10 to Watch 2015: Stocksy

“Stocksy wanted to take a dramatic leap forward, to further empower photographers to make sustainable incomes through web commerce, and to push the artistic boundaries of what stock photography can be.”

Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.

Out of chaos great business ideas are often born. That’s certainly the case with Stocksy, a Victoria-based global online stock photography agency that turned its back on clichéd photography and meager artistic compensation offered by many megastock agencies. Instead, Stocksy created a cooperative business that in just three years has disrupted the industry and made photographers and clients — including a growing roster of Fortune 500 companies — very happy. 

“Being a cooperative we have the advantage of being in complete creative control of our business,” says CEO Brianna Wettlaufer, “but we do face the difficulty of competing against larger companies backed by venture capital.”

The solution? “Be more creative and more strategic with our spending and efforts,” says Wettlaufer.

Stocksy offers a carefully curated online collection of over 100,000 “modern, relevant, authentic” images from photographers who are also co-owners of the company. Fifty per cent of the initial royalty and 75 per cent of every extended license goes directly into the photographer’s pocket. Cooperative profits are distributed back to members yearly.

Stocksy made such a splash that the big agencies soon began calling, wanting to license Stocksy’s collection but the company has not done so. Wettlaufer, who has played in the big stock leagues previously, says Stocksy has its own vision. “If you’re going to compromise the integrity of your product, just step back.”

Q&A with Brianna Wettlaufer of Stocksy

What was your biggest startup challenge?

Stocksy is a transparent co-op, which means major decisions are debated and voted on by our collective … Probably the biggest challenge is just that aspect of “Can we make this level of transparency work and how do we balance that?”

Do you put a lot of focus on a business plan?

I’m more about getting the product out there, starting to figure out what works, what doesn’t. It’s good to know your goals five or 10 years ahead so you know what you’re working toward, but we’re in a fluid industry — things are moving so fast. You never know what little new introduction to the [web]site is going to change your business model. So if you’ve spent months building a business plan about other things — that’s just a waste of time.

Stocksy Business Profile

Type of business: Microstock photo agency

Year founded: 2012

Owner/principal: Brianna Wettlaufer, CEO

Employees: 20

What sets you apart? Our need to be constantly disruptive keeps us on our feet. Being a cooperative, we have the advantage of being in complete creative control of our business.

This article is from the April/May 2015 issue of Douglas.