So what if the "angels" have hightailed it back to heaven for the interim, or if the banks are hunkering down in the safe, protecting what's left of their loot? It's going to take a lot more than a recession to stamp out the spirit of innovation in Israeli start-ups, if the guys behind Ginipic (http://ginipic.com) are any indication.
Without a dime of start-up investor money, Lior Weinstein and his long-time friends Noam Singer and Orr Sella have developed an application that has been downloaded by tens of thousands in the space of barely a month. Now, after using their brains, some brawn and surprisingly little cash, 24-year-old Weinstein and his two friends have built an on-line photo-downloading system that starts where search engines such as Google Images leave off - giving us all an inspiring lesson in ingenuity, perspicacity and (dare I say it?) courage, at a time when we need it most.
Ginipic seeks to solve a problem faced by anyone who has ever scoured the Internet searching for an image: Once you find the picture you're looking for, how do you get it into your document? Say you need an illustrative image of a house for a sales brochure for home-owner's insurance you're putting together. Usually, you would open surf to Google Images, Picasa or one of the stock image sites, put your term into the search box, download the image, save it in the right format and finally import it into your Word document or Powerpoint presentation. What a time-waster!
Ginipic saves you that time, though; type your term into the program's search box and Ginipic will scour Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, Stockxpert and, of course, Google Images and present the results right there on your screen. You choose the one you want and drag it into your document. Job done!
"There are many image search engines, but Ginipic is actually a bridge to those engines that deals with search results - the only application to do so," Weinstein says, describing Ginipic's ability to transfer an image directly from the results list into a document. "We support many search engines and photo sites, and we are planning to add many new ones as we build partnerships with more sites."
Besides the dragging and dropping thing - in itself a fantastic time-saver - Ginipic also saves users time when it comes to choosing their images, Weinstein says. "Nearly all the image search engines available allow you to display 20 images per page, and you have to keep connecting to the Web site to advance the choice of images," he says. "In full-screen mode, Ginipic lets you display as many as 190 images at once, allowing users to make quicker decisions on which image they want to use."
Ginipic is a free download, but it's aimed at both casual and business users. "We already have partnerships with several stock photo sites, and are working on building relationships with several more," Weinstein says. "Eventually we hope to work with commercial image companies like Getty Images or Jupiter Images. Professional users search for photos in the same way on stock sites as they would on Picasa, and they are able to download the Web image, which usually has a watermark. If it's what they need, they can click on a link in the results box, which will transfer them to the site where they can pay for it."
Ginipic released the first version of the program at the beginning of February, and it's no accident that tens of thousands of users have downloaded over just three weeks; image searching is far more popular than most people realize.
"In December, over 20 percent of all searches in all of Google - including the Web, Gmail, etc. - were searches for images," Weinstein says. "This just shows what kind of demand there is in this area. Ginipic makes image downloading much more user-friendly than it was, and as a result, users are flocking to the program."
Besides expanding the number of partnerships, Weinstein says he is working on implementing other commercial projects. "For example, a large company could use a version of Ginipic to make image search and usage within their own Intranet more efficient," he says.
Besides this, the Ginipic team is working on enabling users to better understand what the usage rights and copyrights on the images are. And, Weinstein says, a future version will include the ability to perform searches based on image, not just keyword; to see more images of dogs, users would simply click on a dog image already on the screen, instead of typing "dog" into the search-engine box.
Weinstein says he got the idea for Ginipic after working on an image-intensive project; it just seemed to him there had to be a better way to download images. He shared his idea with a couple of techie friends (Weinstein himself has a marketing background, he says) who have known each other since junior high school, and the project progressed from a simple plug-in for MS Word to a full-fledged application.
Unfortunately for the team, Ginipic germinated from idea to project to professional application just as the economy was tanking. "We searched for VC money, but weren't able to find any, so we decided to fund the project out of pocket," Weinstein says. Don't think big, fancy offices in Malha, though; Ginipic was strictly a shoestring operation. "We laid out very little cash, but put in immense amounts of time," Weinstein says, to the extent that he and his friends resigned from good-paying jobs to dedicate their full time to developing Ginipic.
All the development work was done in-house, using free development tools and programs; all they had to pay for were computers and servers. Legal guidance and assistance, a necessity for anyone, especially a hi-tech start-up, is being provided by a prestigious Tel Aviv firm on a barter basis.
Weinstein is still looking for start-up money, because "we are at a stage where we need to do more development that will require investment money," he says. But now that Ginipic is a real, working program, there's a much greater chance that investors will be willing to take a risk, even in today's very conservative investment climate.
"I believe we will succeed," Weinstein says, and Ginipic really does deliver the goods, so I believe the company will succeed as well."
But in a sense, Weinstein has already won: building an application from scratch, paying for development out of pocket, getting tens of thousands of users to download their product, and giving up a safe job to do it - the last thing most of us would think about doing in times like these. When Weinstein gets finished with Ginipic, an "Image Downloading 2.0" program, he might consider building an application for "Entrepreneurial Risk, Success and Courage 2.0."