Inventing the technology
Dealing closely with Estonian street artists, an idea was born that the preparations – setting the proportions etc. – could be done much more easily. Everything started with a smart printhead.
He ended up with a creative solution by combining a Wii controller with a car engine valve. “Engines nowadays use extremely fast valves to spray fuel to combustion chamber, I realized I can use them to shoot paint with pinpoint accuracy,” Mihkel explains. From there smart spray paint technology was born.
The first product was the handheld printer. This enables to print pictures from smartphones to any surface using spray paint. Mihkel came up with this genius idea, but the idea alone was not enough. He needed a team.
Winners of the prototyping contest Prototron
Winning the prototyping contest Prototron not only secured the very needed 8k, it also gave us confidence and will and reminded us we are on the right track.
The first big entrances through media
We were positively shocked by the impact one article on Designboom had on our global visibility. It was the first big online site to cover SprayPrinter and after that, more than 30 blogs picked it up and all of a sudden, there were articles on SprayPrinter every day in different parts of the world and in different languages.
Discover Channel was another great compliment. The entire team spent 16 hours in a basement (with it’s ups and downs) to print a picture for the clip in the Discovery Channel.
Indiegogo and Kickstarter
When we had been a company for two months, we decided to hold a crowdfunding campaign. We had multiple reasons for that. First, we were just starting out. We needed to know if there even was a market out there for our invention. We needed to validate the market.
But we also really didn’t have any money. So a crowdfunding campaign seemed a good idea to get the necessary money before starting the production.
Aaand… we didn’t really have the product ready. We were still in a prototype phase. We needed time for production and testing. But also needed to convince the investors. So crowdfunding campaign was our choice for many reasons.
Shipping the first batch
In September of 2016 we shipped the first SprayPrinter units to our Indiegogo backers. We had to delay the release a little bit, but all’s well that ends well. In all we shipped about 400 units around the world. Here’s a video about the making of the sprayprinted postcards we sent to our backers as a gift.
After we had shipped the first batch, analyzed the feedback, we held a second crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for an improved product. It was a success, reaching 160% funding. We raised $83,288 from 366 backers! SprayPrinter 2-s will be shipped in September 2018.
Portrait of Einstein
SprayPrinter has a passion for invention and innovation, so we paid tribute to one of the greatest innovators of all time, Albert Einstein, with the world’s largest sprayprinted mural at the time. Well, to be honest, first we planned this as a communications stunt to get more visibility and publicity during our Kickstarter campaign. It worked very well. We got lots of press and attention. Later on, we named the mural printer Albert, after Einstein.
See the video of printing our first outside mural!
First outside mural we did with Albert, was Einstein. This chimney was on our inventor Mihkel’s to-do list ever since middle school when he used to look at this chimney from the math class window and dreamed of climbing it some day. And then this chimney was offered to the local street art festival Stencibility which is curated and organized by one of our team members, Sirla. We decided to put on the chimney another sprayprinted piece. Although, it required improving the mural robot since the smoke stack is curved. BBC and Reuters visited us and covered the print. And hundreds of other channels as well. We got approximately 100 000 million to witness this hack through the media!
This is one cool gallery in San Francisco. First we did one beetle on the gallery. The curators (managers) loved it so much they invited us to do a live print with Albert during an event called Luminary. SprayPrinter’s inventor Mihkel is left-handed and this is what we printed. Now that was something. Even when just setting up the robot, people were already discussing whether it’s some sort of performance art and what it could all mean. There were 4000 people gathered around and we got such amazing feedback and invitations to other events etc. Suddenly, there was a line of people who used the print as a selfie backdrop. This is when it really dawned on us – our product is the picture on the wall, but also the buzz around it when it is being printed and the video and visuals afterwards.
Later on, we did another beetle on the gallery wall. And this is not all! We will have a full gallery show there in September 2018 and you are very welcome to join us!
Another pivot – becoming a marketing firm
We understood that murals make for a good input on social media. And also landmarking, a sprint towards creative placemaking and a way to attract eyeballs. Now we are also working with corporations who want to have an innovative way of making a campaign or transform a neighbourhood. From blightened to enlightened, as we like to say.
Richard and Mihkel meet. Yin & Yang
Richard and Mihkel met at a party on a small Estonian island, Tondisaar. They clicked right away and both understood that they could do great things together. Mihkel told Richard about the inventions he had come up with, one of them being SprayPrinter which Richard saw potential in it right away.
Mihkel comes up with the proof of concept prototype of SprayPrinter and the company applies for hardware accelerator BuildIt. Actually, it was the third time for Mihkel to apply there. Two previous times the idea did not get accepted and Mihkel was told he needs a team. Third time, Mihkel and Richard were told that, okay, they can take part of the programme but BuildIt will not invest in the company. Well, later on, they did.
Later, when were already a Silicon Valley startup, we also took part of Jason Calacanis’ incubator. This accelerator was all about raising money. Meaning, we had to improve our pitch every week. And also find new verticals, metrics, data to support our business. And at this point we pivoted – from a handheld sprayprinter to a wall climbing robot. We understood that our product is a picture on the wall and not the tech itself. This gave us a huge influential network in Silicon Valley and helped us complete a seed round.
Well, we are also working on the handheld printers and launching SprayPrinter 2 in September of 2018. We do believe that it is a brilliant tool for the DIY enthusiasts and by now we are actually pretty glad we didn’t scale up with SprayPrinter 1 because we have had more time to fix the bugs and collect feedback.
There were many early prototypes of SprayPrinter, on the above picture you can see a couple of them.
Here’s our inventor Mihkel explaining why some ideas were chosen and others discarded: LINK
Awards after awards after awards
We have won quite a few awards from different events, accelerators, incubators and even won first place in a business ideas reality tv show Ajujaht.
This competition taught us a lot. It is the biggest business ideas competition in Estonia. The whole thing started in October 2015 and ended in May 2016. Throughout the journey, we were given so many different tasks that challenged us in multiple ways. The benefits, however, came rather quickly. Healthy deadlines boost productivity. Besides, local investors now knew what SprayPrinter is and it opened many new doors for us.
Oh, after winning the show, Mihkel the Inventor proposed to his girlfriend on live-tv with his own poem. She said yes.
You can see our reaction when the winner was announced: watch
Winning the TechChill pitching competition
As an award we got a trip to Silicon Valley with a full agenda and meetings with selected investors. You can read about our Silicon Valley experience from our CEO Richard.
In the aftermath of our Kickstarter campaign we received honors from EPRA (Estonian Public Relations Association) for best start-up communication and the Baltic PR Awards in the international communications category. We are especially proud of the last one, because it was the highest score in the history of the award.
In June we took part of the Global DIY Summit 2017 in Berlin. There were 1200 attendees. And also a pitching competition for startups. Our Chief Communications Hacker Aet was thrown into the shark tank. Overall there were six startups. AND WE WON! With 62% of the total votes! Not bad!
Portuguese soccer legend Luis Figo signed his sprayprinted portrait at Web Summit in Lisbon which was an award in and of itself.
Collaborations with different artists
“The Autoportrait of Vincent” by Edward von Lõngus is a futu-retropainting where old styles meet new technologies, creating the realm of digital impressionism.
“When the SprayPrinter team offered me to try out their latest invention, I chose the self portrait of Vincent van Gogh as a tribute to the old masters. Impressionism was the first step towards unlocking the secrets of pixel imaging, the key element in modern visual communication,” Edward von Lõngus told about his interpretation.
You can read more about SprayPrinter’s possible impact on street art from here.
Since the very beginning, we have emphasized that SprayPrinter itself does not make anyone an artist. It works like a brush or a colouring book. Or something in between. Or both. But the willingness to try out different techniques and tricks is what makes it possible for an artist to benefit from it. And we are always very eager to see how artists interpret the tool. Especially because we understand that people might be sceptical of new technology. More than once we have met a position that this device is too “tech”, therefore the result is too mechanical, too easy. We were delighted when Edward von Lõngus interpreted the tool in his own manner and surprised us with what SprayPrinter is capable of.