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Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer talks data and going public

Shutterstock is arguably the biggest photo market place ever. Founded back in 2003, it recently went public — but for founder and CEO Jon Oringer, it seems things are just getting started.

Oringer currently owns an estimated 55% of Shutterstock, and has been called “the first billionaire to come out of Silicon Alley” — New York’s growing tech scene. His current estimated net wealth is in the range of US$1.05-billion. You could say things are going great for Oringer.

The tech entrepreneur is crazy about data: just ask him and he will tell you that data is going to win the internet and that the future of all businesses relies on the data that they are sitting on (and what they are doing with it).

On a recent trip to New York city, we got to chat the man who just became a billionaire thanks to a very successful IPO. He reckons that Shutterstock’s solid business model helped when he decided to take the company public.

Oringer argues that while it may not be as easy as it looks for businesses to mine the data that their consumers provide them everyday, it needs to be done. He also feels that the metrics of why you need to collect that data need to be examined. Are you collecting data to boost advertising impressions or to grow the businesses?

Memeburn: Shutterstock relies a lot on analysing and using insights from data in the running of the site. Do you think most brands do that enough?

Jon Oringer: It’s actually not too easy. Tools are getting developed all the time that make it easier, but I don’t think it’s the first thing people think of. To collect everything they possibly can and try to leverage that data to make their business better. It needs to start from day one.

MB: Some companies use data in the wrong way and end up exploiting their consumers. How do you find the balance?

JO: If your key metrics are advertising impressions, then you have to do it for advertising. The best way to do it is to constantly look at your growth cycle, and try to figure out what metrics to iterate on that are best for your business, and constantly iterate on those. If you stumble into the wrong ones you’re going to know it very fast, and you won’t be bringing in enough money to buy the next conversion.

MB: Have photographic trends and tools like Instagram changed the type of images people upload to Shutterstock?

JO: Not too much. The great thing about Shutterstock is ever since the beginning, we’ve given the contributors the data they need to create the next image, so they know exactly what’s selling and they can use that data to try and figure out what sells next. People will still filter and try to create these type of antique-looking images, but no matter what changes, the contributors are now armed with that new information.

MB: A lot of tech companies seem to have been going public recently with very uncertain business models. Did having a revenue stream help for your IPO?

JO: Well, it can’t hurt, right? Going public was a complicated decision. Everyone has to weigh their own pros and cons for going public, and for us, it was to reach new customers. It was to find the new enterprise users that were not using us to raise our awareness. We were also ten years into this and we had enough information under our belt that it made sense that going public was the right thing to do.

MB: Did going public change aspects like company culture and how you view the business?

JO: It’s actually changed very little. We have these quarterly reports and responsibilities but besides that, the entire pulse of the business has this hacker culture where we’re constantly creating things for the user and making their life better. That hasn’t changed.

MB: With all the issues around misuse of images online, how do you mitigate against aspects like piracy?

JO: With a lot of our contributors, we’ve known them for many years – we have a long-term relationship with them. It’s not like you can just join Shutterstock and throw up ten images. The first thing you have to do is provide us with a lot of information about yourself. So, upload your passport, we get your banking information because we need to know how to pay you. So there is a lot of information that we get from them and it’s a very complicated relationship.

If anyone is ever to do anything wrong as a contributor, we throw them out of the system. It’s not like it’s very hard to monitor the quality level.

MB: What kind of metrics do you use to measure contributors?

JO: With contributors, they’re kind of each on their own. They can put as much into it as they want, or as little into it as they want. At the end of the day, the more they put into it the more money they receive, so they’re motivated in that way.

We try to just give them what they need to succeed. Whether it’s information about what content gaps we have in certain countries or different subject matter that people are searching for at that time, they know about what’s going on.

MB: Would you consider different price points for emerging markets?

JO: We’re always looking at how to make the product better in local markets. I can guarantee that we’re looking at it and trying to figure out what’s best for our contributors and best for our buyers.

MB: How do you deal with the competition and Shutterstock clones?

JO: We’re always looking around and we’re kind of paranoid in a healthy way, but for the most part we try to concentrate on our business and being the most successful company we possibly can. In the end, I think that’s what makes you win.

MB: Do you think you’ll ever expand from just using your data tools within Shutterstock to offering them to other companies as well?

JO: We think about it. We’re really good at unearthing photos from massive amounts of search results. We’re going to do whatever we can to leverage everything we have and figure out what makes sense to provide to our customers.

Author | Mich Atagana

Mich Atagana
Mich started out life wanting to be a theoretical physicist but soon realized that mathematics was required. So, she promptly let go of that dream. She then decided that law might be the best place for her talents, but with too many litigation classes missed in favour of feminist... More
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