iStockphoto case study extras


20210528 Update: Repair some broken web links.

Here is a link to my first business case study “iStockphoto Case Study: How to evolve from a free community site to successful business”. The following are some interesting extra information that are a bit too “story-telling” or too long to be included in the case. I hope you will get something out of these extras. Enjoy.By the way, this case was written based on hours of original researches and three informative interviews (see case for details). I would like specially thank my co-author Nisan Gabbay, editor of, for his tireless effort in editing and improving the article.


Face-to-face meetings: When I had my interview with Bruce in early October 2006, he was just back in Calgary from a iStockalypse trip to Barcelona, Spain. All iStockphoto artists and photographers have the opportunity to join one of these limited-seat trips. How often do you have the chance to go on a field trip with the CEO of a multi-million dollars company? I think these face-to-face meetings with iStockphoto artists and photographers really help to reinforce the community. Here is a detailed article about the Barcelona trip if you are curious.


Mentoring by industry guru Guy Kawasaki

Both Bruce and Patrick had been reading, learning, and applying business concepts and ideas from business and marketing guru Guy Kawasaki for years. A planned encounter with Guy at the 2003 Banff Venture Forum created a long term mentoring relationship between Guy, Bruce and Patrick.

According to Bruce, he had essentially no training as CEO and Guy was extremely helpful and a great mentor to Bruce. Guy made himself available to both Bruce and Patrick by email, phone, and Guy even visited Calgary a few times. Since iStockphoto was run the way Guy had described in his books, iStockphoto was a perfect real-life case study of the theory as prescribed by Guy.

At the end of my interview with Bruce, he quoted Guy’s “make meaning and then make money” mantra in emphasizing how he thinks iStockphoto has been run as a business. Both Bruce and Patrick have remained close to Guy Kawasaki. (note: Here is an interesting “iStockphoto interview of Guy Kawasaki”.)


The new 12 languages keyword search support in iStockphoto has been made possible through the use of Getty Images’ patented search and controlled vocabulary tools (a search of Getty’s patent in the US Patent database returns Patent 6,735,583 which provides a detailed description of the invention).


The contributors lisegagne form Canada and hidesy from Australia are the two most prolific iStockphoto photographers. In some sense, their photo collections provide examples of really good and popular stock photos. And I think they show other iStockphoto photographers what is possible within the iStockphoto community.


Additional reading materials,

1) Getty Images’ Feb. 9, 20006, Form 8-K (The $50 million iStockphoto Form 8-K.)

2) “The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything“, 2004, Guy Kawasaki

4 Responses to iStockphoto case study extras

  1. […] kinds of ideas gathering work and how successful or not PRS will be. To me, (see business case) is a great example of crowdsourcing (or community production) whereas Amazon’s Mechanical […]

  2. […] year, (see also my business case on iStockphoto) was picked up for a cool US$50 million. Last month (May 2007?), StumbleUpon was picked up for US […]

  3. […] over 14 months when I interviewed Bruce Livingstone for the iStockphoto business case study (with extra material here). I agreed to not tell the story because of the modesty of Bruce as he specifically asked me to […]

  4. […] In some sense (this may sound strange coming from someone who is a trained computer scientist), the cool technologies are really nice but others can copy it given time and effort. I would argue that the more durable competitive advantage will be the people in a cohesive and thriving translator communities that SpeakLike will need to work hard in building. And this may be harder to build and maintain than the community of photographers in the case of iStockphoto. […]

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