The Why, What and Who Behind VSCO’s New Chicago Office

Written by Kelly O'Halloran
December 20, 2019Updated: May 31, 2022

Eric Lunt’s teenage daughters actually want to show him what they post on VSCO. 

Unlike Snapchat and Instagram, two social media channels his daughters shy away from sharing posts with dad, VSCO appears to serve a different purpose.

“These pictures aren’t selfies,” Lunt said. “It’s photos of sunsets, or flowers, or something taken from an unexpected angle — something they are proud of.”

In other words, art. 

Before he joined as the director of engineering at VSCO in November, Lunt saw the platform for what it hopes to be: a judgment-free, safe and inviting community for its creators to share their creativity through photos and videos. 

“We want the creators, what we call our users on VSCO, to feel open and free to express themselves, and they trust us to do that,” Lunt said. “VSCO differentiates itself from other online communities in that it's almost relentlessly positive in terms of the interactions that all the creators have with the brand.”

Through creator feedback, community events and extensive research practices, VSCO puts the creator at the heart of the entire process.

“People come for our photo and editing tools,” Whitney Hagan, VSCO’s business operations manager, said. “But they stay for our community.” 


Meet The Team

Eric Lunt
Director of Engineering

Prior to VSCO, Lunt co-founded and led as CTO at both Signal and FeedBurner, two Chicago-based startups. One of his first initiatives in his new role at VSCO’s Chicago office is to map out what his team will accomplish. From there, he’ll begin growing the development, design and product teams to get up and running as fast as possible. 

Whitney Hagan
Business Operations Manager

Hagan will relocate to Chicago for three months as a member of VSCO’s “Landing Team.” She’ll act as a liaison between the new office and Oakland’s to steer the Chicago team away from some of the previous challenges they’ve faced at headquarters and other remote offices. 

Adrian Walker
Brand Marketing Specialist

A member of the VSCO team for five years, Walker helps shape and share the story of VSCO by connecting with their community of creators in person through events and programs. He recently relocated to Chicago to continue building relationships between their brand and creators. 


Why Chicago? 

When Oakland-based VSCO set out to find another city they could call home, it considered about a dozen factors to evaluate landing spots for its new office. 

“The success of Chicago is a big strategic initiative for us,” Hagan said. 

Cost of living, proximity to strong educational institutions (particularly in engineering), the vibrancy of the tech scene, and deep arts and cultural presence in Chicago ultimately won VSCO over, the company said. It didn’t hurt that the Windy City features the platform’s largest population of creators. 


Vsco hoxton

hoxton offices


The engineering team, led by Lunt, and the product team, led by Director of Product Lily Jolly, will be the two major departments out of Chicago, Lunt said. VSCO will call The Hoxton, located in the West Loop, its new home

“Almost all of the functions of a whole company will be represented here in the Chicago office,” Lunt said. “On the engineering and development team, we'll have a mix of back-end and server-based engineers who will work on the backend subscription revenue infrastructure, as well as a few iOS engineers since that’s our predominant user base.”

Specifically, the tech side of the house will run tests and iterations to expand its pricing options from the two that exist today — $19.99 for a year or $4.99 per month — to a flexible menu of offerings.

For Lunt, a veteran to Chicago tech, there’s no better place than the city to grow a back-end operation for this subscription model. 

Anything that we do is going to impact tens of millions of people right away.”

“When you look at what Chicago tech has, we've excelled for a long time in building iron-clad back-end systems,” Lunt said. “Chicago’s presence in the financial space, trading community, healthcare and insurance has forced teams to get it right and scalable before adding the bells and whistles. It's something that will serve us well when we're thinking about the subscription and revenue parts of VSCO.”

Although the number of engineers Lunt will add this year has not been solidified yet, those who join can expect to work primarily in Go, a handful of Go microservices, and the open-source framework gRPC, with the opportunity to impact how millions of users engage with VSCO.

“One of the cool things about working at VSCO, and a consumer-facing product, is we have such a large community. Anything that we do is going to impact tens of millions of people right away,” Lunt said. “This is not hacking — we are going to do it right not only for creating quality code but to do it right for our creators.”


vsco chicago engineering


A community of creators

VSCO hopes to build positive experiences and trust between its brand and creators not just through its platform, but face to face through community events.

Walker will take the lead in this area, bringing to Chicago the success of events and programs he spearheaded in Oakland. These have included VSCO Voices, an annual grant program that supports creators who support marginalized communities, and Micro Gallery, a quarterly art exhibit installation at VSCO’s HQ featuring works from VSCO creators.

“I love bringing in people from the community to our office because these are individuals who probably thought they’d never be able to have a chance to be inside of the walls of something that they use every day,” Walker said. 


A panel discussion featuring VSCO creators and local artists who haven’t used the platform will likely mark the first local Chicago event, Walker said. 

“I want to bridge the gap between the two by asking them how we can contribute to the community of Chicago versus us coming in and trying to take over anything,” Walker said. 

He hopes someday to host an event that invites creators to test new VSCO products and tools alongside the VSCO team. Until then, however, he’ll be meeting with Chicago creatives with an open ear to learn what the community wants. 

“The creative community in Chicago is super strong and innovative,” Walker said. “We're lucky to be in the presence of them.”


vsco creative community chicago


Fueled by feedback

Making sure their creators have a positive experience with VSCO is one of the company’s top priorities, Lunt, Hagan and Walker said. 

For example, the platform doesn’t offer public “likes” or spaces to comment on other people’s work, eliminating the virtual judgment present on other social content platforms.

VSCO has grown to a community that represents 20 million “weekly” active users — 75 percent of which are under the age of 25 — and more than 2 million subscribers, which VSCO says is expected to double in the coming quarter.

Lunt and Hagan each reiterated how they are protective of their community and careful to rollout any iterations that could upset their users. That means research — and lots of it — is thoroughly reviewed before any new release. 

“We realized that more optionality meets the asks of our customers, which ultimately helps us grow our business and revenue,” Hagan said. 

The creative community in Chicago is super strong and innovative. We're lucky to be in the presence of them.”

For the new subscription revenue streams, VSCO hired outside consultants to conduct qualitative and quantitative research with its customers to understand what they were looking for. Internally, they had teams studying competing platforms, hosting focus groups and conducting tests using different modeling. 

“I’ve discovered so far that VSCO is very data-driven,” Lunt said. “We think a lot in terms of an experiment. What’s a statistically significant sample size that we can roll this out to determine if this is going to be a positive or negative change? We need to be very careful not to introduce anything that would upset our users, and we want to make sure any change continues to earn their trust.”

Because, when changes to improve the creator experience occur on the platform, Lunt and the team at VSCO hope to keep one thing front of mind: community. 

“Everything we do as a company, through our platform and our events, is to continue to earn their trust,” Lunt said. 

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