PhotoPoint CEO responds...|
(Thursday, February 14, 2002 - 10:17 EST)
Pantellic Software's Dale Gass explains why his company closed doors without warning, answers criticisms and rumors, and discusses plans to get photos back in the hands of their owners...
Dale Gass, CEO of Pantellic Software Inc. - the company behind the PhotoPoint website which we've discussed so much on the site lately, emailed us overnight to comment on the site's closing and the causes behind it. As regular readers will know, the company is contemplating ways to return photos to customers, and soliciting feedback from past subscribers as to how they would like to see that happen.
The exclusive commentary we received follows unedited. We'll leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions - the important point to us is that attempts are being made to return photos to their owners, many of whom didn't keep backups and would otherwise lose many important memories. Whilst some subscribers may have lost their subscription fees, a good number should have been able to find recourse through their credit card companies - and a couple of months after the site went down it is likely that alternative photo hosts have been found by most.
"Michael, As we hear further news on the situation (and particularly if a decision as to how photos can be retrieved is made) we will of course continue to keep readers updated. In the meantime, if you're a PhotoPoint subscriber who has lost photos and wants to get them back, please visit the site and leave your response as to which of the options, if any, seems most suitable to you.
I want to thank you for your level-headed, positive, and hopeful reporting on the signs of life from photopoint.com.
Your competition has editorialized in a somewhat judgmental way, which is a bit disappointing. "If Photopoint want to charge existing users to get their own images back it raises the question what happened to all the subscriptions paid by the same users?" Well guess what, it was reinvested back into the company, paying for bandwidth, leases, rent, salaries, and so on, to run the business.
Things were looking promising initially. But unfortunately, we had a number of unpleasant surprises, culminating with September 11th, where revenues instantly dropped to one third of their previous levels. (It is certainly small in comparison to what many people lost on that tragic day; but it was a key factor in the demise of our business.) We were surviving, but marginal, up to that point. After September 11th, we tried hard to keep things alive until revenue rebounded, but the recovery was only just starting to happen by December, and by that point, we were out of time and money.
When Pantellic became insolvent, we had no choice but to shut things down. And unfortunately, keeping the site online after announcing our insolvency wasn't an option (what ISP would keep a connection up, knowing the massive bandwidth being used would not be paid for? What leasing company would leave their gear with us?) Also, the bandwidth we had provisioned would never have handled the surge in traffic from people downloading all of their photos at once. We looked at all our options, and keeping it online just wasn't possible.
We made sure all of our awesome and dedicated staff were paid up to date, and cooperated with our partners to return the equipment. It was the best we could do in this unfortunate situation. I haven't made many public comments, because, frankly, there wasn't much to say beyond the fact that Pantellic was insolvent.
Contrary to the statements of a few bravely anonymous (and clearly disgruntled) ex-employees on various rumour sites, no one in Pantellic profited from the demise, nor "took the money and ran." No bonuses or dividends, not a dime more than regular pay was paid to anyone, including management. In fact, management and the team leaders were working with *substantial* pay cuts (between 30%-80% cuts) since re-acquiring PhotoPoint in July of 2000. I don't have "multiple houses" (I do have one my family has been in for years, and a full mortgage to go along with it); I don't have "yachts" (I do have a rather leaky 27 year old Tanzer 26 sailboat I bought in '97, long before PhotoPoint); and I'm not running around in my many sports cars (I do have one 26 year old Porsche, which cost far less than my first Honda Civic). It's sad the way people will try to twist things. I guess it makes for a better "bad guy" story for the cynical to enjoy, which can be far more interesting than the truth.
We were doing this because it was "our baby" and we wanted it to succeed, not because we wanted to rip off members. I don't think we could have done a much better job in trying to make this succeed, given our tough circumstances. I believed in this so much I personally floated more than one payroll while we tried to ride out the post-September 11th drop in sales. Quite the opposite of taking the money and running.
While PhotoPoint was meant as a place to *share* your photos, not the place to keep your only copy, a surprising number of people stored their only copies of their photos on PhotoPoint. This was unexpected by us (would you leave your negatives at WalMart?), and it is quite unfortunate, given the fact the site had to be taken offline. But in the new paradigm of digital photography, I guess it's not immediately obvious that you should keep a sacred "negative" copy, backed up somewhere.
The people who yell, scream, call me names, or threaten me, I don't spend much time worrying about. But those folks who earnestly want to get back photos that are meaningful to them, I do want to help.
Now at this point, I have two choices. Walk away from it all, get a new job, and greatly simplify my life; or find a way for people to get their photos back. I am choosing the latter, and I will do everything within my power, to make sure this happens. It is worth filtering out the screams of the pissed off people who think they're being "held hostage", in order to get back the meaningful family photos of people who innocently neglected to keep copies. For every ten ranting abusive messages I get, there is one sincere and heartfelt plea. I think that's reason enough to do what I can.
Anyhow, interested people should keep their eyes on http://www.photopoint.com/ for updates on the situation. No, there isn't a comment section, and any attempts to put comments in the email fields will automatically turf your submission. Why? Because people can either register their interest in a few different options in a positive way, or they can yell and scream. The limited choices on the web form give positive folks a chance to express interest in the best options I see at this point in time. Unfortunately, comment fields were only used by hostile people to yell and scream. (There was a comment section for the first hour it was up, but it clearly wasn't useful. It just wasn't a productive use of the posters' time writing a rants, nor of my time, reading the rants.)
I would again like to assure people who had meaningful pictures stored on PhotoPoint, that the photos are safe. Since all of the equipment used to run PhotoPoint was returned to our lease partners, it is taking substantial time and effort to get the 8 terabytes of images available again. But progress is being made, and I am looking at various options as to how best make the photos available to the members who own them. Stay tuned, I'm doing what I can.