Why I left the company I founded

WebDAM 2010

I founded WebDAM and spent over a decade building it into one of the most respected names in digital asset management. But, a little over a month ago, I decided to leave. Here’s the short version of a long story:

In 2005, Steve Rabkin and I decided to branch out of our comfortable jobs in the biotech industry and start a company. We didn’t know what it would do (hence the incredibly vague original name, Virtual Moment), but we knew that, after 10 years of growing our careers within the corporate world, the time was right for us to venture out.

Our first foray into entrepreneurship wasn’t pretty. We spent the initial couple of years learning what it meant to run a business — it was all foreign territory for two engineers with big dreams but no startup experience. Our early failures were frustrating and stressful, but our small wins were addicting. We were hooked.

We started to hit our stride just in time for the Great Recession. The business survived the tough economic times, but growth was slowing and we knew we needed to reinvent. So in 2010 we took a gamble on enterprise software and pivoted the business into WebDAM. It was a life-changing decision.

When we launched WebDAM, the digital asset management (DAM) industry was considered “old tech.” Almost all offerings were on-premise solutions that had evolved out of the publishing industry. But we saw an exciting opportunity in a couple of trends emerging within marketing teams — digital overtaking traditional marketing, and content becoming king. Right at the center of these trends were the assets — photos, videos, vector files, logos — beautiful assets multiplying at an unprecedented rate.

Existing on-premise technologies couldn’t support the needs of increasingly agile and asset-rich marketing teams, especially in that economic climate. Investments in hardware and IT were too great, and the time needed to deploy these solutions was much too long. So two engineers with no business savvy but a whole lot of experience building web technologies launched a cloud-based digital asset management solution focused on the current and future needs of marketers. Just like that, we finally saw the success we were seeking — double revenue year over year, every year.

Selling WebDAM in 2014 was a difficult decision. It wasn’t based on necessity, like in so many acquisitions, but rather our relentless quest to dominate the market. We never raised a dime of outside capital. We were completely bootstrapped and growing steadily, but the market was also growing with new entrants emerging every year. We needed to make deeper investments to capitalize on the growing opportunities in front of us. Initially we considered investors, but meeting Shutterstock was love at first sight — an incredible New York-based company with its founder still at the helm and a culture that felt similar to ours. They made it a much easier decision.

It’s been nearly three years since the acquisition. Our goal was to build WebDAM into a sustainable growth engine for Shutterstock, and we did that. For the first time, both Steve and I felt like the company was in great hands with the current WebDAM and Shutterstock leadership teams — and it deserves a fresh perspective. And we needed a break. At some point, everyone does.

So the time was right.

A lot has changed since 2010. WebDAM grew from a handful of engineers in San Mateo to offices in San Francisco, New York, London and Chicago. Marketing technologies were barely on the radar and now include over 4,000 solutions spanning everything from marketing automation to customer experience management. Digital asset management evolved from a publishing-era technology to a must-have for any fast-paced marketing team. And cloud delivery is now the defacto standard for enterprise software.

Our journey is one I will treasure always, and I’m tremendously grateful to so many — the DAM industry for challenging us to do more, our incredible customers for inspiring us with their creativity, our partners for the trust and collaboration, the WebDAM team for making it a place I loved coming to each and every day for 11 years and, finally, Jon Oringer and the entire team at Shutterstock for taking a chance on us.

People keep asking us, “What’s next?” For the first time in my life, I actually have no idea. And I love it! I know we’re not done creating great products and companies. For now, though, we’re going to slow down the pace, unplug once in a while and maybe even drink a little less coffee.

Maybe, but probably not.