why and how what he does what he does. It’s simple. I’ve been fortunate in life that anything that I did, I did it with the best around. Whether were playing in high school, college, I had the chance to play in the NBA, had the change to go to the Olympics, we won African games. So everything I’ve done was at the highest level. For that reason my mind said I had to go to the person that’s done it before me, if I haven’t done it yet, who’s the best at it? And see how they can help me get to where I need to do. So I reached out to Peter Hurley and he told me "Bruno, unfortunately I can’t take you on as a one-to-one, I don’t do one-to-one sessions, and I’ve got a coaching platform that I would like you to join if you want to learn from me". So I joined that coaching platform which is called HR Crew. It’s comprised of over 14,000 photographers around the world, from 40 or 60 countries now. So I joined that platform where he coaches every week. So if you actually pick up some of the stuff that he is throwing out, he reviews your gallery and sees that you’re worth becoming one of his associates. So he makes you one of his associates that means you carry his badge, which means your work is near his level. He’s confident that if you get a job in Australia that he can’t do, he will say "my associate Bruno can do that job". So when people look at my gallery and Peter's gallery, they can see similarity there, almost to the point that our work you can’t distinguish between which is which. So that reason why, and because I’m actually mentoring other photographers as well on how to do their headshots, and not just here in Perth, but around the world. Even though our photos might look the same, but if you look at my light, my lighting is set up for purpose. Each individual that comes to my studio, if I come to your office here, I would photograph you different to photographing Jason or photographing the girls there. I don’t just put one light where everyone just comes and stands in front of it and you take photos. Another thing about the photography, it’s not just about the photography for us HR Crew, or for me. If I come photograph you, it’s all about you. My photography only enhances that. My photography doesn’t have to be an issue. That means my camera setting, my lighting, all of that I don’t have to mess around with that stuff. All that stuff is like my tools to have in my bag, I just pull it out and all I have to do is spend the time coaching you to feel and look comfortable in front of the camera, where I can actually get that winning shot. That’s the difference between what we do as opposed to someone with the preset lighting and backdrop, stand and 1, 2 3, smile and so on. We don’t do that.

Zion: And you have a way of making people feel comfortable don’t you.

Bruno: Exactly! So right now if I wanted you to do something for me, can you see your face right now?

Zion: Can I see my face? No.

Bruno: Exactly. So you don’t know what your face is doing right now. That means I’m becoming your mirror. So if I want you to do something for me, I can actually get you to do it. Right now you are mimicking, right now just by doing that, you see. Because we do that kind of stuff. If you look at me like this, I’m talking above your head, because you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can’t help me. But if I talk like this as if I was thinking, because I’m talking to you and you are listening, you are thinking right now about a solution. I can just make you mirror me and so on. If I just have a little bit of a smile, then you’re going to smile as well. So there are a lot of steps we do that some other people don’t know.

Zion: Wow.

Bruno: So it’s not just about photography. It’s about body language, it’s about psychology.

Zion: Yeah there’s a lot of psychology in this.

Bruno: Exactly. So that’s what we do on the people that aren’t in the HR Crew, people who aren’t students of Peter Hurley wouldn’t do it. Trying to replicate the headshot, you’re never going to get there because you don’t have that authentic person which we try and portray our clients to be like.

Zion: You need to have people skills to do this.

Bruno: Exactly, exactly, there are many ways you could walk in or could walk into my studio, I said how you doing and you go its pouring down with rain, I’ve had a terrible time getting over here so I’ve had to pick up on that. That’s a bad sign already that I’m going to have a hard time with you because in a right mindset as you step into the studio. So how I’m going to get around getting you there. to make you feel comfortable to look the way I want you to look so I can get you that product so how I have to work around that to make you forget about that what just happened with traffic and rain and stuff you n the studio its dry, there no traffic to you and me there’s fun and I got to get you there within the time that you’re in front of my lens.

Zion: So cool. And do you have preference for people coming to your studio or are you going to them? Do they get a better result either way?

Bruno: Nah, I mean for me, this light right now is a bad light. Yea? Because it’s coming from 12 o’clock. Its right above us we are going to have shadows and stuff all over the place. well, if that’s the light in have to work with, to create the stuff that I do create in the studio, I’m going to have to modify this light, I’m going to have to find a way to work with this light right here to get the shot that I normally get in the studio. For me it doesn’t matter where we are the end result that follows on my work side that I actually shot at clients place, but yet it looks like it shot it at my studio so you cannot tell the difference between my studio shots and clients premises shot if I shot those on a white background or grey background that if I shot on an environment so the background that would see that it’s a shot outdoors or in an office but if we put a neutral background behind it, you wouldn’t be able to tell me if it’s a still or on location.

Zion: Yea, amazing. So cool. Now what’s your biggest business failure?

Bruno: My biggest business failure right now is actually what I was doing in Tasmania because I had a lot of people help me along the way and the family of the girl that I end up marrying in Tasmania and I was really young I was in my early 20's. I felt like I was, you know, a 'Mr. know all', and people who were doing business for 25 or 30 years, way before me, who were drawn to help me, I didn’t think that, I didn’t want to listen to what they had to say and saw there were a lot of ways or a lot of things I want to do myself because I felt like I could do it. Withstanding reservation against their advice and stuff like that, I think that was the biggest failure in life because what I was doing actually helping a lot of people as well. We were repairing shipping containers and to the point that I was trying to get into manufacturing shipping containers and so I take the company with a hand full people to go into 20, 30, 40 people you know, there was a lot of good stuff that we were doing but I could have done a lot better I was patient and then taking guidance from people who have been doing things for a long time before me and so on. That was actually my biggest failure and I do regret it but at the end of the day we live and learn and I don’t think I would be able to replicate that mistake again.

Zion: That’s it, that’s how you learn from it. Just don’t make that mistake twice.

Bruno: No, no.

Zion: On the flip side, what has been your biggest success?

Bruno: That one of those things I could never be able to identify for myself you know, what my success or my biggest success in my life. I have been fortunate to be born in a family and be where I have been in life. Some of the things I have done that I didn’t plan to, I achieved, they just happened to be in my life, they’re so numerous that I find it difficult to identify that I call it my a success. If anything I would just say that my personal relationship right now with my wife could be my biggest success because I go to sleep without worrying about anything, I wake up in the morning ready to face the day and with her she’s always there backing me up, never questioning me what I’m doing and the direction I want to take and I think that I’m lucky to call my biggest success in a way. I’ve made a drastic change in my life, giving my life up to follow her actually. She was always there as well, supporting me with what I wanted to do, if I wanted to travel to the US to go see Peter Hurley, "hey babe jump on a plane and go" hey, I need to learn more about lighting and I need to go see this guy in Amsterdam, he’s supposed to be the best at lighting and sculpture around your wall and some good joy and all that support and encouragement, I could not get that from anyone doing what I’m doing and she basically my biggest success in a way.

Zion: Yea and I going to ask you, how that leads on to how do you learn like obviously through mentors so you seek out the best and then you try to visit them.

Bruno:Exactly and those guys as well they’re very approachable and they’re prepared to share what they know and it’s just a matter of reaching out to them and obviously they come at a cost as well because they do this for a living. So if you prepare to pay them for their time, they don’t hold anything back because it’s up to you because at the end of the day they don’t feel threatened about you that you’re not going to Peter Hurley to charge for a head shot and so forth. It can be my secret who I’m going to be shooting for $5000 I don’t have the name, I don’t have the reputation I created so they don’t feel that you're a threat so they give you anything that you want, especially if got a specific need and you lay it out to them, they will give you exactly what you need and you can go on to the things that you need.

Zion: Wow, so you also learn from books YouTube, podcasts or is it really, are you more of a one-on-one?

Bruno: I am more of a one-on-one, even when it came to my retouching I actually saw that the best textures in the world from a Canadian guy name Marco Wolsovich, I sent him an email and he said "Bruno, that’s okay, we can catch up online". So at that time we were using Skype, so we would get on Skype, spend a block of 4 hours which would break into 2 hours each just to make sure that I get a great understanding and grasp of what he was telling me because when you go on YouTube, people tell you this is what you do as opposed to me, I want to know why I’m doing this and why I am using this tool and so forth. For that that reason I need to find someone who knows the why it does what it does so in order for me to do any time I want to. So I always like the one-on-one a lot better than if I was to be in a classroom environment and to be given the preference ill always like the one-on-one.

Zion: what do you think are the biggest keys to success as an entrepreneur?

Bruno: The biggest key to success at this present time, I got to find that early in my life, that it is networking. It’s not about how great you are, it’s about who you know. In Tasmania I had a small engineering company. How did I get the company going? because the later to my father in law was in engineering and we happened to get mixed up with minister of immigration, in Tasmania at the time, Michael Tates and my father in law, a good buddy with a guy who’s in transport and so forth. So all of those things were able to allow me to get into that business I didn’t know anything about and so forth. So if it wasn’t because of the network my ex father in law had then and senator Tates and the people that small distribution I work with so I wouldn’t be able to do what I did or it would have taken me maybe 10 years before I could achieve what I had achieved at the time. So when it comes to being a good business person or grows your business, network is what it is all about and right now I am here with you because of networking. So if it wasn’t because of that I wouldn’t have come across you and I know that sometime down the track we might do business or we might refer each other business and stuff like that but that is how it is.

Zion: You're right, I mean one of the things I saw in your was your really good at network and the fact I have talked to other people about you and your name has come up is proof of that. What are some strategies that people can learn?

Bruno: when you meet people it doesn’t matter where, it’s always a worthwhile to follow-up than meet up. If you exchange business card with someone or you just have a chat and catch up, make sure you do it. Because when it comes to networking on like networking to grow your business or to get up there, it’s not like speed dating. So I’m using that analogy if we go out and we meet so many people at once, we might get lucky that someone in that room might give us business that day and so forth but majority of people in that place are not going to give up business. So I try to equate that to as speed dating, you might get lucky on the first night like we said, because that one person was at the right place at the right time and they gave you business but all the ones you going to have to work and build up a relationship with people and so on and I learned that if you’re the first giver, you’re always going to benefit more than the person that you give to in the first place and that’s being the biggest strategy that I have been using and it’s something that I’ve been taught a long time ago. Not so much as networking tips but just as being a human being. It will be the first giver and I didn’t bring anything for you today because it was pouring down with rain otherwise I would walk in here with coffee.

Zion: Your stories have already given a lot. The NBA was, that was good enough for me. And so following up which a lot of people don’t do they might people but they don’t follow up because it’s too hard and then you followed me up which was fantastic. Then giving, being the first to give rather than being so calculated, let me wait first. I totally agree with that. So great tips. Now Bruno, what are your future plans over the next year? Are you going to continue to grow this business?

Bruno: I haven’t shared this one publically, so I’m going to share it with you. Not even my wife knows about it. Basically I got my mentor Peter Hurley, in the US, he’s known as the best headshot photographer in the world. My aim is to be known as the best head shot photographer in Australia. I know it’s just being able to get into the right circle and working with the right people to be able to get that recognition. As long as I’m still working with my local people and so forth its fine but if I could find a way to elevate the kind of work I am doing with type of client I would like to have and so forth, it would be great. So basically this is my goal for the next year and beyond.

Zion: Wow, to be recognised as the best Australian headshot photographer. Fantastic! And look, Bruno is there anything else you would like to share that you're passionate about at all?

Bruno: When it comes to passion, for day to day living, its we do to be able to pay the bills, but my passion in life has been just to be happy and make sure that the people around me are happy as well. So you will never, never, never know if I have a problem or not because people always tend to see me as a big goofball and I like that approach which is for me being the eldest of 11 boys in my family. I had to keep everybody happy and I grew up with that mentality in me. So for that reason I walk around making sure that anyone attached will feel good about themselves in one way or another and that’s just me wanting a good human being and make it my thing to be a good human being and so it’s been like a passion for me basically.

Zion: Beautiful. Look, Bruno, thank you so much that was awesome. What a jam packed podcast. We could go for another hour but I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for coming on the show.

Bruno: Thanks for having me man.

Zion: We will put your business, Light Bent Images and Photography, we will put the website and the show notes, Use Bruno for your headshots.

Bruno: One thing for those people listening to this podcast, if they come in and book their headshot from you, they can just use coupon code: Alyka200.

Zion:Alyka200, that is the coupon code, I’ll put it on the show notes.

Bruno: And they can use that on the deluxe service.

Zion: The deluxe service, you can use that on the deluxe service and you get discount, so, thank you so much Bruno, Have a great day!

I’ve linked Bruno’s LinkedIn and website below, and as usual any questions for me get in touch.