Today, Lucas Buick and Ryan Dorshorst are celebrity iPhone-app publishers who own an entire San Francisco building where their dozen or so staffers work in hipster exposed-beam-and-brick splendor.
In 2009, however, the two were failing graphic designers with $1.83 to their professional names and a minuscule, freezing-cold St. Paul office where they had shifted to app development out of desperation.
Their future as a work team hinged on a photography app called Hipstamatic, which they were trying to finish coding the weekend after Thanksgiving that year so they could upload it to Apple's App Store.
They were down to a single power outlet and no heat in their Lowertown digs after their space heaters "blew a circuit," Buick recalled.
"It turned out the circuit breaker was in the studio next door, and no one was around to let us in, so we had to put on fingerless gloves to finish Hipstamatic," he recalled.
It was 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009. It was their last chance. If Hipstamatic bombed, it would be time to consider different careers.
"We knew we had to generate revenue on the app from the very beginning," unlike other app developers who have the luxury of letting their products develop a following gradually through word of mouth, Buick said.
Legions of Hipstamatic aficionados know the rest of this story. The app popped up on Apple's servers in early December and, by the following month, it was a hit. It was an Apple app-of-the-year honoree
later that year and remains a best-selling iPhone app to this day even though the App Store is now chockablock with photography apps.
In the process, Buick and Dorshorst created a company that was immediately profitable, has never accepted a penny of outside investment, has rolled out more picture apps and recently unveiled an iPad magazine intended partly to showcase the handiwork of Hipstamatic users.
The company, Synthetic, is about to be rechristened Hipstamatic in an homage to the product that started it all.
PHOTOCRAFT FOR IPHONE
Hipstamatic has become a darling of iPhone photographers because it allows them to mix and match virtual films, lenses, flashes and camera bodies to simulate the experience of using film cameras of yore. It gets its name from a little-known Hipstamatic 100 camera from the 1980s.
The $2 app at hipstamatic.com is often compared to Instagram, the hugely popular picture app recently acquired by Facebook, though the two differ in key respects.
Hipstamatic applies its vintage effects while photographs are being snapped, not afterward a la Instagram. Also, Hipstamatic at its core is less of a social-sharing app than Instagram, though it
boasts a robust online community. Hipstamatic users can publish directly to Instagram, in fact.
St. Paul professional photographer Steve Wewerka swears by Hipstamatic. He once hosted an exhibition of his Hipstamatic pictures in his studio and continues to use the app daily, mostly for black-and-white photography (viewable at bitly.com/wewerka).
The highly flexible Hipstamatic provides an antidote to the "visual clutter and redundancy" of the billions of images being uploaded to Facebook and other social networks by users of Instagram and other dumbed-down photo apps, Wewerka believes.
Another pro photographer, St. Paul-based portrait specialist Mandy Dwyer, said Hipstamatic is the first phone-based photo app she began using regularly. She keeps it in regular rotation with other apps, like Camera+ and Camera Awesome. She abandoned Hipstamatic only during one period of hyperpopularity that turned her off. (See her shots at glimpsesofsoul.com/hipstamatic)
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