The mobile stock photography business is getting a lot of attention lately. In the last few months, Scoopshot, EyeEm and Foap — three leading startups in the space — have collectively raised close to $9 million in funding.
I suspect last week’s deal between Pinterest and Getty Images, in which Pinterest will have access to the metadata identifying which of Getty’s 80 million images are being used on the popular digital scrapbooking site, will only intensify focus on the space.
“We’re just getting started with Getty Images,” Michael Yamartino noted on Pinterest’s blog announcing the deal, “but we’re excited about the possibilities of what their data can help us deliver.”
The real story here, however, isn’t data exchange; it’s community. Getty may have 80 million images, but Pinterest has one of the most actively engaged communities on the web. But is community enough to cut through the clutter of the increasingly crowded mobile photography space?
To gain some insight, I recently sat down with David Los, CEO and co-founder of Foap, who, with the launch of “Foap Missions” in March, has made community the cornerstone of his company’s business strategy.
Q: Welcome, David, thank you for speaking with me. So tell me about Foap.
Los: Foap is a social photo app on iOS and Android where users can license their photos to photo buyers for commercial and editorial use. It’s also a place where brands can interact directly with the Foap community.
The photo reseller market is starting to get crowded. Why did you create Foap?
Los: You don’t need to be a professional photographer in order to snap great photos, and you’re right; the interest for photography has exploded as cameras get better and better. At the same time, we realized that photo buyers are really tired of staged, unnatural stock photos. Instead, they’re looking for more localized content from everyday life.
So what problem are you solving?
Los: There is a huge need for natural and user-generated content. This goes for large brands, as well as freelance photo buyers. We are trying to enrich them with this type of content. Simultaneously, we aim to reduce the amount of stolen photos throughout the web, especially from the common smartphone users. Simply put, we saw a fantastic opportunity where we can add value to both parties — the buyer and the seller — and we want to make the same impact and change as Spotify has done within the music industry.
How do you do it differently?
Los: Unlike our competitors, we are strongly focused on building our community. Our community is helping us solve the daunting problem of filtering photos so that we can maintain a great quality in the Foap Market. As a result, we have millions of pre-vetted user-generated photos from all over the world uploaded. Additionally, the way in which we handle licensing of images is also a point of difference. For $10 per photo, the buyer gets an unlimited, global license, and we split the revenue with the photographer on a 50/50 basis. A lot of the larger competitors have many different licenses, and it takes time to figure out how much your image will cost.
So how does Foap work?
Los: Our product is very simple. Users upload photos from their phone to the Foap Market through our social photo apps on iOS and Android. Once in the Market, photos pass through a community-check before the photo gets published on the Foap Market. Photos are rated five times from five other “Foapers” with a rating of one to five. If you score an average rating of 2.5 or more, your photo appears in the Foap Market. Now buyers from all over the world can search and license these photos for $10 each. Once a photo is sold, photographers are notified, and the money is immediately available to them via PayPal.
Who else is doing what you do?
Los: We have four huge dominators that have been in the industry for years: Gettyimages, iStockphoto, Shutterstock and Fotolia. And even though all these companies have revenues starting at $80 million, “the Big Four” are all very traditional, and are not yet focusing on the mobile world, which is taking more and more space within the industry. In addition to a focus on mobile, we are leading the race with our innovative approach and fast-growing community.
Earlier this year, you launched “Foap Missions.” What can you tell me about it?
Los: A “Foap Mission” is when a brand requests specific photos straight from our community. They write a description, add a mission title, and state the deadline and reward. The reward varies from hundreds up to thousands of dollars, and this is the amount that the brand will purchase the best image for. This benefits brands in a few ways. First, it’s an opportunity to enhance branding and increase user engagement. Second, the brands are able to build their own image libraries. We see Foap as the next generation, social stock photo company. “Foap Missions” is just the first in a series of steps we think will get us there — a mix of a social marketing platform and a stock photography company.
Who is your customer? How will you acquire them? How will you keep them?
Los: Our typical Foap Market customer is a designer, art director or community manager who likely works for an agency. Our goal is to create such a great product that it spreads virally via social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, or through earned media channels like PR. Later on we might try out some advertising as well.
How do you make money?
Los: We make money via Foap Market where photo buyers can license the photos for $10 each. We do also make money from brands via Foap Missions, which brands pay for in order to get access to our community.
How will you measure success?
Los: The two biggest KPIs (key performance indicators) by which success will be measured are: 1) how many photos are published per user, and 2) how much do those photos sell for. Success is much more than statistics, however. In order to be successful in the long run, a company needs to have other measurements of success as well, I believe. One of the toughest challenges for fast-growing startups is about building the right team and setting the right culture and atmosphere.
Tell me about the team.
Los: We are 11 people at the moment. Alexandra Bylund and I founded the company in 2011. I’m the CEO, and Alexandra is head of Product. And while we are technically a Swedish company, we’ve collected a team from around the globe, including Brazil and Finland. Because at the end of the day, we believe we’re not just selling Foap as a platform; we’re selling a team that makes each customer feel that we are with them, and they’re part of the ever-growing Foap community.
How comfortable are you with failure?
Los: It’s important to know that you can fail since that affects your risk awareness. If you want to change an industry, then you need to test and try out different solutions and approaches. Many of them will lead to failure, but some of them will lead to success. I personally believe that you automatically lose the game if you become afraid to fail. Failure is something that can lead to something good in terms of knowledge, connection and life experience.
What is your biggest risk?
Los: As a startup, we are facing a lot of risks. For example, what would happen if some of the large players were to go for their own solution?
So what does happen when Google decides to do what you’re doing?
Los: I will delete my Gmail account immediately and become best friends with Marissa Mayer.
Again, thanks for the time and insight. Any parting thoughts?
Los: We are driven to build a sustainable business that has strong revenues, a great culture and a product that kicks ass which everyone loves. We understand that we have a long way to go. But we think we are well on our way to building very successful startup.
What do you think? Can community cut through the clutter of an increasingly crowded marketplace? Let me know in the comments section below.
As co-founder of an award-winning internet startup (Stroome), a former development executive (DreamWorks, VH1, HBO), independent producer (Blaze Television), and advertising/marketing executive (Adworks), Tom Grasty currently resides at the junction where media and technology collide as the principal at The Grasty Group, a consulting firm specializing in early-stage startups in the content creation space.