After 144 million downloads in 2016, photo site Unsplash goes independent

We typically lend the word “nimble” to entrepreneurs who are mindful enough to make a change when one unexpected part of a business is going unexpectedly well.

It appears that Crew CEO Mikael Cho is doing just that in a new announcement about Unsplash, the free photography website that jumped from 47 million downloaded images in 2015 to a whopping 144 million last year. Over a billion photos on the site were viewed in November.

In a Medium post published on Thursday, Cho explained that Unsplash’s success and traffic had reached such a level that it was impossible to ignore the inevitable. Unsplash and Crew will now operate as two independent companies, with Cho and three teammates migrating to Unplash full time.

“We still have $5 million of the $8.5 million investment we raised two years ago in the bank. And Crew can operate at a rate that’s close to profitable. We could wait on this decision. But, we realized if we continued to operate Unsplash and Crew together as we have, we risk giving neither the focus they deserve,” wrote Cho. “The investment money we raised for Crew will also be split between Crew and Unsplash. Separate budgets for both.”

Crew connects clients with freelance designers, developers or small studios. 99 per cent of projects have been completed on time, on budget and issue-free. As Cho mentioned near the beginning of his Medium piece, Crew is a multi-million dollar business supporting companies and creators across 30 countries.

When Cho created Unplash, it wasn’t expected to be the mammoth it is today. But after a few months Unsplash grew to 80,000 members and then over a million downloads.

“Unsplash was made shortly after Crew as a way to help Crew grow,” wrote Cho. “And it did just that. Unsplash referred more customers to Crew than any other source. It helped us survive when we were months from going out of business. Without Unsplash, there likely would be no Crew.”

And so the day of reckoning has hit Cho and his team. While the decision to focus full energy on the upstart Unsplash looks easy now, it seemingly never is at the time for entrepreneurs.

Unplash grew to five employees over the past two years. In November over a billion photos  were viewed.

But there was a drawback for Cho and his team. Crew and Unsplash became harder to manage together, and both “need more of our attention every day. And operating them from the same resources hurts our ability to focus.”

Today, over three photos are downloaded per second on Unsplash. In three and a half years Unsplash has become “one of the fastest-growing, most impactful photography communities,” proclaimed Cho.

“What started as a little blog to drive traffic has become much more. Unsplash is a special community, where the powerful principles of sharing and openness have taken the place of strict copyright and legal red tape.”

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