How To Build A Community Centered Product

We recently hosted a conversation between Mikael Cho, Co-Founder & CEO of Unsplash, and Elliot Susel, Faculty Member at Lean Startup Co., about how Unsplash put community at the center of their product.

In Elliot and Mikael’s conversation, they discuss:
– How starting with something small and high quality can lead to something much bigger.
– How to encourage your community to participate in your product design.
– Why it’s important to make “being useful” your first priority instead of making money.
– The importance of trusting your intuition but also seeking feedback.
– And much, much more…

Co-Founder & CEO of the photo-sharing startup, Unsplash, Mikael Cho, spoke with Lean Startup Co. faculty member, Elliot Susel, about how a simple problem with photo access filled the needs of a community of photo lovers.

The most successful startups often tap into an unfulfilled need that nobody has gotten around to filling. Unsplash did just that in the photography space. Mikael, who comes from the design industry, saw a problem that needed solving before he ever planned to start a company from the solution. When building the website for his design business, Crew, Mikael quickly realized that finding good photos that didn’t cost a lot of money was “a really crappy process.”

He wanted a way to remove the licenses from photos so users could have access to high quality photos without paying a lot or jumping through hoops. The easiest solution was just to take them, themselves. They hired a photographer.

Left with a bunch of unused photos after the shoot, Mikael wanted to use them to create a photo-finding experience that would be the opposite of his own bad one. “We made the ideal experience for someone who wanted to use photos, and we could use our own,” he said.

With a $9 domain name for Unsplash and a Tumblr theme for $19, they threw up a simple website in three hours with one goal: to upload ten new photos every ten days for anyone who wanted to use them. From there they used public Dropbox links hooked up to a MailChimp newsletter and a Google Docs sign up form.

Their website was so simple Mikael says they were actually embarrassed by it and didn’t plan to share it too widely. The only bit of advertising they did was to post a link to Unsplash on Hacker News, a site where they’d never had much success, so if it flopped, it would be no big deal. Instead, what followed, Mikael calls a “happy accident”: tens of thousands of people signed up on their Google Doc and began accessing the photos.

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