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Shutterstock, The Company That Made Jon Oringer New York's First Tech Billionaire


There's a common myth in the entrepreneurial community that founders are always eager to solve world problems. That can't be further from the truth.

Entrepreneurs are usually very practical people - they either see or experience problems and instead of being okay with them, they go the extra mile and try to find a solution. Their initial idea is to build a product or service that can solve their problems, not everyone else's.

That's how Jon Oringer entered the entrepreneurial world. Even as a kid, Jon had a nose for doing business and making money.

But even in his wildest dreams, he never imagined he'd end up in an industry related to photography - he was a developer after all!

Yes, the story of how Shutterstock entered the online world is more than captivating.

Read it here:

Jon During His Careless Childhood

Jon was one of those kids that absolutely loved technology. What molded him into the tech-geek had a lot to do with his birthplace, New York City. He was born on May 2, 1974, which allowed him to experience the birth and the first years of the Internet.

So, how does a kid born in mid ‘70s get smitten by the tech-world?

By learning to code in elementary school by the age of five.

Yes, the idea that a computer can do something that no human being could ever, was fascinating to Jon. He fell in love with computers right then and there.

But, these were still the ‘70s. And for a 5-year-old kid, it was still pretty challenging to find a computer outside of school.

So, what did Jon do?

Simple - he used his father's computer.

Jon's family were proud owners of an Apple IIe, a third model of the Apple II series of personal computers, which Jon used almost exclusively by himself to code simple games. That's how he made his first steps in the IT world.

Jon, The Money Maker High-Schooler

Jon continued his education at Scarsdale High School, where he attended from 1988 to 1992. He wasn't a typical partying high-schooler, as he was more focused on himself and finding multiple ways to make money than drinking and wasting time.

One thing he did was give guitar lessons. He learned how to play guitar with this specific goal in mind, but after a while, he saw that he could make more money by fixing other people's computers or teaching programming languages, so he focused all of his energy there.

His singular passion, purely for his satisfaction and without making any profit, was taking photographs. He absolutely loved taking pictures of everything around him, and this hobby of his would turn out to be the key to launching Shutterstock.

Jon, The Multi-Business Owner

In 1993, Jon began with his college classes at Stony Brook University in New York, where he discovered the fundamentals of computer science and mathematics. Jon, being as ambitious and restless as always, found other ways to make his college time more efficient.

As a software developer, Jon designed multiple software products that he could sell over the Internet. For him, it was about creating something to see whether people would give him their credit card information or not aka whether they'd buy his products. According to some sources, he's one of the creators of the World's first pop-up blockers. As these were the early ‘90s, more and more people were trying to use the Internet as an advertising place, so the pop-up business idea turned out to be profitable for him.

After graduating from Stony University, in 1996, Jon started with his MS studies at Columbia University and he used the same practice there as well. He would create multiple products to complement the pop-up blockers and increase the value of his service, and with that, the price itself.

During all these years, Jon estimated that he founded around 10 companies, most of which had him as the only employee, the one-man show.

He was also in charge of marketing his products and ideas, and e-mails were the best way to do it. However, he discovered that emails with images in them converted much better than the ones without images. He started to implement this rule and tried to incorporate more images into his emails, but he was in it for a surprise.

In the late ‘90s, it was harder to find free images on the Internet than anything else.

Jon had a thought - if he had troubles finding images, there must have been other people out there, with the same problem!

Being the entrepreneurial mastermind, he was immediately looking for a solution - and the idea for Shutterstock was born!

Shutterstock - A Revolution On The Internet

In 2003, Jon decided to take matters into his own hands, literally.

He bought a Canon Rebel camera and he used his previous photography experience to make some good pictures. Over the next 6 months, Jon took around 100,000 images from all of his surroundings. He took images of himself, his meals, the interior at his home, the outside - everything that could potentially be used for personal or business purposes. Jon even asked his friends to pose for him.

After 6 months of hard work, Jon was ready to make his idea a reality.

That same year, he launched the Shutterstock website, which in total, contained 30,000 images! The headquarters were in New York, in a 600 square-foot office.

Now, the stage was set and Jon was ready to take on the Internet.

The Steady Growth Of Shutterstock

The story with Shutterstock was no different than the ones of the previous businesses Jon launched. He was the one-man show - the developer, the photographer, even the customer service. Also, he was the main investor too, having funded the entire launch of the company.

Luckily, the business model Jon created for Shutterstock didn't require any additional investment in the first years of business. His business model was subscription-based - for a starting fee of $49 a month, users could download an unlimited number of images. Jon believed that if the business can function properly without outside help then it shouldn't use the investor's money.

What Jon didn't expect was the users' reactions to his business idea - they loved it!

People from all over the world wanted more and more images and they loved the idea. After a while, Jon couldn't make it on time with the demand, so it was time for him to get some help.

However, he didn't get developers - he hired photographers. He put an ad on Craigslist and entered multiple online communities for photographers, sharing the story behind Shutterstock.

Many photographers liked the idea, plus they got their share of the pie, so it was a win-win for everyone!

By 2006, Shutterstock had 570,000 images in its collection, claiming the largest subscription-based photo base in the world.

The only investment round for Shutterstock was held the following year, in 2007, but everything else that survived that round remains unknown - who was the investor, how much money they raised, it's all a mystery.

In 2012, Shutterstock filed for IPO in the New York Stock Exchange, a business move that stabilized the company's future even more.

Nowadays, Shutterstock has around 2 million active customers and 650,000 contributors!

Their database of images contains more than 200 million pictures, and the company has around 700 employees. Until February 2020, Jon was still in the captain's chair, but then he announced that he would step down from the role of Shutterstock CEO - after almost 18 years!

Jon's impact on the digital world will remain of great importance. He created an online meeting ground where both photographers and creatives could express themselves and make some money along the way!