Instagram is well known for its dedicated communities — especially in cities such as Cape Town where designers, both local and tourists, take advantage of the popular photography app. From Saturday brunches at The Old Biscuit Mill to sundowners in the Winelands, you’ll find the hashtags #CapeTown or #CT constantly trending locally, especially at dusk.
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Not only have these communities inspired amateur smartphone photographers to become popular online influencers, they’ve enabled companies like InstaLens to launch into international markets by selling its sleek, universal smartphone camera lenses to smartphone photographers around the globe.
Today — only 10 months after it started up — InstaLens tells Ventureburn that it’s sold over 15 000 products with distribution currently focusing on South Africa, the UK and Australia.
Before InstaLens, co-founder Trent Pike was studying Business Science at the University of Cape Town. In fact, both founders are in their early twenties and had to put their higher education on hold to focus on the fast-growing startup. “InstaLens just became too overwhelming and we realised that if we want to make a success out of it we have to put in everything. I couldn’t do half a degree and half run a business. They’d both suffer,” says Pike.
Backed by only R5 000 of starting capital, Pike and co-founder Georgia Greville started out by promoting and selling the company’s smartphone camera lenses at the popular Bay Harbour Market in Cape Town last year June. One month later, it expanded to The Old Biscuit Mill. Soon after, it was selling its smartphone lenses at renowned stores like the Exposure Gallery.
After numerous product iterations, Instalens has five different lenses available, including macro, fisheye and polariser — which go for R300 — while the super lens costs R400. But according to Pike, the products that have sold the most are the InstaLens sets, which range from Starter to Pro and Complete.
The camera lenses are simple as they are sleek. They can be attached to any smartphone (or tablet for that matter) on the market as they use a magnetic ring to stick onto your device’s camera.
Pike (who’s not keen to share the profit margins) explains that the glass optics, aluminium casings, and everything is made by the production team in Shenzen, China. All the components are then either shipped to the fulfilment warehouse, ParcelNinja, in South Africa or to its fulfilment team in Australia to help assemble, test and box the product. From there they are sent to their UK distributor.
The pair explains that they managed to find a gap in the market with OlloClip’s success in the US — a similar product, but one which is exclusive to the iPhone. The iPhone camera lens system raised the founder, Patrick O’Neill, over US$68 000 on Kickstarter and was later sold in Apple Stores around the country.
“We saw the OlloClip and a whole bunch of similar products, but they all focus on the iPhone,” Pike explains. “Especially in South Africa, the iPhone market share is something like 3%. This means 97% of the market in South Africa is unattainable. We thought, well, let’s go after this market and create a lens that can be used universally.”
An avid Instagrmmer herself, Georgia adds that the they came to realise that there was a big Instagram community right under their noses in Cape Town. InstaLens seems a perfect fit:
We saw people of all backgrounds and all interests demo one of our first product lenses. The interest came from people who weren’t necessarily photographers or who weren’t particularly interested in the hobby but still love the concept behind the lenses. It’s the kind of thing that anyone can take and do something cool with.
While InstaLens today has a pretty-looking online store, Pike says that the markets helped a lot in getting feedback on-the-ground and to meet the community in person. That, and just raising awareness with the right kind of crowd.
“Seeing them publicise our product with international reach just helped so much to, not only support the community with this cool product, but also market our product with creative, talented individuals,” notes Pike.
Another talented individual InstaLens reached out to was Craig Howes who at the time was the “biggest Insagrammer in South Africa.” The pair met with House who ended up linking them with more Instagram influencers who InstaLens also ended up sponsoring.
The pair adds that they will focus on going global in the coming year while using the popular social media channels, like Instagram, as a channel to connect with the InstaLens communities around the globe.