Instaprint Wants 500K To Develop Your iPhone Pics [Interview]

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Four quirky creatives in New York want to make tangible those memorable moments snapped with your iPhone at a bar, a concert or your house – and possibly send them to your ex – with device called Instaprint.

They are the brains behind Breakfast, named the top innovative digital agency last year by Mashable, also responsible for a tweeting bike and the Conan Blimp. (Not bad, since the agency is a mere 18-months old.)

Breakfast is now handing the hat around to fund photobooth device Instaprint on Kickstarter, asking for $500,000.


Instaprint from BREAKFAST ny on Vimeo.

Fans of the iPhone and retrolicious photo app Instagram, the Breakfast gang powered out an Instaprint prototype for last year’s SXSW. Using the Instagram API, Instaprint can recognize hashtags and geotags and print out tagged pics right before your very eyes.  (If you want to check it out at this year’s SXSW, look for the four cubes that look a little like retro lightboxes at Feed).

As of this writing, they’re over 15 percent there, with 50-or so days left to develop full financial backing. The first generation device will work only with Instagram; later versions may support other iPhone photo apps, Android devices, Facebook and Twitter.

Cult of Mac talked to co-founder Michael Lipton about crowdsourced funding, the potential for photo spam and how the device might help maintain family ties.

Cult of Mac: A lot of projects shoot low on Kickstarter and then get way overfunded. You guys asked for half a million dollars. Wow.

Michael Lipton: It’s a little ambitious (laughs). We completely acknowledge that getting that kind of money on Kickstarter isn’t crazy, though asking for it is a little more unusual…

We’re not looking to become filthy rich with this by any means, it’s what we need to take this prototype and make a version that you can buy and hang on your wall and use with a simple instruction manual. And until you look into it, you don’t know how difficult that is…For many products, 500k is a drop in the bucket.

CoM: Why Kickstarter?

ML: Over the last year, we’ve taken prototypes to events and people have told us they want them… We had all this interest and we like the idea of saying to people, “You can help make this happen.”

As a small company, it’s attractive because it helps reduce risk. We feel strongly there’s interest and it will be successful. If we’re wrong with Kickstarter, we may have spent time and energy and if it fails to be funded, that sucks, but we didn’t get a million in investments and then flop.

CoM: Your site says you’re “excited but nervous” – what’s there to be nervous about, then?

ML: It’s a potentially massive endeavor and the first time we’re building a product of this scope. So it’s not nervous in the sense of  “Wow, we might fail,” but just looking at the amount of work that needs to be done. It’s a daunting task.

CoM: Your cost breakdown puts $20,000 for mailing perks to backers, that will keep someone busy for a few months.

ML: Exactly.  We’ll have to develop an entire operations staff to fill these orders. There’s a whole slew of new challenges. I’d tend to put more emphasis on the “excited” part, but it’s a combination of the two. There are just four of us full-time now…We’re looking to hire three or four people by the end of the year, but that’s not counting the eventual operations staff part; we’re looking to stay small.

CoM: What’s the appeal of Instaprint?

ML: It’s really all about the nostalgia of taking a picture and holding it in your hand. People seem to have forgotten that, in the past few years there’s been such an emphasis on putting everything in the cloud, which is great, there’s a use for that. But sometimes it’s nice to hold a picture with your friends when you’re out together, that’s what we’re trying to hone in on.

CoM: What’s the shelf life of these prints?

ML: We have prints sitting around our office that are over a year old that pretty much look like they did when they were taken…We print on 2×3-inch thermal photo paper, so the ink is taken right from the paper. We’re still looking at different printing engines and determining what’s right for the consumer version.

CoM: What’s the most unexpected photo you’ve seen printed so far?

ML: People have been pretty well behaved.  I was kind of surprised, though it’s good because you don’t want to see anything too crazy or disturbing.

There was a guy who drew a cartoon of the bottom half of his face, so it looked like he was half-cartoon, half-human, that was cool. We’re also seeing a lot of dogs…

CoM: The prototype has been used mostly at big events, how would the average consumer use it?

ML: People have told us they would love it for an office or in their house for a birthday party…People have told us they want it hanging on their wall at home so when they go on vacation, they can send their kids photos of their trip, like an instant postcard. There are some pretty creative uses, since you can go with a geo tag or a hash tag. You can be anywhere and send photos back home, or family members far away could be sent prints.

CoM: How would that work exactly?

ML: Let’s say my parents go on a trip to Paris, I subscribe to a specific hashtag – like #MikesMomandDadinParis – I can be pretty confident that not a lot of people are going to use that tag, so I won’t get spammed, and then anything they tag with that on Instagram gets printed at my house.

CoM: You could get spammed if your hashtag was anything obvious. Has that been a problem?

ML: We’ve never been spammed at events, so far. At times,  the tag has cast a wider net than we wanted, so we refined it. The [spam] potential exists, but we’re looking at ways to moderate or filters…In the example above, if you subscribe to #paris, you’d be inundated with photos, but that’s your choice.

CoM: So, it’s sort of like a fax machine – if people have your “number,” they can send you stuff, right? There’s a high potential for mischief – exes, employers etc.

ML: (Laughs). You just put that scene from “Back to the Future 2” in my head, where he gets fired and the faxes are sent all over his house…A fax machine isn’t the sexiest thing to compare us to, but I can see the analogy.