Established in 2006 by Soujanya Bhumkar, Austin Shoemaker ’05 and their co-founders, Cooliris is a company that focuses on optimizing users’ online and mobile media experiences. From the start, the company has had deep roots in the Stanford community — in fact, the startup began with eight full-time workers and 40 Stanford interns.
Who They Are
Shoemaker, founder and current chief technology officer of Cooliris, attended Stanford as an undergraduate and eventually left the master’s program in computer science in 2007 to work full time on the startup with his co-founder, who he met in his Stanford MS&E 180 course.
Their first product ideas focused on allowing web users to preview links without leaving the current page and used a similar hover effect for viewing higher-resolution versions of photos online. Their second product further explored the potentials of online media.
“[We asked], ‘Why not go beyond the browser frame and launch it into a full-screen experience?’” Shoemaker said, “which had us move onto the next product and which had us bringing media to life, creating a more visual immersive experience for media on the web.”
Today, Cooliris’s primary product is an app that allows users to browse, share and view their photos in one place.
Bhumkar, also a co-founder and the current CEO of Cooliris, was a chemical engineer before receiving his MBA from the University of Chicago. He then moved to the Bay Area and worked at several different startups before joining the Cooliris team.
“Cooliris always has been focused on giving a highly relevant yet delightful experience to users,” Bhumkar said.
Bhumkar explained how the company has shifted its focus with the rise of iOS and Android. Cooliris began by looking at media such as photos and videos in the web space, and has now expanded to include mobile applications to accommodate the smartphone ecosystem. In general, the company aims to create a unique media experience for users.
“We’ve actually done a series of products where we now find ourselves in a very interesting space where privacy is very important to the consumers, and media is to be considered a first-class experience rather than an attachment,” Bhumkar said.
Although the company is already over six years old, it has maintained its label as a startup with a team of 16 people, half in engineering and half in other business and design fields. Earlier this year, the company relocated from Palo Alto to its new office in San Francisco.
“We’ve filed over 22 [patents] and two of them have already been granted,” Bhumkar said. “That’s one big advantage of being in the business for that long.”
Since its founding in 2006, Cooliris has had over 200 interns, and over three quarters of them have come from Stanford. Both Shoemaker and Bhumkar explained that the company’s Stanford roots have not only given students the opportunity to work at the startup, but also have benefited Cooliris itself.
Cooliris’s first investor, a Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KP) partner, was one of Shoemaker’s professors at Stanford. Shoemaker also spoke about the importance of taking ENGR 145: Technology Entrepreneurship for helping him build connections and putting him in a real-world situation similar to running a company.
“Having Stanford in the community and just having all of the people who really want to be a part of doing something new was great,” Shoemaker said. “We were able to get a bunch of really talented, smart, driven people to help us push our vision forward.”
Shoemaker explained that the company is always looking for more Stanford students to join the team, and according to Bhumkar, Stanford’s Mayfield Fellows program has paired fellows with Cooliris.
“What I find about Stanford students is they’re not afraid about challenging the status quo,” Bhumkar said. “I’m always amazed at how that thinking comes in, and the passion is to always make things obsolete — things that were until yesterday making sense… I do not find that trait in other schools.”
In addition, Stanford’s Women in Business Springternship program has been directly connecting the company with Stanford interns for the last four to five spring quarters. This quarter Kitty Kwan ‘17 and Tess Bloch-Horowitz ‘17 interned at Cooliris.
Bloch-Horowitz spoke about the difference between attending a university where entrepreneurship is so prominent and actually understanding what it means to work at a startup.
“It’s been great to bridge that gap between Stanford and the real world and actually have a learning experience that’s not just in the classroom,” Bloch-Horowitz said. “[It’s] taking what I’ve learned in the classroom and applying it with fellow Stanford students and graduates and actually having a concrete product that comes out of that work.”
Bloch-Horowitz explained that employees at Cooliris can work on projects unrelated to their field and that everyone claims to work on the “whatever-it-takes” team.
“As interns, we’re definitely just as much a part of the process, and you can see that it makes more of an environment where people feel comfortable asking for help,” Bloch-Horowitz said. “You’ll see an engineer working on something completely irrelevant [to their field] but really willing and happy to do it.”
Kwan expressed similar sentiments and agreed that even interns can be heavily involved with the company.
“I really like that I’m able to talk directly to the CEO about my concerns and what I want to accomplish and projects I want to do to give me skill sets that I want to learn,” Kwan said.
The new app
Cooliris has plans to release a new visual messaging app in mid-June. The product will focus on photo sharing. Bhumkar explained that the app follows trends that demonstrate consumers’ decreasing differentiation between messaging and sharing.
“Most of the time I would say that messaging apps were aimed at letting you stay connected, and we feel like that phase is over,” Bhumkar said. “It’s about going beyond just staying connected. It’s about enriching that experience.”
While still keeping data private, the app will transform users’ conversations into a visual messaging format for easy photo sharing and access to additional features. Kwan spoke about the app’s relevance to the Stanford community.
“The new product [Cooliris is] launching can really help to organize the way photos are sent between two people,” Kwan said. “I think it’s a really useful medium of communication, especially between groups.”
With the founders of WhatsApp and Snapchat also coming from Stanford, Bhumkar believes that there is a connection between the University and messaging in general.
“There is something about Stanford and messaging,” Bhumkar said.
Contact Kylie Jue at kyliej ‘at’ Stanford ‘dot’ edu.