Their office – Paris Incubateurs
The official name of the building is “Incubateur de Paris Région Innovation Nord-Express”, and it’s one of six that the City of Paris owns and operates, and it is quite a journey to get to. It’s a modern looking building, in a non-descript part of town. I’ve been to quite a few incubators, and I fully expected to see a busy and energetic open space plan – but no! A lounge with mailboxes all marked with well-known Paris startup names, and an elevator that leads to a deserted hallway with brightly colored doors. One of the doors leads to a 60 m2 space that Sharypic inhabits, completely isolated from the rest of the startups in the building. A curious way to do an incubator, but I’m sure the government employees of the city of Paris have thought about it a lot. It is, however, a good deal for Sharypic, so why not have your startup in the 18th!
Sharypic was born at Startup Weekend Paris – two of the founders pitched the idea together, and their third co-founder joined them there. During that same event, their only investor, HackFWD, also made contact with them. So this is certainly a success story in terms of getting the most value out of a Startup Weekend! They only placed third in the Startup Weekend competition, and won a “mentoring partnership” with Orange (that went nowhere). But that’s hardly the point – they had a viable team, and a viable idea. Because they are three developers, HackFWD was interested in them (a developer-ONLY team is one of their requirements, but more about that later).
Sharypic is a photo sharing tool. Don’t they already exist by the boatload, you say?
Sure – but Sharypic is focused on photo sharing around events, and not necessarily with people you know. Imagine a wedding that you attended, and you’d love to get photos taken by the other guests, even if you don’t know the other guests – Sharypic lets you do that. In addition, they can do provide a realtime photo ‘wall’ at the event, based on photos that are tweeted, or shared using their (iOS only) mobile app, or sent to a special email address set up in advance. These events can be huge ones, like LeWeb, or they can be someone’s birthday party. For small events, the service is free, but if you have more than 10 people that upload, or want to use the advanced features like the wall, the realtime page, the mail address, dropbox sync, etc, you pay between $21 and $300 per event. They will even come to your event and set up a wall for you! Obviously that costs more.
The obvious downside to their product is that it’s trying to be a niche in a market where the big players offer free solutions. Their response, to customize for their niche, is the correct one. Is it working? It seems like it’s too soon to tell – they rolled out their premium offer a few months ago, and are still reiterating the product. Early feedback is good, and they are responding quickly to customer requests. So far so good.
But why did it take 1.5 years to get this far?
They got funded very big at the beginning – to the tune of €200K – that means that with a low burn rate (which they have), they can last for 2+ years. Does that make them lose the sense of urgency that other, less funded startups, have? I asked FJ, who pondered the question for a moment before thoughtfully answering that he doesn’t know. He talks about how it took a lot of learning, validating, iterating, and building, to get where they are.
It turns out FJ and I both know the CEO of BlaBlaCar (Covoiturage) – a well-known and successful French startup. The CEO, Fred Mazzella, will tell anyone who will listen his story of how it took his startup 8(!!) years to get where they are – so that makes Sharypic look like a TGV! FJ does agree that it’s high time they get traction with paying clients, which they are – they opened their Paypal account in May and it’s been steadily filling up. Launching the iOS app also made a difference. In addition to their current funding, they’re also pursuing Oseo money – the well-known subsidy vehicle of the French state.
HackFWD is a very special creature – an accelerator that ONLY invests in teams that are developer-only. This goes back to the philosophy of the founder, Lars Hinrichs, who made his millions with German startup Xing – a social network for professionals that’s very successful in certain parts of the world. While doing Xing, Lars got more and more impressed by developers, and their way of thinking. He’s not a developer himself, but after his very successful exit, he decided to start a pre-seed fund that focuses 100% on developers. At a recent event, he was quoted saying “Easier to train a geek how to do business than a business guy how to code” – which got tweeted into high heaven.
So how well does his theory hold up when it comes to Sharypic? Clearly, because they are three developers, execution is not the problem – they have built (and rebuilt) quite a lot of product. But is the quote true? Did they easily learn the business stuff? FJ admits it’s tough sometimes – he’s taken home many business books on the weekends. He praises HackFWD and its sponsor network, who helped him a ton with business stuff, especially in the beginning. Now, 1.5 years later, he’s much more comfortable in that area. But when they recently started marketing to the US business world, they got a US business guy to consult with them – so they recognized that they are weak in that area, and did the smart thing, which is to pay someone to do it for them! So this specific case mostly supports Lars’ theory.
Sharypic is a startup that has made a slow start, but is now gaining traction with paying clients. Having a developer-only team is mostly a strength, but from time to time it’s inconvenient and it may have slowed them down in the beginning. They’re happy with their investor, HackFWD, who helped them a lot when they needed it the most. Is it the next Facebook? Maybe not. Fail Conference organizer Cassie Phillipps once said that “Making money around events is much harder than people think” and it seems she’s right – only the stubborn and patient entrepreneur gets it right. Is Sharypic one of those? Check on them a year from now and you’ll know!