Indonesian Instagram-Clone PicMix Gets Monetization Right From The Start

At first glance, the similarities between PicMix and Instagram are obvious. Both apps are photo sharing platforms with simple, square Polaroid-esque aesthetics, and display photos from friends in streaming feed.

But while Instagram is figuring out how to monetize, Indonesian startup, PicMix seems to have nailed it from the get-go.

PicMix makes it part of the core photo posting process for users to add frame and text embellishments. Many of the frames included in the app are branded from labels (who have paid for the privilege) that users actually want to use on their photos. It’s not hard to imagine getting a user in Asia to willingly use a Hello Kitty or Louis Vuitton frame around their picture.

The company offers these frames to users as part of branding campaigns that are run by labels. They also put up photo competitions, and the criterion to enter is to use one of the branded frames around their photos. The visual impact of a frame or brand’s “sticker” on a photo is far more significant than hashtagging a brand.

Stickers and frames are catching the wave of users warming up to adding extra bells and whistles on their photos, beyond photo filters. While Instagram hasn’t departed from its genesis as a vintage, Polaroid-style filter app, a crop of photo editing apps have blossomed around it to fill that gap. These third parties allow you to add captions and combine several photos into a single collage, ready to be loaded into Instagram. Two popular examples are Photo Grid for Android and Photo Collage Creator for iPhone.

picmix screenshotRight now, PicMix charges an absurdly low $5,000 per brand campaign, but as its user base grows, it’s likely to increase that.

Mike Prasad, a marketing and brand development consultant and co-founder of Hawaii-based accelerator, Kinetiq Labs, said he was impressed by PicMix’s execution of brand marketing. “Getting brand insertion without ill will is key. It’s amazing that it’s got users to want to insert brands, in a process that is not negative,” he said.

Since the company launched less than a year ago, it’s already attracted 11 million users to the platform. 35 percent of those are in Indonesia, with the rest in South Africa and Venezuela.

The reason for that spread is that unlike most photo sharing apps which tend to prioritize the iPhone upon launch, PicMix is available on feature phone platforms like the Nokia Asha, as well as BlackBerry, and Android.

Calvin Kizana, founder and CEO of PicMix’s maker, Inovidea Magna Global, spoke to me at his booth at the ID Byte Jakarta conference, which I visited as part of the Geeks On A Plane trip last week. He said the company chose these platforms over the iPhone because he wanted to grab share in his home market—a notoriously loyal BlackBerry base.

And an iOS version is coming. PicMix will enter the US market with it within the next two months, said Kizana.

The company’s users seem to be pretty active. Each day on average, a user shares between five and 10 photos, to add up to a total of 450,000 photos uploaded to the service daily. The company was hosting this on Indonesian servers, but switched over to Amazon Web Services after its first month of business, when it hit 200,000 users and its servers were starting to feel the strain.

PicMix received a round of funding from Indonesian mobile equipment distributor, Erajaya. Kizana declined to share how much the funding was, and when exactly the deal was struck, but said that the investor came in when PicMix hit the five-million user mark.

Besides sponsored marketing campaigns, PicMix also makes money through in-app purchases of premium frames, stickers and filters. Focusing on its emerging market base, it’s also established carrier billing arrangements in 75 countries worldwide, and has just launched a gift card service with Indonesian payment provider, Indomog.

Carrier billings and prepaid gift cards have helped the company appeal to its domestic base, within which a significant proportion of users don’t have credit cards, said Kizana.