What's better than being awarded PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel's prestigious Thiel Fellowship? How about announcing your fast-growing startup's new mobile app the same day--at the ripe age of 20.

So it was for New York-based tech entrepreneur John Meyer on Friday. One of 20 Thiel Fellows who will receive a $100,000 grant to pursue entrepreneurial ventures instead of going to college, Meyer has been attracting attention in startup circles ever since founding his crowdsourced media company Fresco News in early 2014. The startup helps news organizations obtain photos and video of breaking news events by connecting media outlets with amateur photographers on the scene.

Through Fresco's free app that launches later this month, news organizations will pay individuals between $10 and $30 per photo and between $40 and $90 per video, with Fresco taking an Uber-like cut of each transaction. The company will also provide access to its full photo and video collection to media companies for a monthly fee.

"One of the biggest issues with news organizations today is that when breaking news events occur, there's this ridiculous stampede of journalists trying to request [photo] licenses from users on Twitter," Meyer says. "It's a huge mess, so we're trying to create a very seamless, end-to-end solution that eliminates that." Meyer says the cost of sourcing photos and video footage through Fresco should be attractive to newsrooms that pay for photos from traditional sources like Getty Images or the Associated Press.

Though Fresco has generated just $150,000 in revenue this year through trial partnerships with a select group of news organizations, the company is projecting a total of $1 million in revenue for 2015 based on upcoming deals with larger news outlets, including a six-figure deal with a publicly traded company that owns over 50 television news stations across the U.S.

One of the most validating moments for Fresco's model came when a building in lower Manhattan collapsed in March and the company provided a local news station in Tampa Bay, Florida with images from the event.

"They were the first ones to report visually on what was going on because we got them some of the first breaking news photos coming from the scene," Meyer says.

Another feature of Fresco's mobile app is a dispatch service that will allow newsrooms to give specific photo and video assignments to Fresco users who are in close proximity of breaking news events.

Though it's still early days for the company, which has raised just $90,000 from angel investors, Meyer has already established himself as an accomplished app developer. Before dropping out of New York University at the end of his freshman year, he had built more than 40 mobile apps, including a flashlight app for the iPhone 4 that was downloaded 2 million times before Apple started including its own flashlight app with the iPhone.

One of his most successful apps, called "Perfect Shot," automatically detects individuals' eyes and smiles to help take perfect group photos. Apple named Perfect Shot one of its Best New Apps in 2013 and featured it on the homepage of the AppStore and iTunes.

Meyer's next goal is trying to secure venture capital funding for Fresco, which has grown from three employees to 21 in the past six months.

"I have a list over my desk in my office with the names of the 30 VCs and angel investors who have turned us down," he says. "I keep it publicly viewable to everyone in our office to serve as motivation to prove every one of them wrong."


Published on: Jun 8, 2015