When you’re a reporter covering a startup that hasn’t been written about yet you feel a bit like you’re taking away its media virginity. The founders are so fresh-faced, bright-eyed and innocent.
That’s certainly the case with the best friend founder team of Dutch company Twibfy, who are visiting San Francisco to show off their product, meet VC’s, and generally soak in that Silicon Valley je ne sais quoi, which in Dutch would be Ik weet niet wat. (I have no idea how to pronounce that.)
Twibfy came out of beta last week as a platform for career creatives (interior designers, advertisers, graphic artists, and the like) to search for beautiful, weird, and compelling images to spark their imagination for projects. Think professional Pinterest meets mood board. Madman Don Draper’s head would explode.
Users can easily clip and submit photos, art, and graphics they come across while surfing the Internet, and the four-person Twibfy team tags them with categories, picks the coolest ones to showcase on the homepage, and makes the boring ones unsearchable. That way, the images on Twibfy are curated to get creative juices going. That’s what makes the site better for artists and designers than simply searching Google images or Flickr.
Users can query the site for topics or objects like “fashion” or “car” or choose from 29 different colors. The Twibfy guys are patting themselves on the back for reinventing the search bar because there is no search bar. Instead, users just type in what they’re looking for and the text takes over the screen. With this feature I think they’re overestimating the intelligence and investment of the average web user, who will probably just become confused about how to search and give up. However, if they don’t, and eventually figure out the search function, a page will load with the relevant images, best ones at the top. This is great for designers or advertisers who might need to brainstorm the vibe/colors/mood/aesthetic of a commercial/product/interior design/travel package.
The founders — Simon van Cleeff and David Robustelli — have been bootstrapping the project with money from their 15 person digital ad agency TYG Digital in the Netherlands. They launched the ad agency in 2009, and brands contract them to invent weird, funky online campaigns for products. For example, Dutch company First Choice Cola wanted to edgify its stodgy image, so van Cleeff and Robustelli worked on a campaign where anyone who drank four cans of First Choice Cola would get a free beanie. The beanie would allow the wearer to play a snowboarding game online, using their head to control the turns of the virtual snowboard.
Van Cleeff and Robustelli came up with the idea for Twibfy because they were tired of combing through platforms like Pinterest at TYG Digital. They wanted a bunch of cool images all in one place for brainstorming ad campaigns, so they put an intern to work designing an early Twibfy prototype just for TYG Digital. Then when they mentioned it to colleagues and friends, their contacts at bigger ad agencies said they wanted to use the service, too.
“We went to San Francisco in April and had meetings at Facebook and Instagram with people in user interface design,” Robustelli says.” We asked them to be critical, but they liked it and told us to keep developing it. We were told to come back … when it’s done and present it.” Since that visit, the duo found a full-time project manager to run their tydigital ad agency and hired a developer and designer to help bring Twibfy to life.
It launched last Thursday and during their SF visit they met casually with Andreessen Horowitz and other VC firms to garner feedback on the platform, but they say they’re not trying to raise money just yet.
Twibfy is free because the team wants to get more people using it so they can collect feedback. In a year, they’ll consider monetizing through sponsored ads that they say would be cleverly worked into the interface. Retailers could submit edgy, interesting images of their products that would be appear alongside other pictures with one exception: they’d link to the retailers’ sale page.
Don Draper would be proud.