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Chris Cardell

Interview with Soujanya Bhumkar (Cooliris)

Cooliris is an immersive photo app designed for selective sharing.

I interviewed Soujanya Bhumkar, Cooliris CEO & co-founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and fifth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Soujanya!

How would you describe Cooliris in under 50 words?

Cooliris is the world’s most beautiful experience for endlessly discovering and selectively sharing photos from all your sources like mobile library, Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox and others, all within a single app. Share photos privately in 1-on-1 or group conversations within Cooliris, or post to Facebook — it’s your choice.

What would you say makes Cooliris unique?

First and foremost, we believe that the user experience is the most important. We’ve used our unique Cooliris 3D Wall, which we have become renowned for, and extended it to iOS devices to make for a not only beautiful, but also extremely fast way to browse through thousands of photos in a matter of seconds. Combining this with the ability to view and selectively share photos from many different personal media sources in private and intimate group conversations, we’ve created a unique and comprehensive photo experience for the mobile user.

How did you meet co-founder Austin Shoemaker and what inspired you to come up with Cooliris together?

Austin and I met through a mutual friend, Josh, when we were working on a conceptual project around creating a better web browsing experience. We ended up starting Cooliris because we believed that there was and continues to be a need for new, better immersive experiences for personal media. With the proliferation of media sources, platforms and devices, people want a better way to easily discover and consume relevant media.

Our first big success was the Cooliris browser plug-in that Austin and team built in 2008. As there has been a shift from desktop to mobile, and now another shift towards more intimate group interactions on mobile, we’ve come to focus on the new Cooliris mobile app.

Who do you mainly focus on targeting?

Anyone who has their photos siloed across different sources and enjoys engaging with them in close, intimate groups.

In the past few months, you’ve spoken at conferences such as BeLaunch and ChinaBang, do you see these conferences as the best way to get the word out about Cooliris?

Conferences have been great excuses for us to come and meet with some of our super users in different geographies. They’ve also been a great way for us to evangelize our vision and product, and compare notes with other passionate entrepreneurs who are working to change the status quo. Especially when it comes to new international markets, attending these conferences is a great way to understand the market better and launch ourselves into those markets.

Your core product, the mobile version of Cooliris was launched in July 2012, how does this version differ from the original?

The original Cooliris product, which was a desktop browser plugin, was aimed at solving the problem of discovering rich web media. The new mobile app leverages all the learnings from the original desktop product as well as our other product, the Gallery app for Android, which we developed in 2010 with Google. The Cooliris mobile app today is now focused on personal media, but the guiding principles of beauty and speed have remained the same.

Would you say that Cooliris has been more popular on the iPad or iPhone?

Our app users are split evenly between both. While both the iPad and iPhone versions of Cooliris have full functionality, we notice that more photo browsing happens on the iPad, whereas more group interactions like photo sharing and messaging happen on the iPhone. The iPad, with its larger form factor, makes it an ideal experience to sit back at home and enjoy browsing through photos in the 3D wall, or show them off to friends. When you’re on your iPhone on the go, Cooliris makes it easy for you to interact with any of your friends or groups via photos and messages.

Currently, you can seamlessly explore photos from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other social networking sites with Cooliris. As new social networks are introduced, will you continue to update Cooliris so that it works with all social networks?

We envision Cooliris as the complete media hub for users. Our prioritization is guided by user feedback and user demand for integration of various sources, some of which are globally popular and others that are region specific.

You have recently expanded into Asia. When did you start providing Cooliris on an international scale?

Since Cooliris is a highly customizable experience with a focus on media, we’ve been fortunate to get traction from users around the world. In December 2012, we officially launched our first localized international version in China in partnership with Renren, the “Facebook of China”. Following that success, we partnered with Yandex in Russia to bring Yandex.Fotki into the Cooliris app in January 2013.

Most recently in our latest release, we partnered with Tencent in China to bring Tencent Weibo content, which is China’s largest microblogging platform, into the app. We’ve also expanded our partnership with Yandex to integrate Yandex.Disk, Russia’s most popular online cloud storage solution, and Yandex.Search, the country’s leading image search service.

You have recently released Chinese and Russian versions of Cooliris, did you encounter any barriers in doing so?

Launching in international countries is a challenge, due not only to language and cultural barriers, but also differences in app and media usage habits. There is also the challenge of distribution and how to get users in these countries to know your brand and use your product. By working with local partners in different countries like Renren and Tencent in China and Yandex in Russia, we are able to leverage their reach and their understanding of the users in these markets.

Cooliris has reached #1 iPad app in 75 countries. Did you expect such success when you set up in 2006?

We set up in 2006 in a very different, desktop-centric world, where reaching worldwide users was extremely challenging. The emergence of iOS and Android app stores helped to eliminate those distribution barriers, enabling startups like us to reach users around the world.

The journey for us is now getting even more exciting, and we have big plans for the future as we continue to develop our product and change the way users around the world interact with and communicate through their personal media.

In the last 6 years, you’ve received 3 substantial amounts of funding, did this aid product and market development?

We’ve always considered funding as an opportunity to elevate our company to the next level. The capital helped in product and market development, but more importantly, it helped to augment the team with strong teammates, as well as strike key distribution partnerships.

How do you differentiate Cooliris from other social networking sites?

We’re all about making your photo life easier and making it more enjoyable for you to organize, experience and communicate around all of the photos that are relevant to your life, regardless of where they are stored. The Cooliris app takes all of the photos from your existing social networks and photo sources, and brings them together in one app for viewing and sharing ease. By enabling both selective sharing in close-knit groups along with broadcasting to your social networks, we’re giving the control over personal content back to the users.

Do you see your workforce expanding following your recent international expansion?

Our plan is to expand internationally by leveraging key partnerships. We have teammates on the ground in Asia working directly with existing partners and forming new relationships. We are always looking for great talent from around the world to join the team.

Do you have any upcoming developments following your expansion in Asia?

We just released our newest version with partnerships with Tencent and Yandex, and we have great things lined up in the coming months that we are very excited about. Stay tuned!

Where do you hope Cooliris will be in 5 years?

We hope to bring the fast and beautiful Cooliris experience to all screens and devices, whether they are hung on the walls, worn on your head, or carried in your pocket.

You’ve evidently experienced a lot of success, what advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

A lot of your product’s value proposition comes from how the user feels about your product. Relentless focus on matching the user experience with the user’s intent is extremely necessary. User experience is not something you slap on towards the end of the product development process, but needs to be in the core DNA of the product and the team. Last but not least, the time to market is just as crucial for success as the product itself.

Can you convince the reader to start using Cooliris in under 50 words?

It’s the easiest way to get all of your photos from the camera roll, Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox, and 15 others in one app, and save or selectively share them with people near and dear to you. You haven’t experienced beauty and speed until you’ve tried Cooliris.

Finished reading? Check out Cooliris!

This entry was posted on Monday, July 29th, 2013 at 12:47 pm GMT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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