Interview with Lee Corkran, BrightQube

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo


Carlsbad-based BrightQube ( recently raised a round of funding from the Tech Coast Angels, for the firm's online photo marketplace and software. We recently caught up with Lee Corkran, the firm's CEO, to hear more about the company.

What's the idea behind Brightqube?

Lee Corkran: The idea behind BrightQube, is really enabling a broad marketplace for visual media. We looked at the industry around photography, and how it is currently being served--a number of us come from the industry--and we though there must be a better way to get pictures into the hands of the creative community, as well as allow much broader participation for everybody making and selling pictures.

How is your site different from the many micro-stock web sites out there like iStockPhoto, Fotolia, etc?

Lee Corkran: For one thing, it's the way the images are found and discovered on the site. For BrightQube, we were looking to turn visual search on its head. You're not looking at page after page of search results, instead, we use the current rich Internet to create an interface which provides much more abundant results to search. It's a more immersive, light-table approach, which is interactive like Google Maps. You can zoom in, zoom out, click and drag. Fundamentally it's a matter of getting the creatives--the image buyers--in front of the right image for creative choices. Right now, anything found past page three is never seen by a buyer, who doesn't have the time or patience for page-based search. Our approach to visual search is combined with the true ideal of allowing massive participation by anyone who has pictures to sell. There are niche players around microstock, where they use crowd sourcing and edit down to some images, and there are the pro sites like Getty and Corbis, whereas we embrace both ends of the spectrum. We will be deploying an open marketplace for anyone to upload what they wish to sell, and price it as they will alongside all the collections out there. We have a full spectrum--it's not just microstock, it's also premium and user-generated content, in an open market.

Is that user generated photography available now?

Lee Corkran: It will be pretty soon. We're in the first phase, which is what the initial funding is all about, which is building a technology and e-commerce platform. In doing so, we've managed to attract nearly 3 million images from both microstock and premium agencies. It's the first time this broad spectrum has been brought together on a single site. You'll find images that are comparable to microstock from iStock, as well as over 40 premium collections, including materials from Getty, Corbis, Jupiter, and other great niche collections. We're currently in the early stages of a user-generated on ramp now, we are looking to put that into private alpha in the next couple of months, with private beta in early fall.

What's the story behind the site and why you started it?

Lee Corkran: The eureka moment, the lightning strike of the idea came from a kind of epiphany. I had been in the industry for twenty years as a professional photographer, and happened to be represented by Corbis. I looked at the state of the industry, and saw that it was hard to find the pictures I was looking for, either from the desktop or online. I saw that we needed to enable an interface that really takes advantage of metadata, and provides a rich interface, and creates what should be a fun and fulfilling approach to finding pictures. Combined with the advancement of digital camera technology, and the broad distribution platform of the internet, it's an enabler for broad participation. We saw a really fundamental shift occurring in photography, and we manifested that to create a disruptive and innovative play.

Talk a bit more about your background in the industry?

Lee Corkran: I started out as a professional photographer. I was a combat photographer in the Air Force in Europe for eight years, and then I covered national events in Washington DC. For the past ten years, I've been running Internet product development for a number of photo sites. I got a masters in Interactive Media Design from RIT, and worked for Kodak, HP, and a few startups along the way, including Digital Railroad and Pixology. I have been on both sides--not only behind the lens, but behind the mouse--as photography has shifted to digital and online.

So what's the business model behind the company?

Lee Corkran: At the simplest level, it's an open marketplace. Connecting buyers and sellers is what we do around visual media. There is a certain participation we partake in that transaction. For the UGC, people will be able to subscribe to sell their imagery. It will be a combination of revenue streams, both commissions and subscriptions.

As a professional photographer, what do you think of all this amateur competition from people, things like Flickr, etc.?

Lee Corkran: I think it is all well and great. The democratization allows anyone who believes they've got the talent, and desire, to shoot great pictures, and that shouldn't be restricted. I think there is a joy to photography, and the business around it should be very beneficial to everyone. It's great that everyone participates. Frankly, in this kind of environment, talent will always be king. If you're a good photographer, and can find a market, you can do well. BrightQube was purpose built to provide that market. It's for someone like me who thousands of photos which are not represented by Corbis, to everyone on Flickr who may want to see their photos in a marketplace, and be self-actualized as a photographer. That's the beauty of the Internet.

Finally, talk about your experience getting funded?

Lee Corkran: It's been really great. I noticed early on, looking for seed funding to get the proof of concept going, that the Tech Coast Angels had announced some interesting seed funding initiatives. I had applied, and managed to get through the screening process, and was the first seed investment they made a year ago. We have been able to prove out and build our technology platform, and remove the technology risk around the investment, so they've come in for more participation. I find that angels are extremely helpful in their business background, experience, insights into further fundraising, and have been a really welcome surprise. Going from a solo entrepreneur, to bringing outsiders into a business, I am learning from them, and they are learning from me.


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