Gone are the days of the old fashioned cameras with rolls of film that had to be developed manually, to be proudly positioned in photo albums destined for the bookshelf. Nowadays we all have access to digital photography, with reams of never to be looked at again digital images on our PCs or phones. Charlie Carpenter saw this and wondered – surely there should be a way of printing these memories onto every day items to be admired on a daily basis? He made it happen – with Kite. We got the story…
Can you describe what Kite does?
Kite is a platform that integrates with photography-focused apps and websites, enabling them to introduce new revenue streams by providing the functionality to turn customers’ smartphone images into physical prints and products.
To do this, we partner with existing app companies to embed our software development kit, enabling their users to easily create, order and print digital photos onto a huge variety of products. We then source the best print suppliers to provide customers with unique, personalised products on demand.
As well the b2b offering, we have our own suite of consumer-facing apps: Huggleup, Posterup andZenCam – all of which help users to bring their digital photos to life by offering various printing options.
And where are you based?
Kite was founded – and is headquartered – in London, with an office in New York. These cities have the perfect startup ecosystems that enable us to thrive as a company. Both have innovative and creative communities that we’re excited to be part of.
From these locations we operate in more than 57 countries across the world and are installed on more than 50 million devices.
Tell us what is the problem you are solving, and how?
Consumer demand to do more with their smartphone images is growing and we’re enabling app companies to offer users an excellent solution that’s no headache to integrate into their offering.
We offer app companies new ways to engage with users in a meaningful way whilst extending their revenue potential beyond mobile advertising and in-app purchases. Our platform also provides a sophisticated order management dashboard, customer service tools and real-time performance analytics, meaning companies can keep on top of what’s working, drive sales and grow their business.
What makes your business unique compared to your competitors?
Kite’s bespoke offering puts us into a category of our own. We are a mobile-first company and experts in what I like to call ‘integrated e-commerce’, which means we specialise in turning app users into paying customers. Our technology nurtures users through the sales funnel, using data collected from live in-app experiments to present the most optimised journey. This leads to higher conversion rates and ultimately more revenue. On top of that, we provide all the marketing and CRM tools a business needs to help engage their users and bring them back to their app. In short, we are a full e-commerce print on demand solution.
We handle customer service in eight different languages through our print partners then provide a print-on-demand service – with no minimum orders – and take care of all aspects of the transaction including order, payment and worldwide shipping. We offer more than 150 different styles of printed products. This includes prints (including posters and albums), objects and gifts (such as phone cases and cushions) and apparel (including t-shirts and hoodies).
And how long have you been working on this project?
In 2013, Fionn Concannon (Managing Director), Deon Botha (Head of Mobile) and myself partnered with New York Venture Capitalists, Black Ocean Group and established an incubator company – Ocean Labs – in London. One of the projects this company initially focussed on was backing an app that allowed users to send photos as postcards. The positive market response validated the demand for personalised photo printed products. Then, in July 2014, the Kite platform was officially launched.
Tell us a bit about your personal or family background. Anybody from your family had an influence on you to start your own thing?
I came from a typical Asian family that pushed us hard from an academic point-of-view – only I wasn’t overly academic. However, what I lacked academically, I made up for with entrepreneurial spirit. I learnt quickly how to turn £1 into £2.
I launched my first boot-strapped startup out of university – which massively failed – but I learnt many lessons from that phase of my life. Going from there, I stepped into a digital agency life where I landed myself a career in Mobile Delivery. There I got to work with some awesome brands including ESPN, McDonalds, Lloyds Bank and Tesco.
However, I always knew I wanted to build my own products that people love. So I got together with my co-founders and we started Kite.
I draw a lot of inspiration from my sister who also runs her own business in Australia which was recently acquired. She has a tenacious, transparent, honest yet direct way of conducting business which I just love.
You mentioned your business partners, how did you guys meet?
I met Fionn and Deon when we all worked together at one of Europe’s leading app agencies. We’re great friends who just happen to work together. We have similar mindsets and varying skills which we certainly use to our advantage. We may not always agree but we let the data speak for itself which saves us from any arguments!
Tell us about any challenges that you have encountered in running your business
The toughest challenge of running your own startup is finding a good work/life balance. Family for me trumps everything and last year I became a father (with another on the way) so I want to be at home as often as I can, but that’s not always possible. It’s hard to be in two places at once, mentally and physically, no matter how much you want it.
I do my best to be present in whatever I am doing and try not to neglect family or work. Prioritisation and thoughtfulness is the key.
Was there ever a strange moment in your life where you felt that you were destined to do this?
No. I never had a Eureka moment, more like a calling. Putting it bluntly, I knew I didn’t want to work for anyone else, but more importantly I wanted to work with friends. I don’t understand people who go somewhere every day for 40 years to spend the majority of your life with people you don’t like. For me, you should be having fun everyday!
Where would you like to see your business in the next few years?
We are dedicated to becoming the global-leader in bringing digital images to life, by continuing to partner with best-in-class apps and leading brands across the world. We believe print offers users a tangible way to cherish their moments, whilst adding a growing and sustainable revenue stream to businesses. Our goal is to be the gold standard print technology provider of choice.
And in closing, what would the one bit of advice be that you would offer to someone starting their own business?
Focus. It sounds simple, but it’s super hard. If you know what stage your company is in, then you will know what your ‘one metric that matters’ (Source: Lean Analytics) is. If you can find that, then only focus on things that move it, then you are onto a winner. As your business evolves, your metric will change. Good luck!