Silicon Valley firm acquires Irish entrepreneur’s Focal Labs

15 Dec 2011

Focal Labs founders Fergus Hurley, Brad Smith and Maxime Domain

Irishman Fergus Hurley made a wise decision when he chose to drop out of his MIT course three years ago to seek Silicon Valley success. His venture Focal Labs has just been acquired by RadiumOne.

Hurley, who, incidentally is a member of the ITLG in Silicon Valley, dropped out of his EECS PhD at MIT and, as he says himself, “bought a one-way ticket” to Silicon Valley. He’s now based in San Francisco and was recently selected as one of the ITLG Silicon Valley 50 Irish Americans in Technology 2011.

Hurley has a bachelor of engineering degree from University College Cork, a master’s in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, and is on leave from his PhD at MIT.

Speaking about his decision to pursue his tech vision, Hurley spoke today about how it all began: “My goal was to found a successful Silicon Valley start-up that would revolutionise they way people interact with each other and the world using their smartphone camera.”

After attending the Stanford Summer Institute of Entrepreneurship, Hurley began recruiting a team of engineers to found Focal Labs, including co-founders, Brad Smith and Maxime Domain.

“Together, we built an early prototype of the Clixtr app (the first social sharing camera app) and connected with an amazing VC team, including the legendary Tim Draper at DFJ and Silicon Valley angel investors.

“As the first venture-backed mobile photo app company, we had the phenomenal opportunity to launch Clixtr … in front of thousands of people at TechCrunch50. The judging panel included Sean Parker, Reid Hoffman, Robert Scoble, Dick Costolo, Mike Schroepfer and rapper Chamillionaire,” said Hurley today.

Focal Labs wins awards

Focal Labs launched the web version of in late 2009. It went on to win the Silicon Valley Business Journal Emerging Technology Award for Social Networking 2009 and also took home the star prize at the first CES Mobile App Showdown in Las Vegas in 2010.

“We added a lot of social hooks to Clixtr and iterated the product, but soon realised if we wanted to own the mobile camera, what we really needed to build was a fast and easy photo-sharing application,” said Hurley today.

The success of Clixtr propelled Focal Labs to launch PicBounce in September 2010. Its selling point was to be an easier and faster way to upload a photo from your iPhone to Facebook or Twitter.

Since then, PicBounce has been downloaded more than a million times.

However, there has been competition, as Hurley said today: “Instagram launched about a month after PicBounce, then Path, then Color, then LiveShare, and many many more! Therefore, even though we have a roadmap for what we still believe is the ‘killer’ mobile photo app, we came to a simple realisation: raising more money was not the solution.

“To execute our vision, we needed to be part of something bigger. Something with complementary skill sets and more resources, existing partnerships, and users.”

This is where RadiumOne comes into play.

“Our entire team will join RadiumOne and our products will be supported by the company. Most importantly, we now have the resources to achieve the vision we had when we founded Focal Labs.

It turns out that Focal Labs is the first acquisition by RadiumOne.

Said Hurley this morning: “We are extremely excited and honoured to be working with him and the rest of the team which has grown from seven people two years ago to over 150 today.”

Gurbaksh Chahal, founder and CEO of RadiumOne, spoke today about how more than 15bn items are shared every day across the open web, many of which are photos.

“Focal Labs’ skill and passion for building elegant and successful mobile apps – as demonstrated by millions of downloads of Clixtr and PicBounce over the past three years – was very attractive to us and will complement our first-party product strategy,” said Chahal.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic