Sunday, 13 October 2013

Photomania app wants to make you smile

TEL AVIV — Photomania wants you to give it your best shot – then improve it on the company's website and share it.

The online photo-processing app has grown its user base from zero to almost 40 million in 2½ years by effectively piggybacking on Facebook. Users of the world's largest social network start up the Photomania application, easily dress up their photos with the app's more than 450 filters, and send them to friends and anywhere else.


Photomania is now planning a major growth initiative: putting the application on its own Web platform, which launched earlier in October, to attract non-Facebook users. To help matters along, it recently closed on a fresh round of venture capital. It's not yet profitable but it has ideas for revenue streams beyond the ads that appear as users fuss with their photos.


The app reached 5 million users "in less than seven months after the initial launch on Facebook. That's really fast for any application," says Ofir Yosef, chief executive of the app's Tel Aviv parent, Trionity. "Two and a half years later we have not spent one dime on marketing or PR. ... We know how to use the viral channels."


Of the 40 million Photomania users, 30 million are registered. By way of comparison, Yosef says, when Instagram was acquired by Facebook a bit more than a year ago, the photo-sharing social network had 27 million registered users.


Those Photomania users have processed about 1.3 billion photos via the app. The company estimates that it accounts for almost 1% of the photos that are shared across Facebook every day.


Photomania's aim "is to easily make your photos beautiful and expressive with a single click," Yosef says. The app's edge over competing sites, he says, lies in the range and breadth of the filters, enabling its relatively young user base to instantly turn photos into vintage shots, sketches, pop art, cartoons, e-cards and more — "stuff that will make you smile," he says.


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An example of a Photomania effect.(Photo: Photomania)
"People feel that their photos are not special enough," Yosef says. "Fifty years ago, when you captured photos from your camera, we were excited to get the Polaroid version, even though it (looked) awful. Ten years ago, you were excited when you had the digital image of your photo on the screen."


Now, "greeting someone for a special occasion, you want to do it with images and not through words, and you want to make it perfect and look special."


Photomania's technology does all the processing on the fly, and users can store their photos on the site.


The average user of Photomania via Facebook spends 15 minutes on the application, Yosef says. "It's great for Facebook as well because we keep their users inside Facebook," he says.


Photomania regularly triages its filter base, adding fresh ones based on feedback and eliminating those for which demand wanes, Yosef says.


The U.S. accounts for the biggest share of Photomania's users and is its fastest growing market. The U.S., Canada, Australia and Western Europe represent about 40% of the user base.


Yosef, 33, was born in Haifa, Israel. He has a degree in electrical engineering, specializing in image processing and communications, from the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology. His background includes stints as an engineer with Intel and Samsung. His co-founders, chief technology officer Bar Ziony and chief product officer Adir Kol, were, among other things, specialists in IT and Web infrastructure with the Israel military.


In December 2011, Photomania received a $1 million seed investment from Magma Venture Partners, the Tel Aviv investment firm. More recently, the company closed on "a few million dollars of funding" in a new round. Yosef declined to say who provided the fresh funding, except that Magma is part of the group.


"People are taking more and more photographs and doing things with them," says Modi Rosen, founder and managing partner of Magma. "It's a competitive market but it's growing so fast that we think there's a huge opportunity. There's room for a few players."


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Photomania has about 450 filters.(Photo: Photomania)
Rosen says that in venture capital generally, "there's concern about execution, but these guys have been executing quite well."


Photomania employs 10 people from headquarters in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. It is not yet profitable, Yosef says, declining to be specific. But he says that his focus right now is on building and retaining the user base.


"A huge step" in that direction, Yosef says, is the addition of a platform for the app independent of Facebook, to draw in people who want the ability to manipulate and share their images without the need to register with Facebook.


More than half the people who approach the Photomania application through Facebook don't go in because they don't want to immediately offer personal details to a product with which they aren't familiar, Yosef says. So users of the new web version will be able to use the app, decide if they like it, and then register if they want to, he says.


Another reason for the move to the independent Web solution is visibility across search engines. Google doesn't index Facebook, Yosef says. With the independent Web version of the application, "our search-engine optimization is going to grow."


In addition, Photomania in the next few months will launch an app for smartphone users and for tablets.


How to make money beyond ads? Yosef talks about "printed products": high-resolution prints, replicating users' photographs on T-shirts, mouse pads, coffee cups and the like; charging nominal sums for access to particular premium content or services; licensing out the Photomania technology, and more.


Yosef is hiring for at least two particular positions right now, in marketing and Web development.


He needs a community manager — "the one who sits between the company and its user base," the CEO says. "You are building communities on social media (and) exposing the company to the world."


And he needs a Web developer who can work on both the client side and on the service side, both the front end and back end of the Photomania site.