PictoSo: Lord Karan Bilimoria CBE, DL

The man behind Cobra beer tells us why he's ready to take on the tech giants this time around and offers his 'eight Ps' to business success

Name: Lord Karan Bilimoria CBE, DL
Company name: PictoSo
Location: Greater London
Date launched: 05/10/15
Website: www.pictoso.com

Tell us what your business does:

PictoSo is an instant photo-sharing app for IOS that is free to download and enables users to create community albums with photographs and 10-second videos, so they can share the moments that matter with the people that matter.

With the app, photos can be edited with filters, effects and stickers, and annotated with captions. Albums can also be shared via social media, email, SMS and messenger and images are stored on PictoSo servers so that they can be shared and received at high resolution without taking up extra space on mobile handsets.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

We are witnessing the convergence of many trends: smartphone usage rising significantly, broadband access and speed expanding rapidly; and the cost of data storage and digital tools falling. It’s clear that now is the time to launch an app that makes it easier for users to share their photos instantly.

How did you know there was a market for it?

While smartphone users were in the minority in 2012, today they represent more than two-thirds of users in the UK. Furthermore, an estimated one trillion photos are due to be taken in 2015 alone.

This, coupled with faster and stronger broadband connections, the decreasing costs of data and the popularity of using social media as a communication method, enabled us to identify a distinct gap in the market.

What were you doing before starting up?

PictoSo is my second venture. I previously founded Cobra Beer in 1989, just after graduating from Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge.

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As founding Chairman of the UK-India Business Council, I am passionate about improving trade relations with India. I also advocate the strength and diversity of the UK Higher Education sector in my roles as Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

Yes, I had always wanted to run my own business. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was an entrepreneur and built up a number of very successful companies. He was a great inspiration to me.

When I decided to get qualified as a chartered accountant, it was to give me that business background, and then the same with my law degree at Cambridge. Ultimately, I knew I was more about blue skies and carving my own way.

How did you raise the money?

We’ve done it the same way I did with Cobra – bootstrapping!

Describe your business model and how you make money:

At the moment, we are focused on getting as many users as possible downloading and using PictoSo, in order to gain a significant market share.

We have plans to implement a revenue stream in the near future, after we have reached a critical mass.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

The challenge has been to ensure our idea was translated correctly in its execution.

It’s taken a lot of hard work to perfect the product and launch it to market. Over 30 beta versions of the product were tested before we made it available on the app store.

By the time we launched at Cambridge University Freshers’ Fair, I was confident the product was the best possible version. We have seen the feedback and people love it.

What was your first big breakthrough? 

With PictoSo, it was launching it at Cambridge and getting the reactions from students of Cambridge and from every society that exists in Cambridge. You could see that people instantly liked it and wanted to use it.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

I have a number of tips to offer, but it’s essential to have the right attitude and have a vision and to aspire and achieve against all odds with integrity. Also don’t go up against the giants – that applied to Cobra and the same applied here as PictoSo is going up against the giants of Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Snapchat.

Finally, bear in mind the following eight ‘P’s of being a successful entrepreneur:

  • Create the right product that people will love
  • Sell it at the right price, so that you can compete in the market
  • Make your product available and your brand visible in the right place
  • Promote, sell it, market it
  • Work with the right people. I was able to work with my cousin Rashid who has several years of experience building tech businesses from scratch. And Philipp, a top programmer who is CTO of PictoSo, from one of the leading computer sciences universities in the world, Carnegie Mellon. We have a great international team.
  • You have to have phinance – which I spell with a ‘P’ for the sake of the argument – make sure your business is financially sustainable.
  • You have to have passion. You must be passionate about what you’re doing and about the success of your product.
  • Ultimately, you’ve got to be profitable.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

In the tech space, five years is a lifetime.

Just look at where Instagram (founded 2010), Whatsapp (founded 2009), have gone in five years. By 2020, we hope to have become a household name with many millions of users.


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