Digerati50: Perfecting pictures – beyond Inmagination

  • Low pricing based on idea to allow all firms access to professional tools & content
  • Serving gig economy – freelance creatives with lesser access to professional tools

Stephanie Sitt observed that the major stock photo providers in the world had little to no photos of Asians. So she and her husband set up 123RF.com, which offers stock images, videos and audio clips, starting from US$1.

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

The following in an expanded version of the article which first appeared in print edition in June 2020.

Two people. One laptop. An idea.

It’s a startup story that begins like many others, yet this startup has become the model picture of a bootstrapped success. Inmagine Group went from a small business selling premium large-format photo prints into the fourth largest stock image repository – in the world – while growing into a creative ecosystem powered by technology and innovation.  

Behind it is the power couple Andy and Stephanie Sitt, also the CEO, who started Inmagine in 2000. Andy had just quit his job as financial controller, while Stephanie was pursuing her marketing degree in the UK.

Marshalling the savings they had, they set up Inmagine, overcoming constant investor rejections in those early years while staying afloat by taking no salaries for themselves. Something changed in 2005, though. With the digital photography revolution, the supply of content exploded and demand for affordable images began to rise.

Observing that the major stock photo providers out there had little to no photos of Asians, the couple set up 123RF.com, which offers stock images, videos and audio clips, starting from US$1 (RM4.21) . They tapped into photographers everywhere, allowing them to sell their works royalty-free and giving them a cut of the sales ranging from 30% to 60%, depending on their portfolio’s performance.

This widened Inmagine’s customer base. Their lower cost allows businesses with lower budgets to create their own advertising materials. In order to grow without funding, the company launched subscription models to complement its pay-as-you-go model, through customers who paid monthly or annually in advance.

Inmagine then began expanding to other markets, finding success in Europe and the US. It would also widen the portfolio to include other types of creative content and tools, including acquiring TheHungryJPEG in March 2017, which offers premium graphic design resources; as well as Pixlr, one of the most widely-used cloud and mobile photo editors, in 2018.

Inmagine currently owns and operates a number of companies across stock libraries of images, vectors, audio, footage, design elements, templates and editing tools catering across multiple clientele and geography. Their business units include Craftbundles, EasyDesign, LoveSVG and Vectr.

As of Jan 2022, the group had over 350 employees across 44 offices worldwide, with a content portfolio of over 100 million unique files.

That it came so far with no VC funding is impressive as it is. The question of going for an IPO has always been in the background, but as Stephanie tells BFM Radio in an interview in May 2020, they’re not rushing into it. The business, she said, has provided them with healthy cashflows that allows the business to sustain and invest heavily back into research and development.

These investments have elevated Inmagine beyond a company that primarily provides stock creative content. “If we’re just sticking to stock content that we’ve been doing for 20 years, our conversation with customers will just stay stagnant. But what’s next after that? Everybody would need to edit and process pictures, before the end product is presented. We want to complete that journey for clients,” said Stephanie.

This includes investing into new digital technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), without compromising their competitive pricing. This culminated into the launching of Designs.ai, their latest service that allows users to create logos and videos with the help of AI.

Designs.ai simplifies the creative process by allowing users to describe what they want in a video, for instance, with text. The AI algorithm will then provide suggestions as to what image or clips will best fit the users’ preference. Designs.ai is priced on a per-project basis, essentially allowing business to create professional-looking videos from US$25.

This pricing falls back to Inmagine’s core idea of allowing businesses of all sizes and budgets to gain access to professional tools and stock content, which allows them to not only thrive in Europe and the US, but also break into emerging markets.

Stephanie also sees Inmagine serving the gig economy – freelance creatives with lesser access to professional software and hardware will now have additional and more affordable options with Inmagine’s services.

In addition to that, she notes that there is an education drive in the Asian market as well – their tools are there to prepare a next generation of users to improve their creative and design thinking. They’re in the midst of developing plans with an angle to provide after-school education that is free for children.

Talent would be a challenge that Inmagine is facing with the company looking to import foreign talent which can help develop local talent. The good news is that their talent stays with the company for a long time.

“It’s because of what we do: you wouldn’t get bored each day, because every day we’re evolving and making changes. There are certain things that we need to disrupt ourselves,” she said. “It’s a never-ending learning process with us, and a lot of people find it interesting. Nowadays, I think people work not just for the reward of money, but the experience that they get.”

Stephanie iterates that they will continue to invest in new products that empower the creative and design ecosystem. Could we see a fully one-stop-shop for all creative needs in the near future? From what we can see, that’s not beyond Inmagination.

Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.


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