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Pinterest and Instagram collide with Pictacular

We’ve all had that idea of mashing up two of the most popular sites on the web to make the ultimate startup. Twitter and Reddit becomes Treddit, a place where you can vote on descriptions of cat photos limited to 140 characters. Facebook crossed with MySpace turns into a social network where bands create music videos using only their Farmville avatars. They’re all fantastic ideas (feel free to use them), but how many of us have actually had the cojones to go out and do it?

That’s exactly what the Pictacular creators did when they built the Pinterest-meets-Instagram photo viewer. At a time when Instagram offered no kind of photo viewing platform outside of mobile devices, Pictacular’s Pek Pongpaet and Brandon Leonardo spent a weekend making the first of its kind web app that eventually turned into a popular iPad app.

I sat down with Pongpaet to discuss his successful side project, the appeal of Instagram and how soon he thinks crushed velvet suits with ruffles will come back in style.



What is the backstory behind Pictacular?

We started around May of last year. Brandon and I had just met with some VCs and we were really frustrated with our meetings. We eventually asked ourselves, What would be a pitch that would be so awesome that they couldn’t turn it down? At that time Pinterest was really hot and Facebook had just announced that they were going to acquire Instagram for $1 billion, so we came up with a pitch for Pinstagram.

The more I thought about it the more it actually seemed like a good idea. I was a heavy Instagram user and at the time there wasn’t any way to view your photos on the web. On Friday afternoon I put together the design and by late Sunday we had something that pretty much replicated all the Instagram functions.

We kind of sat on it for a week or so. I felt like it wasn’t quite done and didn’t want to show it to the world yet. We eventually just decided to put it out there and we got a really great reception. 3,000 users became 8,000 and then 10,000. Traffic grew and we decided to launch an iPad version, which Instagram still doesn’t have.



Why did you change the name from Pinstagram to Pictacular?

People really love the name Pinstagram; it’s really obvious what it does. We changed it for two reasons really. At some point Apple stopped allowing us to update our iPad app due to the name because they were cracking down on possible copyright infringement, although neither Pinterest or Instagram ever came to us with any issues.

We thought about it and having it be called Pinstagram is kind of limiting anyway.  We thought maybe one day we’d like to be more than that.

What are your plans now that Instagram is building and increasing its web presence?

What I’d like to see is for Pictacular to display other photos in the feed and not just Instagram posts. We’re kind of tinkering with what we could do to mix things up moving forward.

What do you think has made Instagram so popular?

I think it’s a confluence of many factors. I think one is the simplicity. A lot of people use it to post photos to Facebook and it’s still currently the quickest way to get your photo on there.

Number two is the filters. They add character to your photos and turn mediocre images into more interesting ones. Hitting a button to magically make a photo better and share it with your friends is compelling.

The founders had some friends in influential spheres and I think of the earlier users included Jack Dorsey from Twitter and Square, along with Evan Williams. Those guys were very popular and had lots of followers on Twitter. When they started using the app I think that definitely gave it a boost.

What has been your biggest challenge?

As an entrepreneur there are many challenges growing your product and your user base. We still get a lot of users but it hasn’t quite grown at the rate we want it to grow.

Another challenge is we’re not funded -- it’s a bootstrapped product. We haven’t really tried to raise funding for this and I think rightly so. Right now we’re essentially an Instagram feature that lets you view photos on the web and Instagram allows you to do that today. Not having funding and not having a dedicated team that can focus on this product is definitely a challenge.



What are some fun things you do in or outside of the office?

Pictacular is an example of the fun things I do outside of the office. Basically if I have an idea that I think is good I start tinkering with it and at some point launch it. I have a new product that hopefully will launch soon. It’s an iPhone app that actually relates to Instagram again. It’s not going to be its own social network, it’s more of a tool that will enhance your photos and add to that experience.

That’s kind of what we do. If we have some fun ideas we just play with it and if I think it’s a good idea I make it into reality.

What is something you wish you had been told when you started out?

I think the biggest advice is to just do it. With lot of first time entrepreneurs their biggest fear is that someone’s going to steal their idea but the reality is quite the opposite. The reality is that no one really cares about your idea because people are too busy with their own. Don’t be afraid to talk to other people and validate your idea, rather than keep it a secret.

What’s next for Pictacular?

We’re working on a new version that will be bigger and better. I’m not sure when we’re going to launch it yet, so stay tuned.

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