Say 'Cheese!' WebShots.com helps bring digital photography to the masses

A conversation with company founder and co-CEO Narendra Rocherolle.

Editor’s note: Dana Greenlee’s technology column is running a day early to make room for stories in Friday’s paper.

Digital images and photography online is fast becoming one of the other true killer uses of the Internet. This is evidenced by the growth of major online photo sites like SnapFish.com, Ofoto.com, Shutterfly.com and WebShots.com. These sites have gathered millions of registered users who want high quality digital prints made from all those digital camera photos being snapped everyday.

WebShots.com has emerged as the people’s favorite online photo service site with over 32 million registered users. I am a subscriber and visit every day to add another professional photo to my PC wallpaper collection.
WebShots.com founder and co-CEO Narendra Rocherolle took a few minutes to explain how his company got so big so fast online.

Q: What do you offer from your site that has made Webshots.com stand out so much?

Rocherolle: Webshots.com is the largest photo sharing site on the Internet. Essentially, people come there to browse and find photos, and they also come to share photos.

We’ve had a curious history. We’ve been around since 1995. We started in San Diego as a company selling screensavers at retail. It didn’t work all that well. Fortunately, the Web came around the same time and we were able to move the screensaver piece online and people really liked that. Then digital cameras came on the scene and suddenly you have this incredible, explosive growth around photo sharing.

Q: You and your co-founder had another bump on the road with the company, right?

Rocherolle: In 1999, we were bought by a company called Excite@Home. They were a big ISP crossed with a portal. Unfortunately, they went bankrupt after two years. We didn’t want to see Webshots.com die as we felt it was a profitable business. We were actually able to purchase the assets out of bankruptcy court and now we’ve been a stand-alone company for two years. We’re profitable. We’re growing like mad. Everything is looking very positive for the business.

Q: You were lucky enough to swoop in and rescue your baby from bankruptcy! On top of that, you got a large amount of capital when Excite@Home bought Webshots.com. Then, a few years later, you had to only pay a small amount to get it back – relatively small! It seems to have penciled out very well.

Rocherolle: I’ll caveat that with two things. One was that the deal with Excite was in stock and their stock eventually went to zero. The flip side of that is when you purchase assets back, essentially you are spending a lot of money for something that isn’t necessarily bringing in any money. It certainly was a risk at the time and I’m happy to report it exceeded our expectations. We saw a good business opportunity and a couple of things have aligned to make it a positive experience.

Q: You have 32 employees supporting 32 million registered users. That’s pretty amazing.

Rocherolle: That is one of the things we are proud of. We’ve always been very lean. On any given day we do 30 million page views. That puts us in the top 30 or so destination media properties. We have a very large footprint and it’s supported by a very lean staff.

Q: Webshots.com is part of my daily routine to go get the latest digital picture. What is the difference between you and other photo print sites?

Rocherolle: A lot of people think of our main competitors as Ofoto.com or Shutterfly.com. Those companies are very focused on making a print from your digital image. Webshots has always been excited by the idea that once you have the digital image, there are a lot of things you can do with it. We do let you make prints of your own photos and we sell prints of our professional photos. We are really much more excited about how the digital image can be part of your daily life – things like wallpaper, screensavers, photo messages, e-cards and photo sharing. We like the community of users where you’re able to upload your photos and people can be notified automatically that you’ve added photos – it’s a real spirit of community.

Q: You have a big database of images.

Rocherolle: We now have about 16 million photos in our photo search. You can find a photo or an album of where somebody has been anywhere on earth.

Q: What does the future holds for WebShots.com?

Rocherolle: We have a lot of things in the works. We started to do some things in mobile. Obviously, people are into displaying images on their camera phones so we have a version of the “Daily Photo” that is available on AT&T phones which is doing quite well. One thing that’s coming up pretty soon is widescreen. People are getting plasma TVs and even a lot of computer monitors are widescreen. We’re going to have some very nice widescreen collections.

Q: What would you suggest for someone interested in getting their own Webshots?

Rocherolle: I would recommend that you come to Webshots.com and download our free software. It changes your desktop instantly. You automatically get a sample of ten beautiful, professional images and then with the software you can come to our site and take a picture with you – click on the download link and a photo will come with you. If you have a digital camera, the software also lets you manager your photos, upload and store them and share them. You can make them public and available to the world or you can make them private and share just with people you choose to invite to your album. It’s all about browsing and sharing.

For more conversation with Narendra Rocherolle and Webshots.com, the full interview is online at WebTalkRadio.com.

Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.

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