The most popular brand-related hashtags on Instagram don't belong just to Nike, Disney, Starbucks, and other big-name consumer companies. Try Visual Supply Co.
If that name doesn't ring a bell, it's well known among photo aficionados who use the company's VSCO Cam, a mobile app that lets users edit and share their images. It's been a regular on the list of the 20 most downloaded photo apps ever since its debut almost two years ago, according to App Annie, an analytics company.
That popularity has drawn interest from venture capital firms, including a fresh $30 million Series B round from Glynn Capital Management and existing investors Accel Partners and Goldcrest Investments, the company told Bloomberg.
VSCO, pronounced VISS-CO, raised $40 million a year ago. The company, based in Oakland, declined to disclose its valuation, but it has more than doubled in the past year, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Founded in 2011, VSCO sells photo editing tools that integrate with Adobe Lightroom. Its VSCO Film product line, which contains a collection of "presets" that emulate different analog film stocks, typically sells for $119 each. The company's free mobile app has no doubt attracted a bigger audience.
"There's just a massive flight to quality that's happening on the Internet and the mobile phone now," said Ryan Sweeney, a partner at Accel. "The community is awesome, it's authentic."
The application has more than 20 million monthly active users, according to a person with knowledge of the company's metrics. More than 80 percent of VSCO users are international.
When people post photos to Instagram after editing them in VSCO Cam, the app suggests using its hashtag, which provides an apt metric for the software's growth. #VSCOCam is a top brand-related hashtag on Instagram, as is #VSCO.
Given its high-end approach to photography, VSCO could be the next Getty Images or Adobe Systems for mobile. Or it could look more like Etsy, where photographers sell photos to make a living.
While VSCO's community of users is nowhere nearly as robust as Facebook's Instagram, the most popular photo-sharing application, that's partly by design.
"VSCO, it's not a place for all of your photos to live," said VSCO co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Joel Flory. "It's a place for your best content."
VSCO's platform celebrates something that most applications run away from: It's curated by hand. The company selects 300 to 400 images a day to showcase on its website and mobile app.
"We noticed that it wasn't that people wanted more content in the world," Flory said. "There's an overconsumption, if you will—people are looking for a curated voice."
That's the beauty and potentially the ceiling for VSCO. It's happily, wonderfully niche. It's endearing to photographers.
"I really like that it's the size that it is," said professional photographer Marianna Jamadi, an early VSCO user who takes photos for such brands as Vera Wang. "I think what makes it really special and unique is really that hands-on approach. So I think it's more important to do something with a sense of quality and a really authentic voice."
VSCO said it isn't profitable and declined to disclose its revenue. The startup did turn a profit before it took its first round of venture capital money in May 2014, but then it increased spending to expand the company.
VSCO purchased the photo printing company Artifact Uprising and its 14-person team in January. For now, Artifact Uprising, which continues to operate independently, lets people print their own photographs off Instagram and VSCO. It's not a big leap to imagine that Artifact Uprising could help photographers sell prints of their own photos to other people.
"I think all creatives and a lot of the users on VSCO would love nothing more than to earn a living via VSCO," Accel's Sweeney said.