This Afrocentric digital startup is out to disrupt the stock photo industry

ebonado is a new digital startup that is building what it calls “the world’s first Afro-centric stock photo marketplace.” It also lays claim to being the first photo marketplace to use the “Pay What You Want” business model.

BusyContinent caught up with one of the co-founders, Daniel Damilola Nejo for an in-depth email interview about how exactly ebonado will go about disrupting the stock photo marketplace, as shared below.

Who are the people behind ebonado?

So, was created by me and my co-founder Saâd. I am based in London and he’s based in Morocco. 

I started off my digital entrepreneurial journey in Lagos, Nigeria as a digital designer and web designer in 2013. I met Saad in 2016 when I needed some help with a project I was working on. You see, I am a lazy front-end designer and I reached out to him for some backend work and we built a strong relationship ever since.

We connected because we were both pretty young at that time and we were both kids trying to “create a better circumstance for ourselves” using our tech skills.

Fast forward to 2015, I decided to make the move to London to further my education and acquire a Masters in Business Information Systems Management from Middlesex University and after acquiring my degree, I was fortunate enough to be endorsed by the UK Government as an Exceptional Talent in Digital Technology due to my work in the field and potential growth my future work will bring to the UK, this endorsement comes with a 5 years Visa, that’s how I was able to stay back in London.

Saâd I.E Kossair is a Moroccan entrepreneur, who started his journey in 2016 as a freelance Web Developer, he found himself in freelancing as it allowed him to pursue his entrepreneurial goals. Until 2018, he worked on various projects both locally and across the US and UK, when he put the experience he gained from working with teams across the globe and with talented project managers into use and founded his startup (translation: my home) – a Moroccan home services startup that still operates today.

Saâd also being an amateur photographer and a film making geek is what drew him to starting this venture with me and giving it the time and commitment it deserves.

After spending about a week ruminating on the idea of starting an Afrocentric stock photo platform, one that is unapologetically pro-Black, I finally decided to send Saad a message about my intentions of starting ebonado (at the time, I didn’t have a name for it) and he was really stoked as well that there wasn’t a major Afrocentric stock photo platform in 2019 and that was it!

We started thinking and brainstorming about names, planning the development phase and boom! was created and went live early 2020!

What inspired you to start ebonado?

Being a creative front-end designer since 2013, I have had the privilege of working with a lot of clients, I would say about 70% of my client base are black business owners and entrepreneurs based around the world and obviously, for any project I worked on, there was always a need to ensure that the design is somewhat a representation of the business owner.

So I’ve always had to find and use high quality photos of Black people on the sliders of their website for example, or the inner pages or even their marketing materials, basically – I just had to ensure that their designs were not filled with regular “stock photo of a white man smiling in a suit with his thumb raised high” kind of photos and that has always been a challenge… finding high quality photos of Black people doing regular everyday stuff.

Even though this has always been a challenge, I never paid it no mind. My mindset has always been “someone else will create it” up until I had a one-hour phone call some months ago!

I was working on a website for a Texas-based client, he’s a Black business owner and very, very, very pro-Black!

The website was meant to be for his corporate company and his words were “make sure the images are inclusive of all races”, those were his words but I guess he forgot because when I sent him the link to preview the website, he called me immediately and we spoke for more than an hour about how the photos of Black people I used where not as “interesting or real” as the photos of their Caucasian counterparts and also how there were less black photos compared to the others.

Since his company is a corporate business, the images I had to use were of corporate and smart looking business men and women but I had a very hard time finding high quality natural looking photos of Black men and women in the same type of professional look I was able to find easily for their caucasian counterparts and I did what I always did when it came to stock photos – complained and blamed the system.

My exact words were “Sir, it’s not my fault, I’ve always had issues finding high quality photos of Black men and women on the internet, but don’t worry I will search deeper and see what I can do”

Then, while I was telling him this and in my state of complaint and finger-pointing, something in my mind just lit up! I said out loud on the phone, “Why don’t I create an Afrocentric stock photo platform and solve fill this gap, I’ve been facing this same issue for years now? Why don’t I create a platform so that we can actually have a place that has the highest quality photos of Black people doing natural things in the same way you would find for other races?

That was music to the ears of this man, remember – he’s a very, very, very pro-Black man and he said “Daniel, you should do it, don’t just say it! Do it! I am behind you”.

That was the convo that made me get off my ass and decided to do something about a pain point that I’ve had for years and I know a lot of other people have as well.

So, I set out to do the same thing Daymond John did with FUBU in the ’90s in the clothing industry but this time, for the stock photo space.

What problem/gap in the market are you looking to solve/fill?

It’s really a very simple problem – to make it very easy to find high quality photos of black people doing “regular” things from the eyes and view point of different photographers, not some stereotyped photo of what Black people do or are meant to do.

I want to be able to find thousands of photos of Black men doing yoga, or a Black kid with her Black father in the playground, or a Black woman running, hiking, snowboarding or riding a bicycle. Basically, we want to be able to see photos of Black people doing every day stuff!

It’s that simple!

What exactly does ebonado do?

So, is an Afrocentric stock photo marketplace where photographers share their Afrocentric photos and people from around the world – creatives, designers, startups, companies, the average Donny, basically whoever needs high quality non-stereotypical photos of Black people for their projects, work or designs can come and find them in the thousands and hopefully millions.

We offer our photographers an avenue to get paid for their creativity, work and talent through our “Pay What You Want” (PWYW) business model where people are able to enter their own desired amount for photos they intend to download and make use of.

We believe that you cannot put a price tag on creativity so we’ve chosen not to go the usual route most stock photo platforms go which is having a set price for photos or locking people into a monthly subscription plan and being creatives ourselves, we also believe that fellow creatives should make money from their time, work and talent, so we chose not to go the “free stock photo” route as well. We decided to create the first stock photo platform that is inspired by “integrity and value for money”.

It may sound like a recipe for ruin on the front-end, but because is more than just a stock photo marketplace and more of a movement and platform that is here for change and to make a stand, our PWYW model is driven by the psychology that if given the financial freedom you’ll pay handsomely for what think something is worth – and even more!

What sets you apart from other players in your industry?

We are niche!

That’s one of our key USPs.

Also, like I’ve said so many times already and I love saying it – is more than just a stock photo marketplace of Afrocentric photos, we’ve created a unique system where every time a photo is downloaded and paid for regardless of the amount, 10% is donated to charities and causes that supports the Black community around the world.

The donation is very unique because it’s a joint effort between us as a platform and our community of photographers because 5% comes from both parties.

This means besides making money from their photos on, photographers are actually touching lives with their donations and they can track this from their dashboard. They can see how much they’ve donated to causes and this is something that no other stock photo platform does, this goes back to my saying that “ebonado is more than just a stock photo platform with Afrocentric photos”, it’s a movement.

Both our community of photographers and people who download photos from our platform are collectively making a stand, changing and touching lives and balancing the web.

What is your unique vision?

The unique vision of ebonado is to balance the web.

We want to ultimately create the largest collection of Afrocentric photos in the world! A platform where you can find ANY type of photo of Black and African people.

Think of any photo and you can get it on without having to add “black” in front of your search term.

How is ebonado doing so far?

As of today, we are only just one month old and it’s been crazy busy since we launched with photographers from all over the world uploading their photos, joining our cause and sending 100s of messages about how “ was a needed platform and how excited they are to be part of this”

Within our first month and while we are still in beta mode, more than 6000 Photos have been uploaded by over 3000 photographers based around the world.

We have launched and wrapped our ELEMENT X awards which we launched throughout April and saw thousands of creative photographers share their work and art with us. Our winner was announced on the 31st of April and was awarded $200!

How has it been funded so far?

For now, we are not funded by external parties. All the funding is in-house, we are spending more time on perfecting our craft, shaping the platform, finding new ways to be innovative and supporting our community of creatives. 

That is the most important thing for now but as things progress, we will see what the future holds.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Honestly, any platform like ours is only as big as it’s community of creatives, so our challenge which isn’t so much of a big challenge right now is on-boarding as many creatives & photographers as we can and getting them to see our vision to balance the web.

I say it’s not a big challenge because we are getting influx of photos being uploaded by different photographers around the world on a daily basis, so it’s a process and we will continue to grow!