There is an interesting trend in Berlin at the moment whereby startups are creating products and services that have a social impact as well as (hopefully) viable business models. Companies like Wegreen and Changers are just as committed to making a difference as they are to providing a good product, and events like last week’s Changeathon show that there are lots of people interested in what the startup community can offer in terms of social responsibility.
The latest such example is Photocircle, a photo sharing platform where people can find and order high quality prints from a curated database of photographers. A portion of the profits from each sale goes to funding community projects in the region that the photo was taken.
The idea was born when founder and CEO Thomas Heinrich was travelling around South East Asia taking photos and feeling guilty about potentially profitting from people who were less fortunate than himself. When he arrived back in Berlin he talked over the idea with his housemates, worked out a business plan, and Photocircle was created.
Photographers submit their photos which are assessed by an editor before being uploaded to the site. They are then able to set a price for their photographs and choose how much of their markup will go to charity. Photocircle has set the minimum contribution at 30 percent, but Thomas says that it is not unusual for photographers to offer more: “Right now most photographers actually donate a lot more than they have to. Most of them actually put the donation at 60-70 percent; it’s really cool.”
As well as working as an online marketplace for travel photography, Photocircle allows users to upload their own photos to print on high quality canvas, acrylic glass and Alu Dibond, donating 6 percent of the price to the project in the relevant country. Photocircle’s cut comes out of the printing cost rather than the photographer’s profit.
A Policy of Transparency
The startup has a policy of transparency, which Thomas says is necessary when working with charities. When you choose a photograph, you can see how much money the chosen project needs in total, how much of the project has been funded already, and what percentage of the profit the photographer is donating.
At the moment the platform is helping 13 different projects in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe, and if there are none in the region of where the photo was taken, then users are given a choice of the three closest. Photocircle is aiming for 400 projects worldwide, a number Thomas believes will offer customers a good amount of choice without diluting the social impact.
He is also not afraid of going up against the pros, and counts photo printing service giants like Poster XXL amongst Photocircle’s competitors. Marketing is being done through PR and social media channels, and Thomas believes that once the word is out they will have no trouble luring customers away from the big boys: “Compared to Poster XXL we’re actually a little bit cheaper, we are far better quality and you do something good, so why wouldn’t you use it?”
Photocircle launched at the end of July, and the team is now focused on building up the database of photographers and social projects and looking towards growing sales during the upcoming Christmas season, adding vouchers and gift cards as well as introducing new methods of payment: “For us what’s really important is Christmas. From October on it’s going to be a lot busier.”
He’ll be hoping that many good causes around the world will be receiving gifts courtesy of Photocircle.