She calls it "one of the cornerstones of vintage-film photo apps" but isn't sure "it will hold its own against Instagram." The latter app's social aspect, combined with a small but satisfying selection of photo-altering options, may be enough for most iPhone-centric photographers, Dwyer argues.
To keep their users happy and keep the bucks rolling in, Buick and Dorshorst have turned their app into a
veritable marketplace for photographers. Along with in-app film, flash, lens and body purchases, users can order prints and buy apparel or a physical HipstaCase 100 iPhone case.
Users can enter their photos in contests and win prizes, too.
Spinoff apps include SwankoLab, a virtual take on a classic darkroom with its liquid chemicals, IncrediBooth, an homage to the classic photo booth, and D-Series, a "disposable camera" app with communal-shooting features.
There's also Snap, a free iPad magazine developed in-house with Hipstamatic imagery and an assortment of articles and sections focused on art, culture, fashion, religion, politics and sex. The first issue recently hit Apple's App Store (bitly.com/snapmag).
Buick and Dorshorst have been in San Francisco since 2010, lured by the milder weather and the chance to work side-by-side after years apart.
Buick was in the Twin Cities and Dorshorst in Chicago when they tried running a digital studio together. The Wisconsinites convened periodically at Buick's cramped office in downtown St. Paul's Northwestern Building.
That is where, with their client list dwindling as the recession took its toll, the duo took a marker to their wall-size whiteboard and sketched out what would become Hipstamatic. Dorshorst was the coder. Buick knew publishing. Both adored photography after graduating from art school at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point together.
They had little money for Hipstamatic development, so they had to find volunteers.
"We had to call in every favor we had," Buick recalled. "We hit the friend-favor bank and cashed in all our tokens."
The two were incredulous when the app became a smash almost immediately (first hitting it big in Japan in the days after being uploaded). Their goal had been more modest.
"We did not sit at that whiteboard and plan how to get millions of people to use our app," Buick said. "We just wanted to make a product we would want to buy, and our friends would want to buy." But, he said, "it was the right market and the right product" at the right time.
MOVE TO SAN FRANCISCO
With the cash rolling in, the duo ditched whatever design-studio clientele they had left and went about building a company around their baby. That logically meant moving to the San Francisco Bay area and its thriving tech scene.
Soon after arriving, they stumbled on a decrepit building that began as a casket factory about a century ago and seemed to show little promise. Dorshorst saw drywall everywhere and a deep carpeting he recalls as "kind of gross."
But a six-month gutting of the three-story structure revealed lovely brick-and-timber construction with lots of natural lighting. Now completely redesigned with what staffers call "Midwestern chic," the "Haus of Hipstamatic" boasts a gallery space and an apartment on the first floor, work spaces on the second floor and a rooftop deck with bar to host music performances and special events.
The company has 13 employees, including its 29-year-old founders, and roughly 4 million users. Last year it reported $10 million in revenue. It remains on solid footing and in complete control of its destiny, according to its founders.
"We're doing all right," Buick said, "and still having fun."
Julio Ojeda-Zapata writes about consumer technology. Read him: twincities.com/techtestdrive and yourtechweblog.com. Reach him: 651-228-5467. Follow him: ojezap.com/social.
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