lokakuu 16, 2018

Frameright esittäytyy

Frameright – Image cropping for multiplatform environments

Frameright serves to regain the artistic and journalistic integrity of image makers, to lower costs for publishers and to improve the perceived quality of all types of publications.

Digital communication has moved its emphasis from desktop to mobile. This means that every website and app need to be designed to work in both worlds. Within each of these worlds, there are devices of multiple shapes and sizes. On top of this, there are all types of touch points where audiences need to be reached within these devices. In order to have the layout design work everywhere, a single image will be presented in multiple sizes and ratios in its lifetime.

In our view, every published image should always be shown in the manner it has been designed. The unfortunate reality is that images get cropped in an unintended way all the time. It is just too difficult to control image material when working with responsive design or making multiple ratios and sizes of an image. Currently, there is no way to effectively control how images behave in these situations. In most cases at least two out of three versions of the image are subpar.

The Frameright technology improves image workflows (faster and cheaper) and helps companies improve their visual communications (no mistakes/better stories). Why all this fuss? Because image cropping is a powerful message. It goes way beyond just having an object in a frame.

Why Frameright

The idea stems from our own experiences. Our CEO Marina is a photographer who became worried that there was no way for her to make sure a client could use her images without cropping issues. Sometimes the solution was to make multiple versions of each image, but this was not effective and still only allowed for a limited control. Our CTO Ilkka faced the same problem from a different side of a table when building digital services. There was no way for customers to control their image material in a simple way.

It has been scary to see how poorly cropped images have sneaked into our daily feeds. We are also driven by a genuine worry about how “easy-to-publish”, center-focused images with a lot of space around the edges are changing photography. All images have started to look alike, and we’ve lost the way to tell powerful visual stories with tight crops. Is this really the visual culture we want to live in?

At the moment the alternative solutions are forced crop, focus point selection, object recognition or creating image versions manually. However, image cropping is much more than having an object in a frame. It is the art of composing more powerful stories by using dynamics, having the right balance of closeness and distance. And most importantly, making sure that the story told is correct and factual.

Early on, we noted that this is an issue many have given up hope on. The main excuse from photographers and publishers alike is the same: it just isn’t technically possible to keep track of and manage your images later on, especially on third-party platforms. Well, now it is.

We have already triggered interest in customers of all sizes, from various industries. The issue we are solving with our technology is a system level problem that affects almost all digital content. 4 billion images are published every day. If your image is not good, it will not stand out from the noise. People will not click or share that message. Considerable resources are used for branding and producing high-quality image material, but this is a wasted effort if the picture does not look like it is supposed to.

We have spent a lot of time talking with various stakeholders and bringing the issue into daylight. Sometimes the feedback is a bit hesitant, at first people feel it’s not really a problem – yet we find that 90% of these people get back to us after we have planted this seed of thought in them. Suddenly they have started seeing it as well.

You can read more about our observations in our “Why Frameright” post on Medium.

Nondestructive image cropping

The missing part of a perfect publishing workflow is to make image cropping non-destructive by using a human-computer hybrid approach. In short, we leverage the power of algorithms, AI and a finetuned UI to make cropping efficient and fun again, but still leave room for professional vision and decision. By combining AI and a human touch we can reach both high quality and increased efficiency.

Frameright is a metadata-based web application and cloud service, which allows anyone to create and edit the ways an image can be cropped. The cropping information is stored inside the image file’s metadata fields, so the image carries all the information on how it should be displayed. The data can be accessed and edited at any point in the publishing pipeline. For the first time, it is possible to control image cropping throughout the lifetime of an image, making sure images look exactly how they are supposed to on all channels and devices.

Our first version is focused on manual cropping, making it smooth and easy to manage multiple crops in that part of the workflow. At the same time, we are building the basis for a new metadata-based ecosystem. During 2019, we will shift our focus more strongly towards our cognitive AI which links the process to our web application and our cloud service API. By the end of 2019, we will have our specialized AI ready to give computers more intelligence and more freedom to act independently in the art of image framing.

Pivots in product and strategy

We started to define our service a bit over a year ago from scratch. Our first MVP was a Photoshop plug-in. With this version, we executed our first pilot cases and had fruitful feedback discussions with users. The first assumption had been that images would at some point go through a Photoshop treatment in a professional workflow. That is why we wanted to build something that lives inside that ecosystem. However, we soon learned that a Photoshop plug-in was not the solution people most needed.

Not everyone has access to Photoshop. Even many professional photographers do not use it in their workflow. Often it is also someone else that does the cropping.

With these experiences, we pivoted towards building a web application-based tool, something that anyone can access and use through their browser. One of the biggest advantages is also that our web application can be integrated with most third party and proprietary Content Management Systems and Digital Asset Management systems. These systems are where most image cropping is done in any case inside companies that publish large amounts of images.

Another lesson we digested through the first versions was our go-to-market strategy. In the beginning, we were very consumer-oriented. We wanted to make photographers fall in love with Frameright. But after getting to know the industry and going through different case studies and talks with various stakeholders, it became clear that we need to do build a stronger ecosystem first. This observation led us to navigate from the user-focused B2C approach towards a B2B environment.

At the moment we are busy making publishers fall in love with Frameright and the cost benefits it brings along with a visible increase in the quality we can deliver. At the same time, we have not wanted to disregard how to best serve our end-users. Typically, the person who uses our service within our customer companies is a photographer or an image editor: we hold on to a clear connection with photographers all the time and listen to their wishes, needs and experiences.

It is not only about developing the product

We all know that building a product that everyone loves is the number one goal of a start-up in order to succeed. However, one of the realizations from the past months is that in order to make this happen we need to develop ourselves as individuals and as a team. Long-term success stories take time, and patience is well-needed. We need to be present in the right places at the right time, but at the same time make sure we dedicate enough time and focus to building our product.

The Frameright team combines technical and visual understanding with a strong entrepreneurial background and a motivation to create an impact on the media and publishing industries. We all share a passion for the question of correct cropping which stems from our previous professional lives.

Ilya, our software engineer, is an amazing developer who also has experience in building AI solutions. He also has an entrepreneurial background from his own start-ups. He studied Mathematics and Mechanics at Novosibirsk State University.

Our designer Jaakko has known the Frameright founders Marina and Ilkka for over a decade. Through the years, we have spent a lot of free time together and also worked on various joint projects. Jaakko is just about to graduate from Aalto University with a master’s degree in Industrial Design. Both Jaakko and Ilya love to spend time outside in nature. Sometimes we might lose one of them in the wilderness for a couple of weeks… But they always come back with fresh ideas.

Frameright’s CTO Ilkka is an experienced technology and digital service professional who has worked with the media industry, online services, and digital publishing for over fifteen years. He majored in Knowledge Intensive Business and minored in International Design Business Management at the Aalto University School of Science. He has also studied at Stanford University, where he completed the year-long Engineering Design Entrepreneurship program.

Our CEO Marina is a professional photographer, internationally published author, and visual artist with a master’s degree in Visual Journalism and Bachelor’s degrees in both International Business and Management, and Economic and Social History. At Frameright, Marina is responsible for sales, business development, and international expansions.

We aim to take good care of our company culture and to build a start-up that has the right energy to make a difference. We look forward to expanding our team with new members who share our passion.

Going international but staying in the home market

So far we have been very lucky and received significant non-equity funding for which we are extremely grateful. Prior to that, we quit our jobs and started Frameright just with our own savings until we managed to get our first funding from Business Finland. This helped us to reach the first milestones we had set. In fall 2017, we also won the Uutisraivaaja Media innovation competition and received a 125 000€ prize that made it possible for us to continue working full time on Frameright and to grow our team into four people.

From early on, we have been thinking globally and we see the whole European Union as our home market. In order to gain connections and access to Central European markets, we decided to join the Next Media Accelerator (NMA) program in Hamburg, Germany. NMA was the perfect accelerator for us because it is funded by most major German media companies. It is also well connected to the European media scene which then opened doors for us in the Netherlands. As a result, we are currently piloting with companies in Germany and the Netherlands in addition to our partners in Finland. We have also secured our first paying customer, and many more are waiting in line for us to have integrations ready.

Right now we are still targeting medium and large publishers and e-commerce retailers in Europe, and soon in the US. We still mainly run pilots with our partners and our initial revenue stream is from direct sales. As we have more available integrations for common publishing platforms, we will expand from the B2B emphasis to the long tail of our applicable market. Our technology allows us to scale to a multi-tier SaaS model, with suitable price points also for smaller publishers, e-commerce retailers, bloggers, startups and other SMEs globally.

It takes time to get a grasp of the international media market. You have to have a local presence to truly understand the industry and to make connections. Looking back, it has been a good decision to also reach customers outside of Finland from early on. We have now paved the road and feel we can take on the global market.

Think Ink

During the Think Ink competition, we have released the first beta version of our product and started to work with our first customers. We are currently running pilots on our web application with publishers and testing it with other users. Our cloud service API is up and running and will be integrated into more fullscale pilots during the fall. The commercial release of our publicly available product is planned to take place by December 2018. At the same time, we are also preparing for our first seed financing round.

The Think Ink competition has been an excellent learning process for us as it forced us to slow down for a moment and evaluate where we are and where we want to head. During the competition period, we pivoted and revised our business plan. The Idean workshop and coaching, the business model canvas and the service blueprint were truly helpful. They made us go back to the basics and helped us to better understand what we are doing. We found new directions that we had not noticed beforehand.

As a team, we would like to share our magic moment from this summer. It happened during a meeting at one of the most prestige German media houses. To start off, they told us they have stopped cropping altogether because it was too much work and took too many resources. We explained why image cropping should not be left solely to machines and automation. We left the room with an agreement to integrate Frameright into their new CMS.

Winning the Think Ink would give us a crucial advantage in having more time to prepare for our first funding round. It would allow us to hire another developer as well as sales and marketing support. Growing our team is a necessary step to have our product and integrations ready faster and to not lose the momentum of managing the flood of requests we are currently receiving. We are now very close to the point where we are ready to commercialize and scale fast. This also brings us closer to our vision: eventually, all images published online will carry Frameright metadata with them.

Thank you for the amazing competition!

With Love,
Team Frameright