Q&A: Benji Lanyado, founder of Picfair

Written by
Tom Ritchie

24 Aug 2016

24 Aug 2016 • by Tom Ritchie

Benji Lanyado was a journalist working for the New York Times and the Guardian for seven years. After growing frustrated in his position, he quit his job and learnt how to code. After falling in love with programming, he launched Picfair, a photo sharing marketplace where anyone can license an image from any photographer, simply and fairly. 

Following new research into the growing number of UK workers leaving their position to start a career in their passions, we spoke to Benji about his experiences in starting his own business.  

Why did you decide to leave your position at The Guardian?

I was frustrated. I had come into contact with engineers within the Guardian, and desperately wanted to work with them, but the structures and hierarchies within a large company like the Guardian meant that I couldn't. So I left, and started learning how to code, so that whatever I did next I would be "speaking the same language" as the engineers I wanted to work with. I started doing night classes in programming, fell in love with it, and gradually realised that I was actually becoming an engineer myself! I also realised that I had all the skills I needed to build Picfair, an idea I'd been sitting on for years.

Are you more satisfied following your change in career?

Massively. Learning how to code is the most empowering thing I've ever done. It's a common misconception that coding is a purely technical pursuit, but it's much more than that. It's creative. It allowed me to build and make things without asking anyone's permission. This eventually lead to me raising investment to build my own company, Picfair - we let anyone sell an image to anyone, and are gradually building a more democratic version of Getty Images and Shutterstock. I've never worked harder, but I've never been more satisfied in my work. 

Do you feel more productive and engaged after starting your own company?

Absolutely. It's a huge cliche, but you only live once. Plenty of people are comfortable in their less-than-satisfactory jobs, and have external things to keep them happy - hobbies, family, projects. That's totally cool. But if your work is so unsatisfactory that it is making you unhappy in spite of your external pursuits, then you have to change. There is no point in doing anything that makes you unhappy. It's a risk, of course, but if you can absorb a little uncertainty, then just do it.

I think I've always wanted to be in charge of my own work - I like moving very quickly, and doing things rather than just thinking about them. Now that I run my own company, I'm in a position where I can do things quickly, all the time. 

The engagement is a double-edged sword. I'm possibly too engaged: running your own company is a 24-hour a day thing, you're always thinking about it, and can become obsessed to your own and your company's detriment. But I'm gradually getting better at that - making sure I switch off, and take holidays, and do things that take me away from thinking about work.