Maker Hunt’s AMA with Todd Emaus from Twenty20

We have an AMA with Todd Emaus — Founder of Twenty20. Twenty20 helps businesses source real-world stock photos for their design, social media, and marketing. They source photos from people capturing real moments on their mobile phones. Twenty20 has a catalog of over 45M+ photos created by 300K+ photographers around the world. Make sure you’re here if you want to learn about using waitlists to drive early traction, pivoting to a new market (Instacanvas to Twenty20), the future of mobile & photography, commercializing UGC, and marketplace dynamics.

You can give a quick bio/intro. We can then open it up to questions.

The floor is yours.

Great thanks. I’m the VP of Product and one of the founders at Twenty20. I head up our product strategy across both sides of the marketplace and lead our two product teams (one for photographers and the second for our buyers).

At the end of the day I simply help connect mobile photographers with brands and businesses looking to license their photos.

I’m more than happy to dive in on anything, but can be especially helpful on marketplace dynamics, how mobile continues to change photography, early growth from waitlist and on Instagram, and of course pivots as there’s been a few of those along the way ☺

Q. Do you see yourself going into that market of citizen photo journalists? — Jonathan Archer

Its definitely something that we talk about as a “wouldn’t it be cool if one day…” type of thing. For now we’re hyper focused on helping the creative mobile photographer get their work discovered and sold. Once we can help a sizable pool of them be photography entrepreneurs then I think the doors open for further extensions of the marketplace along the lines of photojournalism.

Q. Hey Todd! can you talk a bit about the pivots, what led to them, and what you’d do differently if you were just starting out? — Erik Torenberg

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the pivot from Instacanvas to Twenty20? What kind of growth numbers were you seeing before the pivot and what made you guys decide to just go in a different direction?— Eric Willis

Erik and Eric, regarding the pivots. We began waaay back when as an education company trying to help high schoolers. We spent about 8 months building v1 of that before showing it to any users or even talking to any high schoolers. Its almost cliche at this point, but it is so crazy not to talk to your target users before building anything. We thought we knew them and then when we finally did go talk to them to show off our shiny 8 month prototype, no one was interested in it.

About this time we read The Lean Startup and then just started banging out prototypes in days or weeks to test our ideas. We tested a few more in education which didn’t work, then took the blinders off and had the idea of Instacanvas (let Instagrammers setup their own gallery to sell printed canvas of their work).

For Instacanvas we perceived the biggest risk to be whether anyone was interested at all and whether it would grow on its own. So spun up a 3 page site to test. Page 1 (value prop), page 2 (connect your IG account to reserve your spot), page 3 (share and get featured when we launch). Instacanvas then led to Twenty20 when we realized the magnitude of demand for the digital images

Above all else talk to your users and validate your ideas early. Life is too short to build things that people don’t want.

Q. How do you go about connecting photographers with clients? Do you find businesses with that need first or the photographers? — Violeta Nedkova

Photographers submit their photos via our iPhone app. They add keywords, descriptions and get model releases (if needed). Business can search our catalog from there. As well, we have photo challenges where brands can put out a creative brief and get thousands of photos submitted. Our internal legal team reviews the photos for commercial usage.

Q. Marketplaces can be really difficult to build. How did you seed your marketplace? — Eric Willis

For seeding the marketplace we got a bit lucky in that when we were early days (Instacanvas), the buy-side and sell-side were largely one and the same. Instagrammers had an existing following of other mobile photographers who bought their work.

I know this is how Etsy grew early days too. With marketplace though, the supply-demand balance is always the tricky part tho ☺

Q. What’s the most difficult part about monetizing user-generated content and how have you managed to address that problem? — Jonas Daniels

The hardest part on monetizing user-generated content for us has been quality control. There is just so much content out there and making sure that we’re sourcing that which is sellable is vital. To aid with this we’ve built an in-house photo editor team that are amazing at reviewing imagery and keeping things fresh and awesome.

Q. Why have you chosen LA instead of SV to build your startup and how do you think that’s impacted your success? — Ben Tossell

Great question. We chose LA somewhat by chance but have found it to be a great advantage in recruiting/retaining talent. That said, we are intentionally up in SF and the valley often, plus raised most of our capital in the valley to mitigate some of the downsides of being out of the valley.

Q. What kind of growth stats can you share with us? and Q. What tools do you use to manage the team? — Eric Willis

We’ve grown to over 300,000 photographers who’ve submitted over 45+ million photos. We’ve focused less on growth on the photog side lately as its vital for us to grow moreso on the buy side now as we balance out the marketplace. Micah Cohen led up the growth team that was focused on viral channels (mixpanel, sendwithus, rjmetrics, urbanairship,etc). Micah now leads up the buyer growth team (hubspot, close.io)

Q. Where do you see the market going over the next 1–2 years and how are you positioning your company to take advantage? —Eric Willis

Its amazing how often we talk to businesses that license photos for their creative projects and hear “I’m tired of stock-y looking images and I wish there was more authentic photos out there”. So for us the next 1–2 years are really about making that a reality for those businesses and helping more and more mobile photographers become entrepreneurs themselves.

Q. What have you found to be your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them? — Ben Tossell

Oh man there have been so many ☺. Probably the biggest have been building out the right team and culture. Every new person that joins the team has such a big impact in so many different ways and its hard to find the right people, but when you do subsequent challenges start feeling easier to overcome.

Q. What’s your hiring process like in terms of making sure the people you add are great culture fits? — Jordan

I’m not sure we’ve totally cracked the right way to do it, but we keep functional and cultural interviews separate. A part of the cultural is as simple as “would i want to go to lunch with them once a week?” and probably above all else, even though it sucks, when you make a bad hire (and you will) then you need to be quick to let that person go. It doesn’t mean they are a bad person or even bad at what they do, but they can be very damaging to the company.

Q. How did you land on the pricing for products on Twenty20? Is this controlled by you or do you allow your contributors to set the pricing? — Jonathan Lloyd

We established set pricing to keep things very simple for the buyer. In our view, for the contributors this works out in their advantage since we can make those decisions based on all of the data that we have.


Thanks Todd!

Hey all, its been really fun. If I can be helpful in any way or you have more questions reach out on slack or email.


Next AMA is with:

Jeff Needles — Founder of Meerkatstats | Business Analyst & Producer at TWiT.tv— 3pm EST 21st April


If you liked this AMA please Recommend ☺. Keep an eye out on our Twitter — @MakerHunt for details/updates.

Special thanks to Todd and everyone who participated. If you’re a maker with a product on ProductHunt, be sure to sign up to participate in the AMAs and connect with others.

Already a member? Get your questions ready for the next AMAs! For any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to: @ericw, @jonas, @remco, @catnoone or @bentossell.