The evolution and future of PhotoBox, as revealed by our founder Graham Hobson

By PhotoBox UK 2 years ago17 Comments
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The evolution and future of PhotoBox, as revealed by our founder Graham Hobson

This week, we are introducing Graham Hobson, who is not only PhotoBox’s founder, but as importantly, our Chief Technology Officer. Graham is responsible for much of the ongoing technological innovation here at PhotoBox that you are likely to encounter whenever you access PhotoBox’s products and services. Being both founder and innovator, we have asked Graham to answer six questions relating to PhotoBox’s birth, evolution and how it has developed into the brand that we all know and love…

Graham image 1


Tell us the story of how you came up with the idea of setting up PhotoBox?

Back in 1999, I had two young children, aged three and one years old. We took lots and lots of photos of them. It felt like every week we developed a full roll of 36 photos, yet only a few of those were any good. Digital cameras then appeared onto the scene, and we bought our very first digital camera in October 1999. Unfortunately, we could not find a company anywhere to print these digital photos.

Since my wife wanted to have physical copies of these photos, I struck upon the idea of starting my own digital photo printing company. Previously, I had created order systems for banks, so I thought that such a task wouldn’t be too different. All I wanted to do was to create an order system, plugged into a mini lab – how difficult could it be?

To get started, I wrote a business plan every day whilst on the train, and in November 1999, I revealed to my friends my plans to start PhotoBox. A short while later, during a business trip, I wrote the final detailed plan. PhotoBox finally went live on 11th May 2000. Our first day of orders amounted to £2.70, and that very same customer is still ours today, 13 years later!


What motivated you from the very beginning?

I was in my mid 30s, had some professional confidence, but decided I wanted to strike out in a new direction. I had been in the banking industry for quite a while, and I was looking for a change in the existing world of internet startups.

For the first three years, we were in unknown territory; it was nothing like what I expected a dot com to be. We were a small company (less than 5 employees for the first 3 years) and we had to do everything ourselves.

Being a service that started out from personal need also motivated me tremendously. Along the way, we just listened to what customers wanted, and we accommodated it. We very quickly realized that customers also wanted to make more than prints with their photos, and diversified into personalised products (Photo books, canvases, mugs, calendars, etc.), and so we adapted.

Who said dot com startups are glamorous?…

Start up 1Start up 2


What made you take a leap of faith into the digital photo printing industry? Was your family supportive from the start?

To be honest, my family thought I was a bit crazy. When I first told my wife I had this business idea, she was very skeptical, and nervous that I would give up a tech job in the city for something completely unproven. It was entirely out of character for me, so she was highly surprised and needed convincing.

Regarding the ‘leap of faith’ – yes I would call it that since the move towards PhotoBox was very much instinct-driven, considering that it was a rather risky departure from what I had done before. However, I would have regretted it if I didn’t try, so I had to. Interestingly, I kept looking for signs not to start the business – such as the arrival of a competitor, or a lack of support from friends and investors. Sub-consciously then, I was actively looking for signs not to do it! Fortunately, the things that could block me did not happen, and PhotoBox was soon born.

WFR empty


PhotoBox is now a well-established brand, and yet it still benefits from, and is driven by a ‘startup mentality’. What aspects of that initial startup ethos do you still see in PhotoBox today?

Back then and now, we could only succeed if we were fast and efficient. The technology that we use is a means to an end. In the early days, we put a lot of effort into technology in the service of speed. We were the first online photo service to launch in Europe. Every feature of the website had to be invented from scratch.

Around 2005, which was when our Photo books were first introduced, we had to write the software ourselves, so the technological emphasis shifted from speed and simple products towards more complex innovation. These days, the challenges we face are that people are using mobile devices with rapidly rising frequency, across both apps and the web. As such, we have to be not only fast and efficient, but flexible as well, so that customers can choose which type of device they wish to use. So we have kept most of our initial ‘startup mentality’ in terms of customer focus, innovation and speed, but have adapted along the way.

Factory Photo


As founder and CTO, you have seen a lot of successes, obstacles and milestones during your time at PhotoBox, since you were part of it from its very inception. What are a couple of moments or projects that you find the utterly memorable?

I particularly remember FACE BRITAIN, the fact that we collected and stored hundreds of thousands of self-portrait drawings by school children from around the UK, for them to be projected on Buckingham Palace. This project was widely covered in the media and to see the results projected was a great sight. I even got to have drinks that night in Clarence House – the home of HRH Prince Charles.

Additionally, in 2006, when we started to roll out our service in Europe across many countries, we had to scale up to give them efficiency. At that point, I felt that I had bitten off more than I could chew, and was a bit anxious. That was particularly memorable as it was a very challenging time, but we succeeded in the end. Interestingly, PhotoBox feels like a different company to me every three years or so, so the memories are different.


How do you see the future of PhotoBox, and what do you think PhotoBox will evolve into in 3-5 years’ time?

By learning what our customers’ value from us, PhotoBox has changed significantly during its 13 years. We started as a fast, efficient digital printing service. Now, we realise PhotoBox is a place where customers can take their most precious memories, be creative with them, and give self-expression to their content. This is where I see us evolving.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this interview with Graham. We look forward to seeing your comments or questions to Graham at the bottom of the article. :)

Graham image 3

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We're a print company with a twist - it's personal. We take your photographs, and print them onto books, calendars, posters and mugs (to name just a few!). We also store photos, help you share them online, and come up with new ways of doing all things digital.We're in 19 countries across Europe, for more than 27 million people. Which means that wherever you go, you'll probably bump into somebody who knows about us.


  • Linda Beeks says:

    you were recommended to me and how pleased I am, so far so good, well done for starting photo box and may you continue, forward and upward Linda

  • David Svoboda says:

    thanks for sharing. I would consider myself as a very demanding customer and I can’t praise Photobox high enough. Their customer service is second to none and I never had any issue with quality of their products. Wish they are an inspiration for other companies!

  • Yonex Sterno says:

    Is photobox same with photo book? I’m sorry. I am not really into this kind of stuff so these things are relatively new to me. I only read about photo book from

  • Photobox_Admin says:

    Hi Linda, thank you for your positive feedback. We hope that you will recommend us as well, as we move forward.

  • Photobox_Admin says:

    Hi David, we are glad we reach your high standards, thanks for your kind comments. PhotoBox will strive to maintain or better this level or quality and service that you’ve come to expect.

  • Photobox_Admin says:

    Hi Yonex, thanks for your question. PhotoBox is unrelated to the brand that you have linked above, although we produce photo books of the highest calibre –

  • Bev Brown says:

    Interesting interview…. I had thought photobox was French! I’ve never used you for photoprinting but started with calendars and diaries. I’m now addicted to the lay flat photobook and the acrylics which are brilliant quality. Why is the editing software different for each product? Photobook edit is by far the best.

  • jondoar says:

    I have been using PhotoBox for several years now, mainly for photo books, but also for some other items like mugs, posters, prints. I rate the photobook software as second to none. Its flexibility is amazing. I can do most anything I want. Or just use a pre-configured model and press a button to make the book. I have had some colour issues with large format prints, and poor sharpness of printing on mugs. Customer service has always been responsive and helpful.

    I have one wish…..

    I take maybe 10,000+ photos each summer on different devices. Then I edit some of them. I need some way of pre-sorting them on my computer, then keeping them in that order when they are transferred to your website. Usually end up with may be 1-2000 pictures that I want to get into books. I want them in the order they were taken, but I think you recognise on;y the ‘last modified’ date.

    Any way, i still like the results enough to invest literally hundreds of hours in each book. Anything you can do to reduce that would be great!!



  • Richard says:

    I’ve been a customer for several years now, starting with ordering prints and enlargements and then photo books. I like your quality, I like the fact that you use good materials, e.g. Fuji Crystal Archive paper, and what struck me initially was that you provided some techy info about your printing process for the techy/keen/hobbyist photographers, such as resolution info for your printing processes. Please continue to provide techy info about your processes so that the keen (more nerdy) photographers can tweak our output in Adobe Lightroom and other photo editing tools to suit your processes to get great results.

  • Photobox_Admin says:

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your feedback and detailed comment – we will try and accommodate them and provide more ‘techy’ info in the future so you can get the best out of your editing tools.

    Best wishes,

    The PhotoBox team

  • Photobox_Admin says:

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for your useful feedback, we will pass that onto the Products and User Experience teams.

    We are trying to ensure that it becomes easier for users to sort through thousands upon thousands of photos, and this is something that we will pay more attention to in the future – managing the vast quantity of images and data out here. Thanks once again for your feedback.

    Best wishes
    The PhotoBox team

  • Photobox_Admin says:

    Hi Bev,

    Thanks for your comment. PhotoBox was originally a UK company, but it merged with a French counterpart called Photoways to create a new company (while retaining the name), so yes, you are half right! We are glad you like the lay flat photo books so much. Thanks for your feedback!

    Best wishes,
    The PhotoBox team

  • Estelle says:

    Excellent product, first class staff… I have created a number of books (up to 100 pages!), birthday cards, christmas cards, i phone cover, stickers, posters, canvases, desk diary and I can guarantee the reader that this company is the best one out there (yes, I have checked some of the competition out too!).
    If I want the best of everything I have no choice but to go to Photobox!
    Many thanks… Keep up the great work!

    please keep the offers going (some on Groupon too?)

    Best wishes

  • Hi Graham!
    First of all Congratulations on setting up Photobox!
    I want to ask a question regarding Canvas finishing- When can we expect to see “Mirroring” Around the edges?
    I know you do plain White-Sides as an option but I prefere the mirroring method.
    Mike Greenslade
    Mikezite Photography.

  • Photobox_Admin says:

    Hi Estelle,

    Thanks very much for your praise and feedback! We hope you will stay a happy and loyal customer for some time to come.

    We used to run Groupon offers and occassionaly may do in the future, so keep your eyes open. Thanks!

    Best wishes,
    The PhotoBox team

  • Graham Hobson says:

    Hi Mike, as you said, we do the white sides and wrap edges on canvas. I’m not sure if we have any plans to introduce mirroring, although I can see why it would be useful for close crop portrait shots. Let me check with our product team and I will come back to you next week. Regards, Graham (PS I love your shots of New York)

  • Graham Hobson says:

    Hi Mike, a further update on this. I have checked with our product team and they aren’t planning a mirroring option for the sides at this time. We haven’t really had any requests for it apart from yours. But I’ve asked them to keep it in mind when planning updates to the canvas product. In the meantime, the wrap option is available for photos that have sufficient background. All the best, Graham

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