Our team hit the streets of Santa Cruz, CA for "First Friday's" @ The Museum of Art & History. The idea was to approach random people "street magic" style and get there reaction to PhotoBloom AR. As you can see, it was a huge success!
Here's an article from Content Magazine (Issue 9.3) about our founder Justin and how get got started on PhotoBloom AR. Special thanks to Daniel Garcia at Content. You can purchase the entire hardcopy issue HERE.
JUSTIN LEMUS - PHOTOBLOOM AR
Article and Photography by Daniel Garcia
After graduating from Willow Glen High School, Justin Lemus found his way to Los Angeles and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising to pursue a career in fashion. His ultimate dream was to launch his own clothing line. After working for several brands and helping others design items and accessories, he found himself working in sales for Alternative Apparel. Although it wasn’t what he’d set out to do, the money was good, he was in the industry, and he was learning a lot about business from the company’s founder, Greg Alterman. He figured he’d only stay a couple years, and then launch his own line.
Seven years later, Justin was no longer enamored with the fashion scene. With some money saved up, he knew it was time for a change. “I was obsessed with Shark Tank and Kickstarter and just felt like I needed to invent something.” So, he began tinkering and decided to move back home to San Jose. At age 32, he felt it was time to take the risk before another seven years blew by. “So I quit. I really didn’t have any idea yet what I wanted to invent.”
Once back at his parents’ house, Justin was going through some old knickknacks and came upon one of those photo cubes. You know, the clear plastic cube that you slide images into of you and your siblings bathing together, with big smiles and Santa soap beards. at faded, forgotten cube sparked an idea that merged with Justin’s experience from design, sales, and having been around his parents’ print shop while growing up, and he began to develop and launch Cubee, the first backlit photo cube that displays your Instagram and mobile printed photos.
In October 2014, even as Cubee was wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign, Justin was already thinking about and tinkering with what would come next. Amid the daily hustle of personally assembling thousands of Cubees for individual and bulk sales—for clients like Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn—Justin saw a news story about a Pixar designer who had made a children’s book using augmented reality. “Honestly, I hadn’t really heard of it before then, but I saw its potential for images and video.” So, although Cubee had just begun, Justin began researching technology for an AR platform and looking into the viability of this approach.
He discovered several augmented reality services that focus on software as a service (SaaS) and on business to business (B2B) relationships, as well as advertisers looking to reach consumers with that technology. Justin thought, “What if we combine the consumer-friendly features of an online photo-making platform with the cutting- edge tech of an AR interactive print platform.” In collaboration with a developer who specializes in augmented reality, he prototyped “CubeeAR” to play off the growing platform of Cubee. The goal was to figure out a way an AR interactive print platform could bring an individual’s videos that sit hidden on a mobile device to a real-world product with a tangible showcase.
When he reached out to venture capitalists, angels, and funders here in Silicon Valley, the concept received an overwhelmingly positive response. “No one’s ever told me no,” Justin says. “It’s more like, ‘Hey, you’re onto something. You’re just not quite there.’” But Justin wasn’t discouraged. His sales experience had taught him persistence. Also, he’s learned that VCs actually offer good advice and that he should consider their suggestions and pivot if he needs to.
One of the suggestions investors gave him was to not focus on one product but on a platform, which is more diverse and scalable, and which has other markets that can be developed. So Justin has done just that and renamed his product PhotoBloom AR. Driven by Justin’s vision, PhotoBloom AR has been in development and stealth mode for the last year and a half. His belief in himself and desire to give it his all matter more than what others think. “My own family members were like, ‘Dude, you’ve been doing this way too long. Come on, man, you’ve gotta give this up. It’s time to get a job.’ But I’m like, ‘Dude, I can’t give up now. I’m so close.’” Three days later he was accepted into Santa Cruz Accelerates. Justin excitedly explains what a great step this is for bringing PhotoBloom AR to market.
Recently, after connecting with several supporters and one main angel in particular, someone who has advised several Silicon Valley tech companies, Justin is poised to make his project more visual and hopes to launch this summer. Seeing the potential of a $5 billion ($9 billion by 2020) market and with an eye on the progress AR technology has already made, Justin isn’t looking back. “I worked in an industry where I was making a lot of money but wasn’t happy,” he says. “Now I’m the most broke I’ve ever been, but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.” In the next four years, AR and VR together will have a predicted $120 billion industry. With his passion and ideas, and with the AR interface, Justin Lemus’s product line can be expected to bloom.
It all started in 2014 when a project of mine called, "Cubee: The Illuminating Photo Cube" was successfully funded through Kickstarter. The campaign made just enough for me to get started, but it wasn't until after that the real orders started rolling in. People loved these things! Aside from regular customers, I had a ton of corporate clients included Google, Microsoft, Applied Materials, and more. I even drew interest from the Home Shopping Network by winning their "American Dream's" nationwide product search.
But even before I had shipped a single unit, I was already researching the follow-up product. About 90% of the feedback I was getting was, "Your next Cubee should play video!". This made perfect sense because video recording/sharing was starting to skyrocket (and has continued to do so). The problem was I didn't have the know-how or capital to even attempt to prototype that, so I continued researching...
Fast forward 6 months, I saw a news story on TV about a Pixar developer who had created a children's book that "came to life" using this new technology called Augmented Reality (AR). This was the first time I had seen this tech and was BLOWN AWAY! My first thought was, "I wonder if there's a way to make my own pictures come to life... this would be perfect for Cubee!". After a little research, I learned it wasn't easy for a guy like me (an everyday consumer). I needed to find someone that specialized in AR who could help me...
Literally, the next day I was exhibiting Cubee at a show and there was a young woman with a booth who had create a bunch of Augmented Reality demos by herself. It was like it was meant to be! We met, I told her about my idea, and within 2 weeks we had a working prototype for "Cubee AR". The idea was that a user would go to our website, customize a Cubee AR using 5 videos, then have it shipped ready to be scanned right out of the box.
Over the course of that summer we met with a few angel investors, incubators, and VC's. The reactions were great, everyone really liked it, but nobody signed a check. Then, one of the last investors we met with gave us a piece of advice, "Cubee AR is cool, but you're not thinking big enough... but, the idea of an entire consumer-focused AR platform - that's more enticing to a guy like me. Focus on that...". He was right. Why limit ourselves to one product when we can create an entire platform where users could customize anything?!
The rejections got the best of my AR developer, but I was determined to continue - alone if I had to (I did). Taking that investors advice, I dove into more research. 6 month later, I was ready to present "PhotoBloom AR" at my first startup pitch contest. My opening statement was, "Hi! I'm Justin, founder of PhotoBloom AR: the first, full-service interactive print platform that allows you to create incredible photo products that come to LIFE with movement & sound - using your videos! All through the magic of Augmented Reality. Simply put, we're the Shutterfly for video & easy AR print"... I ended up in 1st place at that event!
That was about 1.5 years ago, and we've come so far since then (there's 6 of us now). And even though it sometimes feels like we're just getting started, that was the very, VERY start of PhotoBloom AR.
Justin Lemus - Founder / PhotoBloom AR