How a Teenaged Passion for Photography Turned into 500px, the World’s Largest Photo Sharing Community

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Evgeny Tchebotarev was 17 years old and living in Toronto, Ontario, when his girlfriend chided him: If he loved photography so much, why didn’t he own a camera?

The year was 2002. Tchebotarev took the criticism to heart and bought his first camera, a Canon Elan 7e.

Today, he’s the Bill Gates of 500px, the world’s premier photo-sharing-and-selling online digital community, tallying more than 5 million registered members. Each month, 20 million people click on to peruse the photography, which is divided into multiple categories like portraits and landscapes. The company’s 58 employees are scattered at two offices in Toronto and Silicon Valley.

But 500px is more than just a fun place to hang out, look at pictures and chat with like-minded people. Its success illuminates the business value of online digital communities. 500px took the well-worn maxim, “If we build it, they will come,” and attached a suffix: “And once they come, we will take their money.”

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