Moments of big change have a way of reordering things.
With the world reshaped by forces beyond one’s control, it’s a time to consider where existing habits and offerings might fit, and reprioritizing what’s already in the plan.
That’s been true during the COVID-19 pandemic. When government-ordered closures began in March to stop the spread of the disease, companies quickly worked to figure out what makes sense in a world of social distancing, and put projects to the top of the plan that might’ve been something originally envisioned for down the road.
At Morrell Park-based photo booth company Pixilated, this resulted in a new product: The company drew on experience in the event space and a tech backbone to spin up online photo booth PixiWeb in weeks.
With in-person events canceled, CEO Nic China said business dried up for the entire industry. That includes the companies that add to the experience like Pixilated, which operates photo booths that are a familiar source of fun photo memories at Baltimore’s public parties and weddings.
Alongside figuring out funding and payroll for the immediate term, CEO Nic China said he and cofounder Patrick Rife contemplated the market, and how the company could continue to deliver a product. After all, China said, “as a company that has limited reserves, cash only goes so far if you can’t sell.”
Events were still happening, but virtually. And having already developed software to make photo booths run and distribute digitally, a product that would put the photo booth online was already on the roadmap. The events of the spring pushed it to the top.
“It was a necessity, but it also forced us into a pivot that we were going toward anyway,” China said.
PixiWeb offers the photo booth experience online, with the ability to add the “skins” for a specific event, and share photos through an online gallery.
The team worked with freelance developers to form an MVP. With the company’s PixiCloud software serving as a back-end, the main task was to build the front-end, and add API endpoints that would be specific to the product. Getting the engine built, they moved into testing. Relying on the lean startup approach popularized by Eric Ries, they sought to keep the build-measure-learn-feedback loop going even as the product began to sell.
“Each time we go through a learning loop, and I think it’s going to make the product that much better,” China said.
One key: It’s a web app, which makes it possible to run whether it’s on desktop or mobile. The focus was on keeping things as simple as possible, and that included considerations like launching a full screen in camera mode, and offering a bit of education on how to use it.
“We’ve given a ton of thought to how it feels. When you’re on your phone it should feel like a native app,” China said. “When you’re on your computer it should feel like a website.”
After putting several versions out, they arrived at three tiers: a lower tier centered on smaller events like birthday parties, a middle tier that might involve a “hybrid” event with more people like a wedding where the photo booth can create an album from all of the phones onsite, and a pro version for brands seeking out experience marketing. With a nod to the times, it’s designed to be flexible to what’s safe and allowed at the time.
“In the same way that we were serving all these companies in the events marketing space, now all of these companies are in the virtual event marketing space,” China said. “We’ve got a product that serves the same needs, and we see it being around even when live events do come back as a nice hybrid.”
For now, about four months in, it’s “one gigantic learning process,” the CEO said. Ultimately, a good product is one that gets a lot of use. Along with a design, the work is in figuring out what made it a hit with the folks who used it a lot.
“The biggest thing you can do is have people use it and talk to them. You start to find common themes and they start to ask specific questions,” he said. After all, it’s ultimately for the users, not the builders.
And when it comes to making a change? “Never let your ego get in the way of the decision.”-30-
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