PhotoRocket, Led by Amazon and aQuantive Vet Scott Lipsky, Uncloaks its “Not Another Photo Sharing Service”

2/28/11Follow @curtwoodward

Sharing your latest digital snapshots with family, friends, coworkers and the rest of the world is nothing new. But Scott Lipsky, a veteran of some of Seattle’s biggest tech success stories, thinks it’s still way too annoying.

His proposed cure is PhotoRocket, the startup photo-sharing utility that’s finally making its full public debut at Monday’s DEMO conference in Palm Desert, CA.

PhotoRocket has been varying degrees of coy about its service for the past year or so. The service has been in invite-only alpha testing for several months—you can check out this short promotional video of how it works—and has been slowly emerging for different computing platforms.

But with the covers finally coming off, Lipsky and CEO Gary Roshak called up to give Xconomy a little tour.

The one thing PhotoRocket mentions a lot is that they’re “not another photo sharing service”—which, of course, they are. But here’s what’s different: PhotoRocket isn’t necessarily trying to be the destination for your photo habit. Instead, it wants to position its technology seamlessly at all the points where you’d access your latest photographic genius and make it easier to push those images out to whomever you want, however you want.

So rather than existing mostly as a website that you have to access and set up an account for, PhotoRocket works as an application on your computer or mobile device. Once embedded, it offers a pretty simple mechanism for distributing photos over e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Shutterfly, and Flickr (they say more options are coming.)

That gets rid of the sometimes laborious process of browsing for photos, uploading them to a site, changing the size if they’re too large, and doing it all over again if you want to switch to a new distribution system. And your audience can view those photos without setting up any account of their own, making it less annoying on both ends.

“You can PhotoRocket a photo in five seconds to people and Facebook simultaneously. If you want to e-mail that photo, it’s five or 10 steps,” Lipsky says. “If you want to get a photo uploaded to a photo-sharing site or Facebook, it’s 10 or 20 steps.”

That may be an exaggeration, but I will acknowledge that it sometimes can take a lot of clicks and data entry and load-time waits to move your photos around, which at times doesn’t feel very 21st Century. I tested the PhotoRocket app on my iPhone and—while I’m no photo-app power user—it did seem like an easy and intuitive way to push images to multiple channels.

So that’s great. But is there a big business here? Flickr, Photobucket, Shutterfly and even newer services like Instagram already have a considerable head start in the photo-sharing game. And Facebook is already the default central hub for photo storage, curation and sharing for many of the people who would ostensibly use PhotoRocket.

Lipsky and company hope to disrupt this by exploiting the old real estate chestnut: Location, location, location.

PhotoRocket isn’t just a place you go to play with photos. It’s a tool that lives where your photos do. Right-click or hit the PhotoRocket button from a desktop, e-mail inbox, wherever—it’s basically always there.

“There are many little widgets and tools that you can use to put photos in one place or one other place,” Lipsky says. “With PhotoRocket, you can put your photos anywhere. We think that’s a very important point and we think it’s disruptive.”

Roshak also says there can be advantages to coming up from behind. For one thing, PhotoRocket’s relative youth has allowed it to capitalize on new technological building blocks that didn’t exist when some competitors started.

“What we’ve built, you could not have built three years ago,” Roshak says.

Coming on the scene later also provides an opportunity to dodge the biases or hindrances that an established player would have. Instead, a company can focus on solving the problems it sees from scratch, Roshak says.

PhotoRocket plans to make its money in a couple of ways. First, like Photobucket, Flickr and many other services, they’ll charge for prints and other photo-bedecked products.

And while they’re starting out with a free, unlimited-storage version, there are rough plans to introduce a premium service at some point that would charge customers for the ability to access and store their photos at full resolution.

But unlike some other services, Lipsky says PhotoRocket will never put limits on the amount of photos that can be stored or shared for free at a less-than-full resolution, which he described as “print-quality versions.”

Obviously, if PhotoRocket could carve off a nice big chunk of the more than 100 million people that Lipsky says are currently using photo-sharing services in the U.S., he’d also have a site that people would put ads on. But the company remains tight-lipped about further revenue plans.

“We’ll announce them when they happen, but there are others,” Lipsky says.

Video storage or sharing isn’t part of the equation right now, but may be added later. “It’s on our roadmap,” Lipsky says. “We think there’s a huge market in photos, but we’ll be expanding with customer demand.”

In the meantime, PhotoRocket also is expanding its fundraising. The company, headquartered in Pioneer Square, raised $1.3 million last year from what Lipsky says were mostly local sources. Lipsky says the company is raising some debt financing now, and plans to raise an equity financing in the second quarter.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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  • Landra

    Great job team! Love the apps :)

    I actually get around to sharing my photos now.

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  • http://www.dennyhillcapital.com Jan Hendrickson

    Full disclosure, I’m an investor. But I have to say that I am a total convert—PhotoRocket is amazingly easy to use. I find myself sending photos most everyday, and in fact look for excuses to use it! Stay tuned for more on Scott’s vision for the company! Inspiring!