Quality photos are what every professional in the branding industry requires for an effective work. Many needing images reflecting the African context get disappointed as major platforms across the world can only boast of pictures stereotyping what represents the African society.
This is the problem these Kenyan startup founders are resolute in solving by welcoming photographers all over Africa to contribute their best images and get paid very competitive rates.
In this interview Sitati Kituyi shares how photographers are better of with this company, the origin of the idea, challenges, future of stock photography in Africa and more. Enjoy this short interview…
Kindly tell us a bit about the co-founders of AfricanStockPhoto.
Dicky Hokie Jr’s background is in graphic design and photography – he has worked 8 years in one of Kenya’s leading media houses. During this time he got the idea for AfricanStockPhoto from his first-hand experience of struggling to find authentic African imagery for advertising campaigns. Sitati’s background is as a software developer and so was well placed to pair up with Dicky and make this vision come to life.
Simply, tell us what your company is about.
AfricanStockPhoto is about helping people tell a more authentic African visual story, by helping them find high quality African stock imagery. There are thousands of fantastic photographers in Africa yet most stock photography websites have very limited coverage of the continent, and often a lot of the imagery is around the same old visuals that have been shared for years – wildlife, tribespeople, poverty, etc. We want professional-grade stock photography from Africa to be widely available, and for the photographers who took them to be properly compensated.
What motivates you daily to keep this platform running?
Since we started talking to people about this idea, we’ve had so much positive feedback from both photographers and content creators who would buy on the platform. We’ve had hundreds of really talented photographers sign up and contribute to the platform. The people on either side of this marketplace are our daily motivation – it’s always exciting to see what people want to do with our catalogue, and to see the amazing imagery contributed from all across Africa.
Why should African photographers be excited about your startup?
AfricanStockPhoto’s main role in this transaction is finding a market for photographers. It is a very competitive battlefield, but we invest in ensuring your imagery is seen by as many potential buyers as possible. For this, we take a 50% commission on each sale, which is very competitive compared to bigger stock image marketplaces like iStock who’ll typically keep 70%-80% of revenue from sales.
We hope that some photographers are also motivated by our vision of re-telling the African story through imagery, but even if not, our platform has a very solid business case for making money off your imagery that will hopefully continue to compel photographers to sign up.
Since you are shifting from the stereotype of Africa, what category of photos do you encourage from contributors?
Good question! We’ve boiled it down to “people doing everyday things in their normal environment.” So this could be people in business suits catching a quick lunch at a roadside food stall, a couple boarding a minibus, kids in their school playground, etc. Stock photography of people far outsells images that don’t have people in them, and also makes for more interesting imagery overall.
Kindly share with us some rules you will like contributors to observe when uploading images to avoid copyright infringements?
Well, the first rule is that the uploader of an image should be the original owner. Additionally, people who feature prominently in the image should sign model clearance forms, stating that they agree to have their likeness used in this image and all its future uses. This can be a bit daunting to new stock photographers so we have resources on our website that help with getting started, including a template model clearance form.
As you clearly identified the problem, how did you determine there was real market to be explored?
We spoke to as many people as possible. It’s incredible how much a single conversation can change your course as early-stage founders. Over the course of the first 6 months we iterated on our business model several times based on feedback from potential consumers, potential investors, and other founders. We also had some more formal market research done, which solidified our belief that there’s a strong business opportunity.
How do you market this great initiative and who are your target users?
Our marketing is primarily digital and word-of-mouth. We’ve had a good network effect from photographers who have signed up and recommended the service to their friends, and we’ve reached more through social media advertisement. Our marketing toward potential buyers is also focused primarily on digital at the moment, though we do have plans for putting feet on the ground and knocking on doors of agencies and media houses, who are the main recurring buyers of stock imagery.
What will be your pitch to a potential investor?
Our pre-launch research and early traction shows that the market is there, but we know that to get our business to grow, we’ll need a far bigger collection of imagery. Our initial focus is on growing our database and photographer community, and this will for a while take more capital than the initial returns will merit. So we’re looking for investors who believe in the idea and share our longer-term vision, and would like to work with us to bring the business to scale through our growth plan.
What is the business model and how did you fund the idea?
Our business model is to take a commission on each sale made through our platform. Further down the line we might explore more variety in license model and other content types such as video and vector illustrations, and may introduce subscription billing for repeat buyers. To start with though, it’s simply $20 per image on the site, of which the photographer gets $10, and the other $10 is split between transfer costs, our run rates, and our profit margin.
The two co-founders have funded AfricanStockPhoto out of pocket so far.
How do you foresee this Afrocentric photo stock industry in the coming years?
All the trends in the industry point towards diversity and untold stories being the big growth area. The big market opportunity exists, quality photographers are out there (just have a look at Instagram!), it’s really a discovery, trust and user experience problem that we’re solving. In a few years, somebody, hopefully AfricanStockPhoto, will be established as the go-to marketplace for content on the continent.
At what point will you say your company, African Stock Photo, is finally a success?
We’ve learnt that early-stage startup life includes so many twists and turns that it’d be really hard to point at one target far in the future and choose that as our single definition of success – we’ll probably have changed our minds or been proven wrong half way down the road to that. Instead, we try to celebrate all the wins, big or small! Each step on our path, both past and upcoming, are exciting; validating our idea with people whose input we value, launching our platform, our first photographer to sign up, our first sale, hitting various milestones in terms of signed up users and number of photographers, new features on the platform, and so on.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered and how did you handled them?
One ongoing challenge is in keeping the quality of communication with our photographers high: this is important for pragmatic reasons such as ensuring all photography we get has proper model clearance, but also more so to be sure we’re keeping our users happy and motivated, and addressing their real needs. It is hard to work for an ever-growing photographer pool and maintain really good communication. Our main approach to addressing this is to talk to photographers 1-to-1 as much as possible, and where a common issue or question arises, ensure we address it for all others through our platform features or communication. It’s a challenging balancing act, but we do really enjoy talking to our users.
What is the number one business advice you have ever received and which African entrepreneurs do inspire you?
Coming from a technical background into entrepreneurship, some of the best business advice I received was about the transition from having more fixed, shared concept of “best practice” in a technical field, to the wild world of business where anything goes so long as it helps the company. It’s a pretty stark transition that many technical co-founders will go through, and it can lead to a lot of frustration or self-doubt if you’re not instantly grasping the mindset or patterns that successful entrepreneurs use to succeed. Anjuan Simmons speaks about this quite regularly; learning that there are no shortcuts, and that mistakes should be embraced as learning opportunities, is a key part to being comfortable in the role as an entrepreneur.
As for who inspires us, so many! We always look up to big names like Rebecca Enonchong and Iyinoluwa Aboyeji for insight into how tech is growing on the continent over recent years. In our hometown here in Nairobi there’s Trevor Kimenye of Ongair who grew his social media interaction automation business into profitability in a very competitive landscape. He’s been very kind with his time and advice for us. We’ve also met the founders of HiviSasa, Lynk and many others who aren’t exactly giants yet, but are a few steps down the road from where we are and have excellent advice.
Thank you Sitati!
For photographers and branding professionals, just log onto www.africanstockphoto.com and start doing business with this disruptive startup company.
If you want to share your experience as a startup founder on TSH to Africa, send a brief detail of your business to firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you find this interview inspiring? Kindly leave us your comment.