We talked to Ola Sevandersson, founder of Pixlr, about web-based and free photo editing software, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ola Sevandersson: As with everyone, we have been hit by the lockdowns and such, but I’ve been spared from anything serious happening to my family or friends. Having a flexible job and being able to do my work from anywhere really helps in situations like this.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Pixlr.
Ola Sevandersson: I’ve created websites and software my whole life and started early on, working with services on the internet back in 1994. Over the years, I’ve worked on some of the largest and most popular websites, both worldwide and in Sweden, with everything from the world’s first social media platform to big betting and gaming companies. I created Pixlr as a pet project in 2008 with the idea to give bloggers the power to create and customize images for their posts without having to go to the expense of buying a huge and costly photo-editing software package. The first version was a huge hit, and it has grown from there to now being the world’s favorite, free, cloud-based platform for creating and editing photographs and other images.
How does Pixlr innovate?
Ola Sevandersson: We always innovate in pushing the limit of what we can do within the browser and on a mobile device, and on how we can let our users get results without being an expert or knowing the ins and outs of photo editing and design. Our 1-2-3-step app, Pixlr-o-matic, really pushed photo editing to the masses by letting users create millions of variants of an image without any knowledge of editing. Today, we are working hard on letting users express themself by leveraging the power of AI and machine learning; the user can focus on the creative side and let machines do the heavy lifting. The creative industry is ever-changing, trends happen fast, and we need to really stay on top to keep being relevant and helpful to our users.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Ola Sevandersson: You might think that because we’re a cloud-based software as a service type of company that nothing changed for us, but that’s far from the truth. We quickly saw that with schools shutting down, Pixlr could serve two purposes: helping in the area of homeschooling and staving off boredom and depression among children. To that end, we’ve been offering free subscription packages to both students and educators. In addition, COVID has made online communication more important than ever, so we are offering a free 30-day trial of our premium membership to the public so that bloggers, photographers, graphic designers, and content creators can be more effective than ever before.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ola Sevandersson: Nothing half-baked is ever a long-term success. I make somewhat difficult calls on a regular basis, but every decision is made with a long-term goal in mind. We come across so many opportunities and trends daily, but with a small team, we have to be very mindful of what we really spend our time on. I try to always favor quality over quantity and long-term goals over short-term revenue. My biggest struggle is weighing the “love of software” with the real-world need for revenue. I want everyone to be able to use our tools, be creative and have fun, but I also realize we need to feed our staff and keep the lights on.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Ola Sevandersson: Even before C-19, we were working with a team that’s spread across several continents and time zones, so the challenge for us as a team working together was not that big of a change. We utilize a wide array of tools for communications: video calls, design prototyping, and so on. Since we don’t meet in real life that often, it is very important to be ultra clear on what I expect from the team, have open communication channels, and be generous with positive feedback. If someone is doing great work, then make sure they know that you appreciate it.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ola Sevandersson: Our main competitors are tools like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Canva, and PicsArt, as well as trendy apps where the users are creative, like Instagram,TikTok, Snapchat, and so on.
We have connected with hundreds of creatives, marketing departments, and media giants and have learned a great deal about their pain points. We continue to pivot and disrupt ourselves — it’s not something that we like to do, but we must. Otherwise, we will not be able to stay relevant to offer the most up-to-trend services to our customers. We want to help our clients create content smarter, faster, and easier. Thus, from all the lessons and resources gained across the years, we are using data, machine learning, and A.I. to help make work more efficient. We changed our strategy, technology solutions, and vendors many times out of necessity to remain relevant for opportunities in the market.
A.I. helps in many ways, from search to editing to the finished artwork. It helps speed up the whole process, so more focus can be placed on creativity. The A.I. tools can churn out better search results, better enhancements, and autosuggestions, and better relevance in terms of design and content required.
In the coming years, we plan to continuously grow, learn and improve our tools, according to consumer feedback. We want to make content creation much more manageable for the designer and to enable them to achieve bigger creative goals in the shortest time like never before.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Ola Sevandersson: Now and again, I come across users who have created an amazing design or edit that I never, ever would be able to do myself, and I realize we made that possible. Just that simple realization makes all the hard work and time worth it.
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