Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Perspective on Prisma: It's Burning Money Fast

For the past couple of weeks - the photo-processing app Prisma has been gaining huge attention, and rightfully so - they use CNNs (+3 points for trendy buzz word) and AI (+2.5 points) to process its users' photos and turn them into truly impressive art work, inspired by great artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, and others (+1.5 points for name dropping).

Here's what it looks like on the famous Success Kid's image:

 Which is it pretty impressive. As usual with these things, well lit highly contrasted photos work best, and it's loads of fun to play with.

Since the app is free, it begs the question: how do these people plan to make money?
Well, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Some of their filters are branded (e.g. by Palmolive), thus generating revenue through advertising.
  2. Since yesterday, the photos come with a water mark on their bottom-right corner, which I guess won't be there in some premium paid version.
  3. As a friend of mine pointed out: it is very hard to do these computations on the device, and as he found out - indeed when you put your device into airplane mode - the app doesn't work, so the heavy lifting must be done in the cloud. To quote my friend: "this is one free app with a huge AWS bill".
  4. In its Product Hunt thread, one of the Co-founders responded to an inquiry about their business model by promising that the app will always be free:

Conclusion: smells like trouble

So while this company is obviously putting out a good product (especially if we ignore the annoying 2-3 seconds wait when applying a filter), I believe balancing their cloud bill with revenue from advertisers seems like a big challenge. Of course, they may be aiming at getting bought quickly by the big guys, but the model of allowing users to heavily drain cloud resources, with a limited ability to monetize (unlike search results, social networks feed, etc.), may mean they won't live long enough for this to happen.

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