Brandon Leonardo is one of the cocreators of Pinstagram, a “mash-up app” that combines features of… you guessed it. In essence, it takes the functionality of Instagram and splashes it in the elegant waterfall layout familiar to Pinterest fans. Pinstagram recently debuted its iPad app (and rose to be the No. 1 new and notable app in the Photo and Video category this week). Fast Company caught up with Leonardo to talk about the future of the mash-up app, and to pitch him a few ideas of our own.
FAST COMPANY: Tell me the origin story of Pinstagram.
BRANDON LEONARDO: Pek [Pongpaet, his cofounder] and I were having lunch on a Friday, joking around: “Pinterest is a huge company, and so is Instagram. What would happen if we just smashed them together?” We were just laughing about it. But then you could see the wheels starting to turn in Pek’s head. He brought it up a couple more times: “I think Pinstagram would be really cool,” and I kind of chuckled. The next morning at noon Pek called me and said, “You’re never gonna believe what I built. Look at your Dropbox.” By that time he had pretty much gotten the entire site designed. We went into hackathon mode, and by Sunday we were basically done with the initial version we launched with.
Pinterest’s waterfall layout was not invented by Pinterest. It’s a jQuery plug-in someone created a couple years ago and released it open-source. Pinterest gets credit for making it famous, but it’s not necessarily copyrightable. On the Instagram side, we’re using their public API. And it’s kind of a win-win: we’re sending them lots of likes, comments, and actions.
It seems like the sort of thing where either you get a cease-and-desist letter, or you get acquired.
No one has sent us a cease-and-desist letter. In fact we got coffee with a Pinterest engineer last week. The founder of Pinterest has actually used Pinstagram. On the Instagram side, no one’s contacted us.
You built an iPad app before an iPhone app. Why?
Instagram’s already on the iPhone. We’ll never be a better Instagram than Instagram. What we can do is build the best iPad viewer.
Let’s talk more about this idea of the app mash-up. How exactly do you splice the genes, and is there an island where you put your failed experiments?
You take the best pieces of each. The benefit to having a hackathon, is you have a severe focus on only what’s necessary. This is Pek’s and my third project together. The other ones are running, but this is the one that took off like crazy. But having an island sounds like a great idea. The island where source code goes is GitHub.
Do you think there will be more app mash-ups, more “Grey Albums” of the app world?
I think building products, period, is good. Any time you’re creating something and putting it out in to the world, you get a little bit closer to perfect. Nothing anyone has ever built has been perfect. But you keep improving on little things, and you get closer and closer. If you want to do a mash-up, you should do it.
Good. Because I want to pitch some mash-up apps to you.
“DoodleJitter.” It’s a mash-up of Doodle Jump and Twitter. You can only play the game for 140 seconds or less.
That’s about how long I play Doodle Jump right now.
How about a mixture of Shazam and Bump called “Shazump”? You use it to quickly exchange songs.
Do you want me to rate these?
Yeah, if you were a VC, how much money would you give me?
The music business is the worst business to be in, so I’d say no. Spotify is the only one I’ve really seen be successful.
Okay, how about a mash-up of Spotify and Epicurious, called “Spotifurious.” You use it to stream unlimited food.
Could you use that in other parts of the world? I don’t think the U.S. needs more food.
“Angry Fruit Ninjas.” It’s just a much more violent version of Angry Birds.
Oh yeah. Absolutely. That sounds like a winner. That one I would give you the most money for. Throw some zombies in there, and in three years, you’ll be acquiring Zynga.
This interview has been condensed and edited.