Many companies are founded on inspiration or imitation. But Mark Getty, a grandson of the billionaire oilman J. Paul Getty, and Jonathan Klein, an investment banker who had been Getty’s boss, started theirs with a checklist. Tired of crafting deals for others, the pair came up with strict criteria for their own dream business. It had to be global, operating in a fragmented industry ready for consolidation, and on the cusp of change. And the less risk the better. “We didn’t want to fix something that was broken,” says Klein.
Although the business they started in 1995, Getty Images, didn’t have a big idea behind it like a Twitter or Facebook, it’s proven just as revolutionary. If Google is essential to navigating the Web, Getty has become essential to visualizing it. Cobbled together through acquisitions, Getty is the world’s largest photo and video agency, and its database of 80 million images is the raw material from which many of the Web’s slide shows and photo galleries are made. A search for its images of happy people, for instance, turns up 626,317 results. That depth allows Getty to license its image trove online to all manner of bloggers and websites, businesses small and large, advertisers, newspapers, and magazines (including this one).