Cooliris Reinvents Itself

Once-hot startup launches 3-D iPad ad unit for Samsung

For the past five years, Cooliris has been a company with a lot of promise—but despite a slick product and the backing of famous venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, it never quite made it to the top tier of online startups.

Now, Cooliris is reinventing itself. In January, it unveiled a new photo-sharing application called LiveShare, and today it's announcing a new advertising campaign featuring what it calls the first truly 3-D ads for the iPad.

Founded in 2006, Cooliris originally offered a technology called the 3-D wall, which was basically a smoothly-scrolling interface for browsing images and other media. Cooliris ran advertising in the wall, and it even recruited Shashi Seth, the former head of monetization at YouTube, as its chief revenue officer. Then Seth left for AOL (he's now at Yahoo), and Cooliris seemed to disappear for most of 2010.

What happened? CEO and co-founder Soujanya Bhumkar said Cooliris was rethinking its strategy.

"The way we viewed the wall was not as a product but as a navigation UI and as an experience," Bhumkar said. "We realized that we better evolve this product, because I don't want to just consume some random media from the Web."

So the Cooliris team spent most of 2010 building LiveShare and new ad technology to go along with it, while competitors were busy releasing their own photo apps, like Instagram and Path—developments that Bhumkar admitted were tough to watch. Looking back, he said, "2010 was a difficult year." 

Now that LiveShare has launched there's still plenty of competition when it comes to photo-sharing. In fact, Google's new social product Google+ includes photo-sharing which incorporates one of LiveShare's key features—the ability to easily share different content with different groups of friends. However, LiveShare seems to have found an audience of its own, and Bhumkar said it sees more than 4 million active users every month.

And just as Cooliris reinvented its core product, it also rethought its advertising strategy. It built a new ad unit that it will use in LiveShare and sell through outside advertising networks, starting with Kleiner-backed mobile ad startup InMobi. This is the first time that iPad ads have been in real 3-D, Bhumkar said—you may have seen other ads that seemed to be three-dimensional because you could spin them around and look at them from different angles, but none of them have involved real 3-D models, with Cooliris' lighting effects and interactivity.

And it's not just a semantic difference, Bhumkar argued. If you've got a real 3-D model, it's almost as good as going into the store and holding the product in your hands. That's why advertisers are willing to pay CPM rates of $10 and $15 for these units, which is considerably higher than a standard banner ad.

While Cooliris has been talking about the ads for months, they're now being used in a real campaign. The first 3-D ads are for Samsung, which will run across InMobi's network in the United Kingdom.