Afolio and Other Tech Startups Launch On The Beach in Maui

By Kym McNicholas , written on May 18, 2012

From The News Desk

How many entrepreneurs do you know who would launch their company in Maui? You wouldn't think this would be the ideal spot with the lack of tech press on the tiny island in the Pacific. But She-Rae Chen, CEO of a collaborative photo sharing site called Afolio, decided to officially launch her company at an annual kiteboarding event. It's not just any kiteboarding event, though. it's a select group of entrepreneurs, executives and investors mainly from Silicon Valley.

Charles River Ventures Partner Bill Tai is the ring leader of the bunch, assisted this year by Jason Fass who used to be a product manager at Apple as well at Jawbone. Tai started the group six years ago as simply a gathering of friends. It quickly grew into a more formal event with 150 invitations going out this year out of more than 600 who inquired to attend.

Other attendees this year include TrueCar CEO Scott Painter, Voxer CEO Tom Katis, Founders Fund's Kenny Howery, and Sony's Chief Transformation Officer Geeorge Baily. Companies represented include Apple, Qualcomm, and Google. So, it's a key audience for She-Rae Chen and others to launch their companies.

There's just not a lot of tech media here to cover the launches. The only other official tech journalist attending is Wired's Michael Copeland. But Voxer's CEO Tom Katis says, "The media isn't always the best way to get your message out." During my interview with him on stage at the MaiTai event, he explained why he doesn't focus on media and marketing. He believes in letting the user base grow organically. "It can sometimes cause spikes in interest that can skew our numbers," says Katis.

She-Rae Chen agrees with Katis. She is simply looking to acquire key user groups and this collection of adventure seekers gathered in a beautiful setting such as Maui is the perfect fit.

"It's a unique opportunity for this group to collect all these amazing and memorable photos from their different devices together in one place. They also have a wide reach, so if they like it -- and I think they will since it's so easy to just upload photos from their mobile phone or computer to one shared album -- they will use it again and tell their friends," explains Chen.

Chen still has her work cut out for her, because photo sharing is a crowded space with Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, 500px, and others. But Alfolio stands out because of its ease-of-use. Users can simply drag and drop one photo or a collection of photos from their computer and upload them quickly. They can also with a couple of clicks upload photos to a shared event page and easily like, comment, and download any of the pictures.

Chen got the idea to create the site and iPhone app while at Harvard Business School in 2007. She couldn't find a site that allowed her to easily collect and share photos with friends. She says, "We would all use different sites and it was siloed."

Four years later, she was still frustrated with the options available. So, armed with all her experience from Apple, Palm, and Ericsson, she decided to launch Afolio. The launch was just in time for her wedding last summer, where all her guests used her site to share over 800 photos of their special day. "It was absolutely perfect, because I could see so many different perspectives from our friends and relatives of how they experienced our wedding," Chen explains.

Afolio has a monetization strategy much like 500px. The company plans to charge consumers an annual fee, starting at $50 per year for shared access, additional storage, and full-resolution downloads. 500px lowered its price to half that in order to attract more customers.

Chen says Afolio has a lot of potential with their enterprise business, which is its primary focus for monetization, which further supports her choice to launch the company at MaiTai, and especially now that she's planning to raise another round of funding. One of her backers is Kai Huang, co-founder of Red Octane, the creator of Guitar Hero, which sold to Activision.

Other companies that tried to stir up interest at MaiTai include new iPhone air guitar hardware and app, Yobble, which should be in the app store this weekend. Also, Motrr, which was a company that raised $700,000 on, let attendees try its new consumer hardware hitting the market this summer.

The Galileo is a remote iOS tripod which allows people who aren't attending events to control an iPhone on location and view more of what's happening in the room. They can turn the camera in all different directions. The hardware will sell online as well as in your typical electronics stores such as BestBuy for $130.They're hoping for the Apple store as well.  I talked to the founder about the product and its potential in the video below: