It was born as a platform for creators and has caused a sensation among teenagers. Without pretending, VSCO has entered the list of apps fashion that hooks to Generation Z. More than 75% of its 30 million users are under 25 years old. It presumes what differentiates it from the rest: in it there are no followers, nor ‘I like you’, nor comments. Not having that social pressure is what attracts most VSCO and its main advantage over other platforms where adolescents share content and are in the spotlight for their association with anxiety and depression problems.
This is what Greg Lutze, co-founder of VSCO and speaker at Web Summit 2019, where we interview him.
How was VSCO born?
It was in 2011. My co-founder was a photographer and I was a designer. We wanted to create a platform from creators to creators, a place where people could create and express themselves. Then, over time, as the community grew, we realized that many teenagers were beginning to join.
What they tell us is that the fact that there are no followers, comments or “I like you” removes a lot of pressure. They feel that it is a space where they can be themselves. They often say, “If you want to know who I really am, look at my VSCO.” In most social networks you have to be very careful with how you show yourself, it is a manipulated view of who you are, more personal brand oriented. In VSCO there is no social pressure to always wear the right clothes or eat the right food.
Do you talk to them?
Very much. We sit and listen, and we realize that we are no longer developing VSCO for us but for this incredible creative community that mostly makes up Generation Z.
Why do you like VSCO, beyond the issue of social pressure?
Originally people joined because we have a very good photo editing tool. That has changed in the last year and a half. Now they come mostly from the community.
Did you expect this avalanche of young users?
Honestly, it caught us by surprise, although, if you think about our mission, it makes sense. We want to help all people fall in love with their creativity and provide them with the necessary tools to develop it, as well as inspiration. The first part is provided by the platform and the second by the community. We also want to help you connect and offer education to improve your creations. Our prism is a very holistic creative journey.
Why are there no followers, comments or “likes” on VSCO?
The basis of everything is the idea that these social media metrics are not really linked to creativity and expression. They are an added element. At the beginning we had a conversation with a photographer who told us that on other platforms he only shares landscape photos because the portraits, which he really likes to do, don’t get enough clicks. Listening to that was disappointing and sad. We thought we should enable a space where people like him could feel free.
The reasoning is the same in the case of teenagers. Many of them are afraid to publish what they want because they worry about not getting enough ‘like’. That makes no sense to us. When you walk through a gallery you don’t take a golden sticker from your pocket to indicate that you like something. That would be very strange. You simply enjoy the photo, the art learning process and, as an artist, have fun creating. We want people to know that they are great as they are and that what they are creating and sharing is great as it is.
Far from feeling good, the appearance or aggravation of anxiety, depression or feelings of social isolation among adolescents is related to social networks
It is very difficult to constantly live in that world where you are all the time looking for validation in what other people think. They walk between the fear of missing something and the need to show the world to someone they are not, wearing a mask. The pressure they face is overwhelming. We all feel it in some way but it is especially pronounced if you are growing up and trying to discover your identity, who you are and how you fit into the world.
To this is added that more and more teenagers aspire to be influencers. Does VSCO have any responsibility for it?
We don’t see that kind of behavior on our platform because we don’t reward or incentivize it. What we do appreciate is that there are people who have a huge following on social networks and who use VSCO to share their real life. For example, a girl who is a model and has half a million followers uses Instagram as her brand, her professional public face, but refers to VSCO for the personal, the everyday.
In most social networks you have to be very careful with how you show yourself, it is a manipulated view of who you are
In any case, I would say that we all have a responsibility for what we express and how we influence and guide people. In VSCO we have a voice and we believe that we should not be mere spectators but guides or mentors. Our mission is to help everyone fall in love with their creativity. We want to celebrate a world of creative differences where people are themselves. That is what makes the world a really special place.
The “VSCO girl” meme has gone viral and has starred in all kinds of articles
It represents the stereotype of an upper middle class teenage girl who wears a certain type of baggy dress, little makeup and speaks a certain way, and who uses water bottles and metal straws. It was born from a subset of users of our platform that has made it fashionable. It is a form of expression, adolescent culture, of what young people capture in life. They are experimenting and discovering what is important to them and who they are. If you go deeper, what is more interesting is that, even at a very young age, they are aware of environmental problems [de ahí las pajitas de metal para salvar a las tortugas]. In addition, as a result of this meme, many cosmetic brands are reporting losses because Generation Z is wearing less makeup: they feel more comfortable with others seeing them as they are.
Given the competition between social networks and content platforms and their volatility, how to ensure the survival of VSCO? What will be next?
Our community is asking for new ways to express themselves. We know they love photos but also want to make videos, designs and collages, and we are creating tools that allow doing so and combining different types of media. We are also partnering with Snapchat to launch new lenses and filters. On the other hand, we know that users want to connect with smaller groups and collaborate creatively, so we will enable ways to find people with common interests. We have to continue evolving and look for new tools to meet your needs.
Founded in 2011, it launched its subscription business in 2017 and exceeded two million subscribers in 2018, a figure that they expect to double soon in 2020. They have more than 20 million active users per week and have raised $ 90 million in two rounds of investment (series A and series B).