How This Solo Founder Built A $120K/Year Stock Photographs Website
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I'm Viktor and I run a free stock photo site picjumbo. Anyone can visit it and download any photo of mine for free, without any registration or email input, and use it for their blog, website, Instagram, or even a billboard.
It's still kind of my one-man show, as a WordPress coder and designer I take care of the web design and as a photographer, I take care of the photos. My girlfriend helps me with posting photos and we post photos every day. You can find different themes here, from abstract, business, people, and animals to nature, technology, food, or architecture.
While all photos are free, you can buy the All in One Pack to download all the free photos to your computer at once or sign up for PREMIUM Membership to get access to more unreleased photos, entire collections, and extra content every month. Together with advertising, these are the main sources of income and currently, picjumbo is above the $10,000/month mark.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before I started picjumbo, I was a designer, photographer, and WordPress coder. Since I was a kid I've enjoyed creating, but also making money. At the age of 13, that was in 2006, I made my first $50 for a complete website for a local restaurant. When I was 7-8 years old, I was selling coloring books my grandfather printed at work — he thought I was coloring them in school. In high school, again, I bought chocolate bars on sale and sold them to my classmates at a profit, but still cheaper than the school cafeteria. Somehow the desire for entrepreneurship was just there.
Back in my high school days, writing your blogs was very popular, and the trend in my sort of "internet blogging bubble" was passive income. I was making money by making websites on WordPress and I kept wondering, especially after the Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and $100 Startup books, how the hell I was going to do it without starting at zero every month.
So I tried selling WordPress templates, Tumblr templates, and various web templates, and I also sold photo packages on the then-new Creative Market. And since the photo sales were going very well and they were often the most popular products, I put my photos on paid photo sites as well, however, all the photo sites rejected me saying that my photos were not of sufficient quality! So I got angry and started picjumbo.
I knew at the time it was hard to get good-quality photos the easy way. It was almost impossible. There were generally only the big paid photo sites where you could download a free thumbnail, but still with watermark — hell for any designer — and to buy it you had to click through all their packages or understand how credits worked.
As a photographer, designer, and WordPress coder, I thought I could change that. And so picjumbo was born.
Initial growth was steep, mainly due to word-of-mouth and ever-new content. Magazines were writing about us on their own, people were tweeting, and people were sending us money via PayPal Donate, ... In short, downloading free photos was something completely new.
As a student, I couldn't afford paid advertising, but even so, a year and a half after launching, the site had so much traffic that it was making over $5,000 a month on AdSense ads alone, and even over $15,000 a month the next year. It was clear that freelancing was over and this was going to be my full-time job.
A brilliant product is useless if no one knows about it.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Motivated by the movie The Social Network, I created the first version of the site almost overnight.
I set up a WordPress website, created a custom template with a photo bank look, filled it with a few of my photos, and waited for sales. Yes, at the time I planned to sell the photos for $1.99, but as a student, I didn't have the money for marketing, so after two sales and a few days I cut it short and posted all the photos for free, hoping the site would get enough traffic to support me through ads.
Even back then you could find photos of nature, an iPhone, some wine glasses, steaks, snacks at the party, and more. And even though there weren't many photos, maybe less than 30, I think, right from the launch I have been adding one photo every day, so visitors had a reason to come back to the site every day.
I took photos of everything I saw around me, but as a designer, I knew what I always wanted: high-resolution photos that can be conveniently overlaid with text or already have space for text, quotes, or logos.
And it worked!
Describe the process of launching the business.
You have to have an audience. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, ... Dribbble was hot for me, so it started there. You'll still find posts there about the new $1.99 stock photo site, and the change in a few days when picjumbo became the official free stock photo website. It went from there on its own: a good product was created. It was so cool that people kept sharing it themselves!
These days, I find it easiest to build an audience on Twitter and Instagram. Then just create something and sell it through Gumroad for digital products or Shopify for physical ones.
I consider cash flow monitoring to be extremely important. When you make a lot of money you can overlook it easily. Now I have spreadsheets for all cash flows, even personal ones, and I know exactly how much money I'll have in my account next month.
There is an incredible amount of tools and information available today. You just have to keep your eyes open and look for opportunities. Don't compare yourself, don't get upset that someone has a super nice website or app on ProductHunt and everyone is celebrating them at the moment. Often it doesn't last long and the businesses that win are always the ones that solve a real problem and deliver what people want.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In my case, it was quality content. Simply... be so good they can't ignore you! And ideally, get everyone to write about you themselves!
In the first two years, people downloaded over 2,500,000 photos and we didn't have a single paid advertisement. The biggest magazines like Entrepreneur, TheNextWeb, Smashing Magazine, Forbes, Webdesigner Depot, LifeHacker, Designmodo, and Buffer blog have written about picjumbo all by themselves.
At that time the existence of such projects was something completely new and that's why everyone was writing about it and creating lists of the best websites with free photos. I didn’t reach anyone and around that time over a hundred thousand people have joined the newsletter to receive new pics in their email.
It's been an avalanche and it proves the 50:50 rule - spend 50% of your time creating content and 50% of your time distributing it. A brilliant product is useless if no one knows about it.
The chapter itself would be SEO, I very often tune the site to be visible mainly in Google Images and because these are photos, it is necessary to tag them well, to write additional texts on pages with categories and tags, and so on. So in WordPress, I use both categories and tags and it is these pages that show up in the results more than the photo pages themselves.
Spend 50% of your time creating content and 50% of your time distributing it.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The site is now visited by around 150,000 people each month and has been profitable from the start and without any funding. I try to keep everything simple, and minimalistic and not to worry too much. I still see a lot of potential in marketing.
I think we can respond well to current topics and illustrative photos for articles are always useful, so my main goal for the future is to get even more people to know about picjumbo.
Today there are about 5,000 free photos and more than 10,000 are in the PREMIUM Membership. 99% of the photos are taken by me and only at this time, I'm slowly starting to get more photographers on the site.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Of course, there were a lot of mistakes and unnecessary journeys along the way, but the whole process is a learning curve. For example, I used to pay crazy money for image-processing or newsletter sending and those two things alone cost me over $18,000 a year, only to find out that I can send emails myself through Sendy for $40/month and that image-processing is offered by WordPress for free through Jetpack.
I consider cash flow monitoring to be extremely important. When you make a lot of money you can overlook it easily, I had 10k months but at the same time 15k expenses. So I made $10,000 as a solo founder and I was in red numbers at the end of the month. Now I have spreadsheets for all cash flows, even personal ones, and I know exactly how much money I'll have in my account next month.
Learn to delegate things as soon as you can. I still don't do it and I'm 100% sure it's holding me back the most.
In short, keep business, numbers, and profit first, not nice offices, new Macbooks, or all sorts of paid apps. Just hard numbers. When times get tough, numbers will save you, not a nice office.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The website runs on the WordPress platform and a custom template created by me. I replaced expensive email sending with self-hosted Sendy. The website runs on a dedicated server here in the Czech Republic and on a free version of CDN CloudFlare.
I manage social networks via Hootsuite, where I use scheduling a lot. In one day I can schedule posts promoting picjumbo PREMIUM Membership for weeks in advance and then I can get back to the content.
And if there's any photo-geek here, I shoot with a Sony A7C with FE 1.4/24mm GM, FE 1.8/55mm, FE 2.8/90mm MACRO and a fish-eye from Samyang. I edit photos in Adobe Lightroom Classic on my MacBook Pro M1 and almost every day I’m using an electric standing desk.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Definitely Rich Dad, Poor Dad. This book influenced me in such a way that I immediately went from creating websites for clients to thinking about what to create so that I wasn't starting from scratch every month. I wanted a passive income. To create something that would make money while I slept. I could tell this book changed my life.
Other near-must-read books include Think and Grow Rich, The 4-Hour Work Week that will kick you into delegating everything, or The $100 Startup for inspiration from specific businesses.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Okay, let's make a list right here...
1) Always crunch numbers & adjust!
After starting picjumbo, I had so much money that I created another lifestyle project and after x years I found that I was just pouring most of the profits from picjumbo into this lifestyle project, which costs a ton of money to keep alive. And picjumbo did not receive the attention it deserved. This doesn't have to happen if you put numbers in spreadsheets.
Learn to delegate things as soon as you can. I still don't do it and I'm 100% sure it's holding me back the most.
3) Learn how to invest in stocks
If I knew how to invest in stocks at 22 years old, I wouldn't have bought an Audi R8 supercar, I would have invested in growth and dividend stocks. Now I would have doubled my money and it would still be working for me.
4) Learn how to enjoy your life
Realize that you don't need to just grow all the time, just have more money all the time, and just work all the time. It's pretty cliché, but learn to be happy, slow down and enjoy the whole journey. Being busy is not sexy.
5) Don't let lifestyle inflation ruin your life
When you start being successful and the money starts flowing, it often brings a better car, a better place to live, more expensive vacations... Yes, I'm 100% in favor of enjoying life, but still, try to be as frugal as possible so you don't end up making tons of money just to feed your image and still have nothing in your pockets.
6) Think big & have room for scaling
If you're a massage therapist and someone writes a great review about you in a big magazine, you'll have a full calendar, but you're still only serving 3-5 people a day. However, if a big magazine writes about my picjumbo, I don't have to lift a finger and my website will serve 1000 people interested in PREMIUM Membership. I think this lesson is from the book Think and Grow Rich and I kept it in front of my eyes all the time while creating this project.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, I am! I'd like to hire someone to take care of social media marketing and also manage the site - scheduling photos, creating titles, tags, texts for collections, etc. It would free up my hands to create new content.
At the same time, I would like to hire photographers who know how to take pictures in a way that the visitors of picjumbo can use. So if you want to be part of it, contact me!
In short, if you see potential or a space where you can help picjumbo, get in touch!
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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