Definitely not your average angel round.
“Honey, how would you feel if I told you
I was having an affair?”
“ARE you having an affair?”
“Could we ever recover?”
“I’m not sure I could.” she forces out a quivering reply. “I would bedisappointed. I would be sad. It would devastate me.” she declared.
“That’s good to know. Lucky for you…I’m not having an affair.”
“That IS lucky. For your sake, that is.” eyeing me off.
“I’m not having an affair. Nor do I want to have an affair.
What I DO want is a change.”
“A…change.” she ‘hmphs’ a dubious ‘hmph’.
“What did you have in mind?”
Well, Honey there’s this really cool domain name for sale. It’s only $250,000”I blurted, finally.
“A domain name. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” almost parodying.
“This is my mid-life crisis.
I don’t want an affair. I don’t want a fancy car.”
“I want to do a web startup.”
“Gawd… All right, then. Convince me.” she sighs
What are we going to sell?
Stock photos, of course. We’re going to sell what our competitors sell.
What’s the idea?
“How can you be sure they will buy? And why would they buy from you and not your bigger, more established competitors?” she challenged.
I know the stuff on Shutterstock sells. And I also know that the “Stockphoto.com” domain name is going to bring me web traffic from the get-go.
So if I was able to source the same images currently selling on Shutterstock and all the other stock photo marketplaces, and assuming I price them roughly the same as those other websites, and all other things being equal then I should be able to sell them to the visitors coming to Stockphoto.com.
What about the inventory?
How and where are you going to source your stock photos?
Enter Sergey Nivens. Sergey was described to me by a leading industry insideras “stock photography royalty”. You’ve probably seen his images used on popular websites, products and advertising without realising it.
I was lucky to have made Sergey’s acquaintance and he was kind enough to provide 57,000 stock images from his amazing portfolio for me to test my MVP.
It’s not terribly innovative, I must admit. But I was adamant we would have one thing in our favour — a great, converting domain name with natural type-in, as well as search engine traffic.
When someone types “stock photo” into Google and they see my domain name in the top few search listings, my bet is that they would trust my domain name enough to click on it. And when they come to my website and see a relevant, high-quality stock photo at a comparable price then my guess is that THEY WILL BUY.
So instead of hand registering some other domain name and then spending money on building links and SEO for the website, I’m going to spend that money upfront. Get all the marketing wrapped-up and front-end loaded into the business before I launch by getting a generic, exact-match domain name.
The idea is then that, for a given level of quality, I can market stock photos more efficiently than some of my competitors (especially those that have to invest continuously on marketing and SEO to draw visitors).
Won’t you need investors?
Not initially (I think).
If we can secure some seed content, then getting a basic website with eCommerce functionality should be pretty simple.
It’s not a ‘traditional’ startup. It wouldn’t be sexy enough for Silicon Valley.The stock photo business isn’t broken enough for me to try being ‘disruptive’.It required code that could support, basically, an eCommerce store with lots of different vendors and products. It wasn’t solving any problem that hadn’t been solved before.
The only thing I was doing differently was using a marketing hack.
What happened next?
So obviously my wife (begrudgingly) gave me her blessing.
The domain name purchase settled in January 2013.
Stockphoto.com was finally launched on the 9th of September 2013. We were cashflow-positive from Month 1. Not huge numbers, of course, but a promising start.
We were able to attract visitors and convert them to buyers in profitable quantities without any paid advertising.
Two years on…what now?
Beyond the Prototype
What did I learn?
1. More inventory + Better search = Higher sales
2. Better website design = More searches
3. I need help getting more quality inventory.
4. I need help with Search and Design.
What did I do about it?
I brought on two co-founders (Lee Torrens and Luke Evans) to build on what I have learnt, upgrade our platform so that it’s scalable and to bring in more quality inventory. In essence, more stock, better Search and better conversions.
Three punters armed with over fifty million images and a marketing hack.
The biggest lesson?
Life is short.
Have an affair 😉
It’s the funnest thing I’ve ever done (even my wife thinks so)