An art filter app launched by a Russian programmer, Alexey Moiseenkov, is leading Apple’s App Store ranking in Ukraine – as well as in Russia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Moldova and Uzbekistan – ahead of Whatsapp, VK, Instagram, Youtube, Skype and other traditional leaders.
In a totally unexpected surge, the app has been number one in Ukraine everyday since June 18 (just a week after launch) according to AppAnnie data reviewed by Ukraine Digital News.
An Android version is scheduled for release in July 2016.
Dubbed ‘Prisma,’ the app invites its users to add stunning artistic effects to their photos by combining them with works of art. A photo of your cat can look like a Picasso painting, with the cat as the source for content and Picasso artwork the source for style. The transformation is made instantly.
A Chicago view redesigned by the Prisma app. (Photo credit: EWDN)
To create such fantastic images, Prisma’s algorithm uses convolutional neural networks. The approach is not new: it is roughly the same as those of DeepArt.io, based in Germany, and Ostagram, a Russian project created by Sergey Morugin.
The key differences lie in speed and availability in mobile format, Moiseenkov told East-West Digital News. “That really matters because you get the result right here, right now. You can capture every moment in just a few seconds — and this right in your pocket.”
Quality is “pretty much the same,” however, Moiseenkov conceded.
When asked why Prisma has not got such traction beyond Russian-speaking countries so far, Moiseenkov said: “I think because it’s out pet market. We didn’t do any marketing or PR activity here. It just went viral. I believe it will be the same in other countries but a little bit later. Of course we have some cool features ready to match cultural fit.”
Moiseenkov believes “there are a lot of ways to monetize the app while keeping it free for users.”
A new acquisition target for Silicon Valley giants?
Prisma’s success on the App Store has been enough to trigger Mail.ru Group, a leading LSE-listed Russian Internet group, to invest in the project, with participation from Gagarin Capital, a California-based fund with Russian roots, and XBT, an international Internet hosting company.
Moiseenkov was product manager at Mail.ru Group before he launched Prisma. He declined to disclose any details about this previous occupation.
Mail.ru Group’s investment went through My.com, its Silicon Valley-based subsidiary launched in 2013. The details of the deal, announced last week, have not been disclosed, but Russian business daily Vedomosti heard from unnamed sources that the range of Mail.ru Group’s investment was comprised between $1 million and $2 million in exchange for a 10 to 25% stake.
“Artificial intelligence and neural network will bring a lot of change in all types of media content and we are happy to support such startups. We will continue to invest in this perspective trend further”, said Dmitry Grishin, Chairman of the Board of Mail.Ru Group.
Obviously Gagarin Capital has not been involved in the Prisma deal by chance. Co-founded by Nicholas Davydov, a prominent Russian VC who now lives in the Valley, Gagarin Capital had backed Masquerade. This Belorussian startup had developed a filtering app for selfies before being acquired, in March 2016, by Facebook.
Quirky photo and video mobile app started gaining traction even before, with the acquisition of Looksery, a startup with Ukrainian roots, by Snapchat, in September 2015. The Californian messenger reportedly spent $150 million to enable its users to have fun with a variety of face effects while taking selfies.