Smart pivoting moved Oakland’s Fotonotes startup towards profitability | Live Work Oakland

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Smart pivoting moved Oakland’s Fotonotes startup towards profitability


FotoNotes started as Fotobabble, a consumer app that lets you narrate your photos: lighter weight than video, but more interactive than photos. But as founder Kamal Shah and his team began marketing the app and getting people to try it, several companies approached them independently to describe the professional use they had made of the software. The team pivoted: Talking photos, they realized, could be much more than social media.


Now, the photo part of the Fotobabble software is only one element of FotoNotes; they’ve since built out the platform to allow field workers to document all kinds of data, and store and communicate that data throughout an enterprise and to customers and partners.


FotoNotes is a mobile-first software platform that enables people working out in the field—in construction, real estate, property management, inspection—to get more of the job done on the spot, rather than waiting until they return to the office.


“I think this is one of the most transformative technologies in this history of man,” said CEO, Kamal Shah, holding up his smart phone, “and yet some of these industries are completely unchanged by the tool.” Shah says they found that participants in their research, construction workers for example, were out in the field “taking notes on a clipboard, taking pictures, going back to the office typing it all up, uploading everything and emailing it around. [The old process] is incredibly inefficient.”


FotoNotes, on the other hand, allows people to collect and share data from the field using cloud storage and a mobile platform configured to match their workflows. The tools were designed after working closely with people in their target industries to identify hang-ups and hassles that needed solutions.


After a few years of perfecting their technology FotoNotes has begun recruiting companies as customers this past year. Today they are licensed to a variety of enterprises, some small and local, some big and international. Michael DeLapa, Vice President of Marketing and Strategy, says companies are often reluctant to adopt innovative technology like FotoNotes because of the perception that new technology requires radical change in current processes. But, according to DeLapa, it’s a change they know is inevitable.


“The shift to paperless field operations is taking much longer than it should,” he said. Imagine paper-based bookkeeping before databases like QuickBooks: no one could compete today using old technology.


Given that so many sectors today involve work “in the field,” untethered to a conventional office space, the FotoNotes technology has huge potential. However, Shah and DeLapa have narrowed their focus to a few industries for now in order to master their product’s utility within that context. In addition to targeting engineering and construction firms, they are interested in the prospect of licensing FotoNotes to municipalities, and believe public services stand to benefit significantly from this kind of resource-saving technology. Unfortunately, they report that the public sector has been slower to adopt new technologies than private businesses.


FotoNotes lives on 17th and Broadway, right by Youth Radio and Dogwood and Solespace. Shah couldn’t wait to gush in adulation of Oakland, his home for the last twenty years.


“I love it because it’s disconnected from the craziness of Silicon Valley,” where he says everything—“literally every conversation,”—revolves around tech. “Being here keeps you grounded in reality, life outside of tech.”


DeLapa says there’s no question, there’s a “much higher social consciousness in the East Bay, more concern for and exposure to social inequity.” Describing people working in the Valley, he says, “they are extremely smart but it’s a narrow intelligence.”


DeLapa and Shah suggest that the Valley’s geographical insularity reinforces its insularity of thought. “If you’re living in Oakland,” says Shah, “you can’t forget for a second regular people and the diversity of regular people.”

Smart pivoting moved Oakland’s Fotonotes startup towards profitability | Live Work Oakland.