VSCO Puts Creators First — Including Its Own

Moving into a virtual work environment hasn’t changed the values-first culture at VSCO. Built In learned how five-minute presentations, graffiti lessons and a “Hackhouse” keep the team close-knit.

Written by Brigid Hogan
Published on Sep. 29, 2023
VSCO Puts Creators First — Including Its Own
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Every day, Ashley Robinson has millions of people on her mind: VSCO’s global community of creators. 

As senior manager of integrated marketing, Robinson leads the company’s engagement with creators. Her vision for the role bridges VSCO’s internal people-focused culture with creator-first company values through programs like VSCO Creator Sessions, a live educational series co-hosted by a VSCO team member and a VSCO creator.

“We expand the environment of empathy and authenticity beyond the VSCO walls to our community,” she said. 

The environment of empathy and authenticity is one being built for and by VSCO’s team each day, according to Head of People Karina Bernacki.

“Culture follows structure,” Bernacki told Built In, and at VSCO, that structure is formed by its core values.



  • Creator First
  • Always Improving
  • Build Together
  • Own It
  • Be You


As the founding co-chair of Onyx, VSCO’s Black employee resource group, Robinson has seen the fruits of this culture while driving programming for Black History Month. “There’s an inherent understanding of how identity influences how we show up at work and influences what we create,” she said. “This understanding makes cross-functional planning and development of both internal and external programs seamless and thoughtful.”

Identity influences how we show up at work and influences what we create.”


For Robinson, the company values have made these opportunities possible. “Our ‘be you’ value keeps us mindful that we are all people before we’re employees and creates space to show up as authentically ourselves. Our ‘build together’ value emphasizes our collaborative spirit and thoughtfulness around how we work together.”





Building Meaningful Connection

Like Robinson, Senior Product Manager Kyle Hale is focused on VSCO’s creator community. Hale, too, points to the company values when considering VSCO’s culture, calling them the “north stars” for how the team approaches work and professional relationships each day, starting with company president Eric Wittman.

“He regularly makes it a point to reach out to creators using VSCO Messages to ask what we can do to improve the user experience,” Hale said. “What better way is there to put creators first than by regularly engaging with them in conversation?”

Wittman isn’t the only senior leader building deep connections at VSCO.

“From the executive team to new employees, there’s a focus on getting to know each other beyond our roles and resumes,” Robinson said. “Our co-founder, Joel Flory, makes this part of his routine through coffee chats to truly connect with each employee on a more personal level.




This investment in personal connection appears in an array of initiatives across the company, but one tradition stands out to Robinson, Bernacki and Hale: five-minute presentations.

During the all-hands meeting, employees volunteer to share for five minutes on any topic, with results both lighthearted and deeply personal. 

Bernacki’s own five-minute presentation touched on her experience with roller derby and the significance it plays in her relationship with her son. 

Hale titled his presentation “How to Ride and How to Not Ride a Motorcycle in India” — a peek into the breadth of interests and experiences across the VSCO team.

“Through these sessions, we constantly realize that we are more than just VSCO employees — we’re multifaceted individuals with rich, unique stories,” Bernacki said.

We are more than just VSCO employees — we’re multifaceted individuals with rich, unique stories.”




Fostering Relationships

When Hale’s team launched their newest product, VSCO Studio on Web, in mid-July, they were delivering on an ambitious undertaking. Over the course of six months, a cross-functional development team had been moving fast to build and release the new desktop photo editor.

Throughout the process, Engineering Manager Jared Smith made clear how much he valued developer experience for the team.

“He wanted to make sure his engineers felt they had ownership of the code they shipped, which played a leading role in defining which tasks beyond user-facing features got prioritized,” Hale said. “We agreed that this was the people-first culture that we wanted to cultivate on the team and committed to carving out this space for engineering in our sprints.”

This approach not only led to a better employee experience but also to improved outcomes for the company and product — including a faster shipping velocity and improved codebase.

“When people feel empowered, supported and encouraged, they do their best work,” Hale said. “We always encourage our designers and engineers to think outside of the box so that we can playfully innovate to build a next generation product for creators.”

When people feel empowered, supported and encouraged, they do their best work. Our designers and engineers playfully innovate to build a next-generation product for creators.”


According to Bernacki, building these deep connections across a distributed team sometimes requires coming together to collaborate in person, both in regular quarterly gatherings and as a responsive solution.

During one recent project, teams were working to build a new feature that formed a cornerstone of VSCO’s community strategy. As the launch date approached, a group of engineers approached Bernacki to share an idea: that meeting in person could help resolve some development challenges.

“The paramount task was to trust them and facilitate their initiative,” Bernacki said. So she arranged for a New York City apartment to serve as the “VSCO Hackhouse,” where the team convened for a week of intense work together.

“Today, this strategy stands as a valuable asset in our ‘connection toolbox,’ a testament to the weight and value of our employees’ insights and the responsive nature of our leadership,” she said.




The “Hackhouse” may have been a responsive solution, but VSCO is also proactive in that it invests in bringing the team together each quarter for in-person events that blend strategic planning and team bonding.

“While virtual work offers flexibility and agility, certain collaborative endeavors shine when done in person,” Bernacki said. “This week-long convergence ensures we align on key objectives, grasp the broader picture and comprehend potential interdependencies and impacts across various teams. It’s crucial for our mission-driven employees to understand the ‘why’ behind their work and to align on expectations.”

Beyond the strategic focus, the quarterly gatherings also foster relationships across the team with activities outside of the ordinary workplace experience including cooking classes, bike trips and graffiti lessons.

“This approach has transformed planning into an integral, inclusive and transparent facet of our culture,” Bernacki said. “We collaborate effectively as a company and fortify our shared commitment, all while having a good time.”



Through the hiring process, VSCO’s team is focused on finding talent that serves to grow the company’s diverse and inclusive culture — a “culture add” over a “culture fit.” To that end, the interview process spends time focused on understanding how candidates approach work and collaboration to ensure they will continue to drive VSCO’s evolution.

“We seek to understand candidates’ ‘why,’ what propels them and keeps them resilient through challenges,” Karina Bernacki said. “At VSCO, the ‘how’ of our work is just as essential as the ‘what.’ As an ambitious company, we also look for those who imagine possibilities and turn them into reality.”



Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by VSCO.

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