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Online photo-editing startup Aviary made a big move last year: Instead of pursuing a suite of online products, something it had been doing for several years without much growth, the company decided to become the photo editing backbone for mobile apps.

Now it looks like that leap has paid off. Today Aviary announced that it has powered more than 1 billion photo edits and has grown from 30 partners to a whopping 2,000.

“We knew when we first launched we had a hit on our hands,” Aviary CEO Avi Muchnick told VentureBeat in an interview. “Every developer we spoke to was excited.”

He said the company crossed the 1 billion edit mark around September 13, exactly one year after it launched the new platform.

In that year, Muchnick tells me, he learned a big lesson about prioritizing feature requests: “The data is always right … we’re so much more analytical about how people are using our product now,” he said.

The company also learned the importance of having a test bed in the form of Aviary’s own mobile apps, which launched in June. Previously the company would test out features with their partners, but with its own showcase apps it can easily try out new features without worrying as much.

Aviary’s mobile apps have surpassed 3 million downloads, and Muchnick just learned last night that it’s being featured as Apple’s app of the week in China.

The company’s mobile platform now supports iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, along with tablet-specific layouts. The company is also working with “a few big names” on a Windows 8 SDK, Muchnick tells me.

Founded in 2007, Aviary started off focusing on online editing for photos and music and was even working on a video editing solution. But Muchnick eventually realized that multi-pronged approach wasn’t sustainable.

“We weren’t focusing before, we were doing too many things,” he said. “We kind of took a step back and said, hey, we have a lot of success artificially, but it’s not really amounting to much. … It’s not something you can build … to profitability and raise new rounds.”

So where to go from there? “The answer was clearly photos, and the move to mobile was too large to ignore,” Muchnick said.

The real discovery for Muchnick came when the company was trying to figure out how to jump into mobile. Aviary could have released a slew of mobile photo-editing apps, but that would have been too similar to what the company already attempted online. It also could have pursued a photo social network, but by that point last year Instagram already had that market cornered.

“Then we thought, what if we could power everyone else’s apps?” Muchnick said. “That was a wide open market, nobody was doing that, and it makes perfect sense. … Now we’re focused on getting ubiquity.”

Aviary is going to “100 percent triple-down” on its current strategy, Muchnick tells me, and it will also focus on powering bigger and bigger companies. Once its network of partners gets big enough, the next step is to focus on monetizing. The company is already running a pilot program where it sells effects and stickers within apps and shares that revenue with its partners. But Aviary eventually wants to work with partners to turn the photos into a solid revenue stream.

The company is going to continue focusing on photography, but Muchnick notes that photo editing is just one experience. Aviary is currently trying to figure out other photo-related elements. For example, the company is powering photo printing to Walgreens stores, one of its strategic partners.

“There are a whole bunch of different touch points [around mobile photos] that cold be possible,” he said. “We’re not going to make mistakes of the past.”

Aviary also announced today that it’s adding Mixi, Japan’s biggest social network, and one of Russia’s biggest networks, as partners. The company also has strategic partnerships with Microsoft, Nokia, and others.

New York City-based Aviary has raised $17 million so far from Spark Capital, Bezos Expeditions, and others.


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