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Interview with Darren Crystal, CTO of Photobucket

Our interview today is with Darren Crystal, CTO of Photobucket (www.photobucket.com), a popular photo sharing web site that was founded in Denver and currently operates its technical operations here. Photobucket was recently ranked the top photo sharing site by Hitwise, with 44% of the market, and we thought it would be good to connect with the company.

Techrockies.com: For those who aren't familiar with Photobucket, tell us a bit about what the service is about?

Darren Crystal: Photobucket's niche in the market is video and image hosting. We allow you to host your content with us, and use it on other web sites. We consider ourselves more of a utility site than a destination site.

Techrockies: Where are the typical places that people user your service?

Darren Crystal: The typical Photobucket user uses their content on various sites such as, Ebay and craigslist and social networking sites like MySpace, Friendster, Neopets, and places like that. They also use us on any of the numerous message boards and special interest groups. For example, if you're into cars, watches, or antiques, you can share your video or images anywhere your interest is being discussed.

Techrockies: We've seen the recent numbers about how much traffic Photobucket gets -- how did the service manage to get such impressive growth?

Darren Crystal: Photobucket has benefited from a tremendous amount of viral (word of mouth) growth. In addition to that, we've launched an affiliate program, and new tool we call the Jwidget. The Jwidget allows other sites to embed a mini-Photobucket in an iFrame on their web page. This allows users to enjoy much of the Photobucket experience without leaving the web site they are currently using.

Techrockies: We're very interested in the background on the company and its roots in Denver. How did the company come about?

Darren Crystal: Alex, my partner, and I have worked together for a number of years. We were working together here in Denver. He had come upon a niche in the market called "direct linking"--that's how Photobucket works. We give you the html link to embed your image or video somewhere else. Alex had launched another photo sharing site. While people were using it for photo sharing, he noticed an unintended use--for direct linking. We decided to embrace that unintended use. Photobucket was just supposed to be a hobby thing which we did in the evening and in our spare time, but it just kept on growing and growing and growing. At first, we were adding 20 to 50 new users a day, then a hundred of new users--slow, steady growth. However, when we it started to get to a thousand to two thousand users a day, it started to take too much time, so we decided to go out and borrow some money and start building out our own infrastructure. Shortly after, we decided to leave our full time jobs and make a go of it. We actually put our houses up, borrowed money from a bank--the houses were the collateral--and got our initial seed round. Shortly thereafter took our first Series A round of funding from Insight Venture Partners, and you know about our recent Series B from Trinity.

Techrockies: You were telling us that your engineering operations are here in Denver. What's here in Denver versus Palo Alto?

Darren Crystal: Denver has all of our support staff, including content moderation as well as all of our technical staff including software developers, systems and network folks. Our servers and storage are also all here in Denver. In Palo Alto hosts our business development, product marketing, finance, etc. We now have approximately 30 people in Denver.

Techrockies: How is the web site supported?

Darren Crystal: We are supporting ourselves by a number of different revenue streams. Advertising, such as traditional banner ads and premium accounts; which give you additional services. We also have various partnerships with companies such as Qoop, which allows you do interesting printing. Other partnerships off hand are Flock a new brower and FlimLoop a desktop photo sharing application.

Techrockies: Tell us about the decision to go full time...

Darren Crystal: We struggled a lot with that decision, and just getting started. The business at the time was being run on Paypal donations. For a five dollar donation, we were giving you a little extra bandwidth on the site, as well as features. Those five dollar donations were almost paying for the site. We looked at online advertising too, and saw that there was really a business model here. That's when we considered turning it into a full time job. Alex left first, approximately in August of 2004, and I left in October. We received our first funding around March of 2005.

Techrockies: What was your background before Photobucket?

Darren Crystal: Alex and I were both doing software development at the time. Alex's background is business and software development. My background is in systems administration and software development.

Techrockies: Finally, what's next for Photobucket?

Darren Crystal: We are going to spend a fair amount of time concentrating on mobile. We want to make sure you can have the full Photobucket experience via your mobile device, including everything from initial registration for the site to the complete user experience.

Techrockies: Thanks for the interview!