Joel Flory

Co-founder & CEO of VSCO

Most of us are familiar with (and, hopefully, are avid users of) VSCO’s visual storytelling platform. This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with the beloved app’s co-founder—Joel Flory—for a better glimpse of the company’s ever-growing community.

Over the years since the establishment of VSCO in 2011, Joel and his team have continued to set the standard for what it means to advance in both tech and creative worlds. Joel is truly a strong visionary, and it was an honor getting to dive into how he’s gone about fostering a place of genuine creative expression—both in and outside the offices of VSCO.

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Prior to co-founding one of the world’s most renowned photo apps, what were you up to? How did that story lead to the development of VSCO? Prior to starting VSCO, I was a full time Wedding and Portrait photographer working alongside my wife for over 10 years. But my love for photography and the arts can be traced back to my earliest memories and my mom taking me around to museums and always encouraging me to make stuff and be creative. As a photographer, I was always dreaming about how I could go about building something around what I loved that could impact a lot of people, and that led Greg and I to starting VSCO. We wanted to build a company for creators, focusing on their needs for tools and a community to share to and be inspired from.

I understand that at VSCO, building the perfect team is seen as the best investment. I’d love to learn more about the company’s approach to team building—particularly how you’ve gone about creating that ideal team, and your thoughts on nurturing that team. Team building really starts with being intentional about the kind of team we’re creating via hiring, and then putting thought and rigor behind what we encourage and support through our core values. We use that lens to guide our decision making around all things people related. We have a creative group who cares deeply about our vision and what we’re building. Our amazing recruiting team is embedded in that vision and helps to identify candidates who will add to our established culture. Because company culture and in turn, the people we hire, is so key to a healthy business, it’s important that I interview every single person that is hired at VSCO. Greg, my co-founder, and I meet with each new hire on their first day and talk them through the vision of why we started VSCO and how they can play an impactful part in helping drive that vision.

“Because company culture and in turn, the people we hire, is so key to a healthy business, it’s important that I interview every single person that is hired at VSCO.

I love that you take the initiative to interview everyone who’s hired on. Can you give me a better glimpse of what that established culture looks like? How have you found it best to engage everyone in the company? VSCO believes in building a place for creative expression without the anxiety of social pressures and celebrating that which makes us human, welcoming unique and personal backgrounds and experiences. We’re proud to foster that value within VSCO, as we continue to focus on building an inclusive and diverse culture. The best way for me to engage with people is to simply make time to walk around the office and to be sure to talk with everyone and ask them how they are doing. I tend to do this over breakfast or lunch and I am always going for walks with people to grab a coffee.

The best way for me to engage with people is to simply make time to walk around the office and to be sure to talk with everyone and ask them how they are doing.

With an ever-growing community of VSCO users (and I’m sure—list of priorities,) what do your roles look like now, as opposed to what they were when the company was formed in 2011? On one end, the role of a CEO never changes: owning the vision of where we are going and making sure we have what we need as a company to get there. With that said, in the early years, that also meant I was running support, social, finance, legal, and so on. We all wore many hats and did what needed to be done. Today, I spend my time focused on employee recruiting and retention, working with our leadership team on organizational health and effectiveness, and diving deep into the product.

Over the years, VSCO has continued to set the bar for what it means to advance in both tech and creative worlds. Can you talk to me about your approach toward innovation and how you’ve gone about thriving in the creative world? It’s really quite simple. Always put the creator first. We tend to focus on what brings joy and delight and that allows someone to express themselves in a way that we want to express ourselves. It’s also very important to us that we are active participants in our own VSCO community—engaging and learning from our community. 

What exactly does engaging with the VSCO community look like? Everything from events and meetups, to collaborating on content, to VSCO curators highlighting the work that people share on VSCO.

It’s really quite simple. Always put the creator first.

What are some of the current challenges you’re facing in your work? How are you finding it best to simplify these challenges? Our objective is to continue to provide ways for our users to express their visual communication and creativity. We have so many ideas on how we want to go about enhancing the product and experience. There’s never a shortage of ideas, but we have to focus on our unique point of view and vision for the future and stick to it.

I’m curious—when you set out to choose a home for VSCO, why was the city of Oakland such a certainty? How important is the city of Oakland to the success and general ethos of VSCO? I’m from the East Bay and have always loved the city of Oakland. I tell people that Friday nights at the Oakland Museum of California is the best place on earth. You see people from all walks of life celebrating with music, dance, food and art and it is a beautiful thing to see. I also love the fact that every day when I go on a walk for a coffee at a nearby coffee shop I’m not hearing conversations on valuation and rounds of funding, but rather hearing all sorts of talks from chefs to artists to writers to teachers to accountants and so on. I find it extremely inspiring and so does the team here at VSCO.

Are you still dabbling with photography often? The reality is that I am always making stuff and expressing myself. I don’t stop taking photos or DSCO’s and you can see a lot of those posted here: http://vsco.co/joel

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