Co-ops, Sustainability and Stock..or rather; Stocksy

Been watching Stocksy for some time and pleased to share a recent conversation with new CEO Brianna Wettlaufer.

Founded in 2012 Stocksy is described as a Co-op – can you elaborate?

Stocksy is a multi stakeholder co-op, jointly owned by all of our photographer-members (900) and founders.

In Stocksy’s infancy we explored many business models that would ensure transparency, involvement and support of photographers, including non-profit, but the co-op model (deep routed in Canadian history, where we’re founded) was the only structure that obligated business practices to meet these goals.

By not involving a top tier of financially focused investors or executives, we can focus on the things that matter, the quality of the product and long-term integrity of what we’re doing.

We’ve proven co-ops are a profitable model, by only taking an initial investment of one million dollars and hitting profitability in our first year of business. We founded the company with four people huddled around a picnic table and have grown that to twelve people in office and twelve working remotely.

This allowed us to be the first agency to challenge the stale and cliché stereotypes and concepts found in stock photography that left everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.

© Sven Dreesbach/Stocksy
© Sven Dreesbach/Stocksy

In 2012 when we entered the market, it was stuck in a moment, which was unfortunate because there were a lot of amazing things happening in photography. Pinterest, Instagram and VSCO all aided in raising the bar of expectations. Stocksy’s goal was to bridge that gap with amazing artistic images by extraordinary photographers, both new and veteran to the stock world.

I like that Stocksy describes itself as being ‘career-sustainable’ Tell us more.

Our goal in sustainability is in the foundation of everything we do. The success of our company and product is interdependent between what all of us can contribute.

As a tech company, we’re very focused on the quality of job, pay and environment that we provide our staff so they can succeed in their roles.

Likewise, we have to create a sustainable product for our members that they can remain committed to. We provide a personalized team of editors who always take the time to work with them one on one for feedback, provide comprehensive creative direction and creative research, and grow the collection at a rate that maintains momentum of photographer incomes.

With our royalty-structure, paying out 50% of standard royalties ($10-$100) and 75% of our extended licenses ($100-$500), 75% of exclusive licenses ($1,250-$9,000), and 90% of any profits divided among our members, we ensure that we’re getting as much profit immediately into the hands of our photographers. In fact, some of our photographers make more money than members of our executive team. We feel that is how it should be. Since launching Stocksy in 2012 we have paid out roughly $4 million to our photographers. Our goal is to only take what we need to sustainably operate and grow our business.

© Carey Haider/Stocksy
© Carey Haider/Stocksy

After years of seeing disenfranchised photographers, and hearing complaints about the reality of the microstock industry and what it was becoming, our team had the vision of creating a company with soul.

Being a co-op presents its own challenges, but we welcome them because we have created a business we trust and believe in. Despite the limited time and resources, we are growing and finding success.

 Stocksy came to be around the time Social Media was gelling as a marketing/communications force to be reckoned with. Can you elaborate on your strategy here and how you stay relevant?(having artists take over the feeds, etc.)

From the beginning, we opted to keep our marketing needs organic, from the original ideas of our members and employees. Staying relevant isn’t something we go out of our way to do. When you love photography you’re naturally always paying attention to emerging trends that you want to support, experiment with and challenge.

We actively work closely with all our members sharing our research and creative direction. This is what emerges in our curations and weekly photographer Instagram takeovers.

Since social media is synonymous with visual content, the opportunity to engage in various platforms makes sense for our business model. We are finding lots of success with Twitter and our community is very engaged with Instagram. Every week we select an artist to lead a “photographer takeover” session giving them complete creative control to share their favorite photos with our followers.

Visually, Stocksy has the reputation of authenticity – so often we hear that an agency will have ‘marketing images’ that represent the cutting edge, but that clients will trend towards the more conservative? True/False?

Stock photography is often synonymous with dry, staged images—think conventional couples or a group of typical professionals in suits. Stocksy’s collection features images that closely reflect real life and diversity—you will find tattooed bodies, same-sex couples and people of all ages created by photographers who want to stand out with their work.

We are hearing more and more that the buyers want the spontaneous ‘Instagram’ feeling images – thoughts?

As we’re fed more and more images integrated into all of our social media, we’re all becoming more savvy at recognizing a good photo and photos that are “real”, not forced or staged. I’m incredibly proud and inspired by our artists who do shoot mobile exclusively but being “real” certainly isn’t limited to the Instagram-look.

More than real, more than curating our lives to look perfect, I think we’re craving photography that has meaning and reminds us: life is beautiful.

© Gabriel Ozon/Stocksy
© Gabriel Ozon/Stocksy

Instagram pictures are real and spontaneous and buyers are definitely gravitating towards that look. Social photography is changing the way people look at stock photography. To that end, buyers are looking for “authentic” images that mirror their photo sharing culture.

We support content that celebrates how beautiful life can be and we support artists that have stayed true to their vision and distinct style. Truly that is the kind of content we hope will resonate with buyers. At Stocksy, we are excited for the comeback of film photography. Similar to the realness of Instagram, film photography feels nostalgic, magical and organic.

 Brianna, I understand you are a new CEO – Congrats! Tell us just a bit about yourself and how you see your role shaping the future of Stocksy.

Thank you. I’ve been in the stock industry now for over ten years, first joining as a photographer/designer then moving to Calgary, AB to become one of the founding members of iStock. My path and where I am now comes from a passion to create an amazing photography product, from a collection and online experience, that’s married to the strength of community–as a person from the community who see’s the strength it represents.

Now at the helm of Stocksy I get to execute those ideals for supporting photographers, creativity and community into a single amazing product, created in collaboration from a staff and member base who share the same vision.

Now growing a company for the second time from the ground up, I’ve learned how I can uphold those ideals while running a really tight team of professionals; in conjunction with knowing how to approach harder decisions of partnerships, seeking investment capital and knowing when to hold still for the integrity of the product.

We’ve made it through a lot of the growing pains of a start-up and can’t wait to lead us into our next chapter to continuously innovate where Stocksy can grow.

A leadership coach once told me that you have to be able to take people to hell one day and heaven the next. They might not like you that day, but when they rise up and grow, they will love you for pushing them. This advice has helped pave the way for my career. My journey to becoming CEO started with stubborn perseverance and even at 18 (the age I landed my first job), I was willing to go above and beyond to bring integrity to the company’s brand. Nothing has changed since.

Portrait of Stocksy CEO Brianna Wettlaufer by Rob Campbell
Portrait of Stocksy CEO Brianna Wettlaufer by Rob Campbell

Share this post: