It was a hot Texas afternoon in 2016 when I walked into Capital Factory in Austin to coach early stage entrepreneurs. I met Sam Ulu, co-founder at on-demand photography platform Candidly. He was in his final weeks before graduating from the Techstars Austin program. Unlike most founders coached to hype numbers, Sam told me the problem he was solving was selfies.
Real moments, real time
And why were selfies a problem, anyway? Because—he cut straight to the heart of it—they’re fake. “You want to share an experience with your friends, but you can’t do that when you stop the action to take a photo.” He had a point. After all, do you like taking your own selfie? Bet you don’t.
I realized I was talking to the real deal—Sam is an entrepreneur who sees the world differently and is changing it. Why can’t you have a top quality photographer capturing your critical life events?
Sam is no stranger to solving complex challenges. He’s an immigrant who has gone from studying at a military boarding school in Nigeria to aerospace engineering in the States. Be taught himself to code and had an early media software acquried while he was still at university. His next startup was Candidly, a photography marketplace with an AI engine in the vision. Customers flooded the platform—and Candidly paid attention to the ones that came back most often. On the way, “we learned so much about which customers really needed repeat photography and as a result, decided to concentrate growth efforts on corporate event planners,” he says. Sam was clear on his mission to democratize quality photography for everyone, because, “Selfies are a partial solution.”
A real world innovative solution is Candidly, his on-demand photography platform. It allows you to showcase the true story, the true you, in the glow of the moment. Sam’s growing sales numbers handily triggered our hyper growth thesis. Between events and other types of photography, his sales showed there was a real need for quality photography—the opportunity would lie in his ability to execute at scale.
Human-centric artificial intelligence
Valor invested in Sam’s vision of sharing the human spirit in close to real time, a vision unleashed by Candidly’s secret sauce–an AI platform that takes great photography and automatically edits it into a superb professional package delivered same-day at a flat-rate. It’s art and tech together, where AI enhances human art and art is enhanced by AI. Enterprise customers are seeing this as a solution to ongoing event communications, and customers include WeWork Texas, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, and numerous tech conferences. Earlier this year, pushed by the growth of the AI platform, Sam brought in a seasoned product professional Heather Le as a cofounder responsible for scaling product and operations. Candidly creates a 10x or better solution for everyone in the loop:
- For event hosts, great photography available in hours not days means social, sponsor and attendee communications are streamlined and the event ROI takes off.
- For the attendee, they can be in the moment and know the event will share great photos in hours, so they can update their networks without having to stop for selfies.
- For the photographer, he or she gets to focus on the work of creating art in the moment—not editing in post-production. Candidly has the first image-editing artificial intelligence focused on the unique needs of event photography. It saves hours, and sometimes days, of work in the professional photography process.
A growing, global picture
Valor has seen Candidly create millions of smiles, sell millions of dollars of photography, raise their next round of capital at a nice markup for Valor’s investors, and capture major customers. We’re looking forward to seeing the picture unfold. Globally, there are a number of startups focused on the issue of more accessible art in business or art at scale (like Meero, which just raised $45 million). The picture is only getting bigger and we’re excited to see Candidly capturing more and more attention. If you have large scale events or software that wants to add on-demand photography to its user suite, get in touch with this incredible team.