Y Combinator-Backed Chute Launches A Twilio For Photos

We’ve heard a lot about photo-sharing apps over the last year or two, and although the launch of a new social photo app may result in eye-rolling by some, images are becoming an ever-more important medium for communication. As our lives, products, and communications become increasingly visual, content producers, app developers, and site owners alike all have to ramp up their services to meet that escalating demand. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

That’s why Chute, a new Y Combinator startup launching today, doesn’t just want to be another photo sharing or syncing app, it wants to be the service every app developer and content producer uses to manage and enhance their photo capabilities. Chute is an Images-as-a-Service startup or, in other words, a cool API for photos. What does that mean?

Every time a developer or a site owner wants to build photo functionality into their app or website, they’re essentially forced to re-invent the wheel. Mobile developers aren’t always familiar with the ins-and-outs of web development, just as the same can be said for web developers, so Chute has built a system that works for both, handling the entire backend environment for uploading, processing, authenticating, resizing, and serving images.

This means big savings for developers, both in terms of time and money, as they don’t have to worry about managing servers, scaling, or dealing with multiple third-party APIs. Another way to think of Chute says co-founder Ranvir Gujral: “It’s like Twilio for photo infrastructure.”

If, for example, you’re running a popular website and you want all of your users to be able to have profile images, you can sign up for Chute and paste a few lines of code into your application, and that’s it. Users will then be able to upload images to Chute’s servers, where they will be cropped, re-sized, etc. according to your specifications, before being served onto your site.

Obviously, because Chute removes the pain of having to deal with code and servers for image hosting, the service is particularly useful for mobile developers, who, depending on their setup, may be able to cut the cord on servers altogether. What’s more, the startup allows developers to offer user authentication via the traditional username and password method, or to login through Facebook or Twitter, which means that if a developer’s app or service doesn’t already offer user accounts, they don’t have to build that functionality to host user-generated content. Pretty cool.

The value prop also applies to big online publishers, as the startup’s service comes with something called SlideChute included, which is essentially their own user-generated content management system. Because the startup’s service is driven primarily through APIs which work the same for mobile as they do for the Web, publishers are safe in the knowledge that if they start out as a Web property and their users create and upload a bunch of profile images, when they later release a mobile app, all user images are transported seamlessly into the mobile experience.

SlideChute was built to be straightforward and easy to use, designed for publishers that don’t have access to much IT support, which means that, as mentioned before, publishers can integrate the content management system into any site with one line of code.

In addition to its APIs and user-generated content management system (SlideChute), Chute also has its own dedicated developer site, Picture.io, which will provide direct access to its API and SDKs, and aims to offer every infrastructural component a developer might need to build the front or backend of their apps. Chute’s SDKs will be available starting today, while direct access to APIs will remain in private beta until later this month.

Co-Founders Ranvir Gujral, Gregarious Narain, Gaurav Sharma all worked together on LifeGrams (instant, photo-enabled baby books) before starting Chute and joining YC’s 2012 winter class. The team launched Chute’s limited private beta in December, and has seen activity more than quadruple in January and February to the point where Chute is now serving millions of photos per month — pre-launch.

Much of this early activity has come as a result of the partnerships Chute has been able to forge with publishers like Today.com, which uses Chute to collect and serve user images, as well as the well-known golf apparel and equipment maker TaylorMade, which used Chute as part of a larger social media campaign, called Driver Love to collect, moderate, and display user photos via direct upload on its Facebook page, on their own site, and on the campaign’s microsite via email, etc.

Gujral tells us that the startup is getting ready to announce a number of other partnerships and integrations in the next few weeks with app developers that will be using the startup’s API directly. He hopes that these relationships will continue to validate the ease of use for Chute customers, taking things like server management and scaling right out the pain equation.

And this is where Chute’s plans for monetization come in, as the co-founder tells us that SlideChute will end up being on an SaaS subscription model (after all, it’s just software built on top of the Chute API), and the API itself will likely have metered usage — all standard ops for an API business, with potential lucrativeness depending on how well they’re able to leverage its partners to bring traffic to its API and paying publishers to SlideChute.

Of course, tongue planted firmly in cheek, Gujral said that, in the big picture, the team is aware that their technology will make it more likely that we’ll see further waves of potentially obnoxious photo-sharing apps, but that this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Of course, he would say that, but it’s hard not to agree when he says that the success of tomorrow’s photo apps will be determined by who has the best, most user-friendly UI. But there’s no reason that all those apps can’t use Chute as their backend. There is a trend we’re seeing in mobile development in which designers and developers are looking to outsource more and more of the difficult work to third-party, B2B services — Urban Airship would be one example.

The Chute co-founder believes that there is plenty of room in the space for those who specialize in one particular (and painful) part of the process, and I would be inclined to agree. For mobile developers and publishers, Chute is definitely worth checking out. I know we’ll be hearing more from these guys in the future.

Chute is also offering the first 50 TechCrunch readers instant access to SlideChute’s private beta, so head over to the homepage to learn more.