Photo competitions are almost as old as the first camera. As soon as there was two photographers, there was a need to find out who took the best pictures. However, they were limited in space and time, with little or no room for everyone to be a judge. UK based Photocrowd puts an end to it with the V2 of its platform, opening wide open the doors for multinational, massive crowd voting along experts judging. We sat down with co-founders Mike Betts and Liam Bailey to find out more :
In a few words, what is Photocrowd ?
Photocrowd is a place where photographers can take part in assignments and contests, build a cool portfolio page, read interesting articles and meet other photographers.
What made you decide to create it?
It came out of our teaching practise, realizing that a lot of photographers lack focus for their photography and don’t shoot enough. We wanted to create a community that gives its members a real desire to produce and show good work to each other. We couldn’t see any compelling assignment or contest models out there – they seemed too simplistic, didn’t give any feedback to 99.9% of the photographers who took part, and with limited potential to learn from the experience.
Can you tell us how it is funded ? How big is the team currently?
We were self-financed for the first couple of years. Then in 2014 we received investment from one of our early Photocrowd members who loved the site, believed in our vision and wanted to help us get there. We’re a team of 5 full-time staff based in Oxford, UK, with an extended circle of part-time freelancers and advisors. We’re just starting a new funding round to complete by the end of the year that should take us into 2017.
What do you think is the number one appeal for people to use Photocrowd?
For now it’s knowing that when you enter your image into a contest or assignment you’re guaranteed to have a large number of fellow photographers look at and vote on your image. It’s a level of exposure and honest evaluation of your work (however good or bad it is) that you can’t guarantee anywhere else on the web. And for free!
There are already a few photo competition platforms, what is the key difference of Photocrowd ?
It’s the way the contests are designed – the crowd-voting process, and the fact that they’re judged both by the crowd AND an expert judge. The crowd-voting is enjoyable and people love it. We get hundreds of thousands of votes on each contest and it’s designed so that the results are democratic, fair and believable. The expert judge then selects their own winning images, usually chooses a very different selection from the crowd, and writes a series of image reviews that help members to understand their thinking and learn from someone with lots of experience.
Who do you see as your typical user ?
The common trait of all our members is that they have an interest in photography that goes beyond just the social. Photography for them is either a hobby, a profession or somewhere in-between. Beyond that, photography has such a universal appeal and our membership is so varied that there isn’t such thing as a typical Photocrowd member.
What will be a sure sign of success?
There are small signs of success all the time as we grow and we make sure as a team to celebrate them. Of course we have certain targets for membership growth and long-term engagement that we would consider to be ‘success’ at different stages of the business. Ultimately though we still define success the same way as when we started – building a community that thousands of photographers love, are thankful that it exists, and that we’re proud to show to our friends and family and say ‘we helped to create this’.
Do you expect Photocrowd to replace Instagram or Snapchat ?
No! Snapchat is about social photography and photo messaging, whereas Photocrowd is aimed at the person with photography as a hobby or career. Instagram has many amazing photographers on it and is a beautiful way to connect with each other and share work. We see Photocrowd as complementary to Instagram, becoming a place on the web with a greater variety of ways to engage, learn, be inspired and share. We use Glastonbury Festival as an analogy for where we want to get to, with the variety of experiences it offers and types of people it caters for. In time we want Photocrowd to offer a myriad of tools and opportunities to its members.
What are some features that we can expect to see in the near future ?
Very soon we’ll be letting members launch their own contests and assignments on Photocrowd, alongside a new groups feature. We’re imagining local photo groups getting involved, companies looking to run a contest, a teacher or lecturer setting assignments for their students, or just a member with a particular photographic interest wanting to attract other Photocrowd members with the same interest. We’re effectively handing over to the community the tools that we’ve been perfecting since launch, and we’re hoping to move from being one central community into being a community of communities. It’s exciting!
What keeps you up at night ?
Mostly the frustration of trying to do too much with a small team. We’d love to be moving faster, pushing new product ideas quicker and fixing more of the things that need improving on the current site. It’s an obvious issue for a start-up and it focuses our minds on the upcoming, bigger round of investment funding.
What would you like to add to Photocrowd today that can’t be done because of technology restrictions?
Actually nothing. Other photo communities are working hard to find algorithmic ways of surfacing the best imagery from their communities in order to make those images available for sale. But our crowd-voting and expert-voting mechanisms already do a great job of bringing the best imagery to the top of the pile and giving it an audience. Over time we expect the image recognition software to start working well and become available, so as we grow I’m sure we’d look to incorporate that technology at some point.
Photo by Photos by Mavis
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. 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.