The photobooth has long been a staple of big events like weddings, school formals, and milestone birthday parties, but its popularity has waned somewhat since the rise of the selfie and Instagram. Social Playground is a Sydney startup looking to blend the two, bringing an online component to the old photobooth.
Founded by Annabelle Smith in 2013, the startup looks to merge the online and offline at events through its Instagram printer and Instagram live feed. The Instagram printer works by having partygoers snap a photo, upload it to Instagram, tag it with the event hashtag, and then collect it from the printer within 20 seconds. The live feed works in a similar way, but without the last step – instead of photos being printed, they’re shared on a screen. The startup also provides event staff to help drive engagement with the product.
Smith said she decided to launch Social Playground with the printer as its core product after seeing it while living in New York.
“Upon returning to Australia, I discovered the technology wasn’t available here. I took a calculated risk based on the success I had seen for the concept in the US and decided to launch it to the Australian market. The market here was still in its infancy in terms of social media engagement at events, and Instagram was just beginning to build traction. It was the perfect time to bring something innovative and exciting to Australian consumers,” Smith said.
With Smith having experience in events and PR, she was able to develop the product into something that would resonate strongly with Australian brands looking to create a sense of engagement. Her experience in the space also meant she had a handy book of contacts to approach and pitch to. Since launch, Social Playground has had an Instagram printer at almost 2000 events, working with brands including Spotify, Fox Sports, Topshop, and Virgin Mobile.
Social Playground’s pricing ranges from $850 to $1500 per three hour hire of its products, which includes event staff on the ground. While Smith admitted it sounds pricey, Social Playground’s solutions have proven popular because they drive engagement both offline at the event, and on. As we know, content is key online, and given there’s no social platform cooler than Instagram right now, having eventgoers constantly upload pictures positively referencing a brand for others to see is extremely valuable.
As such, growth came quickly for Social Playground, with the company signing an international deal in Singapore within three months of launching in Australia. However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, and Smith said she has learned to put more time into planning planning.
“Knowing the speed in which the social media and technology space moves, we launched Social Playground fast. This meant little time was allocated to planning and the early days saw us fly by the seat of our pants in some of our decision making and company vision. This also brought with it mistakes and learnings in terms of fast expansion and growth, in particular in overseas expansion,” Smith said.
The company tried to launch its own offices in the UK and New Zealand, learning in the process how hard it can be to find and manage international staff. Social Playground has since switched to a licensing model, and now has partners in Singapore, the UK, and New Zealand.
Smith said she has become smarter in assessing the opportunities available and choosing the best ones to pursue, with more time dedicated to planning the future and where she actually wants to take the company.
The company has been bootstrapped to date, with Smith keen to have further growth funded by revenue. With a number of similar offerings popping up in the events space, she said Social Playground will keep looking to differentiate itself through “innovation and exceptional service.”
“There are many ‘copycat’ companies in the space, which is quite frustrating. We have actually been astounded at how competitors have ripped off our design and tried to piggyback off our success (note to self: always register your design before going to market). However, we will always strive to be first to market in Australia with our products, which helps sets us apart,” she said.
Further international expansion is on the cards for the next 12 months, with Social Playground also beginning to offer custom development for brands in the Australian market.