The duo behind Easy Tiger, Aaron Ray and Valerie Ontiveros, never had the intention of creating photography editing apps when they first moved from Santa Barbara to New York in 2012.
Ray wanted to pursue music, while Ontiveros focused on fashion.
“We moved out here with a little bit of savings and blew through that pretty quickly,” says Ray, 28, during our interview in their new-ish office at the NY Studio Factory coworking space in Bushwick.
Ray came across a blog post on how to build an app and decided he could figure out how to build one himself. He borrowed $2,000 from his parents and came up with the concept of a photo collage app called Split Pic in 2012. He and Ontiveros spent the fall designing the app. They tapped a developer from freelance network Elance to build it.
From there, Split Pic took off. Ontiveros quit her job working with a celebrity stylist. They turned their apartment off the Montrose L stop into a home office.
“Every time someone used our app and posted with it on Instagram, there were 10 comments asking, ‘What app is this?’” Ray said.
Split Pic has just over 33 million downloads, he said. The iOS app has more than 128,000 reviews on the App Store.
Here’s Split Pic in action:
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Four years later, Easy Tiger has seven image editing apps in their family.
There’s Animal Face, which feels vaguely high fashion:
There’s a double exposure app called Fused.
There’s a typography editor called Font Candy.
The apps are free and feature in-app purchases and ads, through which the company makes its money. They also have a “pro” versions for sale that have every feature in them unlocked.
Easy Tiger also works with clients to make custom versions of its apps, like a recent project where it made a custom version of Animal Face for an interactive exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) in San Diego.
Ray and Ontiveros work with a large community of freelancers based around the world. They have freelancers in Russia, Australia, Philippines, London and Ukraine who help them with everything from technology to design to copywriting, and even customer support.
“In moving across the country we realized ‘community’ doesn’t just mean locale,” Ontiveros says. “With the internet, you can create a sense of community with people regardless of location.”
Take, for example, their coding team, which is in Siberia. Ray maps out the app’s user experience and interface for every project, then works with the developers via Skype.
“They do coding very well but sometimes it’s harder for them to see the bigger picture, like where it fits in the marketplace or what colors to use,” he says. “We work together like a big ant farm.”
Even though they left music and fashion for app design, they still find time to pursue their interests. Ray completed his first EP last month and developed an interactive app to go with it. (The app, a beat maker with a visualizer and sound board, has yet to launch but check out his “future electronic hip-hop” music on his website.) Ontiveros, on the other hand, is continuing her education at the Fashion Institute of Technology by taking an evening finance class.
The pair says they have no plans of shipping out west again.
“I think there’s something about Brooklyn and New York,” Ontiveros says. “Everyone is hustling. They are so creative and artistic that it’s super inspirational.”
She thinks being in Brooklyn allows them to form relationships that they wouldn’t otherwise have in a massive tech community such as San Francisco. -30-