Startup of the Week – Photocircle “Buy photos, help the world”

Social enterprise startup has officially launched this week, allowing photographers to sell their worldly snaps while passing on a cut to social projects. 


Imagine if part of the profits made from the famous 1984 National Geographic cover of the Afghan girl went back into the young refugee's struggling community. Or if money made from hundreds of pictures of Japan's Tsunami-ravaged land was used to help rebuild people's lives and homes. Well, that's what Photocircle's on a mission to do – putting photographed motifs into the picture buying-selling equation where wildlife, communities and bruised environments benefit. For photos purchased from photographers, social projects receive at least 10 to 40 per cent of revenue (depending on the photographer's advertised donation) and, for photos printed from the platform, six per cent gets donated.

Photocircle founder Thomas Heinrich gives us the low-down and vision of this fine art photography platform..

Hi Thomas, tell us about Photocircle...

Thomas Heinrich

On Photocircle, customers can buy either photos from talented and renowned photographers from around the world or upload and print their own pictures. Part of the revenue goes into social projects in the region the photo was taken. In just a few clicks our customers can choose their photo, product and size with a social project they'd like to support. After a few days they get their customised art print delivered to their dorstep.

How did you come across your idea?

I love photography myself. On all my travels through Asia and South America I never really felt good about taking photos of people sometimes even without them knowing it. It didn't feel quite right. I thought - "Is it right that I get the credit for a nice photo or even make money from it and the people - the motifs - that make my photos special, never get anything?" I thought it wasn't fair. Talking with other photographers I found out that many of them shared this feeling. That's how the idea of Photocircle was born. I wanted to give something back to people and countries I travelled and enjoyed so much.

Who are the founders and how did you find each other?

francesco laddomadaAlong with myself as founder, there's Francesco Laddomada. I came across the idea and decided to go for it, but I needed a programmer. Back then I was sharing a flat with Giuseppe from Cagliari, also active in the scene in Berlin. Giuseppe told me about his brother Francesco who recently graduated from university. So, I told Francesco about the idea and asked him to join. Excited about the project, he didn't hesitate and moved to Berlin.

What makes you different from everyone else?

We offer our customers more than common photo platforms. For us the quality of the pictures is really important. We don't care so much about quantity. Also our products are top-class. Still, our prices are very competetive. Last bit not least, by buying or printing your photos on Photocircle you support a social project in the region the photo was taken. So you not only do you get great quality, you also do something good.

We want to give our customers a really good overall feeling. We don't put the donation on top of our prices. We manage to stay competitive because the photographers and us pass on part of the revenue to project partners.

What is your business model? And how big is the market potential?

We simply put our margin on top of our production costs just as any other photo platform does.

Who is financing you?

Until a while ago we were completely privately financed. We completely bootstrapped our project and haven't looked for financing. Since the beginning of July though, we received a scholarship from the Beuth Hohschule Berlin which is financed by the EU and the Berlin senate.

Is there something that you still need?

We definitely want to get more people on board. We reached a point where PR and marketing are very important to us. We do not have the budget to compete with big platforms so we have to be better. Therefore we'll need good new people, especially online marketing experts.

Who would you like to have a lunch with and what would you talk about?

Barack Obama and his familyActually I would say Leo Messi, but a lunch with Barack Obama would probably be a little more interesting. I find the toughest thing with founding a startup is switching-off at night. You always think about your project. I would really like to know how Obama manages to make all these tough decisions and then go back to normal and have a quiet night with his family.

Any advice you'd give for fellow startups?

Well, we started. We are enthusiastic and also very optimistic that it'll work because the feedback so far has been really amazing. But I don't think I can give much advice to fellow startups yet. If someone who is thinking about founding a company asked me for advice, I would say "Just do it". Founding was the best decision ever. It's so much fun doing something you like and creating something new.

Where will you be in a years' time?

We want to have our share in the online photo market. We want to convince as many people as possible of our product and overall concept. We also plan to expand overseas.

Thank you and good luck!

For related posts, check out:

VIDEO – Photocircle – Giving back with a snap

Thorsten Jahnke on Berlin’s Social Enterprise movement

VIDEO – Social Enterprise – getting to the heart of business

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