Who: Alex Welch, 31, and Darren Crystal, 37
What: Photobucket.com, a site that allows users to upload, share and link photos, videos and graphics.
Where: Denver, Colorado
Anyone with a MySpace profile or blog will probably tell you they've visited Photobucket.com at least once. Photobucket is the No. 1 photo site on the web, attracting close to 24 million visitors a month who express themselves online through uploading, sharing and linking photos, videos and graphics on their social networking spaces.
Photobucket is one of the top 25 sites on the web in terms of traffic, but it wasn't too long ago that founders Alex Welch and Darren Crystal were working out of a basement, maxing out their credit cards and taking out third mortgages on their homes to fund a new concept in third-party linking that was missing from other photo sites.
"This whole idea of linking images and videos was something users wanted to do, but the traditional photo sharing sites didn't allow them to do it," says Welch, pointing to sites like Snapfish and Ofoto--acquired by Kodak in 2001--that were overlooking younger, self-expressive users that wanted to share their personal media online to develop social identities, not create photo albums. "We were the first site to go out and provide that service."
If At First You Don't Succeed .
Welch is no stranger to dotcom startups. Before starting Photobucket in 2003, he launched Picturefuse, another photo sharing site that no longer exists. Picturefuse visitors kept trying to use the site to link photos to their eBay auctions, message boards and social networks, but the site wouldn't support it. Welch decided to scratch his original startup to create a new site that met his users' demands.
"You have to learn from your mistakes," says Welch, who wasn't afraid to try again. "I didn't do everything right at Picturefuse--and I haven't done everything right at Photobucket--but we've done more right than wrong."
Despite its rapid growth, Welch and Crystal continue to make their users a priority by not only listening to them, but also continually updating the site to meet their needs.
"We continue to focus on giving users more tools and more ways to share media," says Welch. "The amount of people self-expressing and creating and taking photos and images has just gone through the roof. They've built out their online identities and they want visual content to go with that."
New features, such as one-click posts, picture slides and video sharing have made Photobucket hugely popular with MySpace users, creating a relationship largely responsible for the company's acquisition by digital media giant Fox Interactive Media in July 2007.
It's a huge move that Welch and Crystal hope will take the Photobucket brand global, adding yet another rung in their climb to the top.