When Vincent Cheung was an intern at Google, he never thought he’d become an entrepreneur. But, with the development of his Shape Collage software, that’s exactly what he’s done.
Now Cheung is the recipient of the 2010 Global Graduate Student Entrepreneur of the year and his software is attracting attention from teenagers as well as techies.
He tells BusinessNewsDaily how his personal experience led him to become a successful entrepreneur.
BusinessNewsDaily: What exactly does Shape Collage do?
Vincent Cheung: Shape Collage is an automatic photo collage maker that takes hundreds of your photos and arranges them into any shape that you want, like a heart, word or logo.
BND: Where did the concept of Shape Collage originate?
VC: I was interning at Google in 2006 and between me and my fellow interns from all over the world, we took hundreds of photos over the summer while we were going wine tasting, surfing, playing ultimate [Frisbee], etc. I wanted a way to share a lot of the photos on my blog so my friends back home and around the world could see them. I looked into photo collages because they allow you to show multiple photos at the same time in a compact way, but I didn't like the existing solutions because they were tacky or didn't give me enough control over the collage, so I ended up doing it by hand in Photoshop, which took forever. A year later, I randomly thought that I could use some of my knowledge gained from my Ph.D. in computer engineering to automate the process and create a collage where you could see each of the individual photos. I created a new algorithm to do this and it worked well and fast. Then, I realized that the photos didn't have to be put in a rectangle box, which is what everyone else does. I could have the photos arranged into the shape of a heart, spell out someone's name, be put into the shape of a corporate logo, which was cool because I hadn't seen anything like that before.
BND: You were intern at Google. Did that experience affect your decision to create your own business?
VC: Actually, while working at Google, I had no entrepreneurial aspirations. I never intended on being an entrepreneur, I just accidentally became one. I built Shape Collage out of my own personal interest and then after it started catching on and getting popular, I realized that I had to take things to the next level and take it seriously.
BND: What is your business model? Who pays you to use the site?
VC: The desktop software is monetized using the “freemium” business model. The free version of the software has a small watermark and some limited features, eg.; you can't export to Photoshop PSD format with each photo in its own layer that you can edit. The Pro version is $25 for personal users and $45 for commercial users. Our users are everyone from teenagers making Justin Bieber collages to grandmas making Christmas cards, professional photographers, and teachers using it in the classroom. We're also doing some interesting B2B licensing with printing and media companies.
BND: Since starting this business what has been your greatest reward and greatest challenge?
VC: The greatest reward is hearing the stories from our users about how much they love Shape Collage and all the cool things that they are making with it. Over 3 million people have downloaded and used Shape Collage and I built it from scratch. It's pretty cool that that many people used something that I made. The money that it generates is nice, too, but rather than being a goal in itself, it's a validation that I made something cool and valuable. The greatest challenge is to get more users. If you build it, no one will come.
BND: How to you advertise your website? Do you use social media?
VC: Most of our traffic comes from direct referrals, search engines (we rank near the top for most collage-related searches), reviews on blogs/websites/magazines, and online advertising. We have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, but they are more for engaging with our existing users as opposed to generating new users.
BND: What differentiates your website from other websites with a similar concept?
VC: No other collage maker intelligently arranges the photos into the collage to maximize the visible area of each photo. We also are the only collage maker that allows you to arrange your photos in any shape that you want. Shape Collage can also create the largest collages (hundreds of megapixels), collages with the most number of photos (tens of thousands), is the most flexible (export to Photoshop so you can edit it yourself), and is the fastest.
BND: Can you order printouts of the collages or do you print them out yourself?
VC: Shape Collage gives you an image file that you can do whatever you would do with any other image file: print it at home, order a print from an online print shop, or put it on a USB key and walk into a brick-and-mortar store and get it printed there.
BND: What plans do you have next for either Shape Collage or for yourself?
VC: We have some cool things in the works and we'll be everywhere where people have, take and print photos.
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