This issue: Summer 2019

The Anti-Instagram

In an industry driven by likes, shares and followers, VSCO cofounder Greg Lutze seeks to empower artists in an entirely different way

By Andrew Shaughnessy

Greg Lutze is a busy man. As cofounder and chief experience officer of VSCO (Visual Supply Company), the 2000 George Fox alumnus is the head and heart behind one of the top creative tools on the market. VSCO’s mobile photo editing and sharing app has more than 45 million active users, a robust following of talented creatives and a stack of awards.

Yet, despite the success and accolades, Lutze has managed to stay grounded.

In a market that demands users chase likes, shares and followers, he built a product that fosters authentic creativity, connection and growth. In a business culture that lauds loud achievers, he leads with quiet character. And for Lutze, that begins with family.

“Yes, I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve got a startup. I’ve got to keep pushing forward with that,” Lutze says, speaking to George Fox business and art students. “But ultimately I’m a dad. I’m a husband.”

“We have to prioritize what’s important,” he adds. “I don’t schedule meetings after 4 p.m. so I can get home with the kids. I try to take Thursday mornings off so I can go get coffee with my wife. It’s not perfect. Sometimes I have to travel. But I think just acknowledging that is a start.”

It’s not the message one might expect from a young executive thriving in the hard-charging tech world. But then again, Lutze and the company he helped create are far from typical.

Stepping into the Gap

Lutze graduated from George Fox with a degree in business administration. He spent the next decade working as a designer and creative director for agencies in Seattle and New York, including serving as an art director for Microsoft’s Xbox team. Much of his work was in the music industry, creating websites and branding for rock stars and hip-hop artists. It was one of Lutze’s designs, a website for the indie band Jimmy Eat World, that caught the attention of VSCO CEO and cofounder Joel Flory.

“We formed a relationship from that and started talking about everything: faith, family, what would a creative company that we would really be proud of look like?” says Lutze.

Those conversations soon transformed into action, and in 2011 Lutze and Flory cofounded VSCO in Oakland, California. They entered the market at the perfect time. In 2011, most people were still using Instagram as their primary tool to edit and share photos. When Instagram was bought by Facebook and evolved into a full-blown social network, its atmosphere and content changed. With the change, a vacuum emerged in the mobile photo editing market, and in stepped VSCO.

Since its inception, VSCO has garnered more than 50 million downloads, and has been named Apple’s “App of the Year,” one of Google Play’s “Best Apps,” and one of Fast Company’s “Top 10 Most Innovative Companies on Social Media.” The speed with which the app gained popularity was no less thrilling. When VSCO launched version 2.0 in 2013, it had over 1 million downloads in the first week.

VSCO combines powerful photo-editing tools with a creative community. Built to be accessible and empowering to beginners, the app provides preset filters (or “presets” in VSCO lingo) that endow mobile photos with the visual qualities of old-school film. For more advanced photographers and designers, the editing options go far more granular than Instagram or your run-of-the-mill photo editing app, allowing users to crop, sharpen and adjust everything from white balance to skin tone. You can even take photos in RAW format, enabling even greater creative control in edits.

Cultivating Creativity

Greg Lutze

On the social side, VSCO’s Discover page allows users to browse, find and follow other artists for inspiration. Looking to build a space for people to take creative risks, grow and discover the fruits of others’ creativity without the pressure inherent to social media platforms, Lutze and Flory intentionally left out popularity metrics – no public follower counts, likes or comments.

“We don’t have numbers. Those just aren’t important to us,” Lutze says. “As a result, you get people who show who they are, not who they hope someone else sees them as. It’s a different dynamic, and we want that creativity. We want that place where people can be honest, where they can be themselves and know that they are valuable just as they are.”

In a 2017 Creative Mornings talk, Lutze told the story of a friend who was passionate about portrait photography, but because portraits didn’t garner likes and comments on Instagram, he only posted landscapes. His creative passion remained hidden, and to Lutze, that was incredibly sad.

“Social media is fun,” he admitted. “It’s a way to connect people. It’s a great marketing tool. On the flip side, there’s a lot of mental health issues that are evolving from it. People feel an incredible amount of pressure to perform, to show who they’re not, and that can be wearing on your spirit.”

Most profit-driven businesspeople would look at VSCO’s predecessors and competitors and see only dollar signs. But Lutze is driven by a vision to empower and connect culture creators. Though he does not consider VSCO a “Christian company,” his faith and character have informed VSCO’s culture, values and even the way the app itself is designed.

“On any given day, in every country in the world, millions of people are using what Greg has helped create to express themselves and grow as creatives,” says Flory. “One of the things that has impressed me most about Greg … is that it is never about the numbers, the fame, or even what the potential personal gain could be. It has always been and will always be about the individual creators whose lives are being impacted by VSCO.”

Passion + Skills + Values

After a recent visit to campus, Lutze walked away excited and hopeful for the future entrepreneurs and creative graduates coming out of George Fox.

“You can sense this passion in them, this drive,” he says. “They’re really tying together what they’re learning about business to their values and faith. That combination is such an important one.”

That combination of passion, knowledge and character is rare, but it’s one that Lutze exemplifies. He leads amidst a business culture that glorifies long hours and workaholics. There’s always one more meeting, one more project, one more thing to do. Yet, in the midst of the madness, he has managed to build a company culture that values kindness and balance, and a product that cultivates fearless creativity and encourages artists around the world to be themselves.

“Sometimes standing tall is about being humble,” Lutze says. “It’s about listening. It’s about doing the quiet things that go unnoticed. It’s about admitting you’re wrong.”

“At VSCO, our core values are ‘Always Moving Forward,’ ‘Be You,’ ‘Build Together,’ ‘Creator First’ and ‘Stay Humble,’” Flory adds. “Those values were born out of Greg’s leadership style, and whenever I talk to new employees I tell them to watch Greg as he lives these five values every day. Greg has the ‘superpower’ of bringing people together and making everyone feel heard.”

Sometimes, courage looks like quiet tenacity: choosing to model character and balance rather than bravado and dominance. Where most bow and scrape to the almighty dollar and the tyranny of more, Lutze is standing tall.

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