From technical problem to a new
RANCHO BERNARDO ---- It's a story that happens
everywhere: A tech-savvy college student struggles to help a
tech-naive parent. But UC San Diego computer science student Ryan
Sit took it further. Sit turned his mother's struggles with her
digital camera into his master's thesis. And he turned that thesis
into a new online photo-sharing company, DropShots.
in 2005 as JussPress, DropShots makes software that automatically
organizes, formats and uploads photos and videos to the company's
Web site. Users and those they allow can view the photos. Most
importantly, Sit said, the photos aren't just to look at: They serve
as springboards for online comments and conversations. Photos that
get a lot of comments move up the page, helping to keep the
DropShots so impressed local "angel"
investors that the company has raised nearly $1 million, spokesman
Blake Prescott said. The lead investor, Darren Hardy, became chief
executive. And the company is still refining its software, with its
executives working from home offices in a "virtual team" so as much
money as possible can be pumped into the software.
While helping his mom, Sit said he
realized that the software currently available required far too much
technical knowledge for most people to easily master.
to teach her how to put it on the computer, how to make attachments,
how to resize photos that were too large ... there were all these
things you had to know how to do," Sit said in the Rancho Bernardo
home office of Brian Pond, the chief operating officer.
struggling made no sense, Sit said, because all these functions
could be automated. And that realization, back in 2002, sparked his
research project. The goal was to make posting photos online a
one-step process. Sit got advice from UCSD professors Stefan Savage
and William G. Griswold.
Together with the professors, Sit
recruited volunteer users to test his prototype, which used wireless
cameras to transmit the photos. That was before the widespread
availability of camera phones.
The photos were organized by
date, which Sit said proved to be the easiest method. "If they're
not organized, you take thousands of photos, and it's like they're
thrown in a shoe box," he said. "Even with digital photos, they're
just thrown in a folder."
To make uploading easy, the
software converted photos (and now videos) into Macromedia Flash
files. Flash files are much smaller than standard photo or video
files, Sit said, and most people have Flash already installed on
their computers. With better compression technology and the
increasing use of broadband Internet connections, Sit said, the use
of Internet video by consumers is set to take off.
idea to company
But with feedback from users, Sit
realized that he needed more than technology: The users wanted to
discuss the photos. A static collection wasn't as appealing as being
able to chat about them. So Sit reached out of the world of computer
science and recruited James D. Hollan, a UCSD professor of cognitive
science and an expert in human-computer
Eventually, Sit and his instructors hit on the
idea of emphasizing conversations, with the comments anchored around
individual photos, themselves organized by date.
his master's thesis in summer 2004. By that time, he was caught up
in the entrepreneur's dream of turning his idea into a company. But
initial talks with potential investors didn't go anywhere. Sit got a
respectful hearing, but nothing more.
"In the business world,
everything is about networking, and I didn't know anybody," Sit
Sit went ahead anyway, sending out executive summaries
of his business plan and revising it as he learned more about what
investors wanted. He eventually found a mentor from the San Diego
Tech Coast Angels, a local investing group.
Hardy, was one of the first people Sit had talked with. Looking at
Sit's determination, and the revised business plan, Hardy changed
his mind. He decided to invest in the company and become chief
executive. He also brought along Pond. Sit assumed a technical role,
while Hardy and Pond focused on the business model.
The first rule for the nascent company was
to keep costs as low as possible, and pour every cent into the
product. Today, DropShots' goal is to accelerate use of its service,
which comes in two versions. One is free, and may eventually be
supported by advertising on DropShot's Web site. The other has a
monthly fee, currently $5 a month.
"We wouldn't do anything
that we couldn't pay for," Sit said. "That gave us a lot of
motivation to improve our service."
Contact staff writer
Bradley J. Fikes at (760) 739-6641 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To comment,
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