Lapse, the app turning your phone into an old-school camera, snaps up $30M

It can cost a fortune in 2024 to find an analogue camera, buy film (and maybe special batteries) for it, and take pictures that then need to be developed. For those who long for those old days, a startup called Lapse has been giving smartphone users an alternative — you take pictures that you have to wait to see “developed” before sharing them with a select group of friends if you choose.

Lapse has been been gaining some traction in the market — claiming millions of users, 100 million photos captured each month and a coveted top-10 ranking in the U.S. app store for photographic apps — and now it’s announcing a new round of funding of $30 million to take its ambitions to the next level.

Greylock — the storied consumer app investor that was an early backer of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok (when it was and LinkedIn — co-led the round with the equally iconic DST Global Partners. Previous backers GV, Octopus Ventures and Speedinvest also participated. Following on from a previous $12.4 million raised in seed and pre-seed funding, this brings the total to just over $42 million and a valuation of around $150 million, according to sources.

Lapse’s plans include more behind-the-scenes treatment of the “unedited” photos, adding more features around the photo experience, and an eventual move into video.

Down the line, there may even be some monetization, CEO and co-founder Dan Silvertown said in an interview — although that’s not something it’s touched yet, and it’s looking to get away from the usual route that social apps take by leaning into advertising. “The feeling and early hypothesis is to not do that,” he said.

The company’s ethos may have an old school feel to it, but some of the mechanics of how the app operates are anything but.

Some of these are interesting technological details that stem out of lived experience. As we’re previously recounted, Silvertown co-founded the app with his brother Ben after Ben found himself, while travelling in Asia, longing for the freedom of a point-and-shoot camera that didn’t tie him to constantly looking at an app to see who “liked” his pictures, or what other people were doing, and most of all seemingly leading his life to capture and share the moment on an app, not the other way around. That led him and Dan to looking at how to recreate the analogue experience through a smartphone.

Although there is no scope in the app to edit pictures or constantly retake snaps if you’re unhappy with how they turn out at first, there is some interesting treatment happening behind the scenes.

“There are about 12 different steps that the photo goes through in terms of processing,” he said. Some of those have elements of computer vision in them, and some are built in-house and some use third-party technology. All of them essentially, he said, aim to understand what is in the picture you are taking and are designed to optimise how subjects and the overall composition look as a result.

On the other hand, some of the mechanics in the app are not as laudable. Lapse has come under some scrutiny — see our story here — for how it has used growth-hacking and forced invites to expand the number of installs of its app. That technique definitely served to grow the number of users — it hit the top of the U.S. and U.K. iOS app stores (the only markets and the only platform where it is available) at one point although it’s arguable how sustainable that can be for any company longer term if the app itself doesn’t offer anything useful and interesting to stick around.

For Lapse, the lesson was definitely learned, although in its defense, Silvertown still maintains that the startup had to start somewhere: since the premise is to have a way to share your pictures with a small group of friends with no discovery feed, if you download the app and have no contacts using it, where do you go from there?

These days, he claims that the app — which has taken on more “journaling” characteristics, giving users a way to essentially build albums that you can keep private or share with a small group of people — no longer requires forced invites to use, not least because there is now a critical mass of people and it’s finding its own virality. However, my own experience was that for totally new users — perhaps especially consumers that are sensitive to sharing data on social apps they don’t already know — it’s still tricky to sift through the app’s dark patterns to figure out how to use it without sharing at least a couple of names and numbers.

Down the line, we are at a notable crossroads in the world of consumer apps. The most dominant names in the business are outsized in their scale with billions of users, and for the most part — Snapchat is possibly the biggest exception — they have moved far beyond a focus on sharing with small groups of friends, and none of them are without lots of bells and whistles that move users away from what looks real anymore.

Does that leave an opening for at least a couple of players who are willing to give users that alternative? BeReal, Dispo and a few others that have tackled that idea appear to have lost some steam for now, but Lapse still believes there is a lot more to come for its take on the concept.

And it looks like its investors do, too:

“What’s so interesting is that most high scale platforms, whether it’s Instagram or Facebook, a lot of these originally started out life as places where we would keep up to date with our friends, and then slowly they kind of became the other stuff we know them for today,” such as sites for news, or entertainment or to keep up with influencers, Jacob Andreou, a general partner at Greylock, said in an interview.

“I think what’s interesting about that is it’s left a hole where there is no place where you can go to just check out your friends’ profiles, see what they’re up to. That’s also an amazing place to start because that’s where all these really big platforms started.” He believes that the mechanics of “capturing a photo, one at a time, and viewing later when the photo develops, can lower the barrier to sharing, using that to create this amazing place where you can stay up to date with your friends.”

By 111 Tech

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