On Tuesday the 13th of May a group of six entrepreneurs gathered in the sunny gardens of Sir Richard Branson’s Oxford home for the final of Virgin Media’s annual ‘Pitch2Rich’ competition. Joining Branson on the judging panel were MoonPig founder Nick Jenkins, NotOnTheHighStreet founder Holly Tucker, Jack Wills founder Peter Williams and fashion YouTuber Dina Toki-O. Boxhug, a self-storage service won the Startup award, and the photo sharing marketplace miPic won the Innovation category.
The pair beat more than 400 other businesses to reach the final of the nationwide search for Britain’s best new entrepreneurs, winning a prize package of investment and mentoring.
miPic is a social platform allows users to upload their iPhone photos where others can browse through the best mobile artography from across the globe. They can then buy the prints from the app and have them delivered.
I spoke to miPic founder Carl Thomas to find out more about his innovative photo sharing app and his future plans for his business…
Describe miPic in 3 words
Share, Earn, Art
Where did you get your inspiration for miPic?
I had the idea for miPic over 3 years ago, I was working as an Architect in London and saw the way mobile was transforming our photos, lives and social status. I saw potential in fantastic mobile imagery through creative apps, Instagram ‘followings’ and wondered how ‘100 likes’ could be turned into £100 as a desirable tangible art product. I ran my own art business whilst studying as an architect at university and I always wanted to set up something in London selling my own imagery. The miPic idea became the platform for us all to do so.
Mobile is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s world, how do you think it will affect traditional brick and mortar retail in the next few years?
As prominent as mobile is becoming, we will never be without the high street. The thrill of finding something in a shop and buying it spontaneously will forever continue to excite us. Mobile gives us the added sophistication of choice, options, colour, price, reviews etc. We have all become a lot fussier than ever before thanks to our instant mobile influence and I think retailers will continue to extend the shopping experience through their mobile platforms, focusing on user experience, beautiful simplicity and intuitive design. Augmented Reality and home try on is also becoming a lot more prevalent in retail, letting the customer see what he or she is about to buy on themselves in 3D. Synergy between the two is vitally important in today’s market as one compliments the other.
You recently won the innovation category at this years Pitch2Rich competition. How are you going to proceed now having won? What is next for miPic?
Firstly, it was a massive achievement to even be selected in the top 20 from 500 company applications. To go on and win both awards and the exposure we have gained this week has been priceless. Meeting Sir Richard and the judging panel, dealing with the team at Virgin Startups and the other contestants has been an absolute pleasure and we are so proud to have been involved. The Innovation prize was particularly exciting, as we are looking forward to joining up with Ian Merricks at the Accelerator Academy for 12 weeks of business mentoring.
The investment injection rewarded is hugely beneficial following our beta launch in January. We can now begin to execute our marketing strategy with the hope of a miPic video ad. We can invest in some great new high quality art products for the website like high quality framing, printing onto zinc, aluminum and glass, secure an international shipping partner and aim towards opening our first miPic retail gallery in London showcasing the best mobile are from around the world. We have also been working intently this month alongside the Pitch2Rich competition on a new release of the miPic App, with improved new features and design which will be available on the app store this week. We are currently seeking first round seed investment opportunities with Angel Investors and VC’s in London with the idea to take miPic abroad, with manufacturers and retailers across every continent aiming to help one billion people profit from selling their mobile art.
Do you remember your first breakthrough moment and how that happened?
In November 2012, I was given a contact in London from a friend in the print industry whom I met at university. Thankfully the company agreed to meet me after work, so I pitched my idea and website on an iPad in Costa Coffee to their Technical Director and he loved it, agreeing to start on development the very next day. By securing the services of a UK National print company to manufacture and distribute the miPic product, his enthusiasm and the realisation of creating physical art from our website gave me the belief and motivation to realise my idea. I went on to employ another freelancer last year to develop the iPhone app while I continued to work full time in architecture and we worked with the print company developers to create the miPic ecosystem.
Another strange occurrence was the request and involvement as ‘the architect’ in the new Nokia Lumia 1520 Phablet commercial, which launched in October 2013. Being named and featured in a mobile photography commercial for Nokia completely separate to miPic’s development was an uncanny and priceless coincidence. This caused me to give it my full attention and energy, take a sabbatical from architecture and launch miPic full time before the year was out.
What is your company culture like?
Our culture is quiet relaxed actually. We have fun, with a constant dialogue throughout the day including skype sessions that sometimes run into the early hours. But ultimately, we all know our roles and what needs to be done. It’s a very complimentary team from design, web, app, manufacturer and everyone gets on. Team members are perfectionists in their own field, so that helps in terms of quality. We don’t allow ourselves to be 1 pixel out of sync, as it will most definitely be pointed out by someone else on the team. I think for me leaving a large international architecture practice after 3 and a half years with endless Quality Assurance, systems and structured rules to a very small team of my own has given me good schooling in many aspects of efficiency. Experience of running my own architecture projects has helped, whether that be designing the new app or our team workflow and delivery of tasks. It’s all very new to me starting out in business alone in London but I am trying to learn on my feet as I go and thankful that the team we have established works well together.
Will you be releasing an android version?
Yes. We hope to asap. I am already receiving emails from keen Andoiders who wish to print their own images or become an artist. We want to make the service available to everyone, whether that be iPhone or Samsung, Ipad or Surface… Anyone with a mobile device who takes a great photo, or creates a great digital sketch should have the opportunity to earn. We are working on Android for a mid summer release but hopefully securing investment to propel us forward can speed up that process.
We are really seeing an influx of entrepreneurs and startups in London and across Britain, what advice would you give to hopeful entrepreneurs?
My advice would be to believe in yourself. With confidence and ability you can do anything, even on a shoe string budget and especially in London. There are endless opportunities and knowledge based here and potential for large media exposure and investment discussions. Having an idea is one thing, but the motivation and persistence to see it through is the main challenge to overcome as an entrepreneur. Also finding the right people to believe in you and your project.
Just over one month ago I almost left the head offices of Virgin because a business plan advice meeting was cancelled. Instead I didn’t leave the lobby and pestered the receptionist to take my card and see if anybody could speak to me that morning. Thankfully, she liked our logo and loved the concept and fortunately dragged someone out of a meeting to sit down with me. Through that conversation I applied to Virgin Pioneers Pitch2Rich and fortunately miPic went onto win it. So my advice would be, unless a door is slammed in your face, keep pushing politely and asking questions, as you never know what may happen a moment later. As a budding entrepreneur, going that extra mile today is essential.