This is an excerpt from Issue 23 of Collective Hub. Grab a copy to read the full story.
An 18-month-old start-up, over a million dollars in revenue and investors from all corners of the globe wanting a piece of the action. It’s the stuff of entrepreneurial fairytales and Annabelle and Matt Barbelli, creators of the Live Instagram Printer – a device that lets brands bridge the gap between online and offline channels by printing Instagram photos in real time – say they finally took the right gamble with their joint business, Social Playground. The duo printed insta-worthy moments for The Collective at our Aspire to Inspire reader luncheon back in May, and the concept had us hooked from the get-go.
So, what exactly led to a business growing so quickly it’s outstripping its owners’ knowledge and experience?
Execution is everything
Annabelle, who has a background in social media, public relations and events, knew the idea existed but it had never been implemented well enough to gain any traction.
“I first came across the concept when I was working in New York. The original concept had been funded on Kickstarter but it hadn’t really been used well. When I came back from America and was doing some freelance work, it struck me that we should use an Instagram printer,” she remembers. “At first, Matt asked, ‘what are you talking about?’, but then we realised that it wasn’t in Australia yet.”
Make the everyday compelling
“The real benefit is that people are taking Instagrams at an event anyway so it doesn’t take much to tie that behaviour to a brand. And the client chooses whatever hashtag they want to use, we let everyone know and any photos that have been tagged print out instantly. Customers love the printed aspect of it. We just jumped at the chance.”
Matt recalls that he and Annabelle weren’t willing to compromise on aesthetics when it came to designing the actual printer.
“When we were developing the product, we were presented with five or six concepts that were easier to build but we were in agreement that we wanted to go to market with this particular version and didn’t just want to slap something together. We knew that it had to have the ‘wow’ factor.”
Don’t be scared of going global
…Even though the challenges can be intimidating.
“It’s funny because we had no experience expanding globally and we just assumed that licensing the product internationally meant replicating the same thing,” laughs Matt. “The machine weighs 48 kilos… in Australia there might be a bit of traffic, [but] you can just jump in the car and get somewhere, in London you just can’t travel to your destination in 10 minutes. Also, a lot of the brand activations we’re doing in London need to happen in Brussels, Paris, Milan and Rome, at the same time but on different days. So once you start factoring in transportation costs, the quote blows out.
“And in Singapore, we had to make some adjustments to the technology because customers there tend to take so many photos – maybe 2000 for each event! A lot of events there are held at hotels with Wi-Fi blockers so we also have to work out ways around that.”
“Our prototype arrived the day before [our] first event,” Anabelle shares. “We had to get to market fast, before anyone else could do it. We turned it all around in about three months.”
…But only when you want to
For now, Matt and Annabelle have resisted investor offers and remain the sole owners of the company.
“It’s hard to work out what to do next,” says Annabelle excitedly. “I think the hardest thing for us is being overwhelmed by choice. We’ve only been around for 18 months and we’ve just crossed a million dollars in revenue. We’ve been asked to sell out a lot of equity. We’re getting enquiries from all over the world.”