Brianna Wettlaufer

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    How 2 Leaders encourage creative thinking and tackle new projects in innovative ways see more

    Source: Douglas Magazine

    How Local Leaders Inspire Creativity and Outside-the-Box Thinking In Their Teams

    How much does creativity drive a business’ success? According to a 2014 study conducted by Adobe and Forrester Consulting, 82 per cent of companies believe there’s a strong correlation between creativity and business results. For many businesses, regardless of the industry, creativity is a key differentiator and integral to a business’ success.

    So how can you help foster a creative office environment? We asked two local business leaders, Dan Dagg of Hot House Marketing and Brianna Wettlaufer of Stocksy United, to share how they encourage creative thinking, tackle new projects in innovative ways, and deliver unique results.


  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    The board will continue to work on the goal of growing the sector into a $10 billion entity by 2030 see more

    Source: Times Colonist
    Author: Andrew Duffy

    Rayani to lead region’s tech council board

    The Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council will have a new face at the head of its board table as Rasool Rayani steps in as chairman for the year.

    Rayani replaces Colin How, who will act as past chairman for 2017-18. Also elected to the board’s executive are Bobbi Leach as vice-chair, Robert Bowness as chair of the finance committee, Mark Longo as chair of the foundation committee and Brianna Wettlaufer as chair of the governance committee.

    VIATEC chief executive Dan Gunn said the board will continue to work on the goal of growing the sector into a $10 billion entity by 2030, based on combined annual revenues of all the region’s companies. That would more than double existing combined revenue.

    The tech sector in Victoria has grown to include 880 businesses and employs more than 15,000 directly. It also counts another 3,000 consultants and 5,000 others who work in tech jobs within larger firms and government. VIATEC's membership has doubled to 560 members over the past two years.

    “We are blown away by the level of interest and calibre of the candidates for this year’s board election,” said Gunn. “While I did not envy them in the tough choices they had to make, the members did a great job electing a board that closely reflects the broader membership and the VIATEC team is looking forward to working with them.”

    Also on the board are Jim Balcom, Robert Cooper, Scott Dewis, Justin Love, Owen Matthews, Masoud Nassaji, Christina Seargeant and Nicole Smith.

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    CEO Brianna Wettlaufer has led Stocksy United in a strategy that has disrupted the global stock... see more

    Source: Douglas Magazine
    Author: Alex Van Tol
    Photography: Jeffrey Bosdet

    Why Stocksy United's CEO is a Rebel With a Cause

    High energy, big enthusiasm, formidable smarts — CEO Brianna Wettlaufer has led Stocksy United in a strategy that has disrupted the global stock photography industry — by doing the right thing.

    On a chilly day in December, I march into the rabbit warren that is Market Square in search of one of Victoria’s fastest rising entrepreneurs, the CEO of Stocksy United, the stock photography and video-footage sensation launched by industry veterans who set out to reinvent the highly competitive but endlessly derivative microstock industry.

    A third-floor frosted door opens into Stocksy’s office space, which can only be described as old barn meets hipster warehouse. The space hums with quiet activity. Most of Stocksy’s 25 Victoria employees are clustered around a long bank of enormous screens that stretch across the centre of the room. In the foreground, two Gen-Xers share a late-afternoon conversation.

    I’m soon joined by Stocksy’s CEO Brianna Wettlaufer, a tall, stylish thirtysomething who easily slides into the interview, her smile authentic, her laugh surprising in its depth — and its inclusiveness. When you’re with her, you feel like you belong.

    Wettlaufer and her partners founded Stocksy in 2012. Just four years later, this artist-run cooperative has made a big dent in the microstock industry. Wettlaufer recently announced Stocksy had doubled its revenue in 2015 to US$7.9M, paid out more than $4.3 million in royalties to artists and paid its first dividends of $200,000 to member artists who sold imagery in 2015.

    Making the announcement, Wettlaufer boldy said: “At a time when some stock imagery companies are slashing artist royalties and others suffer from bloated, outdated collections, Stocksy’s success proves that clients at the major design firms and Fortune 500 companies we serve agree that the combination of fair pay combined with meticulous curation equals a far better product. Our member artists are invested in the company’s growth and paid equitably, so they can spend more on photo shoots, making the Stocksy collection uniquely vibrant and current.”

    No wonder competitors have taken notice. Stocksy has truly emerged.

    You have a global outlook, but I understand you are an Islander?
    Yep, I was born here. I did the usual: moved away. My mom was American, so I grew up between here and San Diego. But Victoria has always felt like home. I can’t live anywhere but Victoria. Everywhere else is ruined.

    Did you go to university here?
    I didn’t go to university [laughs]. I have no regrets. I kind of dropped out in grade 11, homeschooled myself for a year and then it was like, Do I finish this? Or do I just start my life? And the teacher I was working with was like,Dude, you’ve got this. Nobody cares if you graduate high school. And I was like,OK, that’s how I feel.

    You were self-taught in graphic design, so how did you get into the industry with no formal training?
    There was a place called PCN Creative at the time. I walked in and said, I think you should hire me and they were like, Yeah, just sit and wait. They let me wait for four hours, and I was thinking, Nope, I’m not going anywhere until I get a response. The creative director eventually came out said, All right, we’ll give you a chance. I worked my way up from the bottom. I was there a year, then got hired by one of their clients to be their creative director. That was a leadership consulting firm, which I think had a pretty big influence on my idea of leadership.

    So you skipped over all those other levels of doing leadership wrong and got to work with experts whose role is to teach others how to do it right?
    Yes, they let me take some of the tests they administered, too. I did one that was really traumatizing! At 19 or 20, you have this self-assured perception that you know yourself so well. No f-ing way you do. The results came back and showed I was insecure and constantly seeking validation. I’m like, What is this? OK, this is going to change NOW [smacks table]. I realized if I wanted to do things, I had to do them for myself.

    So then iStock hired you as a writer. Did you bring those leadership skills to that position?
    Possibly. I think I’ve always been very process-focused. I quickly came in and was like, Well, this is nice how you’re running this, but we’re going to fix it[laughs]. The photo process when I came in was pretty much a free-for-all — anybody could upload anything, the team was a mess, there were no standards. So I was like, Why don’t you let me take this over? They let me.

    You knew you could do more and do it better if you put parameters in place. That’s a big part of your heavy curation process at Stocksy too. You still have final say, I understand.
    I had to fight everybody when we first started — even some of the other co-founders — about what my vision was. I wasn’t going to accept anything else. I put together the first creative brief for our membership: Here’s what stock looks like now. It’s a joke. Here’s what it should look like. It was photo-to-photo comparisons, good to bad. We would break them down into what was working and what was wrong. It didn’t make sense why stock had to have a different look in comparison to things that were in magazines. It was breaking down the patterns that people had fallen into. We spent a lot of time writing creative briefs and education pieces, and we’ve got a really hands-on editorial team. When you’re consistent with people while challenging them, once they hit that bar you’re trying to push them to, they’re usually really thankful that you did.

    Stocksy is different because you hand-pick your photographers and pay them well. How did you decide on your business model?
    Until we came into the scene, there was the notorious line where the industry was racing to the bottom. Subscription models had just taken over. When you have subscriptions, you’re literally paying pennies to the photographers. When we came in, the point of things being sustainable was really important. You can’t be sustainable if you’re not paying people the true value of what they’re creating … I think that’s what gave us a competitive edge. Everybody’s fighting with the subscription thing, saying you can’t bring value back — and I think we’re showing that you can.

    The platform co-operative based on fair pay is a new and different thing. You give 90 per cent of profits to your artists?
    It was a very deliberate choice of wanting to prove that you don’t have to take that much money away from photographers and artists in order to run your company. Run it on a shoestring budget, keep your staff low, be intentional — and when you give back to your community and your artists, they give back to you to create a stronger product. It creates a cycle and feeds the success of your product. It was a gamble that might not have worked out, but we’re lucky. I think we did validate that with the loyalty we have from our members. All the other agencies have gone through our member directory trying to poach [our photographers] and our photographers are like, I left you for a reason. This company is treating me well, I want to support them.

    In your second year, you extended ownership to staff. What prevents other companies from doing that?
    Even as I’m listening to other people wanting to set their companies up like that, they’re like, Well, we’re going to do it but we’re not going to do it as a co-op, and I’m like, Why wouldn’t you want to do it that way? and they’re like, Well, I’m not sure I can trust everybody. There are major trust issues. It’s not going to happen overnight. If you want everybody to be collaborative, working together, you have to share your information and invest in the education of everybody’s understanding. We’re accountable to everybody who is a shareholder, which is no different than a traditional business model. But we get the pleasure of being accountable to people who are actually invested in the product and the integrity of the product and its long-term success, versus a venture capitalist who’s just looking to cash out as quickly as possible. We get to be much more long-term focused.

    Stocksy serves Fortune 500 companies, household names and even banks. How have you managed to work with such well-regarded companies?
    I think we’re lucky in the executive team that came together to formulate the way we do things. We weren’t learning things for the first time; most large agencies have a fairly rigorous onboarding process with legal and accounting. Our goal was: how do we make that as easy and as personal as possible for them? We make sure we do everything we can to be excited about what [our clients] are doing. We have a full-time creative research person helping clients uncover photos quickly. We’ve made a very deliberate effort in our tone and in the way we talk to people. This is just how we do business, trying to keep it as human and sincere as possible.

    How does Stocksy manage to compete against the “big guns” in stock photography?
    The fact that we love photography and want to support artists creates a much different approach to our business versus just, How do we make a ton of cash? We have a really high ratio of photographers on staff, so we end up championing it …There is an infectious quality to that. Focus on quality over quantity and give clients the great stuff they want — that’s our edge.

    I can’t let you go before you tell me what it was like to have Stocksy featured in the New York Times!
    We met the writer at the first-ever platform co-operative event (which is testament to how much people are paying attention to the co-op model). We stayed loosely in touch, and when [the New York Times] was preparing to run the article, we got a call saying they were going to send a Seattle photographer up to shoot the team. Which was so strange! That they sent a photographer up from Seattle?! We were like, Wow. We were one of the most read articles in the New York Times that day. People care about the why. 

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    Stocksy United is a uniquely structured artist-owned cooperative that provides beautiful stock photo see more


    Haro Ventures Mini Series: An Interview with Brianna Wettlaufer

    Stocksy United is a uniquely structured artist-owned cooperative that provides beautiful stock photos, interview pieces, travel stories and recipes. Perhaps mostly highlighted for it’s unique financial structure (which pays out the majority of profits to photographers), the company is led by CEO and co-founder Brianna Wettlaufer who believes in open collaboration, fair representation and artistic expression. We sat down to learn a little bit about Brianna, her role at Stocksy, her childhood role model and what inspires her, among others.

    • What’s your role at Stocksy and how did you come into that position?

    I’m CEO and co-founder. I bring to my role 15 years of experience in building online communities, promoting transparency and democracy in business, and mentoring photographers in the stock industry. I actually came into this role originally as Stocksy’s COO. The board realized I was the primary driver of the vision, product and experience and voted me into the CEO role in Stocksy’s first year of business. I’ve never looked back.

    • What’s the most satisfying part of your role there?

    Being part of the amazing Stocksy team. They’re the most amazing, fierce group I’ve had the pleasure of working with. To date we’re 25 intense and different personalities. Which, of course, has the potentially to go horribly wrong when you have that many strong opinions at a table, but somewhere between championing honesty, accountability, support, respect and humour, we make it work.

    • What did you want to be when you were a kid? Who were your childhood role models?

    My family is really artistic but also has a strong background in science. The convergence of the two by using logical thinking but expressing it creatively has always the most fascinating thing to me. It’s geeky, but I’d say Leonardo da Vinci was one of my childhood role models because I was mesmerized by the science behind his drawings. So generally I’d say I just wanted to work in the sciences when I grew up, with art being a supportive component of whatever I was focusing on.

    • With F@#% Up Nights becoming a popular community event, we’re witnessing a positive trend of being open about your failures and mistakes. What mistake have you made that you wouldn’t go back in time to change?

    I don’t like to fall to regret, everything is an opportunity to learn and do it better next time. But, if I’d had to pick something, I’d say going head to head with tables of executives when I was 23 was probably one of my poorer decisions. I didn’t start that job with that attitude, but after years of fighting against them, I got to the point where I wasn’t willing to back down, but that lead to my eventually needing to leave the company. But I absolutely don’t regret fighting for what I believe in.

    • What or who inspires you the most?

    Travelling typically inspires me. Not because I want to go do touristy things, but because I love seeing different experiences and reality. I like to go to the grittier areas and just talk to people and hear their stories. I’m not roughing it, I do stay in hotels because I’m a nerd and I like having access to the internet. [Laughing].

    As for people, there’s a girl here in Victoria that runs “The Grit of it”. She’s an amazing portrait photographer that always inspires me with her honesty and desire to champion the stories of unsung heroes.

    • What role do you think ‘diversity’ plays in growing a successful tech community?

    Tech can mean so many things, so I’m reluctant to speak for that whole community, but diversity plays a really big role for us at Stocksy. Unfair representation can make us feel shitty and cast a horrible message. In the stock world there’s been a very exploitative approach to representing diversity by using people as tokens. With Stocksy we’re always searching new ideas beauty, traditions, environments and how we generally express ourselves in the everyday. Seeing that richness come through is really important for us to reinforce the accessibility and connection of a more beautiful depiction of lifestyle.

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    Stocksy is an exceptional example to delve deeper into the notion of being a Platform Cooperative. see more

    Source: Forbes
    Author: Dan Pontefract

    You are undoubtedly familiar with so-called “sharing economy” titans such as Uber and AirBnB. The latter is an online marketplace for people to list and/or book accommodations. It might be a room, a home or a castle. AirBnB is a prime example of disruption in the hotel industry. They market other people’s dwellings and then take a percentage of the revenue from the transaction. It claims to have 50,000 renters every night. That’s 50,000 people not renting a hotel room.

    On the transportation side of things, Uber connects consumers through an app with independent drivers who own their own vehicle. Taxis are no longer a consideration for many people. In fact, the company celebrated its 2 billionth Uber ride this past July.

    Whichever way you slice it, both companies are wreaking havoc on existing business models.

    But there is a problem. These are not truly “sharing economy” companies. For the record, I’m with Harvard Business Reviewauthors Giana M. Eckhardt and Fleura Bardhi who made astrong case against using the term “sharing economy” when it comes to firms like Uber and AirBnB. The authors suggested these sorts of businesses—where products and services are traded on the basis of access rather than ownership, when trade is done temporarily and not permanently—ought to be referred to as the “access economy.”

    Eckardt and Bardhi write:

    “A successful business model in the access economy will not be based on community, however, as a sharing orientation does not accurately depict the benefits consumers hope to receive. When “sharing” is market-mediated — when a company is an intermediary between consumers who don’t know each other — it is no longer sharing at all. It is an economic exchange, and consumers are after utilitarian, rather than social, value.”

    While there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with companies like Uber or Airbnb in the “access economy”, they are not examples of organizations who are truly “sharing” nor are they reinvesting any of its revenues or profits into the workers and/or materials it rents. It extracts money from its “partners” and reinvests the profit in itself, not those who are its labourers.  .

    Which brings me to Stocksy and the business model of a “Platform Cooperative.”

    In its simplest form, a Platform Cooperative is defined as “worker–owned cooperatives designing their own apps-based platforms, fostering truly peer-to-peer ways of providing services and things”.

    Put differently, those doing the work are owners and are both compensated for such effort and regarded as members of the greater team. A Platform Cooperative is not in it to extract money from its labourers through the rental of talent, service or even capital. Its business model is not about renting access.

    Stocksy is an exceptional example to delve deeper into the notion of being a Platform Cooperative. Headquartered inVictoria, British Columbia, Stocksy is the online home to a highly curated collection of royalty-free stock photography and video footage that is “beautiful, distinctive, and highly usable.” What I love about Stocksy is that it is in business for all of its stakeholders, not just the owners, founders and senior leadership team. Its motto, “We believe in creative integrity, fair profit sharing, and co-ownership, with every voice being heard,” found on its About Us webpage is a tribute to the operating ethos of any Platform Cooperative.

    I stumbled across Stocksy one day in June of 2016 courtesy my Twitter feed. I had never heard of the company prior to that serendipitous tweet. After a few clicks, I realized they were in fact headquartered in Victoria. “Oh my,” I said to myself. “I live in Victoria! I have to go find these people and understand more.”

    The tweet I tripped over was from VIATEC—a group that represents Vancouver Island’s advanced-technology community—announcing its Executive of the Year, Stocksy CEO and co-founder Brianna Wettlaufer. “Brianna brings a unique combination of high expectations and encouraging support,” said Dan Gunn, CEO of VIATEC, after I asked him about Brianna. “Add to that her sophisticated sense for culture trends and aesthetics along with her savvy as a business woman and you get a very rare type of leader.”

    I reached out to Brianna myself, and she agreed to meet with me over a latte. (How very West Coast.) She also brought along Nuno Silva, Stocksy’s vice-president of product.

    The first thing I had to ask about was related to Stocksy’s motto. Why is it important for Stocksy to demonstrate “creative integrity, fair profit sharing, and co-ownership, with every voice being heard?” As an artist, Brianna believes it is highly unethical to approach business from any other angle than transparency and accountability while continuously rallying to support and inspire the creators—the workers. “When you use this approach,” she said, “you’re investing in the long term success, integrity, and people working for the product, so you shouldn’t have to make choices that are intentionally designed for short term gain at a huge cost.”

    Nuno indicated honesty, integrity, fairness and giving back were all driving reasons for starting Stocksy in the first place. “Given our collective experience in the industry as business professionals and contributing artists and photographers,” Nuno added, “it led to a holistic perspective of representing every angle in an ethical approach that lived up to those values.”

    Stocksy defines its business model as follows:

    “An online community business designed to put power back into the hands of its co-owners through collaboration, fair distribution of profits, and ethical business practices.”

    This is of course highly unusual in terms of business models, but not to Brianna or Nuno. In fact, one may argue that their leadership style is rather antithetical to today’s business leaders.

    “I’m fortunate in having always worked for start-ups, where you’re forced to wear a lot of hats and commit to the gritty work, no matter what it takes, to make a company survive,” said Brianna. “This always made business a passionate pursuit, leaving me confused why “business” had to be a dirty word. From my experience, the value of doing something you love, that supports an amazing community creatively and financially, with the added joy of creating an integrity-driven product, is much more motivating and rewarding than chasing wealth.”

    But Stocksy is a business. It needs revenue (and profits) to survive and ultimately to grow. How does it remain true to its purpose—as a Platform Cooperative—aiming to serve everyone that is part of the collective?

    “By focusing on sustainable growth, even at the sacrifice of a quick gain,” replied Nuno rather matter-of-factly.  “The co-op model reflects this. It’s designed to create checks and balances in everything we do so that we can’t do anything that isn’t in our community’s best interest, or without complete transparency.” Becoming more passionate as he continued his train of thought, Nuno said, “It requires more work, but it’s a challenge we welcome in our commitment to community and our stakeholders.”

    In 2015, Stocksy earned $7.9 million in sales—doubling its revenues from the year prior—and it paid out its first ever dividend of $200,000 to its members. This was in addition to the money artists were paid for selling their images and videos in the first place, a whopping $4,323,735.

    But where will Stocksy be in 5-10 years? Aside from supporting photographers, community and creative integrity, Brianna is “naively stubborn enough,” as she puts it, to advocate that the Stocksy model of Platform Cooperatives could help turn traditional business on its head. “Business can be fun,” she said, “and it can be driven by creativity and purpose.”

    Dan Gunn agrees. Asked about the future of Stocksy, he said, “The world is largely deprived of authenticity and anything that puts quality and inspirational values at its core has a good chance of generating a following. When you add their experienced leadership team you have almost a sure thing.”

    Brianna’s ultimate wish? “To keep waking up every day, respecting each other, just as inspired as the next to keep creating an amazing product while benefiting the many, building trust and empowering workers and staff.”

    On platform cooperatives, The New School associate professor, Trebor Scholz writes:

    “[Platform Cooperatives] can be a reminder that work can be dignified rather than diminishing for the human experience. Cooperatives are not a panacea for all the wrongs of platform capitalism but they could help to weave some ethical threads into the fabric of 21st century work.”

    I could not agree more. Stocksy sheds a shining Victoria Inner Harbour light on this wonderful, purpose-driven movement of Platform Cooperatives.

    Maybe it is time for both Uber and AirBnB to contemplate becoming a Platform Cooperative, too.


  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    Stocksy United makes it in the NY Times! see more

    Source: The New York Times
    Author: Amy Cortese

    The arresting images on are far from the standard fare found on many stock photography sites. Colorful portraits, unexpected compositions and playful shots greet visitors.

    The most distinguishing feature, however, may be the structure of the site’s owner, Stocksy United: It is a cooperative, owned and governed by the photographers who contribute their work. Every Stocksy photographer owns a share of the company, with voting rights. And most of the money from sales of their work goes into their pockets rather than toward the billion-dollar valuations pursued by many venture-backed start-ups.

    Stocksy was founded in 2013 by Bruce Livingstone and Brianna Wettlaufer, the core team behind iStockphoto, which in 2000 pioneered the idea of selling stock photos online in exchange for small fees. (Mr. Livingstone was the founder and Ms. Wettlaufer, the vice president of development and employee No. 4). IStock — which billed itself as “by creatives, for creatives” — caught the attention of Getty Images, which acquired it in 2006 for $50 million.

    Mr. Livingstone and Ms. Wettlaufer grew dismayed as the community spirit they had cultivated and the royalties photographers received began to erode under the new ownership. Like many artists in the digital age, their photographer friends grumbled that they were being underpaid and exploited by online sites.

    “Everyone had the same story,” Ms. Wettlaufer said. “They were feeling disenfranchised. They weren’t creatively inspired anymore. The magic was gone.”

    So using money from the sale of iStock to Getty, she and Mr. Livingstone set out to create Stocksy, paying photographers 50 to 75 percent of sales. That is well above the going rate of 15 to 45 percent that is typical in the stock photography field. The company also distributes 90 percent of its profit at the end of each year among its photographers.

    “We realized we could do it differently this time,” said Ms. Wettlaufer, who took over the chief executive role in 2014. “We could enter the market with a model that ensured artists were treated fairly and ethically.”

    Stocksy is part of a new wave of start-ups that are borrowing the tools of Silicon Valley to create a more genuine “sharing” economy that rewards the individuals generating the value. 

    According to a recent Pew poll, 72 percent of Americans have used some sort of shared or on-demand service, whether it’s Uber for rides or TaskRabbit for things as diverse as dog walking and household chores. But there has been much criticism that, after the platforms take their cut and the workers pay for expenses, little may trickle down to those doing the actual work.

    And, although many workers appreciate the flexibility to schedule their own hours, they don’t have the same protections and benefits as full-time employees. Evidence suggests that the shift to on-demand labor may increase economic vulnerability for the roughly one-third of Americans who are contingent workers.

    In just a few years, Stocksy has grown to 900 photographer-members, carefully selected from more than 10,000 applications. It has 20 full-time employees at its headquarters in Victoria, British Columbia, and another five contractors who work remotely.

    Hugh Sitton, a photographer based in Britain, is typical of the quality of talent Stocksy is attracting. His profile page on Stocksy showcases his globe-trotting style, from portraits of a Samburu tribesman in Kenya to Vietnamese women in a pond of lotus flowers. His images have sold to clients ranging from travel sites to financial institutions.

    “The stock photography industry has become much more competitive, and many photographers are definitely struggling due to the current price war for images,” he said.

    He said he found the Stocky site easy to upload photos, create a portfolio page and track his sales. And he likes the fact that any member of the cooperative can submit an idea for discussion or to be put to a vote.

    When Ms. Wettlaufer and Mr. Livingstone set out to create Stocksy, they considered making it a nonprofit organization, but decided to form a digital cooperative (“Think more artist respect and support, less patchouli,” reads the website).

    Stocksy is what’s known as a multi-stakeholder cooperative, with three classes of shares: one for executives, one for staff and a third class for photographers. There is no fee to join or annual dues; members pay just $1 for their share of stock. That collaborative approach has helped the upstart thrive in a crowded and competitive market.

    Stocksy’s customers include major media names, such as the magazines Glamour and Elle, as well as start-ups and small businesses.

    Vanessa Bruce said she was mesmerized when she came across an ad for Stocksy while flipping through a magazine. The images were “clean but quirky,” said Ms. Bruce, who was then a brand manager for ReferralMob, a job referral site. She licensed several Stocksy photos, including one of a dog and a dinosaur that inspired language for a ReferralMob ad: “Match your friends with unique opportunities,” the ad read.

    That Stocksy was owned by photographers was even more satisfying. “That made us love them even more,” said Ms. Bruce, who is now a co-founder of a marketing and branding agency called Six Things.

    Stocksy’s revenue doubled last year to $7.9 million. More than half, $4.3 million, was paid out in royalties. After that and other operational costs, Stocksy last year generated its first “surplus revenue,” or what is akin to profit at co-ops. This allowed it to pay a dividend to members for the first time, totaling $200,000.

    Stocksy’s success may be a model for other digital cooperatives taking on behemoths in other industries. In San Francisco, Loconomics has started an online cooperative for professional services, from massage to graphic design, comparable to TaskRabbit.

    Others are developing profit-sharing platforms for filmmakers, domestic workers, taxi drivers and musicians.

    Some business models are involving workers more but forgoing the co-op route. Juno, a new on-demand car service app being tested in New York, plans to take a smaller cut of the fares and will set aside half of its founding shares for its drivers.

    These smaller upstarts, however, face an uphill battle against heavily funded and entrenched competitors that have benefited from a self-enforcing “network effect.” A large user base gives companies like Uber more prominence, and thus more visibility. The cooperatives also don’t have the billions in venture capital backing them.

    “There’s no way we can ever outspend those giant companies,” Ms. Wettlaufer acknowledged.

    But some consumers, workers and regulators are starting to push back against what they see as abuses in the sharing economy. Various lawsuits and proposed laws are aimed at protecting workers, and the descriptions of users’ negative experiences that have become widely publicized have hurt the image of the once-vaunted technology unicorns.

    The flow of venture capital that subsidized rock-bottom consumer prices is drying up, and some companies are raising money at lower valuations than they did previously.

    Even iStock’s new owner, Getty Images, has struggled under $2.6 billion in debt that it was saddled with after it was acquired in 2012 by the private equity firm Carlyle Group.

    There is room for cooperatives to flourish alongside big competitors, some in the industry say. Craig Shapiro, founder and managing partner at Collaborative Fund, a venture firm based in New York, has backed highflying on-demand platforms including TaskRabbit and Lyft. But he said he saw the selling point of co-ops.

    “As a shareholder in some of these businesses, I am hopeful that they’ll all be successful,” Mr. Shapiro said. “But models that reward the members who are generating value will ultimately win.”

    Against this backdrop, Stocksy’s leaders see opportunity to grow. The company plans to add another 100 photographers by the end of the year and expand into video. It hopes that having quality photographers who are part owners will help it stand apart from the competition. “It’s loving what we do,” Ms. Wettlaufer said.