On Friday, Shutterstock founder and CEO Jonathan Oringer became the first billionaire to emerge from New York's fast-growing tech start-up scene. Oringer founded the company in 2003, using 30,000 of his own photos to launch the stock image service. Today, the company, which went public last year, has about 30 million licensed photos and illustrations and has over 200 employees.
Inc. talked with Oringer about joining the billionaire's club, starting a tech company in New York, and what's next for the stock photo company.
You just became the first billionaire to come out of Silicon Alley. Got to ask: How does that feel?
It feels great. Actually we were surprised by that, too. I hadn't even thought about the fact that there hadn't been one yet. But the fact that there's more attention drawn to Shutterstock--and to the New York tech scene--I think, in the long run, is just great.
When you were starting up, did you ever imagine that you could be worth $1 billion?
I think as an entrepreneur you have to see the unlimited amount of potential, but concentrate on your day and just keep building. I never really concentrated too much on that number--but it definitely didn't seem impossible.
Was there any point in the company's history when you wanted to throw in the towel?
Well, in the beginning it was rough just like any other start-up. I was trying to get a market place going. I didn't have buyers and I didn't have sellers, so there were definitely moments in the first few years that made me wonder whether I could get this to the scale I wanted it. But as I saw more and more people buying the images that were happy buyers, and people selling the images that were happy with how the market was pricing them, I started to get the sense this could be the go-to place for businesses to get the images they need.
Which city wins the start-up battle: Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley?
[Laughs] Silicon Valley, obviously, has a lot more infrastructure to it. I would still rather be in Silicon Alley. I like the West Coast also, but it's sort of fragmented. You have companies in downtown San Francisco, companies in Mountain View, and people are driving between them all. It's kind of nice in New York to just jump in a cab and reach another company so easily. But if the two got into a brawl--I don't know. I'm not sure what that would look like.
Shutterstock has enjoyed immense success since going public last October. Any advice to other tech start-ups contemplating an IPO?
I would start with funding the company as much as possible without taking venture capital. It gives you more optionality when you do get to the point of deciding whether you want to take something public or not. You don't have other factions that own large chunks of the company and can tell you what to do.
The best thing is to go public only when you're absolutely sure that's the right move for the company. And in order to make sure that is the case, you need to have a much control over the company as possible, which means not giving up control early on. As much as you possibly can: self fund and try to do the jobs you would hire for on your own, so you don't have to raise as much capital.
What are your plans for the company moving forward?
Well, in a way, we're just getting started. We're excited about our footage product. We sell stock footage just like we sell stock imagery, and we source it the same way so that anyone can contribute. With digital SLR cameras, amateur photographers are getting better and better at creating this stuff--to the point where professional buyers are interested in that content. We're also very international, so we're concentrating on a lot of the markets we're already in but are not optimized for.