Selfie skills are getting put to the test thanks to Pickle, a Memphis-made mobile app dedicated to "competitive selfies."
The app recently secured $135,000 in funding — the majority coming from Wolf River Angels, the investment branch of tech accelerator and development group Start Co. The app allows users to post different types of themed selfies, such as best dinosaur face or most absurd duck face. Pickle users can then vote for the best in each category.
The app's creators — Morgan Steffy, a University of Memphis student majoring in computer science, and Evan Katz, a recent Rhodes College graduate — met two years ago while studying in Ecuador. Initially, Katz dreamed up an app to help users decide what to wear, and Steffy began coding it.
Katz applied for Start Co.'s summer acceleration program last year, which is dedicated to getting tech startups off the ground. Once they got in, Steffy, who was in Pennsylvania at the time, took a one-way flight to Memphis. The app's focus then took a shift toward selfies.
"By December, we really found our big traction doing competitive selfies," Steffy said.
By March, funding was solidified with the help of Start Co., which secured investors from as far away as Texas and California. According to Steffy, the funding will mostly be going toward development as they add a second developer to the project in order to speed up the process. Marketing will also take a chunk in order to grow its userbase.
"Even if we didn't have the funding, we could still do it, like iterate on our app and figure out different marketing strategies," Katz said. "But we'd be doing that on a much smaller scale and much slower. The funding allows us to do a lot more at once on a larger scale and get answers quickly on what works and what doesn't, so we can grow the company."
The competitive selfies game already seems to be taking off. The app currently boast 35,000 downloads on Apple's iOS platform.
Pickle's journey hasn't been without challenges. Steffy and Katz went into the startup with no experience with mobile technology.
"The hardest realization was that I was under the impression if you had a good idea for an app, you would just build it," Katz said. "Once it was built, if people liked it, they would tell their friends who would tell their friends — then a couple of months later, you'd have the next Snapchat. Not only is building an app incredibly complex, but actually finding the perfect combination of feature, utility, and entertainment takes a huge amount of technical expertise and math."
The duo is also going against stereotypes: Steffy, a woman, is in charge of the technical side, while the male Katz is the business's brains. People often assume their roles are reversed.
"It never would've crossed my mind that [the startup scene] would be male-dominated in the first place," Steffy said.
"You see less female CTOs [chief technology officers] and technical co-founders, so that's a nice dynamic we have on the team," Katz said. "I think it's refreshing that we have a multiple-gender team. We're definitely big supporters in getting women into the [business]."
The free app is currently only available for iPhones, which is a deliberate move by Steffy and Katz, who want to perfect the interface on one mobile device before opening it up to other platforms.