Do you remember the prism? The Moscow-based team behind the app that sparked a style transfer craze in 2016 has raised a € 6 million Series A (~ $ 6.7M), led by the early-stage AI-focused VC firm, Haxus.
While two of Prisma’s original founders left the company in the middle of last year, to work on building a new social app, the as yet unpublished Capture, co-founder Andrey Usoltsev stayed on to further develop Prisma Labs, until the position. CEO.
The Series A funds will go towards expanding Prisma’s 21-member team and scaling the business through marketing spending to increase uptake of its app premium subscription offerings. These include a subscription layer for their eponymous app that gives users access to styles not available in the free version.
“We are going to grow rapidly. We are going to double our team this year and set up the impressive marketing budget,” Usoltsev says.
Late last year, the team launched a new freemium selfie retouch app, called Lensa, in hopes of capturing a slice of the beauty filter / photo editing market. His touch consisted of intelligent intelligence baking that powers automatic adjustments (soften skin tone, whiten teeth, brighten eyes, etc.) with the touch of the camera button in the app, as per tecnomagic.
Your selfie retouch tone is “natural” enhancements. Y Prisma claims that it is seeing “very high” retention rates for Lensa, more akin to sticky social media than photo retouching software.
They argue that the app’s facial retouching machine learning algorithms have benefited from the vast amount of data accumulated from Prisma’s multiple million users submitting selfies. And while there is certainly no shortage of rival apps that claim to make selfies look better, Lensa’s LPI retouching offers less stark / more plausible results at a glance than many sophisticated ‘beauty filter’ apps that also offer. a reality edit. goods
“There is competition [for selfie retouching] and we think it’s good because it shows the size of the market, ”Usoltsev says. “It’s huge. There are millions of people using applications like Facetune and our advantage is that we have a great technical team, an R&D team that creates the best technology on the market in some areas … that trained Prisma.
“We focus on the quality and the natural look of the results. And some applications in the market did not pay the necessary attention to these two things. We are going to focus on this.” We are not the first in this space, but we will be the best in this space. “
“Automation is the key,” he adds. “Now we can offer users a new type of product, a new type of photo and video editors that automate the routine and require less user effort to achieve amazing results.”
Lensa, which launched in December with an immediate subscription offer, now has more than 100,000 users, according to Usoltsev, although paid subs are not breaking yet.
The first user base biases to women and young people, without, according to Usoltsev, Prisma making any explicit guidance, with the main group being women between 18 and 24 years old, something surprising for a selfie beautification app.
“The product is not viral, like Prisma, and most of the users are purchased from paid sources like Facebook ads, etc. We tightly control the number of users we acquire and now the product is not ready for full scale, “he continues, noting that they are in the process of adjusting the application to expand the functions and improve the fit of the product market.
They’re playing with the business model too, with the initial subscription offering definitely feeling a bit underwhelming compared to the AI-powered basic editions. (You can read our first look at Lensa here.)
“Right now we are very close to starting to scale it,” he adds. “We need a couple more launches to get 100% ready and then we start to scale.
“We are going to expand the range of features. We are going to add a video function because our main function, retouching, works in real time and we tested it even in live broadcast and it works well. We are working to optimize it even more, to work more faster and with better quality. “
Other development work underway to refine Lensa’s proposal includes adjusting the automatic adjustments the app makes when determining the best settings for factors that influence portraiture, such as exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows. “For each setting we use a neural network,” he says. “They work together … to find the best result.”
Prisma is also monetizing its original eponymous app, which reached some 70 million downloads in a few months in 2016, and Usoltsev says they still rely more on organic / viral downloads rather than active promotions, riding Prisma’s long viral tail.
They now have more than 100,000 paying subscribers to the Prisma app, though they are not eliminating active use, beyond saying it is in the “millions.” (In 2017, Prisma reported active monthly use of the app at around 10 million.)
A premium sub-offer ignited in January 2018.
“The paying audience is actually diverse. The main age group, I think it’s 24-35 years old. And men and women have roughly the same ratio,” he adds from the Prisma app.
Lensa’s launch last year came despite an earlier shift in focus for the b2b startup, after the style transfer craze that had fueled the 2016 virality of its eponymous app appeared on the cusp. of being crazed (and, well, cloned) to death.
The plan, as it was in 2017, was for Prisma Labs to offer an SDK for computer vision effects that developers could use to improve their applications. But the team also kept its hand in the consumer space, preserving its applications as proving grounds. A decision that set them up for what now seems like a total reverse turn for the consumer.
Usoltsev tells us that the above b2b switch was “primarily” at the behest of Prisma investors, and was not something the broader team was interested in.
They are completely excited to get back to their consumer roots, he adds.
“It didn’t really resonate with the experience of our team and the DNA of our company,” he adds of the b2b phase. “But in the process we discovered that this is not what we want to do.” We came up with the idea for the new product in the process and we came up with a broader view of the entire company and what we want to do.
“The core team focused on consumer products and b2b was not seen as an interesting topic at all.”
So what’s on the board for the future, as the team thinks about other features and / or consumer apps it might want to launch this year?
“Right now we are thinking a lot about video,” he says. “Video is a fast growing space right now and we see a lot of new apps coming to market, like TikTok, growing insanely based on video. And we are going to provide users with automated tools to improve their videos.
“Videos are more difficult to edit than photos because they require more skill… to learn how to edit videos. And if your clip is longer than a minute, it is so difficult to create because montage could be a boring process and the longer the video, the more complicated the process. So we’re going to fix this and provide users with automated tools to help them create great videos quickly and effortlessly, or as little as possible. “
AI-enabled automatic video editing is “probably” a standalone app, he says, rather than a feature built into one of Prisma’s existing apps. But hey, look at this space.