Insteegram: Tech Meets Fashion | Interview with Founder Ed Park

Jul 10, 2012 • Entrepreneurship, Startups
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Insteegram is a startup that allows you to create amazing and unique t-shirts using your own Instagram photos. It uses Instagram’s API and prints on American Apparel t-shirts. You simply sign in with your Instagram account, choose your favorite photo, and get your custom made  t-shirt shipped directly to you. Based in Los Angeles, California, Insteegram currently ships worldwide. The company has experienced substantial user growth since their launch early this year.

What makes Insteegram super cool is they really are about making a positive impact in this world. They only use water based, environmentally friendly ink and believe that because people have an emotional connection with their shirts, the less likely they are to just throw it away years later, hence decreasing their carbon footprints. Insteegram is also big on culture and community. They believe that having your personal photo on your custom made t-shirt connects you to people instantly on a much deeper level. Now that’s awesome!

On being an early adopter of Instagram and instantly falling in love with it

Ed Park was one of the first 100k users of Instagram back in early 2009. He quickly fell in love with Instagram’s features including how easy it was to create beautiful images, its phenomenal UX and most of all its sharing aspect. “I found it to be the best social network, connecting people on a deeper level. You strip away all the layers the mass society gives you. [For example], If you’re a tech leader, you have a certain image you need to portray. With Instagram, you just share photos, nothing more.” Park found it particularly interesting that he can follow a teacher or even a VP of a financial service but never really know it. He says that with Instagram, nobody really cares what you do. It essentially becomes a more innate way of connecting with people without all the social barriers. “It doesn’t ask what you do for a living, you connect with folks based on your images which is your view of the world and your perspective of the world. It’s almost a subconscious connection vs. all other media sites. It’s a breath of fresh air. People stopped worrying about social status.”

Background and experience before Insteegram

Park had a screen-printing business in 2004, starting with his own $4,000 investment. His company was one of the first in the industry that made it easy for anyone to start their own clothing line all from a website. He worked with High School and College students, striving to make it easy for anyone to become an entrepreneur.  “At the time, it was difficult to start a clothing line because clothing is a volume business. You would need a couple hundred runs to make a profit.” Park’s platform allowed them to do so. It became a profitable business but as business scaled, it required more manpower and produced less ROI. A lot of competitors also stole their ideas and started offering the same services. “There was no competitive advantage once the big guys got involved. They can easily squeeze us out.” Coming from an environmental engineering background, Park felt he wasn’t adding value to the world. “We were making tacky t-shirts [for clients], ‘hot or not’ type. I was advocating conspicuous consumption.”

Deciding to Stop and Moving Forward

After 8 years, Park finally pulled the plug last year. He realized that if he wasn’t happy with what he was doing he should just stop. At that time, he was already using Instagram. He still had his machine so for fun he decided to make some shirts for friends using their Instagram pictures. The reaction was amazing. Park’s friends were blown away. “It finally hit me. I love photography, Instagram is a photo product, I have the capability, I have a good relationship with American Apparel, and so I made the most of what I had.” He quickly launched a website that offered only one product (white t-shirt), tied it with Instagram API and launched Insteegram.

Marketing Your Product

Park was very careful in marketing his new company on Instagram. He explained that there aren’t many companies out there aggressively pushing their products and services because the community will reject them. His first strategy in marketing was mainly community building and connecting. “In the beginning, nobody knew we were a company. Our handle was Insteegram and our bio was, ‘We like taking, making and wearing pictures!’” Insteegram was part of the community. Selling became an afterthought. Park was able to connect to customers on a personal level. It was for the love of photo sharing first and then later it became for the love of their amazing shirt printing services.

Finding the right shipment fee using Lean Startup methodology

Park and his co-founders have been to Eric Reis’s Lean Startup events and were highly influenced by the book.  “We wanted to create products so we said, ‘Let’s make it, push it out and get that feedback.’ We want to always do that even as we get bigger.” Initially, Insteegram offered free shipping to everyone. As business grew, they needed to start charging shipping fees to international customers. Rather than figure it out and reverse engineer a price strategy, they simply asked their customers what they would be willing to pay for shipping. They took everyone’s response and averaged the price, which came to about $5. They later asked their customers again to see if they were ok with that price and received all positive responses.

The Awesome Insteegram Team

Park, having his apparel background brings in industry experience. He also has a knack for UX because he understands and appreciates culture and consumer atmosphere. “Design is part intuitive and part empathy.” Park gives a lot of credit of Insteegram’s early success to his team. Insteegram’s Tech co-founder is Eddie Kim. “He is a great developer and one of the best programmers, always getting poached by all of these recruiters.” Kim was the Technical Lead at Triptrotting when it was incubated in Idealab and came on board to Insteegran last October. Their 3rd Co-founder is Derek Taylor, a drummer for the Wallpaper. He was actually Insteegram’s 3rd customer discovering Insteegram a month after they launched after reading a blog written about the company. The whole community loves him and he helps build and create the fun culture that Insteegram represents.

Coming soon on Insteegram!

 One of Insteegram’s vision is to empower their users. Just as Park wanted to help people become entrepreneurs in his previous company, he plans on doing the same with Insteegram.  “We want to create a platform where we make it super easy for people to make real money.” They are getting ready to launch their version 2.0 where anyone can create their own Insteegram store. The seller’s payout will be the highest in the industry. It will not be industry standard in which your percentage goes down as your sales goes up. Insteegram plans to do the exact opposite.

Denise Walker

Denise Walker is the founder and CEO of Digital Media Wave, a Digital Agency focused on game changing enterprises that have a global impact. She is a proud trojan earning a B.S in Business Administration from USC with a Concentration in Entrepreneurship. Denise loves Boba, Science, Space, Time Travel, learning about new technology and startups, reading inspirational/business books, connecting with great people, salsa dancing and is a proud Whovian!

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