As a high school junior growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., Joel Holland started shooting video clips of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and other D.C. landmarks, and burning them on DVDs that he sold on eBay. His customers were wedding video producers and others who needed background shots for their films.
"I shot the sights and scenes that any editor worldwide would want to pop into a video about Washington," Holland recalls.
After graduating from high school in 2003, Holland deferred admission to Babson College’s entrepreneurship program for a year in order to run his video business full time. He shot footage in cities all over America, editing the clips at night and marketing them on eBay. His business was cash-flow positive from the start, because each city needed to generate enough revenue to pay Holland’s travel costs to the next city.
Today Holland’s company, Video Blocks, is a leading online stock footage vendor with projected 2013 revenues between $12 million and $15 million, double last year’s total. Based in Reston, Virginia, Video Blocks hires freelance videographers to shoot original clips that the company owns. The company also buys nonexclusive rights to existing video content, and operates a studio where it shoots original material.
Unlike traditional stock companies, which typically charge high fees to license individual clips, Video Blocks customers can download unlimited clips and digital effects in exchange for a monthly subscription of $79.
"Everybody else is trying to sell by the drink," says Carter Griffin of Updata Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm that invested $10 million in Video Blocks at the end of 2011. "Joel has a different and better business model."
Holland’s Netflix-like pricing model has allowed Video Blocks to reach a mass market of schools, churches and amateur video enthusiasts in addition to professional filmmakers. Video Blocks customers currently download some 25,000 clips a day, for a total of nearly 9.4 million clips since 2011.
"Real companies take a long time to grow," says Elliott Bisnow, founder of the Summit Series, a U.S. organization that hosts invitation-only networking events for young entrepreneurs and artists. "I stumble on lots of fly-by-night companies with cool ideas that they bang out in 60 days. Joel is a great example of what hard work really means."
Over the years, Holland has grown adept at mining his user base for insight about what kind of footage is likely to attract the most users, and directing his videographers accordingly. "My concept used to be that to make more money I needed more product," he says. "That’s not a total fallacy, but it’s not a linear relationship. The key is figuring out what footage people really want, and using that knowledge to sell fewer clips more times."