Storyhunter’s First Decade Is in the Books: Here’s Why We Started It, and Why We Keep Building
Storyhunter’s first 10 years are in the books. Read this reflection from CEO and Co-founder Jaron Gilinsky.
The photo above was me just before I made the decision to move back to the U.S. to found Storyhunter. I was working on an assignment as a freelancer for the New York Times along with one of my own journalist heroes, the columnist Nicholas Kristof. We were covering the chaotic streets of Cairo as the Arab Spring was unfolding before our eyes. Little did I know this would be my last photo in the field for a while.
I was at the top of my game and in love with my job as a roaming freelance video journalist/documentary filmmaker more than you can ever imagine. It ticked every single box for me. Global affairs, politics, conflict, culture, the environment, creativity, journalism…I got to learn from some of the smartest people in the world about all of these domains in my 20’s and early 30’s.
As much as I felt in my bones and heart that I was in the right place as a journalist/filmmaker, I have always been an entrepreneur. As a kid, and throughout my career as a freelancer, I have always found my own opportunities and worked for myself. Freelancing is the ultimate training ground for entrepreneurship, mainly because IT IS entrepreneurship, albeit for a company of 1. You have to ruthlessly prioritize and hustle your ass off. Many years later, I understand that my dual passions stem from the same place. They come from a deep curiosity about people and systems. And an even deeper desire to fundamentally change the world for the better.
Over and over again over countless projects in many countries, I experienced firsthand the difficulties of getting gigs and getting paid on time. I also experienced the challenges companies had finding journalists and filmmakers all over the world to collaborate with. The system was so obviously broken. I spoke about this with every freelancer and executive I knew for 2 years or so, and everyone kind of shrugged their shoulders and said, well, that’s the way it is. This was hard for me to accept.
Back in Cairo in 2012, I wanted to continue covering the aftermath of the Revolution. But, I ran out of work, not because I wasn’t needed there by somebody, but because I only had 3–4 contacts with editors. As I was leaving Cairo airport, I saw all these filmmakers getting flown in to do the same work I was doing. This inefficiency infuriated me. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
On the very short plane ride that night back to my former home in Tel Aviv, I decided to start what became Storyhunter. Instead of sending more pitches to more editors, I wrote a very basic business plan. Our original, placeholder name was actually, Sabaqa, a derivation of the word for “network” in Arabic. We later changed it to after learning that Sabaka meant “dog” in Russian ;)
Since I loved my career so much as a video journalist, starting Storyhunter was the toughest career decision I’ve ever made. On the one hand, I felt fortunate to have two things I cared about so much. On the other hand, it felt like a curse. If I chose one path, I knew I had to give up on the other. But ultimately, the choice became clear. The entrepreneurial fire would not extinguish itself. And if I could tackle the big, systemic problems facing the media industry, I could potentially impact so many more people than just me.
I had never spent more than a day or two in NYC before I dropped everything to move there. My co-founder Alex Ragir joined from Brazil and we hosted our first big community event in Dumbo, Brooklyn on May 3, 2012. Coincidentally, it happened to be World Press Freedom Day. Since then, May 3 is the date in which we celebrate our birthday.
As I reflect on our 10 years as a business, I can’t help but think about how the world has changed. Because of the dominance of social, storytelling platforms like TikTok and LinkedIn, all businesses and non-profits have been forced to transform themselves into media companies. Because of the Covid pandemic and other factors, companies are choosing the agile, remote workforce, especially when it comes to the marketing and storytelling functions. Because of the risks of climate change to our planet, companies prefer to hire locals rather than fly in crews from all over the world. These trends are all tailwinds propelling Storyhunter into the future.
A decade later, Storyhunter has the chance to become the most prolific platform in the world for on demand, freelance creative services. Every project is a totally unique story or a critical component of a story, made from scratch by a person or team of people: a DP for hire to get the documentary interview, a photo of a new skincare product, an edit for a branded content series about environmental heroes, a creative director plus animation team for a new B2b explainer for a software company, or a domino artist making custom builds for brands like Google and Disney. The stories originate from the front lines of the war in Ukraine to the front lines of human consciousness. It is truly exciting to get a front row seat to witness the latest evolution of human storytelling, which is arguably as powerful and ubiquitous as it has ever been. The Storyhunter platform will power tens of thousands of such projects this year. We believe we can grow far beyond that.
Storyhunter is not just connecting people. It is truly fostering lasting professional, business relationships within and across borders. Each of our projects is a unique, creative collaboration. Often, the collaborators live in different countries. More than 60% of our projects are between the same two collaborators. It’s good that several members of our engineering team came from the dating site, Zoosk. In the last 10 years, Storyhunter has been credited with at least one actual marriage, and so many more, long lasting creative partnerships.
This is all only possible thanks to our amazing team of engineers, sales people, product designers, marketers, investors, and of course, the creators who put everything into the stories they create.
The thing that motivates me more than anything is hearing the personal stories of our freelancers from around the world. Every once in a while, a freelancer reaches out to thank us with a completely unsolicited note, or request to visit our office. They usually tell us how we helped them meet their first few big clients which then helped them grow their careers. People from Kathmandu to Honolulu to small towns in Ohio, have all thanked us for helping them do what they love.
What I’m most proud of is that through these ten years we have not changed who we are or what we believe in. Freedom of expression for journalists, artists, filmmakers, and creators of all stripes in all countries is still our most core, cherished value. Our mission remains to inspire and empower creators around the world. This is the reason I wrote a business plan for Sabaqa on that short lonely, nighttime flight from Cairo. And it’s the reason we continue building each and every day.
Happy Birthday, Storyhunter!
Jaron Gilinsky, Co-founder & CEO of Storyhunter