How One App Maker Got 8 Million Users and Mark Cuban's Money
Bruno Francois walked onto the set of Shark Tank last June with a mission. He wanted Mark Cuban's app expertise and Lori Greiner's strengths as a fellow inventor. What he didn't want, however, was money.
He had bootstrapped Cycloramic Studio 360 Panorama, a $1 iOS app that makes 360-degree panoramic videos, since the beginning, so he was sure he could get by without funding. Although he was willing to accept $90,000 for a 5 percent stake in the company, "it was not the top priority," he says.
What was top priority was getting access to Cuban's Rolodex. "I wanted to find some kind of partnership, not for driving my business but for advisement," says Francois, who lives in Atlanta. "Mark was my top choice. And Lori does more of the design, manufacturing, and distribution of hardware work, which is good for my inventing side."
By the end of the show, Francois had gotten a lot more than he anticipated. He walked away with $500,000 from the two investors in exchange for a combined 15 percent of the company.
During his presentation on the show, Francois, 42, said his app had drawn 660,000 downloads. The app had already had won accolades from tech writer David Pogue, who bestowed Cycloramic with a Pogie award and called it the "freakiest darned thing you ever saw," thanks to its ability to make a smartphone rotate itself by activating its vibration function. More interest came after Francois's cold pitch to Steve Wozniak prompted the Apple co-founder to film a panoramic tour of his kitchen that went viral.
Still, Francois couldn't have foreseen the Shark Tank effect. Within an hour of his appearance on January 31, Cycloramic received 100,000 downloads from the App Store. "We saw a little increase in activity shortly before the show as the companies and preview were announced," Francois told the Apple blog 9 to 5 Mac. "As soon as our segment started, the downloads skyrocketed [to tens of thousands in a matter of minutes]."
To date, Cycloramic has been downloaded almost 8.5 million times and was the top-selling app in the App Store this week, Francois says. That's in spite of the fact that the app has never been featured in App Store promotions in the U.S. "We got featured in many countries, but nothing on the main page of iTunes," he says. "I don't know why. I've tried to send emails and demonstrations."
Perhaps Francois doesn't need Apple's help. Though he partially credits Shark Tank with the app's success--"once you go on the show, it's like a commercial," he says--he doesn't believe his 12-minute appearance was the only thing that helped him succeed. Mark Cuban's presence was a huge factor as well. "He doesn't just invest in you and ignore you," Francois says of his backer. "He'll try an app, test it, and give feedback."
Last Friday, Francois launched another app called Selfie 360, which--you guessed it--enables panoramic selfies. Users have been uploading 4,000 photos a day and so far the app has been downloaded 60,000 times.
Whether it takes off like Cycloramic remains to be seen, but for now Francois, who grew up in Corsica and studied aerospace engineering, says he's content to just keep developing new tech projects.
Next on his hit list is a levitating iPhone platform for chatting on Facetime. "The phone can rotate and follow you, and the person on the other [end of the] line can control what they're seeing," he says.
JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer
Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.
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