Hello, Unsplash, Inc.

Mikael Cho
Unsplash Blog
Published in
5 min readJan 5, 2017


I never expected this to happen. But then again…startups.

For the last 3 years we’ve been running Crew with Unsplash by its side.

Unsplash was made shortly after Crew as a way to help Crew grow. And it did just that. Unsplash referred more customers to Crew than any other source. It helped us survive when we were months from going out of business. Without Unsplash, there likely would be no Crew.

Since then, Crew grew into a multi-million dollar business supporting companies and creators across 30 countries. And Unsplash has come into its own along with it.

As a Tumblr blog with Dropbox links, Unsplash barely worked on day one. Nonetheless, 20,000 people signed up. We never expected that sort of reception. And we never expected what was to come.

After a few months, Unsplash grew to 80,000 members and over 1 million downloads. All by word-of-mouth. At the time, there was still no one working on it full time. Every 10 days for a year, we picked 10 photos to be featured on the site. It took us about an hour.

When Unsplash continued to grow, even with us spending next-to-no time on it, we realized we may be onto something special. Something we needed to explore deeper. So we decided to put my co-founder Luke on Unsplash full-time to re-create Unsplash as a custom site. A product that’d be a much better experience for the community. Meanwhile, the rest of our team stayed focused on Crew but helped out on Unsplash when we could.

After about a month, Unsplash was rebuilt as a standalone website. It’s growth compounded. 10 million photo downloads. Then a few months later, 30 million.

To keep up with the accelerated growth, we grew the team. Over two years, Unsplash’s team slowly went from 1 to 5 people. Thanks to our generous community and our team’s exceptional work, Unsplash grew even faster. We crossed millions of members, eventually hitting over a billion photos viewed in a month this past November. Today, over 3 photos are downloaded per second on Unsplash. In three and a half years, Unsplash has become one of the fastest-growing, most impactful photography communities.

Total Time Spent on Unsplash (The two dips were holidays)

Unsplash 2015 to 2016:

  • 140% increase in Total Time (TTU, minutes): 85M to 203M
  • 200% increase in downloads: 47M to 144M

What started as a little blog to drive traffic has become much more. Unsplash is a special community, where the powerful principles of sharing and openness have taken the place of strict copyright and legal red tape.

The web was meant to connect, inform, and inspire us in unprecedented ways. And the Unsplash community embodies this philosophy fully. Unsplash has become a place where the impact of our connected world is on full display. Instead of photos being hoarded and shut down, photos on Unsplash are given as fuel for creativity.

You don’t need to know someone, or have an agent, or have a name to be great on Unsplash. It’s become a place where creators meet their audience. A place where individuals become a community. And a source of inspiration for millions of people, from acclaimed writers like Deepak Chopra to world-changing companies like Apple. We’ve seen how the willingness to give a single photo can unlock all forms of creativity and relationships. Unsplash is moving creativity forward like no other platform we’ve seen.


While Unsplash’s rapid growth and potential has been exciting, there’s been a drawback. Crew and Unsplash have become harder to manage together. At our current scale of business, both Crew and Unsplash need more of our attention every day. And operating them from the same resources hurts our ability to focus.

Crew and Unsplash both need to nurture communities, need to build their own teams, and need to grow. Running two young companies is like taking care of two crying babies. Helping one means you inevitably neglect the other. It was fine when all we had to do was send one email every ten days. But now, it feels like we’re jumping between two kids that both need all of our attention.

The Announcement

We spent the last six months doing a deep assessment into both Crew and Unsplash. We still have ~$5 million of the $8.5 million investment we raised two years ago in the bank. And Crew can operate at a rate that’s close to profitable. We could wait on this decision. But, we realized if we continued to operate Unsplash and Crew together as we have, we risk giving neither the focus they deserve.

So today we’re announcing a big change. From this day on, Unsplash and Crew will operate as two independent companies.

My teammates Martine, Steph, Tim, and I are moving to Unsplash full-time. My co-founder Angus will continue on Crew and Michael Sacca, our current Head of Partnerships at Crew, will step into the role of Crew President.

The investment money we raised for Crew will also be split between Crew and Unsplash. Separate budgets for both.

Unsplash and Crew will still stay connected in a way. Both will be headquartered at our cafe workspace. We’ve seen a big benefit to building two companies at a similar stage in the same space. We can run more experiments across teams and share what works and what doesn’t faster. It accelerates our learning and growth.

The main change moving forward is focus. Everyone on Unsplash will dedicate full attention on serving the Unsplash community. And everyone on Crew will give full attention toward serving the Crew community.

Whether you’ve read one of our articles, wrote us an email, visited our cafe, or used one of our products, thank you for supporting us. We’re so grateful for the opportunity you’ve given us to make our contribution. If you’ve been following our story, you know a lot has happened. And I know a lot more will. We’ve still got a long way to go.

I wanted to also thank all my teammates, our investors, and board of directors for helping navigate this spinout. Splitting out a company seems simple but it’s one of the most challenging things we’ve done. My aim is to write a follow-up post sharing the details of how we went about this re-structure. As we went through it, we weren’t able to find many resources on how to go about a company split. So, I hope our experience could be a useful resource if you ever consider going through a similar process.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

— Mikael

P.S. If you’d like join a team of the best people I’ve ever worked with, in an environment that allows you to do your best work, we’re hiring.