Picsart has grown from a kids’ app to one of the most popular photo editors on the planet: its users create over a billion edits a month. Now he’s aiming for Adobe dominance.
Last year, Picsart received $130 million in Series C funding at a valuation of around $1.5 billion. When he first created the app, Picsart founder, and now CEO, Hovhannes Avoyan said he just wanted to help his daughter, who came to see him upset by the criticism she received in line for her works, which greatly discouraged her.
Avoyan found that while there were many powerful tools for photographers and graphic designers, they were all difficult to use and to use effectively for the average person. He says PetaPixel that when he first created the app, he didn’t think he was solving a major problem and only anticipated it as something that would help a small number of people.
But over time, he realized his daughter’s struggles were mirrored by millions of others. Picsart exploded in popularity and grew even faster during the pandemic. Avoyan says the needs of the creative community have dramatically increased during this time.
“Rather than being a niche and only targeting professional creatives, creativity has become such a broad skill that it’s almost like driving or reading. It’s become a universal, must-have skill,” he says.
At first, Picsart seemed content to offer a service that could exist in tandem with Adobe rather than replacing it. But talk to PetaPixel, the company’s goals seem to have grown. Picsart now aims to dethrone Adobe with a strategy Avoyan says the Silicon Valley creative juggernaut can’t replicate.
A focus on pleasure
From the start, Picsart focused on young users initially due to Avoyan’s goal of helping his own daughter, but this strategy has become central to how Picsart plans to grow.
“We started with very few free users. It can’t get any lower than that. he continues.
“Now we’re going higher and higher and we’re getting a bigger and bigger base because the foundation is so big compared to the competition. We know how to do it because we started with the free consumer product that is fun to use. If you ask people what’s different about Picsart, it’s fun. It’s because people have fun playing with Picsart.
Avoyan says starting with such a large casual base is a stronger position for growth, which makes it easier for Picsart to move up the ranks.
Adobe finally seemed to notice the threat of Picsart when it announced Creative Cloud Express in late 2021. The entry-level platform was a reimagining of Spark, a somewhat underutilized web authoring tool.
But Avoyan says Adobe will struggle to attract low-end users. As Picsart climbs the proverbial user ladder, Adobe will have to step back to meet the needs of a wider consumer base.
“Adobe is trying to do the reverse, but how can you do that? You can’t downgrade. Your culture is created around high end and great value. It’s hard to reverse that,” says -he.
“When you start a certain level, you can only go up, not down. When you start with pros, you can only go to higher pros. Going down means you have to make a less sophisticated product. So basically , a downgrade. Where you start is also your weakness, in a sense.
In a metaphor, Avoyan says he compares Adobe to a Ferrari.
“If you’re a Ferrari and you’re trying to sell your car to Gen Z, how are you going to do it? Perceptually you can’t do it, it doesn’t feel authentic. If you have already created a perception that you are where you are, you should live with that.
He says that by starting at the low end, Picsart can grow to give its users the Ferrari experience as they grow, but he argues that it’s not smart to start there.
“I don’t want to say that the Ferrari is a bad car, but it is expensive and unaffordable. The whole idea of Ferrari is this, and this is the brand: you can’t afford it. It’s the same with Photoshop. They made things unaffordable for many years and didn’t allow anyone to try them, which made them more expensive.
“They’ve made everything less affordable because it’s a luxury brand. You can’t get rid of that. That’s why Gen Z isn’t in Adobe anymore. They’re looking for alternatives, first because they can’t afford it and two, they think differently, they think it should be affordable, easy and free, otherwise they’ll switch – and there are a lot of options.
Avoyan says Picsart’s natural advantage is that he started low.
“[Our products] are not comparable to the Adobe business, but we can make it happen. Our customers take our product with them in their work. They take them to their businesses. Some of them have become professionals and have already been using our product for years, so why should they use another one? »
Avoyan may be right. Young creatives grow up using Picsart, a tool they will bring with them into the professional space as they grow. At the same time, Picsart is adding new features to its software portfolio designed to support a maturing user base.
The strategy has been successfully deployed by many companies in the past, perhaps most notably by Apple in the late 1990s and early 2000s when its educational program put thousands of Macs into school computer labs. and raised a generation of artists in the Apple ecosystem. As these creatives grew up, they brought with them their familiarity with Apple products.
He may also be right about how Adobe is perceived in the eyes of young creatives: as an expensive old luxury brand that doesn’t make products designed for them. If Picsart continues to deliver a product that grows with these users as they age, there’s no reason to believe they’ll want to switch platforms.
It’s a proven and powerful strategy, and it could work very well.
Why pay for what is offered for free?
Another comparison Avoyan makes between Picsart and Adobe is comparing Google Docs to Microsoft Word. For many, Google Docs replaced Microsoft Word entirely because it offered similar, if not identical, functionality for free. In doing so, Google created a question in the mind of the consumer: “Why should I pay for this?”
Picsart is positioned the same way, says Avoyan. He calls his company one of the most generous free creative products out there, based on the history of his company and how and why he started it. This mindset is behind the recent launch of Quicktools, a suite of editing tools that anyone can use for free as much as they want without creating an account.
“We are not driven by our competitors, we are driven by our users. We do what is important to them,” says Avoyan. “With Quicktools, there are a lot of cases where some of our users will never use Remove Background on a regular basis, but need it occasionally. Why force them to sign up for something they don’t have in the end? No need? They will create fake user accounts to access the feature if they want behind a paywall.”
Avoyan says Quicktools also allows them to expand their market to those who aren’t going to pay for its tools because they don’t need them frequently.
“We raise awareness of the platform and its capabilities, and use it for your personal needs, and tomorrow you work for a company and you need 1,000 images, you’ll think of Picsart,” he says.
“We are creating a kind of fair use policy on creativity. We won’t penalize any casual user, we won’t penalize a guy who needs a random edit and needs a quick fix to a problem.
Avoyan’s goals for Picsart rely heavily on his desire to make creativity accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime. He seemed really upset that before him it was very difficult to become a digital artist. He seemed legitimately angry at the idea. For him, the artist is most important, and his success as a business will only follow if he continues to keep their success as his first and highest priority.
That’s why he never plans to charge users for something they already get for free, or reduce the effectiveness of a tool so that it can be charged.
“We’re never going to downgrade features for consumers versus professionals. Maybe new features will come for high-end users, but we’re not going to provide low quality just because someone’s a smaller subscriber or use Picsart for free,” he says.
“There will definitely be more advanced tools that will only make sense for high-end users. If you look at Picsart on the web, it’s designed to be more prosumer and more professional, and those features are only available on the web version. But these features are generally not needed by general consumers. Support for higher resolution, for example, is not needed on mobile.
Dethrone the King
Avoyan, a former AI PhD and researcher, says he truly believes technology and software are key to the future of Picsart. He says he will continue to invest more in technology and, perhaps more importantly, in the Picsart community.
“I think we’ve become the community’s flywheel to accelerate our growth and be a more affordable and powerful platform. Think about the data we collect: we have a billion edits per month on our platform,” he says. “No one has anything quite like it and it produces data that helps us optimize our product and improve the quality and usefulness of our content to our users.”
They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and looking back on the launch of Adobe Creative Cloud Express, Avoyan says seeing Adobe essentially copy what Picsart does felt like a win.
“Honestly, it feels good to be copied. I heard that some of them ignored us, but now they take us very seriously,” he says. “It’s a good sign. radar for a while until they realized we were bigger than them: we’re bigger than three or four of our competitors combined by most active users.
And while Adobe tries to replicate the success of Picsarts, Avoyan says Picsart is aiming for the title of the most successful creative software company on Earth.
“We have the ambition to be the largest photo and video editing platform,” he says. “We will remain independent, go public when the time is right, grow as big as we can, and fulfill our mission to empower the creator in everyone, everywhere.”
Picture credits: Header image created in Picsart. All other photos courtesy of Picsart.