Q&A with Shape Collage founder and CEO Vincent Cheung
Shape Collage is an app that allows users to make collages out of their photos. The company was born out of the experience of its founder, a former Google employee who discovered an easier way produce photo collages to share with friends than spending hours on photoshop. Shape Collage says that its application has been downloaded more than 4 million times. The Toronto-based company was founded in 2009.
SUB: Please briefly describe Shape Collage and the value proposition you bring to the photo apps market.
Cheung: Shape Collage is software that takes hundreds of your photos and automatically creates photo collages in different shapes in just seconds. The photos are intelligently arranged to form the shape of a heart, word, logo or any desired shape in a way that optimizes the placement of the photos so that the photos are nicely spaced out and the photos are visible in the collage.
Besides being the only collage maker that automatically and intelligently arranges the photos and creates collages in different shapes, Shape Collage is also capable of handling up to tens of thousands of photos, generating collages large enough to print on a giant billboard, and can export to Photoshop format with each photo in its own layer, none of which other collage makers are capable of doing.
Shape Collage is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPhone. We also have online and Facebook applications.
SUB: How did the idea for Shape Collage come about? Was there an “aha” moment of inspiration, or was it longer in developing?
Cheung: I was working at Google in Silicon Valley and me and a bunch of other interns were taking pictures from our random adventures in Northern California and at the end of the summer, I had hundreds of photos, but they were stuck on my computer and I couldn’t share them with my friends and family effectively. I ended up creating a photo collage in Photoshop by hand, which took over 10 hours to make. A year later, I realized that I could take some of the knowledge that I have gained in optimization algorithms in my PhD to automate this process. I then realized that the fast algorithm that I created was capable of creating collages in different shapes, which I had never seen before, and so, Shape Collage was born!
SUB: When was the company founded, and what were the first steps you took in founding it?
Cheung: The company was officially founded in March 2009, but it first started off as a fun side project in December 2007. It grew into a company when I saw the success that it was having.
SUB: Who do you consider to be Shape Collage’s competition?
Cheung: There are many other programs and websites that are capable of creating collages (Google Picasa, iPhoto, Picnik, etc.), but the real competition is alternative things to do with your photos. Shape Collage is expanding the “collage market” because most of our users have never made a collage before.
SUB: What are your target markets?
Cheung: Everyone that has photos: teenagers, college students, young parents, grandparents, professional photographers, graphic designers, website owners, etc.
SUB: How are you marketing Shape Collage?
Cheung: SEO, word of mouth, social media, online advertisement, PR, and reviews in blogs, magazines, and newspapers.
SUB: What have the biggest challenges been you’ve faced so far to building Shape Collage?
Getting above the noise of hundreds of thousands of other applications and websites to get peoples’ attention.
SUB: What is your business model? How does Shape Collage make money?
Cheung: Freemium business model. The desktop software has a free and a paid version that allows you to create collages without a watermark and unlocks additional features like saving in Photoshop format.
SUB: How many customers do you currently have?
Cheung: The Shape Collage software has been downloaded 4 million times.
SUB: Have you raised outside funding? If not, to you plan to in the future? If so, do you plan to seek more outside funding in the future?
Cheung: We are fully bootstrapped and profitable pretty much since day 1. We are not looking for any outside funding as we have no need for it.
SUB: Where do you see Shape Collage in about a year from now?
Cheung: Be everywhere where people have and take photos.
SUB: Finally, as an entrepreneur who has successfully navigated the down economy, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs just now starting a business?
Cheung: Keep an open mind, be aware of what’s going on in the bigger picture, and adapt accordingly. Shape Collage started off as just an algorithm, then it became a desktop program, then a paid desktop program, a web application, a Facebook application, an open API, and now a mobile application. None of this was planned at the beginning.
ShapeCollage – www.shapecollage.com