With $1.5M Success on Kickstarter, Hardware Startup Prynt Reinvents Photo Printing

Prynt is the long overdue solution for instant photography from your smartphone.

There are a whole slew of services that let you order prints right from your smartphone with incredible ease and equally incredible quality. There are even apps that channel the wind-and-click days of only getting one shot without any edits. But compared to Prynt, those innovations start to look like novelty gimmicks.

Prynt is a case that lets you develop pictures straight from your smartphone. Thirty seconds after you snap a picture, you have that picture on an actual, real-life print right in your hand. The but-wait-there’s-more moment comes when you realize the augmented reality component.

CEO and cofounder of Prynt, Clément Perrot filled me in on how he and his Paris/San Francisco-based team Kickstarted their way to $1.5 million and almost 9,000 backers.

(Read about other innovative, crowd-funded products in our Startup Stories series: QCut jeans come in 400 sizes to help women find the perfect fit, and this spray can help you sleep.)

The Idea

Last January, Perrot and cofounder David Zhang were wrapping up an exchange program at Berkeley when they started arguing over who would get to keep a Polaroid picture someone had taken of the two of them. They realized first-hand that extra draw and attachment that comes with a printed photo that you just can’t get from all of the ones that live on your phone … no matter how many filters you put on them.

They noticed that what were once treasured mementos were becoming shallow shares when being mass uploaded to social media by the hundreds. Perrot said,

“Our pictures were starting to become meaningless, and only printed pictures could bring those emotions back, because they carry the real meaning of sharing.”

Perrot and Zhang thought that if they could come up with a way to print pictures seamlessly with smartphones, then people would invest in a way to make their lives and their memories a little less digital and a little more tangible. Their concept made them the first French startup to be selected for the Haxlr8r accelerator program in Shenzuhen, China last summer.


Starting With the Basics

Coming out of the accelerator, Perrot and Zhang’s first goal was to make a product that worked. That’s it.

So the first Prynt case design was bulky and only worked with iPhone 5, but that was okay to start. Perrot said, “We had to prove that the most important [thing] was the experience we were creating … when you realize that your smartphone becomes an instant camera.”

From there, they knew that they wanted their product to be slim and work on more than just iPhones. With these core concepts in mind they went to work, not just sketching or studying, but doing. They took apart printers to build their own minimum viable product and then used 3D printers to make a model of the case.

One of their biggest challenges in building the case was making it thin. It’s definitely very thin for something that prints out pictures and clicks onto your smartphone, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to leave it on your phone at all times. Still the final design hits all of the points they wanted to hit: It works with all phones. It’s easy to carry. It’s lightweight and portable.


But How Does It Work?

The Prynt case does what a lot of smartphone accessories don’t: it adapts across iPhones and Android phones. It does this by having an interchangeable dock that can work with many smartphones and the base Prynt unit.

The case connects to your phone via USB/lightning port for a direct, fast connection from your phone, all while running on its own independent power. You don’t even need WiFi or Bluetooth — the only connection you need is in the port connecting your phone to the case.

And finally, you don’t need to buy ink refills because the Prynt case uses ZINK Zero Ink technology which has ink right inside the paper. All you need to replace is the sheets.

Enabling all of these features for a more universal product was absolutely pivotal for Prynt’s mission. Perrot said, “What we liked about instant cameras, was that they were a truly popular product … being used by so many different types of users, and that’s what we wanted to build with Prynt.”

The “Wow” Factor

Fifty years ago, we may have thought that by now we’d be flying our cars around and teleporting, but obviously that’s not the case.

Right now, technology seems to be focused in the direction of connecting us by way of the cloud or GPS instead of anything physical. But, Prynt gives you the best of what’s possible with technology paired with the physical connection we’ve been lacking.

When you take a photo with the Prynt app, your phone is also recording the brief moments around the photo itself with a video. When someone scans your photo, they can see that video, like a secret little moment captured in paper. It’s a whole new way to experience photos.

To start this process, Perrot said they started by toying with image recognition. He said, “From there we asked ourselves how to increase the experience and we realized that no matter how beautiful pictures were, they would still lack the context that movies had.” The result of these mini Prynt movies is kind of magical. Perrot even compares it to the pictures that come to life in the halls of Hogwarts.

This augmented reality feature has so much potential for real, emotional experiences that go from phone to paper and back to phone in ways that are really memorable. Imagine sending photos of your kids’ recitals to the in-laws, and they can scan the photo to see a video of it. These could make for crafty substitutions for business cards, or even just a personal memory of a trip.


Getting Funded

After showing off their product at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, Prynt had a lot of selfies and a couple notable write-ups under their belt. So they thought it was a great time to get some financial support by way of crowdfunding.

Perrot said, “As simple as it can seem from the outside, a [Kickstarter] campaign requires a lot of anticipation and dedication … [that] expands way farther than our internal team.”

He said that before you hit the launch button, you have to be ready with updates, posts, pictures and images. Backers are going to have challenges and the press might even come a-knocking, so it’s best to have a handle on what you’re going to need before you need it.

It’s a good thing they did, because yesterday on their last day of funding, Prynt’s $50,000 goal was met 30 times over, with funds topping $1.5 million.

While they were racking up backers for the past couple months, they were posting updates all along the way and answering what looks like every single question that people asked. Customer service is not just important after someone’s bought your product, it’s important in convincing them to buy it as well.


Built to Last

Even as recent as five years ago, bringing instant photos to the tech market might have been an idea that was merely a fad gone the way of say the Polaroid iZone. But maybe we’ve finally started to reach the tech cloud-syncing/sharing/GPS-enabled saturation point. Maybe we’re starting to appreciate yesteryear for more than its vintage appeal.

Perrot said, “People are starting to understand that the more pictures they post online, the more those special moments are being diluted in a mass of ads and other content.” He admits that when it comes to his generation “We want everything.”

“In terms of photography, we want instant gratification [and] something unique … but [something] that also has all of the context and details that we want.”

Prynt brings you all of that. It’s a way to not only feel the nostalgic connection of a physical photo, but with the augmented reality, it’s a way to also see the possibilities of what’s to come in tech innovation. It’s making the old new again, while disrupting what’s new in printed photography.


The Next Step

Prynt is anticipated to start shipping in the fall of this year and the team is staying focused on creating a truly unique customer experience. Perrot said, “We want our users to be amazed by what they can do with Prynt, and that means that everything has to be perfect.”

Much like some of the innovative products we’ve covered in this Startup Stories series, the Prynt team is really listening to their users to see what they can do to get closer to that perfection.

Perrot said, “We have a lot of ideas for potential advancements for our product, both on the software and hardware sides and we’ll let our users try [it] themselves and tell us which ones they prefer.”

You can stay up-to-date with Prynt on their website, Twitter and Instagram.

Images and videos were provided by Prynt and Designboom.

Ready to start your project?

Learn how ThinkApps can get your product launched faster, better, and with more value than you knew was possible.

@ThinkApps on Twitter