Image Disruptor: Flag Looks To Upend Photo Printing Through The Magic of Free

By Noah J. Nelson (@noahjnelson)

Flag, a photo printing start-up that is holding a barnstorming 14-day Kickstarter campaign right now, turned up on my radar this week thanks to John Gruber's Daring Fireball. The pitch video for the app is slick, featuring go-to start-up pitchman Adam Lisagor--you might recognize him from ads for Coin, Square, or countless others--in a supporting role.

Front and center is Flag's founder and UX designer Samuel Agboola, who makes the pitch for the service: get 20 free photo prints a month from your smartphone. Printing and shipping are free, thanks to an ad on the back of the print. Paid upgrades, be it for more prints or postcards, are an option.

As of this writing, with just 11 days left, Flag has raised just under $40,000 of the $100,000 campaign goal. I caught up with Flag's Agboola via the magic of email to have him answer a few questions I had about the project.

TURNSTYLE: Flag looks like it is targeted at those who would like to have prints but don't need to have them right away, is that accurate? Will the "buy as many as you need" photos be available on-demand or as ad-free options?

Samuel Agboola: I'd not put it that way. Flag is aimed at people who want prints but aren't happy with the options that exist. Making prints at home is expensive and a hassle. Ordering prints online is expensive and the quality is wildly variable. Getting prints at the pharmacy? An act of desperation. The quality is laughable thanks to neglected equipment and unskilled staff.

Flag can deliver as fast, or faster, than any online printer, we can beat the quality of home printers and offer capabilities you'd need a laser-die cutter---which you don't have---to match. If you use Flag to make simple rectangular prints you're going to get the best quality you've experienced and enjoy excellent service and convenience. If you use the app and explore any of our special features you're going to produce prints unlike anything anyone else is capable of.

TS: Why just a 14 day campaign?

Confidence, experience and a little madness. If you study Kickstarter campaigns, and we have (as you'll discover if you listen to the podcasts we produced last year at you'll be familiar with the smashed camel effect. If you graph the responses to Kickstarter campaigns you see a peak at the start, then a big dip and a peak at the end. One reason for the dip is a lack of urgency. It's hard to maintain excitement over 30 days. We hope to avoid that and get the same results without a break in the middle. If it works we'll look really smart. If not...

TS: Did the Daring Fireball post cause a big bump?

SA: Yes.

TS: In the comments section of the campaign you note that part of the reason for going to Kickstarter is to prove there is interest to potential advertising partners. Was trying a style launch--gathering beta requests before a limited launch--ever on the table?

SA: We considered many avenues. The downside to gathering requests is that it's easy to say "I want that" with nothing on the line. The upside is a potentially huge response. By using Kickstarter people are self-selecting as our best possible customers. They're paying for a free app. It makes them a very impressive group.

TS: For those who have never printed out a picture from an iPhone 5, for example, how does a 4x6 print compare to a 4x6 print from 35mm film?

SA: Wow. You'll get me killed. Regardless, I'll wade in. The truth is for a small print an iPhone will produce a print that looks better than 35mm film the way most of us use it. I'm not talking about my father's Nikon F4 with a great lens and good light. I mean a fixed 28mm lens being handled by someone who's not a serious enthusiast. We also have the advantage of being able to use filters and effects to correct and enhance our images. The 8MP an iPhone captures will produce a flawless 6x4 print. The things it can't do as well as 35 mm film are action, depth-of-field control and low-light. iPhones also have an issue with purple but that's another conversation.

TS: You're situated in Venice, what start-ups in the Silicon Beach scene are you getting inspired by?

SA: I chose to live in Venice because I love the area, I love to walk and I like great coffee. For a couple of years the best coffee-shop in the world was Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney, thanks to a crew of baristas of uncommon talent and friendliness. It made that coffee-shop the hub of the community and became its own little tech scene. In the rest of LA everyone's working on a screenplay. In Venice people are as likely to be working on code. I've lived in the South Bay, on and off, since the late '90s. I predate Silicon Beach but find the city itself inspiring.


Flag's Kickstarter sprint ends on February 11th.

Public media's, covers tech and digital culture from the West Coast.