photo by Margot Gabel :

10 questions to a CEO : Exposure

On our continuous  journey to discover new ideas, concepts  and content around photo and technology, we recently fell* on a very well written blog post that described photo sharing in 3 major historical waves ( the bank accounts, the social networks and the meaningful experiences).  Intrigued and curious, we reached out to its author, Derek Powazek, who happened to have a much longer story to tell. Because his path mimics the evolution of photography and online technology, we sat down and asked him a few questions :

In a recent blog post, you describe photo sharing in 3 historic waves. What was the origin of this thought ?

Well, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of all three waves. And I realized this

Derek Powazek, Ceo of Exposure.
Derek Powazek, Ceo of Exposure.

moment we’re in now feels like the beginning of something new. So the origin of the essay was, where has “photo sharing” been and where is it going? And how  does Exposure fit into that context?

– In your description, you omit the ephemeral photo sharing phenomenon. Do you think it’s inconsequential ?

Busted! It’s true, I totally ignored Snapchat and its ilk. It’s not that they’re inconsequential at all. When you look at global internet patterns, photos shared privately are an enormous chunk of internet traffic. Yes, Snapchat has a novel self-destruct feature, but at its core, it’s really just a modern iteration of the kind of private photo sharing that has existed online for decades.

The original one-to-one photo sharing system was email, then it was SMS, and now it’s in apps. But they’re all basically the same behavior – communicating privately in photos. So, in my view, they’re still part of that first wave. If I have a single photo, there are a million ways for me to share it privately with someone else. There are too many apps fighting over that, each adding a little icing on top, but the behavior is essentially the same as it’s always been.

The much more challenging problem is, what do we do with the giant pile of JPGs we’re all carrying around? How do we make something meaningful out of them? That’s what the third wave is all about, and what we’re working on at Exposure.

-Tell us more about yourself. What is your path to your current role of Exposure?

The only thing I’ve been doing longer than making websites is shooting photos. I have a degree in photojournalism and am old enough to remember applying to newspaper jobs by mailing slides. Some photographers might remember JPG Magazine in the mid-2000s, which I co-founded with my wife, Heather Champ, and was such a wonderful, too-brief experience.

I joined Luke and Kyle at Exposure as Head of Product back in March of this year. At the time, Exposure was just a few months old and still being incubated by Elepath. We’re now spinning out as our own independent company, of which I’m the CEO, and looking to make a dent in the world of photography and visual storytelling.

Screen grab of Exposure
Screen grab of Exposure
-What is the genesis of Exposure? What are you trying to achieve ?

Exposure was started by Luke Beard to scratch his own itch. He had a pile of beautiful photos from a trip to Estonia and wanted to put them online, but he didn’t like any of the options. They were all either boring slide shows or monotonous grids. He wanted to make a more engaging, magazine-like display, with room for words to make it a real storytelling experience. He teamed up with Kyle Bragger and the two of them built the first iteration of Exposure. And it turned out that lots of people had that same problem and liked Exposure’s solution.

When I came in, we started to build more connective tissue around the community. We added Categories, the Subscriber Spotlight, and promotional tools, so photographers could connect with each other more. We’ve got lots more planned, but it’s all around that same theme: to make beautiful, meaningful things out of our photos, and to connect to each other and our photos better. We want to be the place people think of when it’s time to assemble their photos into something meaningful.

-Do you think people will take the time to build stories or are you more planning on getting the 1% creative and building a strong following audience ?

I think it’s a mistake to think that people aren’t willing to put the work in. I remember developing photos in chemicals under red light. Dodging and burning using pieces of tape on wire. Now THAT was time-consuming.

Making photos today is easier than it’s ever been. But there’s still work to do in processing images, picking the best out of the hundreds you shot, finding the perfect crop – don’t get me started on apps that think all photos are square. Photographers don’t mind doing that work. It’s part of the creative process.

That’s not to say we aren’t going to make story creation as easy as humanly possible. We are. But the key word there is “humanly.” We believe that telling photo stories is an inherently human process. No matter how good your algorithm is, a human-created story will be better because storytelling is what humans do.

-What is the business model behind Exposure ? How do you plan to generate revenue?

We’re doing already. It’s free to sign up and publish three stories. After that, we ask you to subscribe for as little as $5/month. There’s a Plus plan that comes with unlimited posting, password-protected stories, stats, RSS, and all kinds of other goodies. And there’s a Pro plan for people who want to use their Exposure profile as their main website with a custom domain and without Exposure branding.

We’re all longtime online photographers and we all know the pain of losing a beloved service. Too many sites go for scale without thinking about how they’re going to pay the bills. So it was important to us to show our business model right out of the gate. We’re a subscriber-based business, and we’re in it for the long haul.

-How big is the company today ? How many users, how many stories published a day/month ?

We’re less than a year in and are growing fast. We’re not releasing any numbers right now, but let’s just say the charts are all looking very up-and-to-the-right.

-Who is your targeted Exposure user ?

We think everyone has a story to tell. And these days everyone is sitting on a pile of images. So we see Exposure as something that’s going to be of interest to everybody. Of course, we’re starting with photographers, because we know what they want, because they’re us.

-What makes Exposure different from its competition ?

We have no interest in housing your entire photo collection. There are plenty of places that are happy to do that for you. We’ll take all the photos you want to upload, of course, but we really want the ones you’re most proud of.

We also have no interest in shoving ads down your throat, or using you to make advertisers happy. One of the key benefits of a subscription-based business is that we can focus exclusively on making our subscribers happy.

But mostly Exposure is different because we want to make you look amazing. We’re all about bringing more, well, *exposure* to your photography.

-What will be a sure sign, for you, of Exposure’s success?

When my dad uses it to send me a bunch of photos instead of email, but don’t tell him I said that.

There’s a transition that happens when you start using Exposure. It happened to me. Instead of hitting the shutter and immediately going to share it, I slowed down and thought, what’s the story here? Maybe I’ll take a few more photos and put it on Exposure. And then a few more and a few more. It changed the way I was shooting. Lots of our members talk about how this happened to them, too.

When Exposure is everyone’s first thought after hitting the shutter, then I’ll know it’s a success.

– What would you like to offer your users that technology cannot yet deliver ?

That’s a tough question, because technology can already do so much that we haven’t made good use of yet. There have been some spectacular failures in the collaborative photo department, but there’s still a huge opportunity to use our mobile cameras and existing location data to compile group stories from many participants in the same time and place.

Right now, when we talk about mobile cameras, we’re really talking about smart phones. But soon all cameras will be connected to the network, even the ones that don’t have phones built into them. So that will open up a lot of really interesting opportunities.

But mostly I’m interested in how the technology can get out of the way and let humans do what we do best: tell stories.

* Actually, we were pointed to it by Taylor Davidson

Author: Paul Melcher

Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo based companies with already two successful exits.

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