Cooliris is changing the way we view images

A very exciting company that’s been helping people find images is Cooliris from Palo Alto, California. This 2006 company is getting 50.000 downloads a day of their browser application which allows users to see pictures on a 3d wall.

Cooliris is broadening its focus from the original products in a push to generate revenue. It’s now rolling out  an embeddable 3d wall that can also hold advertising. This wall will stay on a partners website enabling all visitors to use it, not just the ones that have added to application to their browser. Furthermore Cooliris has started selling advertising in partnership with the publishers. These ads show on the wall and are the first steps to revenue generation for Cooliris.

I spoke to Michele Turner (VP of engineering) , Sashi Seth (Chief Revenue Officer) and Jenny Lum of the user growth team about the start of the company, the team and the plans to grow users and revenue over time.

First of all, looking through your website there are a number of products, basically split between Cooliris and coolpreview, can you do a quick walktrough of the productline ?

Cooliris is our flagship product. It runs fully on the desktop or on a browser mode. It lets you view, in a 3d wall format a broad variety of images and video. We’re constantly expanding the content we have available here.

We also have cool preview which is in fact the first product that cooliris built. Which lets you preview a link that shows where it would bring you if you’d choose to click on it.

Then there is the flash-based embed wall. Publishers can use this inside of their site. This has taken off really strongly and is also the basis of our publishers’ network.

 Finally, we have cooliris for the Iphone, we just launched version 1.5 and that’s been doing very well.

And what is the publisher network exactly, what’s the revenue model and for what type of companies is this interesting?

The embed wall is a way to enable publishers to showcase their own content on their own website. Every content owner has a similar problem to that of the web: A lot of content but not a good way to show it and allow users to engage with it.

Publishers can embed this on their website, customise it easily and feed content to it with an RSS feed. There are a few lines of HTML code to cut and paste into the site. Today there are about 10.000 people using it on websites one year after launch. There has been a lot of interest in this product.

The problem we are trying to resolve is straightforward: Showcase more content and allow users to engage more with the content and spend more time on the website.

The last piece is about new revenue opportunities through the publishers’ network. Content has been really hard to monetize for publishers. This tool gives advertisers a new opportunity but also gives users an incentive to engage with the advertising and make money for the publishers.

We sign on premium partners and then use their and our teams to sell the advertising. Advertising on the embed wall can be turned on or off easily depending on the publishers intentions.

Your company is quite young. Let’s go back to the beginning. Why did you start the company? What came first, the idea or the technology?

The idea started when two of our co-founders were kicking around some ideas while at Stanford University. They found it hard to do even simple things online like going through search results and looking at a link on websites. Browsers haven’t really changed significantly in the last 12 years or so apart from adding tabs and increased speed. Content discovery was hard to do and this was why coolpreviews was created, to help with the navigation. It was like saying: Look, you don’t have to leave the webpage you are on. If you’re just looking for a snippet of information you just want to see a window of what’s behind this link you can use coolpreview.

This product was built without any funding at all, the founders built it themselves from their Palo Alto dorm room. They then found the current CEO and invited him to join. One year later, the investors Kleiner Perkins found Cooliris, started funding and that’s how the next products started to get built

The management team appears to have a low profile, is this deliberate?

I don’t think it’s that deliberate, it’s more just how it played out. As a company we did keep a low profile though and some of it was on purpose. We haven’t talked much about the funding and the team but really just built the management team that’s in place today over the last few months, that’s part of the reason. Sasha (Chief Revenue Officer) has been here for a while and we just brought on a VP of engineering, (Michele) to run product and marketing.

The company truly believes the product speaks for itself and wants users to speak about the product. This is the best form of marketing and PR.

How would you describe your company culture, has your location in California influenced it?

It’s definitely a typical young silicon valley, start-up culture. We work really hard, you will find people in the office anytime day and night and we also have a lot of fun. About half the company is engineering and we have a growing business development team to support the publisher network and we’re starting to beef up marketing and product management.

What about your office, where are you based now?

When we got our first round of investment we stayed in the incubator facilities of Kleiner Perkins housed in their main offices. We stayed there for almost a year. We then moved to a small office in Palo Alto and into the new one two months ago.

How many people do you have in the office now and what is your company culture like?

Just over 30 people. One of the interesting part of our culture over the past few years results from our location right next to Stanford University. We have gone out and aggressively gone out to get student interns on board. In fact, when you look at our ‘formal Friday’ picture on the blog you will find a lot of those people are interns. This plays to our culture.

We bring them on in the summer and give them fairly large engineering projects to work on, in fact a couple of years ago they built the core of our channels engine. Sometimes when they graduate they come on board with us as well. We have about 20 interns right now that stay on board anywhere from 6 weeks to several months and some stay during the school year working part-time.

Is your market mostly the US?

 No, actually not, one third is US, one third Europe and we have an enormous tail and broad base. One way to find how users find us is to go to google trends and type in cooliris. You will see an amazing distribution of where people come from. We get 50.000 downloads a day and it’s all word of mouth. We do not spend a single penny on advertising or marketing. Hungary was the biggest country last month…

We’re also working on Asian languages but because the product is so visual people are able to download the product despite the language. We do localise content as well and bring it in from local sources. You will see different images when you’re in the UK versus the US. We’re also thinking about how to monetize our growing European market.

Was your product portfolio planned from the beginning or did it grow organically from coolpreview onward?

Almost all the products you see today were part of our roadmap one year into the company, maybe even earlier. We sat down and decided we had to be where are users are and this is not just on the desktop but also on mobile phone and publishers sites. As long as we solved the same set of problems it would do that regardless of the devise they were using.

What is your revenue model, many of the applications are free and I’m seeing the advertising revenue for the publishing model. Can you explain this in a simple way? I got a little bit confused reading it of the website?

To date we have held the philosophy that we are only interested in the usage of the product and building out the user base. Hopefully advertising can monetize it. I wouldn’t say no to premium paid features that you mentioned as people have asked us about this and customization. This could lead to solutions that are vertically integrated. Today that is certainly not in our charter though.

Are you going to have more paid applications as well to complement the advertising revenue?

The main revenue models are advertising in the cooliris client and the publishers network. There are further opportunities in the Iphoneapp and mobile applications and we’re experimenting with a bunch of those ideas. We hope to turn those faucets on in the coming months.

Getty Images is using your technology. Are you working with other Stock Media companies? And are they a prospect base for you at all?

At first we did not even know they were using our product until someone told us in a meeting:” Getty does it this way” to which we replied: “what do you mean, Getty does it this way?”. We then checked out the site and realised they simply used the API that was published on our website all by themselves. Since then different parts of the Getty Images have used our  products and engaged with us. A good example is Istockphoto.

Occasionally they do custom work and have brought that to us. We now have a loose partnership, there is no formal relationship but we enjoy working together. They are very technically savy and don’t need much help.

Other clients in the industry are Kodak Industry and Flickr. Folks that are in the community promote us through word of mouth.

How would Stock media companies use your software?

Many of the companies that would benefit are not technology centric. What we found is that many of these companies may not find us and reach out but if they do they find the embed tool on our site and server themselves.

We have not gone out explicitly to Stock photography industries right now

And what about individual photographers. More and more people are running their own sites, how do applications work for them?

The easiest way if to work with the embed wall. We do have a few more things coming out in the next few months that will make the process of getting the embed wall on their site dead-simple for someone who is not technical at all.

We understand that photographers don’t necessarily have the flash-skills to get it on their site, blog or other ways they are communicating. For photographers this is a powerful way to pull their best work together in a beautiful and unique display fashion.

I noticed that to embed the wall a photographer or company needs to go to a developers page. I would say that the moment you send a creative person to something called a developers page they may freak out…

Oh yeah, that’s a good point. I totally agree. We have to kind of rename that and find a better approach to that…

The discovery of the product though doesn’t necessarily have to be trough cooliris. The way that we are thinking about this problem is that when it’s integrated into something like wordpress it is already available and you can add it through the click of a button.

Our integration of properties like Flickr and Picasa is that you may be storing your image on any of these sites there is an easy mechanism to bring these images into an embed wall. Our intention is to turn it into an end to end solution where you cannot just browse the images but also purchase and download the images.   

Would you partner with someone on that new generation of the embed wall?

We would have to integrate with something like paypal but more importantly we would have to build a solution so that there is a shopingcart, checkout etc. We feel we cannot just play in one area of this game where you can help you browse but beyond that you are on your own. We can certainly go one step further and give you an end to end solution.

What products and extensions are you working on right now. What can we expect next from cooliris over, let’s say, the coming 6 months?

There is a massive amount of media coming your way and it’s growing exponentially. We have a solution for photo’s and video’s that we are allowing you to navigate easily. We are looking at what you can do after you navigate it. Firstly, how you can interact with it more effectively. Secondarily, how do you find stuff you really care about more effectively, personalisation and customization.

Finally, how do we build a complete solution. What do we need to have to give people the ability to do more with the photos and videos that are coming in.

We have an upcoming launch in the coming months around performance and our first launch around customization in Q4. And we’re looking at a major release around this by Q1 next year. We tend to have a major release every quarter.

Since the interview Cooliris has launched the Cooliris channel that uses the wall application to serve up content to the user.

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses