This is a follow up story for Free Stock Images . If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello again! My name is Serban Enache, and I am the CEO and founder of Dreamstime, the parent company of StockFreeImages, the world’s largest freemium stock photo library, as of today featuring 3.5 million free safe-to-use stock photos. (note: you can read Serban’s previous interview on Stockfreeimages).
Stockfreeimages offers unlimited free web size downloads and flexible, budget-oriented plans for high-resolution downloads. All charges are fairly split with our content creators, who have agreed to donate their images for commercial and editorial usage.
Our images are mainly downloaded for free, some for a small fee, and more recently, for an optional donation made by designers and awarding 100% royalties to the contributor.
2020 and 2021 have been challenging years for all industries and businesses, big or small; however, we are fortunate enough to work with creative, versatile artists and photographers who have continued, adapted, and even improved their work.
Fast-paced technology updates have made up for limited access to shooting locations, so photography and design have thrived despite the pandemic and its restrictions.
Online since 2012, Stockfreeimages has grown into a reliable free image resource, now accessed and used by 1.4M clients, from individuals looking for images for personal usage to designers and creatives working for Fortune 500 companies.
If our 2021 interview found us at approximately 2 million images, we added 1.3 million more in the meantime, a spectacular increase in content volume if we compare our current 3.4 million photos with the previous growth curve.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?
A successful online business is defined by customer-oriented simplicity and versatility. Billions of images are uploaded online each year. What makes your platform different than others? When we launched this project back in 2012, there were not many resources where you could find safe-to-use, model-released images cleared for commercial usage.
Their number has not grown immensely because one still has to be cautious about whether the source is reliable or free or cleared for commercial usage by copyright authors. But we do see more like us out there, striving to deliver high-quality content, free or on a budget. The key to being different is to innovate while keeping it simple.
Everyone had to adjust these past two years. Because we are working with visuals, we focused on how to deliver these visuals more efficiently in terms of navigation, search and download. Designers need bigger previews, so we migrated the high res preview previously tested on our premium platform Dreamstime to Stockfreeimages, and it fits our customers better.
We believe in rewarding content creators for their work; it is what keeps them motivated to deliver more and better content.
Time is of the essence, so we re-designed the pages and combined responsive designs with lazy loading for almost-infinite loading for our search results. There are fewer clicks, fewer data used, and more time to get creative with the images you find in just seconds.
Ideally, it is always nice to have more options without cluttering the pages. We fine-tuned contextual content to give users more accurate alternatives from both the free and commercial sections whenever they view an image.
We are using technology from Dreamstime to curate content and increase the level of accuracy so that customers find the best and most relevant content and enjoy their very best similars.
Stockfreeimages was designed as an additional project to market content and increase portfolio exposure. We have improved the indexing process so that contributors whose free portfolios are available here get more traffic for their images and sales for their premium Dreamstime collections.
Last but not least, we have recently launched a donation system, currently available on Dreamstime, which we hope to grow and popularize into a model of fair creative exchange. We believe in rewarding content creators for their work; it is what keeps them motivated to deliver more and better content. With free content, attribution is great; it is a way of crediting copyright owners for their work and willingness to donate.
Innovate, adjust and grow. Improve existing models and add new ones; this industry is dynamic and rapidly changing.
We now want to give content users the possibility of actually supporting content creators by making a small symbolic donation for the download and license they receive. It is yet another great way of saying thank you for your image, absolutely voluntary and optional.
What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?
Most of the Stockfreeimages updates and additions have already been tested on our main website, Dreamstime, so we migrated some of them already working solutions to Stockfreeimages. However, we had to rethink and adapt for many functionalities given the site's free character.
The audience is similar, yet not entirely the same. Stockfreeimages is a freemium platform, providing visuals for everyone and every budget, but most downloads are free of charge. This means we had more space to focus on everything besides offering the most competitive prices.
We borrowed Dreamstime’s smooth navigation and easy access to images and previews and enhanced them for Stockfreeimages. Free Public Domain and CC0 stock photos are now available along with our regular free Royalty Free stock photos.
Along with the pandemic communication efforts, a challenge has become the constant rise of free platforms, where content is offered without proper clearance. There’s a significant threat for contributors and designers, where content that is given for free, without any indemnity, will simply thrust customers into substantial legal risks.
While there are models who may sue a customer even in traditional stock photography licensing, the rules are set via well-written contracts involving the agency, photographer, and the model. Take out any of these, and the customer is sent into the line of fire, vulnerable to future claims.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Life is short and doesn’t wait for you to be ready. One should seize any business opportunities right away but also enjoy life. A war that no one thought was possible in the 21st century is unfolding in Europe, just hundreds of kilometers from our Bucharest office.
Many people are fleeing Ukraine, while many others are now getting back. Among them, there are a lot of our contributors and designers. Sanctions impact our Russian contributors and businesses. No purchases can be made from Russia, and Russian-based contributors face the consequences of international sanctions.
Many of them adapted and left their country, too, unwilling to support Vladimir Putin’s politics. It’s another example of adaptation, but Ukrainians returning to their still-at-war homeland shows us that flexibility goes both ways.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year and the next 5 years?
Innovate, adjust and grow. Improve existing models and add new ones; this industry is dynamic and rapidly changing. The years to come may prove challenging in business and economics. We tested our agility and adaptability during the pandemic years, and we will further enhance these. The AI engines that we now employ allow us to deploy new content selections sooner and develop new features faster.
We aim for our projects to compete with one another to some extent, the overlap meaning that some customers can find common characteristics in Dreamstime, StockFreeImages, and Megapixl. Our goal would be for these venues to become a one-stop resource for designers. We know what they need; we keep in touch permanently with our audience and will be able to deliver what they need.
What’s the best thing you read in the last year?
While the first, an acclaimed novel was written by a talented writer, has been a disappointment for me, it showed how the world’s ethics and principles evolved in the last century. It also shows what we lost, a lot of our freedom to move, react, adapt and seize the moment.
The second title is a collection of extraordinary running stories, some from elite athletes, others from regular folks on their way to becoming champions in ultra marathons, a sport that is booming now. A quote that stuck with me, “breaks off, brain on”, about how runners will handle a steep decline in a 180km ultra-marathon. This technique allows them to save their quads for later in the race. Many of the tricks in this book apply to entrepreneurs.
“Most people could do with more pain in their lives” is a famous quote in ultrarunning for the Barkleys, an ultra run of 160km in Tennessee woods, twice the Everest incline, unmarked. Like new businesses in a crowded space, most athletes will not finish this race.
The talented few who reach the finish line will succeed because they trained consistently and steady muscle through the trail, mile over a mile.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
If your business is struggling, you should take an overall look and find the flaw. Would you buy your product? Do you use it? There’s nothing worse than a panelist utilizing a competitor’s brand; it means their product is not delivering. Customers are selfish; they seek to have their needs fulfilled long before you could be talking about loyalty. Imagine a runner using the wrong shoes out of a commitment to a brand.
What has been selling your product so far? Was it a channel, a treatment of your product line? Why isn't your product performing well anymore? Many blame the pandemic, but the decline may be somewhere else.
If your business is new and not taking off, what is it bringing new to your industry? Why your business and not a competitor’s? Can you provide something valuable that they cannot? Did you invest in the right resources, targeting the most critical relevant traffic sources for you? Just because everyone’s on Facebook doesn’t make that source pertinent to you.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always looking for new talents and people willing to please customers make the best candidate (as any company should). A good developer is a rock star eager to impress their audience. We believe a company is as good as its employees are.
Companies are not one-man ventures, so choosing the right people at the right time is what can potentially make your business stand out: empathic customer support people, experienced engineers, and good team leaders.
Right now, we are looking to hire full-time PHP developers, so you are welcome to apply on our Careers page. We also have a special full-time opening for Ukrainian devs as part of our efforts to support the Ukrainian people these days.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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