Storyblocks, the subscription-based stock media service, today announced that it has been acquired by private equity firm Great Hill Partners. The firm previously backed companies like Wayfair (and then exited that specific investment in 2017) and Custom Ink. Great Hill also acquired Gizmodo Media Group in 2019. Storyblocks and Great Hill did not disclose the price of the acquisition.
Storyblocks was founded in 2009 and raised about $18.5 million since its launch. Over the years, it went through a few changes. Its early focus was on video content, and until 2017, it operated under the VideoBlocks moniker (before that, it was FootageFirm). The company's focus was always on its buffet-style subscription service, though it also offered an "à la carte" marketplace for one-time purchases. Only a small fraction of users actually bought from the marketplace, so last year, it doubled down on its subscription library.
"Our mission was really all about this idea of affordability and access," Storyblocks CEO TJ Leonard told me ahead of today's announcement. "That's core to our DNA. It always will be. But as we look to the future, we see ourselves supporting our customers across their entire workflow as they work to keep up with the content demand of their audience. You wrap all that together and it felt like the moment was right to take the next step. Updata, North Atlantic Capital, QED [Investors] -- all of our early investors -- have done an awesome job supporting the business over the last eight years to help us get to this point. But Great Hill brings a track record -- and I think an expertise -- that is perfect for this next stage for us."
Leonard, who just like the rest of the team is staying on, noted that Storyblocks is profitable and wasn't actively trying to raise any capital to sustain its business or looking for an exit. Instead, he argued, this sale was simply a logical progression.
"We've long felt that even though the business is more than 10 years old, there's still a lot of chapters left in our story. We're really excited to continue to chase them down," he said. "And we've said all along that if we were going to find a new partner, our first criteria was that they needed to believe in the same mission and vision that we had, they needed to believe the same market opportunity that we saw -- and they needed to feel like we had the right model and the right team to go take advantage of that opportunity. As we got to know Great Hill better, it was clear that we were really well aligned across all those important points."
He also noted that he tends to think of Great Hill as "a growth-oriented private equity investor, almost a growth equity investor masquerading with a private equity structure," given that the firm tends to acquire companies but then also often spins them out again. "All of our conversations have been oriented around how do we change what's working today and accelerate it. How do we take our long-term strategic growth plan that sets certain goals over the next five years and accomplish them in three," he said.
Storyblocks will continue to operate as usual and continue to invest in its content libraries, Leonard told me. COVID-19 only made the demand for stock footage go up (Storyblocks now sees twice as many downloads per week compared to the start of 2020), but the company was already seeing a growing demand for its service before the pandemic, in large parts because the demand for video content only continues to increase.
"This doesn't feel like an ending. It feels like we have a lot of good work to do," said Leonard. "It feels like in a lot of ways, the market is just kind of catching up to what we've believed since our founding, which is that if you can help people create more high-quality video content, do it at an affordable price, do it in a way that saves them time, then there's a huge opportunity out there."