Aviary is the scrappy New York-based photo editing start-up you've probably never heard of.
Twitter announced this week that it would use Aviary's photo software development kits to power its own photo filter feature--essentially, replacing Instagram photos. The news came after Instagram nixed photo viewing from users' Twitter streams.
According to CEO and founder Avi Muchnick, Aviary has had a working partnership with Twitter for months leading up to the release of Twitter's mobile photo filter feature. When asked about whether the partnership was in any way related to Instagram and Twitter’s recent split, Muchnick remained mum.
“I hope there’s never one winner in this space for who people are using for creative apps,” Muchnick said. “We hope that every app has that potential built into them.”
Today, Muchnick says Aviary has 2,500 partners, including Box and Walgreen’s, and 25 million monthly active users. To date, the company has raised a total of $17 million in financing across three rounds from investors including Spark Capital, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, through his personal venture capital arm Bezos Expeditions.
And Aviary's story actually begins with Bezos.
In 2001, Muchnick launched a start-up called Worth1000, an online platform for artists to share Adobe Photoshop designs. Somehow (still a mystery to Muchnick), Bezos became aware of the design website in 2007 and reached out to Muchnick about a possible collaboration in the future.
“(Jeff Bezos) would visit the website everyday to see some of the works that artists were making,” said Muchnick, adding that Worth1000 still exists today. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with him.”
That's when Muchnick decided to leave Worth1000 and create Aviary. The new direction was to create a web-based alternative to Adobe, and that idea had Bezos reaching for his wallet.
“I thought Adobe had done a fantastic job and thought, what if I could take that service to the masses by making it easier to learn, easier to distribute via the web and at a lower cost,” Muchnick added.
Soon, Aviary raised a seed round of $4 million, from investors including Joi Ito and, of course, Bezos Expeditions.
But Aviary’s Adobe Flash-based site didn’t last long. Muchnick said the company began having doubts about its long-term viability by 2010--despite having (what he claimed to be) a loyal user base of artists and even a few thousand schools that were using Aviary within their curriculums. He knew a pivot was necessary.
“Around 2010, it felt like all creativity was moving to mobile and there was no question that if we wanted to stay relevant we would have to adopt the company for the explosion in mobile growth,” said Muchnick. “It was heart-wrenching to shut down the original tools but the value was unlikely to grow.”
That’s exactly what Aviary did, debuting its mobile photo SDK product in September 2011, with 30 app partners and eventually shutting down its original version.
“What separates Aviary is that it is an SDK that is intended to be built into third-party apps,” Muchnick said. “We’ve created a cross-platform SDK that can be used on Windows phones, iPhones, Androids and the web.”