Flixel: Definitely Not the Instagram of GIFs

The hybrid video-photography app Flixel has just launched some major partnerships (including one with Tyra Banks). But here's why this business is more than just a novelty.

What ever you do, don't call them GIFs.

Digital photography and video app Flixel produces high-end cinemagraphs--or as CEO and co-founder Philippe LeBlanc prefers to call them: "Living photos."

Founded in 2011, the Toronto-based company produces images that are a cross between static photographs and animated videos, and typically consist of a frozen image with one animated element.

For example: A girl frozen in time and space except for the billowing hem of her dress, a cluster of bananas swinging in an otherwise motionless shop window, a neon sign flashing high above the stagnant street.

Recently, this elegant and unique type of media has attracted some pretty high-profile partners.

In the past year, Flixel partnered with Macy's department store to promote the chain's Marilyn Monroe clothing line--remember that girl with the billowing dress?--and inked a deal with America's Next Top Model host Tyra Banks to produce high-end cinemagraphs throughout the show's 20th iteration, which premiered Friday. The company, which has 11 employees, has also raised over $2 million in angel funding.

Not bad, for a two-year old company. But the key to Flixel's success, according to LeBlanc, isn't just the novelty of these living photos. It's the product's advertising potential.

Much like the looping memes that have become sources of Internet hilarity, cinemagraphs capitalize on an ability to push motion in front of viewers--without demanding that they click through to watch a full video clip.

"Cinemagraphs combine the best of both worlds: the passive viewing of photography and captivating quality of video," he says. "They have the ability to really focus attention [in one area] for the viewer."

This revelation is what inspired LeBlanc and co-founder Mark Homza to develop the company's business model. On the surface, Flixel operates like a typical freemium app: charging users $9.99 for access to its Pro tool while supplying an introductory version for free. The surprise money-maker, however, is the company's B2B service.

In addition to its image-editing software, Flixel offers a professional service for retailers that provides high-end images--like those contracted by Macy's and America's Next Top Model--produced by an in-house team of designers and photographers.

LeBlanc says Flixel images are less like the snapshot-style photos of image-share competitor Instagram and more akin to a "mini art project" for amateur and professional photographers.

"Instagram is all about taking many pictures of your daily life on a regular basis," he says. "Flixel is a bit different. You're not going to document your life with Flixel the same way as you do with a still photo."

LeBlanc's hope moving forward: "Because it's more of a mini art project, it's something that people will not do every day 10 times a day...they'll do it a couple times a week and really do it well."

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