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It was Roy Leban’s love for building things that brought him to a Startup Weekend in 2009 – not his desire to become an entrepreneur.

“I don’t think it makes sense to say someone is or isn’t an entrepreneur,” Leban said. “It’s an unnecessary label that serves more to exclude than include. I like building things and have since I was a young kid.”

Leban pitched and built FriendMosaic, an algorithm for compiling mosaic portraits from a user’s Twitter followers that can be placed on merchandise or other social profiles. Leban and team made their first sale during the Sunday night demo.

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“It was a hectic weekend of furious design and coding, but we built a fully-functional prototype and were able to demo it live for the judges,” Craig Huizenga, Leban’s teammate and future co-founder, said.

They auctioned off the right to be FriendMosaic’s first customer. Brian Gorbett, who worked for Microsoft BizSpark at the time, triumphed in some spirited bidding, with a final price of $200. The team sold another 150 shirts that night, one for each person in the room. In a rarity for Startup Weekend, the FriendMosaic team was left with some profit. That immediate profit allowed the company to make a splash at the Twitter Conference three weeks later, by giving away shirts to all the speakers.

 

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Picture (2009): The first shirt that was sold to Brian Gorbett at Startup Weekend, even UP Global CEO Marc Nager got a shirt. 
 

“It’s not a ‘problem’ company,” Leban said. “It’s a fun company – give people something fun they couldn’t have gotten before.”

Leban and Huizenga teamed up after the event and took some time to ‘make it real.’ Huizenga spent 100% of his time on development while Leban spent about 75% of his time on development and the rest on getting the business going.

Forty-five days after their debut at Startup Weekend, FriendMosaic was entirely automated by Huizenga and Leban. This allowed Huizenga to return to developing music management software and Leban to build puzzle technology startup Puzzazz. Five years later, FriendMosaic sold to Mosaically Inc, who acquired the site and the technology behind FriendMosaic to bolster their online mosaic offering.

“Because we built the system on top of the Zazzle API for product creation and fulfillment, it was able to run itself, with minimal maintenance necessary,” Leban said. “The decision to use Zazzle was one of the best decisions we made. I always say startups should do one thing, and our thing wasn’t actually making physical products.”

Other companies with mosaic software use fixed or uploaded libraries of images, but the FriendMosaic Twitter feature was new and dynamic.

“I’m glad we found an acquirer that has built a solid platform and will be able to take our adaptive mosaic creation technology to the next level,” Leban said.

 

BY THE NUMBERS:

Time line:

  • August 28, 2009 – pitched at Startup Weekend, 7-person team organized
  • August 30, 2009 – demoed working version at Startup Weekend
  • First sale, an auctioned-off “first” T-shirt (sold for $200)
  • Second sale, an order for 150 shirts from Microsoft, event sponsor
  • September 2, 2009 – decided to found a 2-person team to take it forward
  • September 18, 2009 – first shirt delivered
  • September 21, 2009 – Launched in Beta
  • First public shirts at the Twitter Conference
  • First sale on web site
  • October 14, 2009 – Out of Beta
  • December 1, 2014 – Acquired by Mosaically Inc

Customers served:
In the hundreds of thousand

Revenue generated:
Not disclosed. We made money, we didn’t get rich

Industry: (Vertical)
Personalized Products

City:
Redmond, WA

Country:
USA

Platform:
Backend: ASP.NET on AWS
Frontend: Google App Engine
Mosaic technology: C#
Zazzle for product creation and fulfillment

___________________________________________________________________________
Website: http://www.friendmosaic.com/ now http://mosaically.com/
Contact: http://www.royleban.com/

 

The Notable Startup series highlights entrepreneurs who’ve started-up with help from an UP Global program.

 


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