Point, Shoot, Print: Picplum Aims to Make Photo Printing Effortless
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send photo prints, and didn’t care about the subscription. So [Picplum] evolved into a simple print-whatever-you-want service, starting at 50 cents per print.”
That idea is “working really well,” Dodeja says, though he declined to share data regarding the size or growth of the startup’s user base. The company is still small—Stamatiou and Dodeja are the only full-time employees, and they’re sharing an office in San Francisco’s SoMa district with Switchcam, a Turner Media Camp-backed startup that lets music fans assemble concert videos from YouTube clips. But it’s benefiting from the continuing explosion in smartphone photography and the spread of apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic. About 35 percent of the photos that people upload to Picplum were taken on an iPhone or and Android phone, Dodeja says.
There’s a pretty obvious reason why Picplum is one of the only companies trying to reinvent digital photo printing: it’s a hairy problem that requires not just great consumer-facing Web tools for uploading photos, but also an efficient backend process for printing and mailing them. “Paul Graham [the Y Combinator co-founder] had this essay called Schlep Blindness,” Stamatiou says. “His point was, sometimes startup people don’t want to tackle things because they seem hard. And from the outside, photo printing seems like a very hard problem, with lots of touch points.”
So while Picplum may be simple for consumers to use, there’s a lot going on under the hood, according to Dodeja. For example, the startup had to create a custom application programming interface simply to transmit the photos customers upload to the photo-printing facility in Texas that processes Picplum orders. It also had to come up with with a distinctive design for the Picplum’s mailers; those are printed in Oakland and shipped to Texas (though for months Stamatiou and Dodeja stuffed envelopes themselves). “We’ve spent a lot of time and money building out the infrastructure that people will never see,” Dodeja says.
But now that the infrastructure is built, Dodeja and Stamatiou have big plans for it. Coming soon: a way to turn photos uploaded to Picplum into customized holiday greeting cards, and a browser extension that would automatically superimpose a “Print to Picplum” button on almost any third-party photo sharing website, such as Facebook, Photobucket, Smugmug, or Flickr. “The thought is, instead of trying to integrate with everyone, let’s just build a tool that enables people to print any photo on the Web,” says Dodeja. (There will be built-in copyright protections to keep people from printing photos at sites like Getty Images, he says.)
Dodeja and Stamatiou also want to upgrade Picplum’s mobile presence. Right now the service is optimized for the desktop Web, which means printing smartphone photos isn’t as simple as it could be (unless you activate the Instagram connection mentioned above). “With the challenges we’ve had with backend integration, we just didn’t have the resources to build a mobile app, but having a mobile presence makes totals sense,” Dodeja says. “You might be at a picnic and you’re talking photos and you might want to send out prints. It should take less than 60 seconds.”
But that will take resources, and so far, Picplum has been running on its 2011 seed funding from Y Combinator, Start Fund, and 500 Startups. “We have not really taken the typical Silicon Valley route of raising a lot of money,” says Dodeja. “We have been trying to make it a more sustainable business. But Paul and I are not going to be able to grow the product forever. We need more hands on the table, and that requires more investment.”