Investing / Software / Startups

Why a photo-booth company went all-in on software

Pixilated has ambitions beyond its trademark photo booth. With $500K in fresh capital, the five-year-old company is scaling up. Here's how.

Pixilated cofounders Patrick Rife and Nic China using their own product. (Courtesy photo)

Pixilated photo booths are known for adding a dose of fun to weddings and parties around town. When the cofounders of the company started five years ago, they recognized the power of the selfie.
“I think we came into business at a time when people were starting to get really comfortable with screens and seeing themselves on them,” said Nic China.
They also saw that it could be more than a picture. As he and Patrick Rife delved deeper and traded thoughts with other entrepreneurs at Baltimore events like TechBreakfast and Startup Soiree (of which they are also cofounders), the wood-encased kiosks gained more capabilities. They added ways to email and text yourself photos, and integrations with CRM software.
But as they discovered more possibilities, they also ran up against the limitations of the third-party software they use. The next change requires building their own.

With new investment money, the company plans to build a platform to manage the photo kiosks, media sharing and data that is gathered at events.

They raised $500,000 from investors including Mavin Ventures, a new firm founded by Greg Cangialosi and Jeff Kurtzman. China said it will fund software development and an expansion of the sales team.
Oh, by the way, they’re hiring.
The investment is the first infusion of outside capital for a company that has been bootstrapped to date. Growing on revenue, they added a new employee each time the work increase required it. The core team now has 10 full-time employees — two of whom were recently elevated from part-time — along with the people who run photo kiosks at events.
“We swelled to the point where we’re going to need some technological help,” China said. “Our current technology is not scalable.”
They want all of the files, social media and integrations — everything except the photo being taken — to be able to be accessed remotely via the cloud. With that capability, China said the software will help the company expand to new cities, with an aim to add offices in D.C. and Philly this year.
But it’s not just about expanding the number of weddings and parties. Pixilated also wants to ramp up the marketing offerings they can provide to other companies.

They didn’t arrive at this growth idea immediately. During our conversation, China reflected on how building a business meant trying to think of all of the possible ways to grow. That’s led to a lot of different ideas spilling out of Pixilated HQ in Morrell Park.
But it was an out-of-town trip to Bonnaroo that provided a particularly eye-opening experience. It was about business rather than bands.
At the Tennessee festival, they were shooting for nutrition company GNC. Representing a big brand was a relatively new approach, but they found they could show what they could do. Along with a pic that had GNC’s logo on it, they also offered the company a way to capture emails digitally.
They also saw that their approach was just one of the tech-enabled marketing strategies in use at the festival — think beacons, app integrations, etc.
“All of these things ultimately were really connected to one another, and we understood a lot of them,” Rife said of the tech. “It was a place that we got a chance to look at a much more scaled battlefield than we were ultimately conducting in.

Startup Soiree at Pixilated HQ in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Startup Soiree at Pixilated HQ in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Over time, they realized that the social media sharing and data collection offerings could be part of their client brands’ overall digital marketing strategy. They started working with more, but they also see potential for more than events.
That has also led to an evolution of the physical photo kiosks themselves, which were designed and fabricated in Baltimore from the start. The new versions would be able to be placed permanently at locations like retail stores. In one concept, a smaller version could sit on a shelf.
The founders’ vision includes the ability to add new features as they go. While today they’re incorporating Snapchat overlays, the future could include virtual reality.
“We want to get them to a place where [brands] bring their most ambitious ideas to us,” Rife said.

Companies: Pixilated

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