Twenty20 raises $8M, removes the velvet rope on its crowdsourced stock photo platform

By Michael Carney , written on February 26, 2015

From The News Desk

Twenty20 has long hinted at ambitions to reshape the way stock photography is sourced. But for the better part of its three years in operation, the company has looked, at least from the outside, more like a photo enthusiasts community, akin to early Instagram or VSCO today. If only we could have seen this duck’s legs paddling beneath the water’s surface.

Today, Twenty20 launched out of beta, offering brands, agencies, and creatives a commercial licensing platform through which to access its more than 45 million photographs. The company also revealed $8 million in Series A funding via a round that it quietly closed in March 2014. The round was led by Canaan Partners with participation from First Round Capital, Bullpen Capital, and VersionOne Ventures. The round brings the company's total capitalization t0 $9.7 million with previous investors including Velos Partners, FF Angel, and Mucker Capital.

Unlike Shutterstock an the its legacy stock photo brethren, Twenty20’s photos are crowdsourced from a community of 250,000 hobbyist photographers across 154 countries, many of which shoot only with mobile devices. The result is that its catalog is filled with beautiful, real life shots, rather than the staged moments and utter ridiculousness that permeate typical stock photo libraries.

“We're in a new era of constant content curation and distribution that must feel authentic and connect with consumers," said Canaan Partners general partner Maha Ibrahim. "Meanwhile, user-generated content is the most authentic creative in the world and has been proven to connect with consumers. Companies must keep up with this shift, or face becoming irrelevant."

The Twenty20 library of images has been available to select brands in a private beta for the last year, and its images have been used by a number of prominent retailers and startups including West Elm, Washio and The Audience. But,as of today, anyone can use the platform to license contention a per-image or monthly subscription basis ($89/month for 10 images and go up to $499/month for 100 images). Buyers can follow their favorite creators or search by topic and rating.

With social platform like Twitter and Facebook, not to mention corporate blogs, demanding regular content output from brands, Twenty20 solves a big pain point. This is especially true as today’s consumers have a more refined filter for inauthentic or otherwise uninspired messages.

Twenty20 has spent the better part of two years building a highly curated community of photographers, relying on both its internal staff and fellow members to maintain a minimum level of quality. In its early days, the company (then called Instacanvas) pioneered the business of allowing consumers to print their Instagram photos onto wall canvases and other hard goods. The company recently shuttered that part of its business, as it looks forward and works to scale its content licensing efforts.

But it was this lucrative though at the end of the day niche offering that helped connect the company with a community of prolific and highly engaged prosumer photographers that now make up the basis of its platform. The company began to explore ways to help these users not only repurpose their work for their own enjoyment, but make money by selling this content to the public. A full fledged stock photo library was the next obvious business to pursue. Now, branded photo challenges and other promotions keep users engaged and contributing fresh content.

“Twenty20 is here to harness the power of a mobile photo and provide a bigger stage to showcase everyday talent,” founder Matt Munson said in a statement today. “Creative brands and agencies are looking for original image content from real people, creating a more impactful and sincere relationship with their customers. We are excited to use this funding round to grow Twenty20 and develop key partnerships to continue to provide the most authentic creative in the world.”

Despite the underwhelming nature of most traditional stock photo content, it remains a massive and highly profitable industry that has produced strong venture exits. Twenty20, however, is eschewing the traditional formula in favor of a crowdsourced, amateur photographer approach. Whether this model can achieve similar scale remains to be seen.

Photo-sharing platforms were declared dead by investors and entrepreneurs alike a number of years ago. But Munson and his team have quietly built one of the more interesting content platforms around. Now that the velvet rope has been dropped, we’ll get a real sense of just how popular this club can be.