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Author Topic: Interview with a stockist  (Read 4597 times)

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« on: October 12, 2008, 19:35 »
Full version of interview with CEO Keith Tuomi by Lee Torrens of

In light of recent agency closures, how well is Zymmetrical funded? Do you have the capital to sustain a loss-making operation with sufficient cashflow to effectively market the business at the same time?
Our operation has been in the black for some time now, and we do have the funding necessary to accomplish our goals. Our long-term operational and marketing budgets are significantly lower than what a casual observer might expect, and things are evolving at a pace that let's us continue focusing on building the business with the confidence that we will have enough resources to continue 'rowing the boat' in the marketing dept. at the same time.

Other agencies have been in "beta" for over a year. Do you have a date to release and is there much to do before then?
'When it's ready' would be my reflex thought. We have internal milestones and dates for different phases, but there is so much benefit from crowdsourcing and getting a broad level of feedback on the site that the day to take off the 'Beta' label is a hard one to commit to.  It's benefits greatly outweigh any negative impressions/hesitancy from visitors, just take a look at the adoption rate of of Google's Gmail service, which has been 'Beta' since 2004.   Google is in no hurry to remove the label, as they know they can ultimately end up with a superior service by listening to visitors opinions over a broad, public development cycle. 

The midstock versus microstock debate is well covered, but whats your marketing message that will convince buyers that Zymmetrical images are worth more than microstock?
It is of our opinion that we can create a marketplace where buyers will end up needing convincing that microstock-priced images are worth -less-.   To explain my point, in the Industrial Revolution the initial explosion of technology left the human workers behind, subjecting them to oppressive conditions. When the new technologies settled down (and the workers realized they were getting a raw deal), the situation eventually evolved into what we expect today in modern society; unionized, equal-opportunity workplaces.

These days, many people don't like to knowingly buy things like clothing from sweatshop factories, because they don't support the working conditions and perceive the quality of the goods as inferior.  We believe the stock industry will mature to this level and that the initial spurt of companies founded on a pricepoint and  low market entry barriers instead of a value proposition will be forced to adapt or disappear.

Our marketing message is nothing revolutionary, but it's worked time and time again for countless successful companies (that have actually followed through on their commitments): quality, service and selection.  We also try to bring the buyers attention to the way we do business with the Artists, instilling on them that they are doing business with a fair workplace/marketplace.

or are you offering a different/better license?
Our core licensing model is a pretty standard Royalty-Free model, with Extended and Editorial licensing being currently evaluated. None of them are different then from what you might expect. 'Better' is an extension of the value offered by the content, which we believe is higher by nature with our business model. The licensing model is basically the size of the coffee cup, you can have gas station coffee or Starbucks coffee in it and that's what defines the 'better' aspect.     

Your lowest price is $3. Do you call that 'midstock'?

We haven't labeled anything as any kind of 'stock, our slogan is simply, 'Digital Art to Go'.  The labels macrostock, midstock, and microstock are something that just don't enter into our equation internally.  For the $3 - $100 price range, it is the Artists choice to react to buying trends and adjust prices, we provide the marketplace and an initial price suggestion (if desired), and they can decide what works.

I personally don't see the low $3 price level being a big deal,  we already have a core set of sales data that shows that people buying digital art files are not this cliche of price-sharks always homing in on the lowest price. We always have the flexibility to adjust these price limits should we feel our brand perception to be negatively affected or for simple economics. After all, we are fully intent on building a long-term business, the kind of business that lives longer than it's creators - specific price ranges aren't really a defining feature when you think of a timespan of decades - offering value is much easier to define as a core ideology.

How did you come up with the name "Zymmetrical"?
Honestly, off the top of my head, with no real context behind it, and quite a while before the onslaught of similarly offbeat web 2.0 names came about. In retrospect, it's not the easiest to spell and possibly hard to say across different languages, but for now since we are an 'in the cloud' internet-based business I am not too concerned as the hyperlinks make things easy for people. It is nice to have something without the word 'stock' in it, having a functional brand means not needing to describe what you do in your name. :)

We've seen a lot of privately funded agencies with 70% commission rates struggling to promote themselves. How will you manage to grow the business when you only earn 30% of your sales or 20% if it's a referred buyer?
We have a ruthless internal cost-cutting agenda. Rule number one is leveraging technology to reduce operating costs. If a computer can do it, it does, and if it's not, then we ask ourselves why not. It may sound a bit strange for a startup with not unlimited resources, but our research & development efforts are far more intense and expansive than in the typical life-cycle of a 'stock site'.  We constantly entertain new ideas and technologies in an exploratory way and come across new ways to be more efficient (along with delivering cool new features to the visitors of course).

I personally look up to several well-known corporations (in pharmacy, manufacturing, etc.), who rose above their competitors by (along with a strong company ideology) systematically reinvesting all spare money into research.  This parallel effort of mini-projects gives us the insights we need to stay cost-effective and innovative. Even if half of them never go anywhere, the overall effort benefits everyone involved. Some of these projects are made public for user feedback on our 'Labs' page, such as, some are implemented behind the scenes as part of the web application, some go into the recycle bin.   

On the other side of things, we have very, very good Editors who take the time to carefully explain why they are rejecting certain files, and this, in the long term, results in significant labor cost savings for us as these submitters are actually learning and improving from our feedback.  Accepting content (intended for professional use) from anyone off the internet is a tough thing to do, and unless you are giving strong guidance and feedback, your file transfer (bandwidth/storage), CPU cycles, and, most costly, manpower expenses can skyrocket.

All new agencies struggle to build their portfolio size up when they launch. Why doesn't your referral program reward referred contributors as well as buyers?
We're not playing for a high score yet,  in Artist count or file count. At this point i'd rather be able to provide full service for fewer people then half-service for more. This is not ruling out the addition of different referral schemes, just that at this point it's not something that we feel is wise for our operation.

Think of like a local record store that's just opening up, offering a "10 CD's for 1 cent" scheme like Columbia House. They would quickly find themselves broke, out of stock, and out of business as the scale of certain incentive programs must match the growth of the business.  When the appropriate time comes, we will expand our referral options.

whats your strategy for attracting contributors and building your portfolio?
Location, location, location. An agency that's in a good neighborhood, with great service and a constantly improving operation. These traits can and do attract Artists by osmosis.  Internationalization is a key strategy, our systems run across multiple country domains (,,, etc.).

The technology programmed into our framework allows us to engage Artists in their own language, and at the right time, own currencies.  Right now we change our on-site content so much that it would be a futile maneuver to get it professionally or even socially (like Facebook is doing) translated, however the country domains themselves are already taking hold and gaining 'respect' from the search engines as true native-language portals dedicated to each region, and attracting Artists who otherwise may tend to stick to their local circle of  marketplaces.

Yes, English is the language of the net but we believe you can not expand on the level we intend without making people feel at home,- there is a major difference between 'getting by on the net' English and fluency, and our business is typically steeped in complicated phrases, licensing details,  etc. in addition to the basic social communication necessary to grow a community.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2008, 19:38 by zymmetrical »

« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2008, 02:43 »
Thanks for the interview.  I wasn't sure about zymmetrical at first but I have been impressed recently.  People will pay more when they see an image they want and it is great to receive 70% commission.  It is good to see one of the newer sites making me money.  Most of the others have so far failed to attract buyers.

« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2008, 03:16 »

Do you have the capital to sustain a loss-making operation with sufficient cashflow to effectively market the business at the same time?
Our operation has been in the black for some time now...

WOW, not even out of beta and already profitable? This sounds almost like magic.


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