Founder of Popular Retro Photography iPhone App Finds Inspiration in American Innovation Driven by Our Increasingly Connected and Global World
Lucas Buick co-founded Synaptic, a company that brought retro looking photography to smartphones with its popular Hipstamatic app for the iPhone. (Flickr photo)
Lucas Buick is the CEO and co-founder of Synthetic, a company best known for bringing the washed-out and color-saturated look of retro analog photography to the digital world. The company’s photo app, Hipstamatic, the Apple iTunes Store’s 2010 App of the Year, sparked a frenzy of photo special effects and social sharing apps for smartphones. It sold nearly 1.5 million downloads in its first year and the $1.99 app remains one of the top 100 most popular paid apps with more than 5 million sold.
In 2006, Buick and his friend Ryan Dorshorst founded Synthetic, a small design consultancy. Three years later, they moved the bootstrap startup to San Francisco and shifted focus to the mobile software. Today, Synthetic has a series of Hipstamatic apps, including Swankolab, Incredibooth and an online store called Hipstamart, where people can order prints, posters, T-shirts and items using digital photos. There’s even an iPad magazine of curated content called Smack.
“What I love about magazines is larger trends being featured rather than the hourly trending topic on Twitter,” Buick said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
Buick sat down recently to talk about how he sees mobile technologies changing people’s lives.
How has being able to connect to the Internet wherever you go changed your life?
I think mobile technology is super interesting from the standpoint of everyday life. I’m walking through the streets and I need a great restaurant. I’m going to go to my phone and find it. I can read the news as it’s happening. And when I’m sitting in line at the bank I get to shoot pigs with birds [referring to the game Angry Birds]. It’s fantastic.
If you go back 5 years, we were all on future phones. I had my hot pink RAZR. Today we’re going toward smartphones that are connected to the Internet and they’re doing a ton of different things like photography and music. I now have many devices in one. I think we’re going to continue down that path, but you’re going to start getting specialty technologies as well. If want a camera that takes awesome photos, I don’t need it to text message or to have a phone feature. But I still want it to be connected so that I can share my images with whoever I want.
I can’t even imagine my job 5 years ago. The revolution in mobile technology and the hardware has completely changed everything. There’s this brand new industry called apps with a “S.” Ten years ago I was searching Excite with apps with a “Z,” looking for software on Morpheus.
Capturing an image of Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga, Calif. using an iPad. Photo was edited using Synaptic’s SwankoLab digital darkroom application for the iPhone. (Flickr photo)
What sparked your desire to bring retro-innovation to mobile photography?
We’ve seen a big change in photography, going from analog to digital. That began 10 or 15 years ago, and now it’s going from digital to mobile. In that transition, we’ve seen camera makers focusing on optical perfection. When we created Hipstamatic we were looking to capture emotion in photography, which has always been a great medium to do that. That’s really where instant photography fell in 30 . . . 40 years ago. And Hipstamatic is trying to fill that void today.
Three years ago Ryan, my partner, and I were running a design studio. Our clients stopped paying their invoices. Smartphones were just coming out and the [iTunes] app store was new. We wanted to have software that did everything that our favorite analog cameras did, but we wanted it in a device that we always had on us.
How difficult was it to get started?
The biggest challenge for us in 2009 was to be profitable from day one. We didn’t have investors. We needed to figure it out and make it work. We needed to have the business model and the product align from the beginning.
Content becomes meaningful when it’s about personal storytelling. We’re all using our social networks to share our stories with friends, family and sometimes strangers . . . all in the hopes of creating joy or even this feeling that others are missing out. Is my life cooler than yours? Our photo app helps people create beautiful images that they’re proud of sharing.
What’s in focus this year?
Modern technology and the Internet have us all so connected. Content is more readily available, and it leads us to discover new things, to be inspired and inspire others to create. This year is about globalization through creative thinking. We’re seeing a lot of American innovation coming out and it’s inspiring others. They are seeing innovation through the way we do things. I think that you’re going to see a lot more “Made in America.”
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