Unsplash, the world’s fastest growing photography platform since Instagram, has announced the closure of a $7.25 million Series A financing round led by OST.com Ltd, the blockchain technology company behind the “Simple Token” project. Co-founder and CEO Mikael Cho says this round marks the first investment model of its kind, with cryptocurrency and traditional VC and angel investors participating together.
Other confirmed investors include Betaworks, Clark Valberg (Founder/CEO at InVision), Roger Dickey (Founder/CEO at Gigster) and Rahul Vohra (Founder/CEO at Superhuman/ former Founder/CEO Rapportive, acq. by LinkedIn). Existing investors also participating in the round include Accomplice and Real Ventures.
OST invested $5 million in the round in a combination of USD cash and OST tokens. The round could grow to as large as $10 million over the next months with participation from additional potential investors.
“I believe this financing is actually the first of its kind, in the sense where a crypto company is leading an investment that also has venture investment,” Cho told MTLinTECH.
Last year, Cho announced in a blog post that Crew—of which he is also a co-founder—had sold to Dribbble, a community for designers, illustrators, and other creatives, so that his team could focus on Unsplash, once a spinoff of Crew. Unsplash has seen exponential growth since then, swelling to 5.4 billion+ photos viewed per month, 48 billion+ photo views and 310 million+ photo downloads since 2013, and 10 photos downloaded per second. A photo featured on Unsplash is now seen by more people than the front page of the New York Times.
“We knew one of the things we needed to figure out with Unsplash since moving on from Crew was how do we become a business? Shutterstock, who was previously the leader and the leading incumbent, they’re at about five downloads per second, so we’re nearly double their size already. But their model is to pay for downloading photos. For us, we’re looking towards the future and seeing the whole industry shifting around photography.”
Unsplash and OST intent to tokenize and empower the Unsplash community with blockchain technology, while keeping the open and free-to-use principles that have led to Unsplash’s massive growth. This partnership marks the largest mass market consumer web-service Blockchain tokenization project ever announced.
“It’s easier for a lot of people to take photos now. It’s built into our devices, we have these high quality cameras that can shoot high resolution, so we don’t need to go buying this expensive camera gear in addition. On the other side, we’ve got people creating all kinds of different things that has moved beyond just professional media people.”
“People are able to create their own presentations, their own blogs, postings, and visuals online. Through that opening of creativity there’s a shift that’s going on. When we were looking ahead for Unsplash, the question was how do we monetize? And I had started a conversation with Jason, who’s the founder and CEO of Simple Token about seven months ago about how Unsplash could potentially tokenize our economy? It would allow everyone inside the ecosystem to benefit and become a stakeholder of Unsplash. We had another conversation later, and Jason was interested in investing. So when we looked at what that round could be, it ended up becoming a much more meaningful relationship. We fleshed out the early ideas around tokenization, we understood it a lot better, and it moved up in priority to the point that we saw it as a viable model for the future. It’s even linked to the future financial system.”
“If you look at the principals behind blockchain and cryptocurrency, it’s decentralized, open, and all the same characteristics and values that Unsplash has. That’s a lot of what fed into where we thought this was a strategic decision we could make. It’s super exciting to be in this spot, where, we were in this unique position to have all this growth and not be monetized yet, and so we don’t have a legacy system or a legacy business model we need to bring forward. We can actually start from scratch, start fresh.”
The tokenized model is in line with Unsplash’s objecting: to build the largest open library visuals for any kind of usage. By decoupling photos from the traditional photo licensing model, Unsplash is creating a new kind of image ecosystem for the digital era, one that supports and is powered by the expanding creative community.
“The funding is still focused on what we do best, which is moving things forward with the community, continuing to push the impact of photography further than anything anybody’s ever done. A lot of that comes down to what we can do inside of the site to make connections. Right now when you look at a photo on Unsplash, you’ll see the number of people who viewed it and the downloads, but you don’t quite know who used them or what they were used to create.
“We want to document human creativity inside of Unsplash. I think that’s a super powerful connection that people can have.”
“The second part of that is our API partnerships. We’re integrated in over 1,200 creative platforms now, and what that does is it pushes the impact of photography even further. It’s within so many other products that today we reach about another 15 million people a month.” That all circles back to our contributors who are posting the image for the greater good of creation. They want people to be able to use their images, to create and do those sorts of things. But we feel it’s important to come back and say, ‘Hey, here’s the number of people you influenced, here’s how you benefited, here’s how you can connect with those different people who were moved by the photo you took’.”
The funding will also directly affect the Montreal Unsplash team, which will soon grow from 17 people to a team of 25.
The iOS app is also slated to be released soon. Interested individuals can click here to be notified wen the Unsplash app launches.
“It all circles back to our contributors who are posting the image for the greater good of creation. They want people to be able to use their images, to create and do those sorts of things. We feel it’s important to come back and say, ‘Hey, here’s the number of people you influenced, here’s how you benefited, here’s how you can connect with those different people who were moved by the photo you took’.”