DCSIMG

How Blipfoto is growing from small Leith beginnings into ‘£1bn company’

Self-portrait by  Joe Tree

Self-portrait by Joe Tree

 

IT all began in the Leith bedroom of Joe Tree one Sunday afternoon in 2004 – bored and at a loose end, the amateur photographer decided upon setting up his own online photo journal to which he would upload just one image a day.

Little did he know then how the idea would catch on ...

At first the site was used by just Joe and 15 of his close friends. Less than a decade later, it has morphed into a global phenomenon which ranks Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak among its users.

The firm’s Newhaven servers now house more than 2.7 million images in their archive from snappers across more than 175 countries.

And if that wasn’t impressive enough, one of Barack Obama’s key entrepreneurial advisers has tipped it to become a “$1 billion company.”

Founder and chief executive Joe has been left “amazed” by how his “lightbulb moment” has blossomed – even 
winning a BAFTA for Best Website in 2009.

The 40-year old, who lives in Leith with his partner and six-year-old daughter, says: “I spent three hours one afternoon building a website and didn’t tell anyone about it.

“Pretty soon I realised it was really addictive and so gradually I started telling friends and family about it, then more and more people got interested.

“It’s now grown beyond anything I ever imagined and continues to do so.

“There are a number of sites on the web where you can show your photographs.

“However, there is no site devoted to taking just one picture a day. That’s where we come in, so instead of people posting a number of average pictures of their mates or whatever, people are really taking their time to get a good snap.”

The site which offers a unique and ever-changing daily snapshot of the world has engendered a devoted following among its users, or blippers as they call themselves.

Each is allowed to enter a short diary entry to accompany their single image allowing them to tell their story, one day at a time.

The only rules are that you must have taken the image, it must have been taken on the day stated and it does not cause offence.

Eye-catching photographs attract comments and if blippers like someone’s work they can then can subscribe to their blog.

Joe reveals that he knew he was on to “a winner” when a US blipper had the site logo tattooed on her arm.

He says: “That really blew me away. This thing which I had started on my own in Leith was now being tattooed on to people in America. I had no contact with that girl but she chose to do that after posting 500 pictures in a row.

“The site is social media for people that don’t know they’re engaging in social media.

“People from various backgrounds can meet and connect on Blip.

“We’re also unlike any other social media sites in that we have a largely honest and straightforward relationship with our users; we don’t view them as customers.”

The main difference between the site and larger rivals is that it doesn’t carry advertising.

“Blipfoto is free for anyone to use at a basic level, but if you want access to the full service it costs £25 per year.

“We don’t display ads on the website, which helps us stay focused on building a great product people love using and value enough to pay for.

“We don’t sell users’ pictures to third parties – unless they are helping to make blippers some money.”

Such a simple business model has drawn high praise and backing from leading US investor Ken Morse, who serves as a key entrepreneurial adviser to Obama.

Mr Morse, who sits on the American president’s National Advisory Council on Innovation & Entrepreneurship, is one of a number of top investors who have pumped a total of £700,000 into Blipfoto.

In May, serial technology entrepreneur Ian Ritchie joined the firm as its chairman and Gareth Williams, founder and chief executive of city-based flight comparison website Skyscanner, is now offering the company advice on its international expansion.

Mr Morse said: “Blipfoto is already operating like a $200 million company with Ian as chairman. With Gareth advising them on social media retail, they’re going to start acting like a $500m company.”

He went on to claim the company is on course to become a “$1 billion company”.

One might expect Joe to shy away from such tub thumping talk but instead the bedroom entrepreneur agrees - wholeheartedly.

He says it is “not impossible” for the eight-strong city-based company to one day take its place among the world’s social media heavyweights.

“These are exciting times for us.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t become a billion dollar company, getting there might require a slight change of mindset but we have a great product and a fantastic team of people who all want it to succeed.

“The site is now a million miles away from that which I first put together in 2004 so I don’t see why we can’t continue to grow and become a billion dollar business one day.

“Much like Google we’re pretty laid-back but you won’t find a harder working bunch even if sometimes we are visited by a small hairy dog called Ruaridh, who gets terribly bored.

“At the core of Facebook and Instagram was the spark of a great idea and I think we have that here.”

‘It’s made me a better photographer’

EVENING News staff photographer Jane Barlow, 36, from Meadowbank, began using the site last summer after she received a year’s full membership on her birthday.

She said: “A number of my friends were already signed up so I decided that I’d give it a go for a year. I’ve always been rubbish at keeping diaries so I think this is a great idea. Added to this it’s a local Edinburgh company which is on the verge of big things.

“I like how people make their own rules on the site, a friend of mine only posts black and white photos from an old type of camera. My own rule is to never post anything related to work.

“As a full-time photographer you can become set in your ways so Blipfoto encourages me to think differently, I blip quirky signs or architecture, landscape and abstract shots that I otherwise wouldn’t take. It’s probably made me a better photographer.

“I also like the fact that at the end of the year I can buy a photobook of my pictures which will be a great keepsake. My parents live down south too so my dad and some friends can check in and see what I’ve been up to.”

‘It’s made me a better photographer’

EVENING News staff photographer Jane Barlow, 36, from Meadowbank, began using the site last summer after she received a year’s full membership on her birthday.

She said: “A number of my friends were already signed up so I decided that I’d give it a go for a year. I’ve always been rubbish at keeping diaries so I think this is a great idea. Added to this it’s a local Edinburgh company which is on the verge of big things.

“I like how people make their own rules on the site, a friend of mine only posts black and white photos from an old type of camera. My own rule is to never post anything related to work.

“As a full-time photographer you can become set in your ways so Blipfoto encourages me to think differently, I blip quirky signs or architecture, landscape and abstract shots that I otherwise wouldn’t take. It’s probably made me a better photographer.

“I also like the fact that at the end of the year I can buy a photobook of my pictures which will be a great keepsake. My parents live down south too so my dad and some friends can check in and see what I’ve been up to.”

20m views per month

With more than 20 million page views per month, the site is poised to break the 1 million mark on the number of unique visits this month – up from 750,000 visits in December.

There are more than 2.7 million images, each one representing a day in someone’s life, and there are more than 15 million comments.

Most visits come from the UK, US, Finland, Australia and the Netherlands.

Blipfoto was first set up in 2004.

 

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