Point, Shoot, Print: Picplum Aims to Make Photo Printing Effortless

It should be far easier to order prints of the photos you snap with your digital camera or smartphone—that’s a no-brainer. But San Francisco-based Picplum is one of the only companies that’s actually working to make the process simpler.

For comparison, here’s how ordering a print works on a competing site, Yahoo’s Flickr. This will be all too familiar to any amateur photographer who (like me) has thousands of photos stored on the eight-year-old site:

Upload the photo. Find the “Order Prints” drop-down menu item. Select the print size and quantity. Click “Add to Cart.” (Repeat these first four steps for every photo you want to print.) Click “Proceed to Checkout.” Wait while your photos are transferred to Snapfish. Click Continue. Select your photo finish and border. Click “Check Out.” Enter or select a shipping address. Click Continue. Enter or verify your credit card information. Click Continue. Review your order. Click Buy Now.

And here’s how the process works on Picplum:

Drag and drop the photos you want to print onto the Picplum upload page. Select a print size, unless you’re happy with the default suggestion. Click Send Now. Select or enter a recipient and write a personalized greeting. Click Save. Enter a mailing address and your credit card information (unless it’s been saved from a previous order). Click Pay & Send.

That’s it. By my count, the Flickr/Snapfish process involves at least 14 steps if you’re ordering one photo, plus four or five more steps for every additional photo. The Picplum process involves five to seven steps, period.

Picplum's photo upload interface

And that, in a nutshell, is the difference between Picplum and almost every other online photo-printing service in existence: it’s about as simple as it could possibly be.

“None of us had built photo products or e-commerce solutions” before Picplum, says Akshay Dodeja, the startup’s co-founder. “We were able to start with no assumptions and throw away everything about how other people do it, and focus on the easiest way. Every second of the experience that people are investing in your application matters. It’s all about getting from ‘upload’ to ‘send.’”

That strategy makes a lot of sense in an era when time is scarce, attention spans are decreasing, and everybody is working harder just to keep their heads above water. On top of all that, companies like Apple have spent the last few years training us to expect everything gadget-related to be obvious and easy.

After all, why shouldn’t it be as simple to order a print as it is to shoot a photo in Instagram? With Picplum, it actually is: if you authorize the startup to connect to your Instagram account, it can automatically ship you a print of every photo you take in the app.

Dodeja and his co-founder Paul Stamatiou (pictured above right; Dodeja is on the left) founded Picplum as part of the summer 2011 term at the Y Combinator venture incubator program in Mountain View, CA. It was Stamatiou’s second time through YC: he’d previously worked for a mobile-notifications startup called Notifo that emerged from Y Combinator in March 2010 and folded about 20 months later. The advent of Picplum also meant a second life of sorts for Picwing, a YC company that I covered back in August 2008. Picwing had attempted to market a wireless digital photo frame that received photos via e-mail, then morphed into a subscription-based photo printing company that automatically printed and e-mailed the new photos in customers’ queues.

Picplum acquired the near-dormant startup and basically adopted its business model. The pitch to investors at YC’s Demo Day in August 2011 was that Picplum offered the “easiest way to send prints” for people like busy new parents who might not otherwise have time to send baby pictures to the grandparents. The company charged $7 per month to send an envelope containing 15 4”x6” prints.

Today, the Picwing-style recurring printing service is still available, but Dodeja says the startup eventually decided that the model was too limiting, and that it left out a big chunk of potential customers.

“It’s easy to explain a subscription to a magazine, but harder to do for a consumer thing like photo prints,” he says. “We realized we were missing out on all the people who just wanted to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “Point, Shoot, Print: Picplum Aims to Make Photo Printing Effortless”

  1. This sounds cool but by no means even close to being new. PostalPix, Postagram and a few others have been doing this for over a year. Not to mention my company CanvasPop which features a 3 step process: http://www.canvaspop.com/instagram – we are the first company in the world to offer large format Instagram printing. Will have to check these guys out regardless.