After Surviving A Wonga Loan, Marvel Raises $820K To Let You Turn Sketches Into App Prototypes


Image Credits:

Back in April, Marvel — the UK startup that lets you turn sketches into app “prototypes” — had just one and a half month’s runway left after burning through the majority of a £60,000 investment from Haatch. At one point, the burgeoning company even took out a Wonga payday-style loan to stay afloat whilst frantically re-writing the service to help keep up with demand.

Today, however, Marvel’s fortunes are looking decidely up. The London-based company has raised a £525,000 seed round from Connect Ventures, app studio ustwo (makers of iOS game Monument Valley, amongst other endeavours), and various angel investors, including Roberto Bonanzinga, Andy McLoughlin, Richard Fearn, and Jeremy Yap.

That’s a pretty decent list of backers from the London tech scene and it’s certainly noteworthy to see ustwo invest (who I understand are also users of the service), given they know more than a thing or two about app design prototyping.

To that end, Marvel co-founder Murat Mutlu tells me that the startup’s mission going forward is to “lower the barrier” to prototyping.

“As everyone is becoming more and more entreprenurial it’s becoming clear that prototyping goes far beyond designers,” he says. “Prototyping will become as important as ‘learning to code’ whether you are a kid or a founder, everyone should be able to bring their ideas to life quickly and easily.”

To achieve this, Marvel’s web, iOS and Android apps let you turn sketches, wireframes, and Photoshop files into a tappable (or clickable) demo of how your app will work. It does this by letting you add ‘hotspots’ and transitions to your images so that the resulting prototype can be navigated as if it were an actual app.

Specifically, the mobile apps enable you to photograph a paper (or back of a napkin) sketch and — in the latest update for iPhone and iPad — draw directly on the screen with your finger or a capacitive stylus.

In addition, the whole thing is built on top of the Dropbox API, so that any changes you make to your ‘screen’ images, even via another app such as Photoshop, are synced with Marvel. This also means the startup is able to offer its core service for free without limits since it isn’t having to shell out for cloud-storage.

However, it’s Marvel’s dead-pool dodging backstory that is perhaps most interesting. Like many startups, Marvel started out as a side-project and as a way for its founders — who, along with Mutlu, are Brendan Moore and Jonathan Siao — to scratch their own itch, but soon developed into something bigger.

“After spending most of our summer evenings and weekends in 2013 working on Marvel, we finally had something we could ship around October last year. Immediately after we announced it had launched, someone posted it on Designer News (a popular ‘Hacker News’ style site for designers) and suddenly we had nearly a 1,000 users within a couple of weeks,” explains Mutlu.

That traction confirmed to the trio that Marvel could be a ‘thing’, so they started looking for investment. Eventually the startup secured a very modest funding round from incubator Haatch, allowing the team to go full-time with a runway of around 6 months. But things didn’t quite go to plan.

“Straight after the funding, we ran into trouble, the site was falling apart with the increase in projects and images being added. We had to make a choice, spend months rewriting the platform and delay any revenue generating features we had planned or patch things up in the hope we’d get investment further down the line,” says Mutlu.

The team opted to do a complete rewrite but this meant that by the time they were done they had less than a month and a half cash remaining. To help stretch this out further, the startup got “scrappy” and managed to haggle free hosting and discounts on everything from office space to analytics, although that wasn’t enough to stop Marvel temporarily falling back on a loan from Wonga.

“Around this time, Marvel had reached 20k users and thousands of projects every month and still just the three of us juggling things. I was running around London pitching to dozens of seed investors as time was running out. Luckily we met Connect Ventures at the right time, they spoke the same language as us and it was the perfect fit. Then we added the brilliant ustwo, Roberto Bonanzinga, Andy McLoughlin, Richard Fearn and Jeremy Yap to our backers.”

That backing will enable Marvel to grow its team of developers and designers to take the product to the “next level”, says Mutlu, and continue a growth trajectory that has just seen the service hit the 60k user mark, adding 200 users per day. Meanwhile, over 2 million images have been synced to Marvel.

More TechCrunch

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week