Time was when digital photographers coalesced on Flickr. But Flickr languished, and the community it had built was allowed to disperse – leaving room for others to sprout in its place. One of those is VSCO — a creative platform for photographers and designers to share quality work.
The company, which was founded back in March 2011, has just pulled in a $40 million Series A round from Accel Partners — the fifth largest Series A round the investor has ever done. Goldcrest Investments also participated in the round.
In a blog announcing the investment Accel said it was drawn to the “raw creativity VSCO fosters on its platform” — and the “beautiful, emotive photos and images” that users create and upload to the community.
VSCO’s combination of “great tools” and a “passionate community” is the recipe for investment success here.
Accel also specifically lauds VSCO’s mobile tools — with its VSCOcam app — which it says lay the groundwork for further growth of VSCO’s community as the camera hardware that’s embedded in smartphones continues to improve.
The purchase of dedicated high-end photography equipment is no longer a pre-requisite for producing high quality images — and the mobile tools VSCO offers help to bridge the gap between high end pro camera kit and high end smartphones.
VSCO’s mobile app includes filters for post processing images shot within the app, but also offers greater precision for editing the images than mainstream photo-sharing and social networking apps. Accel notes that some 30 million images uploaded to Instagram are tagged #VSCO or #VSCOcam, for instance.
The photo-focused company does not reveal the exact size of its user-base, arguing that the measure is less appropriate for a community fixated on encouraging the creation of quality user generated content. In an email to TechCrunch, co-founder and CEO Joel Flory described the “community of creatives” using VSCO products as “largely international, extremely passionate and rapidly growing”.
Indeed, he added that putting numbers on a creative community misses the point — being exactly the kind of reductionism that the community has been established to counteract.
“We like to think of VSCO Grid, our minimalist photo publishing platform, as a living museum. In a museum, the focus is completely on the artwork and the artist who has created it. It is a beautiful, curated experience. With that mindset, VSCO Grid doesn’t show follower count or allow comments as that would be like writing on the museum wall or putting gold star stickers next to artwork you liked. VSCO Grid is not a ‘social currency’ platform – it is built on beautiful, original content and curation,” he said.
“We also carefully select images every day for the curated VSCO Grid. The curated Grid shows a wide range of images from around the world (our community is over 70% international) that are absolutely beautiful, but would largely be ignored on sharing communities that may not value the same things.”
Prior to this round, VSCO was boostrapping profitably — selling a variety of products to its community of enthusiasts via its online and in-app stores — with nearly 50 employees and “millions” of domestic and international users. More than one billion images have been created using VSCO’s tools to date.
VSCO’s first funding will be used for building more tools and services for the VSCO community and expanding the team further.
“The founders have a big vision for the platform, and with this investment, can finally match the passion and energy of a user-base that’s grown non-linearly from the start. The company is also announcing a significant expansion of its Artist’s Initiative, a grant-based program that supports artists and their mission-driven creative projects across the world,” said Accel.
The scholarship fund started at $100,000 but has now been expanded to $1 million, with Accel contributing $500,000 to help beef up the size of the fund.
“We believe that if we “win” as a company, we only do so if the creative community does as well. We are in this together. With this in mind, we launched the VSCO Artist Initiative, a one million dollar fund for artists to pursue their creative vision. From photographers to muralists, the work being created by this next generation of artists is simply amazing, and we are honored to support them,” said Flory.
“We have a massive, unrealized vision to redefine the entire process around creating, editing, sharing and connecting,” he added. “This [Series A] investment allows us to better scale our infrastructure for the international community, which represents the majority of the VSCO community. This will greatly improve the performance of VSCO Cam, VSCO Grid and VSCO Journal, among others.”