Unsplash has announced a funding round that includes tokens as the company looks to monetize its free stock photo platform.
The company has announced a raise of $6.25 million in fiat currency, and the rest of the money in SimpleTokens, a protocol allowing consumer apps to create their own cryptocurrency. OST.com, the blockchain technology company behind the “Simple Token” project, led the investment in Unsplash.
Betaworks, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Gigster CEO Roger Dickey, and Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra are new investors in the round, with Accomplice and Real Ventures participating.
“Unsplash is a magical product that is democratizing photography and making quality digital imagery widely available and highly usable by individuals, developers, and businesses around the world,” said OST CEO Jason Goldberg. “We jumped at the opportunity to partner with Unsplash to disrupt the incumbents by combining Unsplash’s superior product with the game-changing potential of blockchain technology. The entire purpose of OST is help mainstream companies benefit from blockchain and we are hopeful that our partnership with Unsplash will prove to be a signature showcase of the power of OST. Together, there is a tremendous opportunity here to deliver one of the first mass-market use cases for blockchain.”
Unsplash has not yet received the tokens, but it hopes to launch its own token within the platform as a way to reward creators contributing free content to the site.
Unsplash launched with the goal of making stock photos more accessible, as professional stock photos are traditionally licensed to the media organizations that can afford it. Unsplash promises both to give creators more access to photos, while photographers can build an audience and a reputation.
“We have a lot of growth and we have a strong community, and being able to pair it with Simpletoken puts us in a unique position.”
“We’ve had a lot of hiring activity that’s happening within the site, and what we’re trying to do is help everyone in this ecosystem benefit, and we think that will ultimately be the best thing for Unsplash as well,” said Mikael Cho, founder of Unsplash. “So if we’re able to help other people make money inside the ecosystem, so people who create great content, or brands who wan to work with other contributors and they want to exchange tokens in that that sort of way.”
The company is working with SimpleToken to figure out how a tokenized economy will work within the platform. “We think it’s really powerful if we can create an ecosystem within that where people can exchange and then they have a medium for that exchange,” Cho says. “We believe a lot in the philosophy behind what the blockchain represents, and it’s basically modelled itself under what Unsplash is — which is essentially decentralized photography.”
Unsplash currently has 5.4 billion photos viewed per month, 10 photos downloaded per second, and over 48 billion photo views and 310 million photo downloads since 2013. While the metrics seem impressive, Cho says it’s difficult for the interactions within the platform to get captured; when someone posts an image, it may be used several times, but a photographer wouldn’t be able to track that activity.
Cho wants to use part of the funding to make the platform more interactive, while continuing the company’s push to mobile. The company, which recently announced a partnership with Medium, hopes to build more integrations with other products. Its open developer API also boasts 5.6 billion API calls from developers.
Unsplash is continuing to have conversations with investors, and hopes to push this round to $10 million.
“We haven’t yet monetized; it’s really difficult for someone who may have more scale than us who is already monetizing with fiat currency, because to turn everything to a tokenization economy, you have a legacy thing,” said Cho. “We have a lot of growth and we have a strong community, and being able to pair it with Simpletoken puts us in a unique position of having the first large web-based ecosystem that’s been tokenized.”
Not having to rely on a traditional financial system, the company hopes to be a pioneer both in building a tokenized economy and a new model of creative photography away from licensing.
“The demand has totally changed. If you’re creating a presentation or using something for a blog post, you’re not necessarily going to licensing and imaging for that and paying $500, you may just shoot your own photo with your phone,” he said. “So, then how do we reward people who tell great visual stories?”