Saudi photo editing app reaches #1 in UAE, Kuwait App Stores [Podcast]

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Smartphones have brought photography, a once secondary feature in cellphones, to the center of the industry’s evolution, creating ripe opportunities for overnight growth and exits; Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram was one of the biggest stories in tech last year, and now, Instagram has acquired Luma, a Y Combinator startup that focuses on photo stabilization and sharing.

The global accessibility of camera phones, coupled with the abundance of superb photography applications, is also enabling users to produce high-quality photographs with little to no effort. Ever since Louis Deguerre famously captured the Boulevard du Temple in 1838, the human race has taken more than 3.5 trillion photos, 10% of which were taken in the past year. According to this video, more photos were taken using the iPhone than any other camera, ever.

This massive influx of amateur photographers has given rise to several new ventures, from photo-sharing services such as Instagram and Snapchat, to photo editing and cropping applications such as Labelbox and PicFrame.   

Yaser AlMajed, a Saudi-based app developer and established photographer, is an avid fan of photography, phone photography, and photo editing. Having established a fan base, mainly on Instagram, for his stunning double exposure photographs, he noticed an opportunity to provide an app that can produce similar results to those in his photos, without the hassle of advanced Photoshop editing. This led him to form the concept behind Exbel, a double exposure app for iPhone that creates stunning images in just a few minutes.

Normally, double exposure photos require starting with darker, silhouetted images against a clear background, and then applying a second image via layering techniques. The process can turn everyday images into works of art; however, it’s also frustrating and time-consuming.

Exbel tries to solve this problem by making the process easier: first, a user selects an image and draws a mask over it, using a brush or magic wand tool. After adjusting the mask, the user chooses a second image to blend with the masked one. The app comes with a few sample images; however, the user can choose any captured image or picture they take.

The app was released on June 17, 2013, coincidently, on the same day that Instagram’s video service was released, yet it was not overshadowed by Instagram’s big news, still managing to get rave reviews from Gizmodo and AppAdvice. The app's performance has also been quite impressive; at the time of my interview with AlMajed, the app had been downloaded by more than 17,000 users and was ranked #1 in the UAE and Kuwait App Stores on its first day, #2 in Saudi Arabia and #30 in the U.S.

A chat with the founder

AlMajed is the co-founder of 55 Productions, the Saudi-based app-development company that built Exbel. Recently I spoke with AlMajed about his company, which you can listen to in the podcast below, to discuss how he built Exbel and his experience as a mobile developer in Saudi Arabia.

Like a true bootstrapping entrepreneur, he’s done little to no paid marketing. “We did a little marketing, I talked to my friend who has a very big Instagram account, and he helped me with reviewing the app before it launched,” says AlMajed.

His advice to entrepreneurs? Just do it. “I developed an application three years ago and you could only sell 1,000 a month, but now, you can make money out of it,” he says.

Check out the full interview with AlMajed below:

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