Thomas Heinrich thought, “why should photographers be the only people who profit from a photo?” So, in 2012, he founded Photocircle, an online marketplace for pictures from around the world that gives part of the sales proceeds to social projects. Heinrich studied business administration and then continued working as a management consultant at an NGO in Guatemala. Today, six employees are working for the social enterprise in Berlin that has financed itself thus far through its own resources and subsidies. This is Thomas Heinrich in a “startup heroes” interview.
How did you come up with the idea for Photocircle?
It was during my last long trip through southeast Asia. I think that every photographer would like to take authentic images that depict the situation and mood of a place. Sometimes you shoot it unnoticed, so as not to lose the moment. I had such situations on my trip too and I always had this uneasy feeling about it. When I returned home, many of my friends suggested that I should sell my pictures online.
That felt wrong to me somehow. I didn’t want to make money with my pictures without the people in the pictures knowing about it and also profiting from it. I just wanted to give something back to the people and countries that have given me so much. This is how the idea of Photocircle came about.
At Photocircle, the photo subjects should also profit. How does that work?
The goal of Photocircle is to give back to the people and places that make our photos special. Everyone has benefited so far from beautiful pictures with the exception of the photographic subjects. We change this by supporting education and development projects in the region in which the image is created. Since our photographers and our team waive a portion of the proceeds, we can offer very fair prices to our customers despite donations of up to 50 percent. You will get your favorite picture and do something good.
Does mean that customers can only buy photos with subjects from developing countries?
No, there are social problems all over the world. Of course, the problems that we have in this country are usually of a different nature. We are promoting a more conscious engagement with photographic subjects and a new type of sustainable consumption. All parties benefit in the end. You can find many beautiful pictures from all over the world – there are also many from Germany.
Do social businesses automatically make less money than “normal” businesses?
I think this doesn’t have to necessarily be the case. The motivation of a social entrepreneur is different. This individual is creating his or her business not to make as much money as possible but to solve a social problem. The idea still needs to form a solid business model and needs to be independent from donations.
We do not retain all parts of our revenue, but we hope that our concept and quality makes it so we continue to grow and pay our employees a reasonable salary.
What tips would you give to other founders from your own experience?
Anyone who is thinking about founding should do so. It is really a lot of fun to work on your own project. You will gladly accept the sleepless nights when you lie in bed pondering. Otherwise, it is important to always step back a distance to evaluate your company and also to take everything you do into question. This helps you concentrate on the essentials and not lose focus.
You can read the original article on Gruenderszene.
Image Credit: Photocircle
Translated by Elena Rueckert