Remember the glory days of Polaroid when you’d impatiently wave a just-printed picture waiting for your friends’ faces to fade out of the black? Well, say hello to the future-friendly version (and our Maker of the Month), the Prynt, a palm-sized instant photo printer that prints from your phone using inkless technology.
But its really unique feature is that each printed picture is digitally embedded with a short video clip of the seconds before the picture is snapped, so that when viewed via the Prynt smartphone app, it goes all Harry Potter magical portrait.
Prynt’s creators are 25-year-old friends Clement Perrot and David Zhang, founded the company in the fourth year of their engineering degree at the top French technical university École Polytechnique. In two years, Prynt has evolved from a flash of insight observing party-goers into a multi-million dollar outfit. We chatted with Clement to find out how.
Normally, no one cares when you take pictures at a party on your phone – nobody bothers to get ready for the picture. We noticed that when using a Polaroid camera, everybody wants to be in the picture, to look their best and see the results. That for us was something really special that we tried to understand. Young people are looking for something more authentic in terms of interaction. Because they have lived with digital their whole life, they want something physical.
In the first five months of 2014, David and I were back in Paris at the end of our degree, focussing on building the first Prynt prototype. During this time, we were accepted by a hardware accelerator called Hax. They select 10 startups and give each one a $50,000 dollar grant (with equity), then teach you where to go and how to build your product. From July to November 2014, me, David and Robin Barata, our Lead Industrial Designer and first official hire, went to live in Shenzhen – which is kind of the Silicon Valley for hardware in China – to learn more about manufacturing.
Then I moved to San Francisco to hire marketing people and look for investors. The marketing people helped prepare a Kickstarter campaign, which took about two months. It launched at the end of January 2015 with a goal of $50,000, and we reached that in 30 minutes.
The authenticity of the product was important. And for a successful Kickstarter campaign you have to bring out something new. But there was also a lot of work behind the campaign, making sure the messaging was clear. We worked hard to manage and engage the community of Kickstarter backers with email and things like that.
Yes, and none of the founders are marketing people. Developing a story as to why we have a ‘y’ and not an ‘i’ in our name – that’s not really my cup of tea. But I hired key execs that had tremendous experience [with marketing], and I’ve been able to learn from them.
We are about 20 people plus a few interns. David is the CTO and makes the product decisions. I’m the CEO and do all the other stuff. And we do fight, I guess it’s like a marriage, but that’s for the best – better to do that then internalise a lot of things. We have learned to be really honest with each other and tell each other everything. We have one-on-one meetings several times a week, even with our busy schedules. The most important thing is that we always want the best for the company.
David and I are both engineers, but in terms of how we think about things we’re complete opposites. He’s more task-oriented and focussed on the technical side. And I’m more people-orientated and not into one thing in particular. Just like dating, you meet a lot of different people, and then you meet the right one. You don’t always know at the beginning but you give it a try.
Living so far away from home is tough. Even just speaking in English, which is not our native language, every day is really tiring. And when we started shipping the product in December last year, that was hell. We had 15,000 orders to ship in a month when every other distributor was also shipping, and we had a hard deadline because our users were expecting to offer it for Christmas. It’s like a rollercoaster – there are ups and downs but you have to get the most out of every experience.
We’re working on an optimised second version of the product with a bigger manufacturer. But most of the innovation that we want to bring is more on the app side, to make it more convenient and user-friendly.
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