My name is Shawn Rubel and I’m the Founder and CEO of Vecteezy, a creative marketplace that offers free stock photos, stock videos, and vector illustrations. Our users and customers include graphic designers, marketers, freelancers, entrepreneurs, and hobbyists.
Vecteezy is the fastest-growing independent marketplace in America, connecting over 100 million users to a global network of artists that create premium content.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I graduated from Brock University (Ontario, Canada) in 2004 with a BA in Visual Arts. After working for a few years as a graphic designer, I relocated to Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2007 for a marketing job in eCommerce.
If you focus on providing value to your audience, you’ll be well on your way to success.
Design was always a passion of mine, and I started to get really interested in entrepreneurship and startups. At the time, I was looking for some quality free resources to use in my own graphic design work and I had a hard time finding quality free resources. There were some free Photoshop brushes, vectors, and other graphic resources out there, but they were scattered across a lot of different sites. I thought it would be really helpful for myself and other designers to have one central resource for finding high-quality free resources, so I decided to start my own.
I launched my first website, Brusheezy, in 2007 to serve as a resource for designers to find the best free Photoshop brushes. Other designers loved the idea and the site started growing almost immediately. Based on the immediate success and the feedback I received, I quickly followed the same approach and launched Vecteezy to showcase high-quality free vectors (Vecteezy has become the flagship website of our parent company, Eezy).
Initially, I validated my idea based mostly on my own experience as a designer. I knew having a resource like Brusheezy or Vecteezy would make my life as a designer much easier, and I assumed other designers would feel the same. I also talked to a few of my friends and colleagues in the industry, and they thought it was a great idea.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
When I got started, I reached out to designers who were offering free Photoshop brushes, vectors, icons, or other graphic resources at their website or blog. I asked for permission to share their resources at Brusheezy/Vecteezy to give their work more exposure. Most people were happy to let me share their resources, and so I was able to build up a lot of content on the sites pretty quickly.
Once the sites had established some traction, people started submitting their resources to me, which meant I didn’t have to dedicate time to pursue all of the content for the site. Visitors kept coming back because there was always new content being added. Initially, I was monetizing the sites with ads and affiliate programs and was able to leave my job in 2009 (a little less than two years after launching) to pursue my own business full-time.
After running the site for a few years, Vecteezy continued growing at a rapid pace, becoming the clear priority for the business. During those first few years, all the content on the site was free. In 2010, I started offering premium content for the first time through a subscription model. I didn’t get rid of the free content (we’re still adding free content to Vecteezy all the time). Instead, I hired some freelance designers to create new resources that would be available only for customers with a paid subscription. This move increased overall revenue and also reduced dependency on ads and affiliate income.
For several years I was running the site on my own, with the help of freelance designers and developers. Eventually, I ran into some problems because the freelancers didn’t really have anything invested in the long-term success of the business. I hired my first employee to help with cleaning up the code of the site and continued building out the team from there. Surrounding myself with a talented team has made a huge difference. Most of those team members have come on board within the past few years and we’ve seen exponential growth as a result.
We’re now reaching millions of visitors around the world each month. In 2020, we added stock photos and stock videos to Vecteezy. Many of them are free and others are available through our Pro memberships.
One of the other key developments over the years has been the addition of our contributor program. Designers, photographers, and videographers can apply to contribute their content to Vecteezy and earn money every time one of their resources is downloaded (including free resources).
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, our full team consists of 70 people, which includes employees who work out of our headquarters in Bowling Green, as well as many working remotely. We have team members throughout the US, Canada, and a few in Europe and South America. The size of our team doubled in 2020 and we’re planning to be closer to 100 team members by the end of 2021.
In 2020, we surpassed 100 million user sessions, which was a 47% increase over 2019. We also saw a 40% increase in total downloads and a 79% increase in paid subscribers year-over-year. We’re on track for similar growth in 2021.
Our biggest focus right now is adding more high-quality content to the site. We had a 400% increase in contributors in 2020, and we’re looking to double our existing content by the end of 2021. We also have some major improvements to our online editor (for creating and editing designs right from a web browser) that will be released very soon.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned the importance of taking action. A lot of people have great ideas, but many people don’t take action and never launch their business. You have to put yourself out there to have success.
I’ve also learned the importance of loving what you do. I was a designer before I was an entrepreneur. I love my business because I get to combine both of these interests. And since I’m a designer myself, I’m able to understand our target audience and relate to their needs and the challenges they face.
One of the best decisions I’ve made was to start building a team around me. The site was growing when it was just me and some freelancers, but we’ve been able to take it so much further and grow significantly faster thanks to a team of dedicated employees who are committed to the success of the business.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Slack, Jira, and Trello on a daily basis. Slack is perfect for allowing our team members from all around the world to stay in touch and communicate with each other. Jira and Trello are useful for the smaller groups and teams within our business, staying organized and on-task.
Gmail and Google Drive are also helpful for organization and communication.
Figma is really important for our designers and developers, as well as other stakeholders within the company.
We use Metabase for most of our data and reporting.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One of my favorite books is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I appreciate it because it’s relevant and effective for business as well as life in general. You’ll have more success in anything you do if you master the concepts covered in this book.
While it’s not an online resource, I’ve also learned a lot by being involved with local entrepreneurs. We’ve hosted several meetups at our office and I’ve been able to connect and learn from a lot of entrepreneurs and professionals in our local area. Sometimes the meetups are primarily for networking and other times we’ll have a speaker and cover a specific topic like marketing or design. We had to take a break from the in-person meetups last year due to the pandemic, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My advice is to provide value first. Vecteezy has grown because we’ve always focused on making the site as useful as possible for our audience. For us, that’s done through offering free and affordable content that customers can use in their own work. If you focus on providing value to your audience, you’ll be well on your way to success.
Another piece of advice is to surround yourself with a strong team. My business really took off once I started to build a team instead of working on my own and hiring different freelancers here and there. Specifically, make an effort to hire people who have diverse skill sets and strengths that are different from your own.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we have a few jobs that are open at the moment. We’re always looking for talented folks to join our team! Current openings can be found on our website.
Where can we go to learn more?
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