Twenty20’s CEO Matt Munson speaks with We Are Juxt about creating a creative community for artists and mobile photographers by Andres Tardio
As a warm sunset blankets Santa Monica, California, mobile photographers fill a gallery space eagerly. Smiles, laughs and art can be seen and heard throughout the room as canvas pieces hang on white walls.
Rappers Evidence (@mrevidence) and Slug (@atmosphere) have work featured in this gallery, shots they have snapped in their travels as photographers and artists. Skater Tony Hawk has pieces here as well. Evidence and Hawk are on-hand to shake hands, smile next to fans and discover work from other like-minded artists.
Twenty20, then known as Instacanvas, put together this event to bring photographers and photography lovers together for a “Night Out.” The event worked to symbolize how great Twenty20’s reach has become. To think it all started from a basic impression of what mobile photographers needed and wanted.
“We started with a pretty simple idea,” Matt Munson, the company’s co-founder and CEO says in an interview with We Are Juxt. “To let Instagram users sell their photos as canvas art.”
The canvas print adds a layer of surprise to many. “That was shot on an iPhone?” a gallery viewer says as she walks by a piece she admires. “No way!”
This type of reaction is commonplace for Twenty20 pieces, says Munson, who co-founded Twenty20 with Todd Emaus and Kevin Fremon.
“If you see our product in person, it changes your appreciation for that piece of work,” he says.
Still, the mission Twenty20 had as Instacanvas was modest, but that mission would evolve.
That’s because the basic idea ballooned. It overwhelmed the start-up’s core with demand growing within the mobile photography community. Today, the company houses thousands of photographers in more than 30 countries. That type of growth was hard to predict. And since the demand begged for a pivot in the company’s strategy, Instacanvas became Twenty20.
A new strategy formed. A new mission developed.
“Twenty20 is a marketplace allowing users to buy and sell Instagram photos as beautiful physical art pieces, and we’re one of the fastest growing start ups in Southern California,” Twenty20 says on its site.
“We have grand visions for empowering photographers and artists across the world and changing the way people everywhere discover and purchase beautiful design objects.”
That’s different from the mission the company began with. That change had to come.
“It became less about selling a particular product and more about being a platform for a generation of photographers, artists and creators,” Munson says to We Are Juxt. “Our mission quickly changed…The mission became a lot bigger than we ever anticipated.”
Still, Twenty20’s focus lies in its artists and their ability to share their work.
“We think photographers deserve to have work alongside articles in the New York Times,” Munson says.
“This is about creating an ever-expanding platform for work to be exposed and enjoyed by more people.”
Munson believes this because he and the Twenty20 team believe in the power of mobile photography.
“Mobile photography breaks barriers,” he says. “It allows people with a wide range of skills to unleash their creativity in different ways.”
So the ever-expanding platform Munson speaks of is a helpful one for artists looking to share their work and learn from others. Though Munson does not describe Twenty20 as a social network, he is also clear about what Twenty20 means today.
“We see ourselves as a creative community,” Munson says. “I would say a social network has the expectation that I need to connect with everybody that I know in the real world. But we view ourselves more as a creative community of artists and photographers. We build features that deliver a sense of community because we believe there’s a reason that artists have always worked together in communities that come together for support and idea sharing. You may see features come up from a social network, but for us, it’s more about community building than it is replicating what’s happened in other social networks.”
Matt Munson can be found as @mattmuns on Instagram.