Few people in the technology world are unfamiliar with the huge rise in the popularity of the photo sharing service Instagram, which was topped off by a $1 billion acquisition of that company by Facebook just a few weeks ago. One of the startups which is looking to tap into that growing community is Los Angeles-based InstaCanvas ( instacanv.as ), which is headed by Matt Munson. Matt told us how InstaCanvas lets users of the Instagram site sell and buy photos they post on the site, and how the company is hoping to bridge the virtual and physical worlds with their service.
How does InstaCanvas work?
Matt Munson: InstaCanvas is a marketplace that allows users to sell their Instagram photographs, as canvas art pieces.
Explain how a user might experience that?
Matt Munson: For people that are interested in purchasing art, what we provide is one of the world's largest catalog of unique art pieces, taken by artists in over 30 countries. We allow you, if you like an artist, to fan the artist, and purchase their art on InstaCanvas. We make the process easy to do, and provide powerful tools for the experience. In about three or four clicks, you can set up a gallery, and we give them a personalized URL so they have an identity online, and anyone who loves their photographs can see their gallery. We also provide them with social tools to get the word out via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. They can also follow you on Google+, see your galleries on InstaCanvas as you update them and modify them over time, and manage all of your communications back and forth with fans.
Where did the idea come from?
Matt Munson: We've just always wanted to do it. There are a couple of guys on our team who are really big Instagram users. A couple of us had always joked about buying artwork and hanging it up in our homes. We're all at that point of transitioning in life from buying mass produced, Ikea artwork for our houses, but we're not yet ready to go into a gallery and spends thousands on a painting. We also want something that has meaning to us in some way. People are tired of mass-produced artwork. We allow the nonprofessional artist or photographer to have their own gallery, and make selling artwork painless and easy to do.
What's your background?
Matt Munson: I've been doing startups for a long time. I'm originally from Michigan, and my first startup came about because I was a psychology major and couldn't get a job doing anything else. We ended up selling that startup in 2003, and I went to work for the company I sold it to. My first real job was as a Vice President at big, 500 person marketing firm. I was making lots of money, but hating life. I quit after a year, and connected with my current co-founder in 2004 at a startup in the automotive space, which we eventually sold. I then invested in a company called Better, which did testing for pay-per-click ads and AdWords ads. In 2007, I then took some time in France and spend some time in grad school in Europe, then rallied the band with my co-founder and first hires at BetterPPC to start another company, which we sold last year. We got the team back together with InstaCanvas.
Do you run into any copyright issues with allowing people to sell their art and photos?
Matt Munson: We haven't had any so far. Basically, we have the same requirements that Instagram has. Even to post on Instagram, you have to have the rights to the photograph. We have those same requirements. If we do have a report that a post is not their own, we have a two strike policy. The first time it happens, we take down the infringing photo, and if it happens again, we remove their account. It's only happened once so far. We power over 30,000 galleries, and have 3,000 artists, with 2 million images on the site, and it's only been that one instance. We have a very active community on the site, who are lovers of photography, and that community is very self regulated. It hasn't been an issue at all.
How does pricing on the photos work?
Matt Munson: We tested demand for this concept, and had about 400 people sign up in 72 hours. We spent a week in conversations with the people who had signed up, about fifty to a hundred interviews with both artists and buyers. What we found from people selling, is they just wanted it to be easy. They didn't care that much about the exact price it sold for, for them it was all about getting their artwork out there, and exposure. It was more the idea of their art in a gallery. To make it easy, we set the prices. There's a standard price across a gallery, and we make it totally frictionless for a seller or buyer. We have three sizes, and that's it. It's a very simple model.
Does Instagram being purchased affect your business in any way?
Matt Munson: It's been great for us. Obviously, Instagram had a huge following, I think 35 million users at the point of acquisition. It's big, and growing like crazy, but it's still relatively small in the grand scheme of the world population. The acquisition has puhsed it to the point of everyday conversations, which has been great for us. From what I have seen, our artists are seeing significant growth because of the acquisition, and it's been great for us especially with the artist population and with the investment community. It's been a net win.
It seems like it would be great to have this as a button on Instagram--any thoughts of if that will happen sometime soon?
Matt Munson: We have ben very focused on being independent, although we've seen lots of inbound requests for partnerships. Obviously, we think the opportunity is much bigger than Instagram. The bigger vision and opportunity is when people see a beautiful photo online which has personal meaning, they can enjoy that in the physical world. We're really focused on our own community, and product execution for buyers. We've been holding off on partnerships so far, since we're a four person startup, and focus is really important.
What's the next big goal for you?
Matt Munson: I've been working on startups for a long time, and hearing from investors who have been in startup is that this is the most passionate, early community they've seen in some time. We're totally focused on taking this product to market, and creating something that delights every single photographer on the site. On the buyer side, we're creating the most powerful experience we can online, and make it an enjoyable experience where they can take this artwork and enjoy it in the real world. We also want to do things with the images, which will delight buyers, and build it into a community where people can connect with the artists they are following, and create a conversation. We're looking at how we can make this product awesome for both sides of the community, and improve the life of people who come and try it out.