The first time Philippe LeBlanc saw a cinemagraph he was mesmerized. He came across the image – a hybrid between a photo and video – while clicking his way through aggregate site StumbleUpon in 2011.
“In the image I saw, the hair was in motion and everything else was still,” he says, adding that he wanted to create his own. He began researching, finding out that the two creators, Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, were essentially hacking Adobe Photoshop and After Effects to create these living images.
“And it took hours and days to do one,” laments Philippe. But there was an allure to the image, a potential he saw for a new visual storytelling medium that could be used in the way Instagram has brought photography to the masses through filters a few years prior. He called his friend Mark Homza and told him to take a look at the cinemagraph; Mark was completely blown away. But the problem was, neither had built an app before.
Philippe were able to raise $250,000 worth of seed funding in their native New Brunswick to launch Flixel, but the tech talent just wasn’t there. He relocated the team and business to Toronto in late 2011.
“We’ve been in Toronto ever since,” says the entrepreneur.
They immersed themselves in the tech startup ecosystem out of the gate, instantly connecting with David Crow, a board member of StartupNorth and venture capitalist.
“He had a lot of contacts,” says Philippe. “From the get-go I got in contact with really great folks in Toronto tech startups who’ve now gone to do great things – I’ve seen it evolve over the almost five years I’ve been here.”
As a medium, cinemagraphs have gained traction thanks in no small part to Flixel’s efforts.
“It sustains your attention, drives more clicks to ads, and doesn’t require sound,” says Philippe. The medium is slowly becoming a popular tool for advertisers; especially smaller budget companies that are social media savvy but lack the funding and resources to be shooting video campaigns.
“This is really a tool that allows the small brands to compete,” he adds. “We’re democratizing video advertisement.”
Flixel recently received some funding through California-based 500 Startups DistroFund and has grown to 15 employees. They’ve also set up an office in New York and travel quite frequently to San Francisco and Los Angeles but they still call Toronto home.
“The head office can be anywhere around the world, as long as you can find the right ecosystem,” says Philippe. “We are growing our teeth here in Toronto.”
A major part of that allure has been the vast swaths of talent in Toronto tech pool and the programs set up to help find and retain that talent – the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program, the Federal Economic Development Agency of Ontario (FedDev) and the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).
“There’s no reason to go elsewhere for building that team out,” he adds. “The living conditions here in Toronto are fantastic, you get incredible quality of life – I’m very happy to have Flixel be in Toronto for the long term.”