As one of the hit breakout apps of 2016, Prisma needs little introduction. The photo-processing app that uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) to transform your simple smartphone snaps into works of art became a runaway success in a handful of Eastern European countries when it launched on iOS back in June, and went on to garner 10 million downloads globally ahead of its arrival on Android in July.
In the intervening months, Prisma has gained offline functionality, a new video editor, and now claims 70 million downloads across both Android (43 million) and iOS (27 million), a company spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat.
Based out of Moscow, the team behind Prisma consists of around ten people, including cofounder and CEO Alexey Moiseenkov, who previously worked at Russian internet giants Yandex and Mail.ru. The company is already thinking about monetization, too, and has been selling branded filters from the likes of etaxi startup Gett and Palmolive. But these early forays into making money can only go so far, which is why it has previously taken an undisclosed investment from Mail.ru, via its Silicon Valley-based subsidiary My.com, while global internet-hosting company Servers.com also participated in the funding round.
The involvement of Servers.com is notable for a company such as Prisma, as the investment extends beyond simply doling out cash. Originally launched in Europe back in 2005, Servers.com brought its “next generation” cloud hosting service to the U.S. last year with the opening of its first data center there, which was followed by one in Russia and Singapore, with two more due to open shortly. Now, Servers.com, bankrolled by its parent company XBT Holding, is feeding into its expansion plans by forming strategic partnerships with startups that rely on cheaper server capacity so they can hit the ground running.
“If Servers.com finds a project really interesting and promising, not only can we can give cheaper servers to support the growth, but we can also take part in investing,” explained Aleksey Gubarev, CEO of XBT Holding, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Conditions vary, and we always look into the best way to support the growth. We also help with our technical knowledge and experience.”
At the time of writing, Prisma is the only company that Servers.com has brought on board for its startup-focused program. However, Servers.com recently announced a new service called Prisma Cloud, which is effectively a server infrastructure designed to process data across artificial intelligence (A.I.), neural networks, analytics, and more. “It allows anybody in the world to use the same infrastructure as Prisma, at very competitive prices,” said Gubarev.
Passing 70 million downloads is an astounding milestone for any company, but doing so a mere four months after launch is particularly notable. But those who used Prisma early on may have noticed that it wasn’t always speedy in processing images, as it would have to wave its A.I. magic wand at each photo on its own servers. And with the impatient “we want it now” attitude of the internet generation, long accustomed to speedy self-contained apps such as Instagram, that could have caused problems in terms of keeping people coming back. It wouldn’t matter that Prisma’s “filters” were doing a lot more in the background than Instagram’s — 45 seconds (or longer) is simply too long to wait for many people.
“Prisma photo-processing, from the very beginning, had the unspoken rule that all photos should be processed in less than a minute, and we have not broken this rule, even once,” said Gubarev. “No one expected such a popularity growth, but nevertheless we were provisioning new servers really fast – several dozen servers every day.”
With offline mode, Prisma has managed to push much of the image processing onto the smartphone, meaning things like server latency or overload are less of a concern. But servers will still play a big part in Prisma’s future plans, according to Gubarev. “Prisma’s team has a product development plan — I cannot share it at this point, but I’m positive they will make use of the servers,” he said. “You can always do more with the server than without it.”
Moving forward, many have speculated that Prisma is an acquisition waiting to happen, with Facebook a likely suitor — let’s be honest, Prisma would work pretty well as part of Instagram. One reason startups elect to join bigger companies is that it gives them more resources, obviously, and they can reach scale far quicker as a result. If Prisma doesn’t get picked up and branches out into more verticals completely off its own volition, it will require a reliable infrastructure to do so.
“Our platform’s capacity, and our agreement with Prisma, allows it to grow on its own,” added Gubarev. “The tendency of small businesses to be acquired by big companies definitely exists, but at the end of the day, does it matter if users get a good product?”