Simon Moss is Co-Founder & CEO of ImageBrief – an on-demand photography and video sourcing platform for the world’s leading brands and their agencies.
It connects thousands of advertising agencies, publishers and brands directly to a curated global network of more than 23,500 photographers in 169 countries around the world. After sharing his insights into creativity, enterprise and investment at this year’s Creative³ Forum, Simon sat down with APDL to talk about his approach to building a successful startup.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
After I moved from UK to Australia in 1996 I spent 15 years selling enterprise software to corporates. I hated wearing a shirt and tie and I felt like a closet creative. For years I was looking for an idea to flex the entrepreneurial muscle.
My wife was working as a photo editor and around 2004-05 there was a massive shift from analogue to digital photography. What this led to was an explosion of content, and a lot of imagery was just sitting around on photographer’s hard drives. So we came up with the idea of setting up a niche stock library, where we would sell to advertising agencies and editorial teams in magazines.
Regardless of how much time we spent indexing and cataloguing our images, we would get quite detailed, descriptive emails direct from photo editors asking us in natural language for specific images they needed. So we would manually take the request and forward the email onto the photographer, who would look through their archive, find the image and then we would send the buyer the image. So we imagined a world where we could scale and automate that process and have millions of photographers and buyers connect them in a new way that hadn’t been done before.
Then on May 5th, 2011 I had a stroke. As I laid in hospital I decided I would never work for another company again and build it. We closed our first round of seed funding in 2011, and never looked back.
Is there something that has stood out during the process as a milestone?
We’ve just started working with companies like Facebook and Apple, which are pretty significant and exciting milestones for us being the size we are and where we’ve come from. Raising ongoing investment have also been huge ongoing milestones.
Can you talk a little of the ImageBrief philosophy in relation to your role as co-founder?
The world is moving towards a share economy. It’s more distributed. There are more freelancers, more micro businesses, and photographers are one of those. The photography industry is very competitive. It’s increasingly difficult to make money out of it but there is still incredible talent out there. So the philosophy behind ImageBrief is creating a place where art directors, creative directors and marketing teams can effortlessly uncover and license amazing images as well as hire unique photography talent from anywhere in the world.
What principles inform your work?
We are very data driven. We use a framework called Startup Metrics for Pirates by Dave McClure. It is a 5-step model for creating a metrics framework for your business. The ‘pirate’ part comes from the five steps: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue. While it’s good to have the data, design is important – designing an experience. We’ve just expanded our engineering team to help us accelerate our ability to execute on that. Leveraging everyone’s creativity is important.
Do you do anything to encourage collaboration and interaction between the people you work with?
We have a morning huddle every morning at 9:33, where everyone gets two minutes to talk about what they’re working on for the day and identify any roadblocks. This creates a rhythm and synchronicity in the team and everyone knows what everyone else is working on. Everyone is metric guided, and everyone has a framework so they know if they’re on track. We seem to be pulling in the right direction as a result.
Have you ever had to change your approach to meet the demands of your clients from a product level?
We found out that when a buyer submitted a brief with a reference image or a sketch, the chances of getting the right image back and buying it was six times higher. Based on that we realised we needed to build in reference images as part of the briefing process. This is being developed now.
Another thing is our messaging and positioning. People need to put you in a box so they understand you straight away, so we’ve tweaked and played with our messaging to make it clearer. We have two types of messaging because we have two types of clients or users. The benefits for a buyer are different to the benefits for a photographer.
Do you have any tips for getting your ideas off the ground?
You can set up a business for next to nothing these days, set up a website, conduct test marketing for next to nothing on social media, test interaction – you’ve got to start there. Start validating demand. Test your business model. The aim for Product/Market fit. Ideally you want to aim for a world where 40% of your users would scream if you switched the lights off tomorrow. That’s the nirvana.
What are your observations of design-led thinking today?
I still think people think about design purely from a font, colour perspective as opposed to designing an experience. Often people overcomplicate design, but the key is simplicity. You need to boil things down to their essence.
Where did you see your industry headed?
As mobile phones become more powerful – the camera lenses and editing equipment – it will get to a point where they can be used to shoot images that are of good enough quality to be used in magazines and on billboards. It will be heavily mobile driven.
Also brands are trying to communicate through authentic imagery – not cheesy stock imagery. People want a user-generated feel but with a high production quality. People want to be able to relate to brands and feel that the subjects in the images are people like them.
Looking forward, where do you hope to be in the next 10 years? How do you hope to develop?
Photographers are getting a hard deal in the photography industry. We want to connect a million of the world’s most talented, authentic, photographers with international buyers that want high-quality, authentic and fresh content that hasn’t been seen before.
What are your top 5 favourite design books?
Seth Godin – Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
Jason Fried – REWORK
Ben Horowitz – The Hard Thing about Hard Things
Ed Catmull – Creativity Inc
Warren Bennis – Organizing Genius