Zag, an app that aims to make photos conversation pieces, has just launched on the App Store. The app lets you share and edit images, creating threads that become pictographic conversations.
It began as a private game among friends around the summer of 2012, says cofounder Caroline Klatt. "I don’t know who started it first," she recalls—it was either her or her cofounder Cory Moelis. Klatt, despite having a background in fashion and art, had wound up in management consulting with McKinsey, and often found herself in far-flung places, away from her friends. To stay in touch, she and Moelis would exchange pictures. One day, one of them started editing these pictures in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, and sending them back for a laugh.
Edit how, exactly? "Collaging them, imitating each other in photos, reacting to photos, adding mustaches, adding hats." It was basically a glorified version of doodling, but it soon caught on within her whole circle of friends. "The guys’ use cases were slightly different than the girls’," Klatt says tactfully, when asked what sorts of things her friends might doodle onto pictures. "Some guys went into a little more... inappropriate content. Hand-drawn. Very... artistic, if you will."
It’s unclear at what point Klatt and Moelis thought there might be a market for an app that facilitated penis graffiti. What’s clear, though, is that by last November, Klatt had so many photo-editing apps on her phone and laptop, and was spending so much time tweaking and commenting on images, that she felt there had to be a better way. "We were like, we need to solve this problem for our friends," at the very least, she recalls.
By then, Klatt had left McKinsey for a job at Fab.com in New York; Moelis was in the city, too. They brought their idea to a design shop that hacked together a quick prototype, and by February of this year, Klatt was confident enough in the product to leave her job to devote herself to Zag full-time. The team hired a new technical lead in May, and now launches their app a mere two months later. "We move quickly," says Klatt.
Zag works basically like Klatt and Moelis’s old game, only in a user-friendly app environment that feels something like a cross between Snapchat, Instagram, and Doodle Buddy. Say someone takes a picture and sends it to you over Zag. Now you have a suite of tools to mess with it: You can add stickers, block-style meme text, other captions, doodles, filters, and so on. You can also selectively blur photos, collage photos together, or reply to one photo with an entirely new one of your own making.
Pictures, inevitably, may be worth more than words here. This video gives you an idea, as does the chain of images of a recent Klatt conversation, shown alongside this article.
Other use cases may emerge. At a meeting in a Manhattan café, Klatt pulls up a recent exchange she had with a friend. The friend had sent a picture of several gummy bears standing around another gummy bear that lay decapitated at their feet. Klatt’s friend asked for a suggested caption, New Yorker-style.
Klatt replied, having added the text "So, should we eat it?" transforming it into a darkly funny portrait of gummy bears mulling cannibalism.
It’s an app, and it’s fun—but will it be a viable business? "Our idea was always to solve our own problem," says Klatt. "But I did leave Fab to pursue this, and I think it’s a good business opportunity. The photo space is a growing one." She says that when pitching the idea around the New York tech scene, there was swift and strong interest among investors. Klatt and her partners accepted just a few private investors, deciding to keep the company very closely held for now. "We want to see what we can do, and be smart with our money," she says. Still, the huge interest among the deep-pocketed seemed to be "definitely an indicator that there was a viable future for us."
In a post-Instagram world, though, what does Klatt ultimately think is her value-add? "The truly unique piece here is the ability to collaborate with friends," she says. "In Zag, a picture isn’t just a way to promote yourself. It’s a conversation, a connector, a dialogue. That’s something we couldn’t find. And we weren’t looking to build apps. We were happy in secure-paying jobs!"
Whether or not Zag becomes her next secure-paying job is now up to others. And at the very least, Klatt and her friends now have a much easier way to play their game. "Cory and I keep saying, no matter what happens, we did what we set out to do: solve our problem."