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Marc Barros
Moment founder Marc Barros poses with an iPhone featuring one of his company’s cases and lens attachments. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Moment, the Seattle startup with the goal of turning smartphones into premium cameras, has raised $3 million in a new round of funding. The company is also now selling its Mobile Photography Kit in 50 Apple stores across the United States, as well as on Apple’s website.

The 3-year-old Moment, which builds camera lenses, cases and other accessories for smartphones, was founded by Marc Barros, who previously headed up the action-sports camera company Contour.

After getting off the ground with a successful Kickstarter campaign in February 2014, Moment raised an additional $1.5 million in seed funding from investors in September of that year. This week’s round was led by Lux Capital, with additional funding from Maveron and Founders Co-op.

A packaging sketch on a wall in the Moment office. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)
A packaging sketch on a wall in the Moment office. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

In the company’s headquarters space in the Bemis Building, just a block from Safeco Field, Barros showed off what he hopes will be a home run: the Mobile Photography Kit —a case, lens and lens cap that sells for $179.95 — that is now on the shelves of Apple stores. He also discussed the philosophy behind what Moment is building and how he got there.

“No one thinks of it as a camera and puts the whole system together,” Barros said of the smartphone photography movement. “So you’ll see a lens, and maybe you’ll see a case, maybe you’ll see a carrying case, maybe you’ll see a tripod. It’s very hard to own the word ‘Moment’ when you’re young, but if we’re successful we think it can be the next category of [mobile] photography. Just look at the brands that stand for photography — Apple’s the biggest.”

In fact, Barros believes Apple has set the standard for mobile photography by making it such a part of a broader community.

“In our mind they lead mobile photography. People who are passionate about photography are on iPhone,” Barros said. “Other people make great cameras, too, and other phones make amazing cameras, but [Apple] just captured that soul.”

Moment’s design and packaging does nail the look and feel of anything you’d expect to see where iPhones are sold.

Chief Product Designer Erik Hedberg said that while it’s important for Moment to have its own design language, it’s necessary for those designs to mesh with Apple and be cohesive with whatever products Moment is working with.

“We want it to be a symbiotic relationship,” Hedberg said. “You add this to the iPhone to make it a better camera, so we obviously want to play nice with them.”

In an image shot with Moment’s wide angle lens attached to an iPhone 6, Marc Barros, left, and Erik Hedberg sit in a corner of the company’s office space in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

While Kickstarter helped the young company identify an initial group of people who were excited, Barros said moving beyond that and figuring out how to get a customer was the next challenge. And starting with e-commerce helped to create a better understanding of what early customers liked.

(Via Moment)

“Once you move to retail you have less connection to what’s working to get customers, you don’t know the correlation. Does social work? Does content work? Do events work?” Barros said. “When it’s your own site and there’s one place to buy, you can quickly tell what’s working and what isn’t. So as a young brand you really need that data.”

Shopping on the Moment site reveals the variety of products being offered beyond the lenses which were touted in the original Kickstarter video. There are currently three lenses available — wide angle, telephoto and macro — which all sell for $99. The cases, $49.99 and $69.99, have a DSLR-like shutter button that is Bluetooth enabled, which when used through the Moment app, further enhances the photographic capability of the phone. The site also sells lens caps, assorted phone straps and more.

“We’ve had two years of selling to figure out what’s selling, what device types, how many are selling,” Barros said. “It’s actually working, our business is profitable. It’s grown 3 times year over year and we’ll probably see that again this year. So we’re seeing nice steady growth, which is what we want.”

Packaging for Moment’s Mobile Photography Kit opens to reveal a dramatic image. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

As a young brand, Barros is also more plugged in to what he thinks it will take to be more successful this time. He talked about the heartache that came with getting knocked down at Contour and what lessons he learned in ultimately losing to GoPro, the champion of the action sports camera arena. They are themes he’s touched on in the past, specifically during a GeekWire Startup Day talk in October 2013.

“As an entrepreneur, it takes a while to figure out your philosophy. Like who you are, what you’re passionate about, how you want to build a team, what culture you want to build,” Barros said. “So this time around a lot of what I learned definitely comes forward.”

He said when he started at Contour in his early 20s, “I didn’t know what I was doing at all, let alone what kind of culture or people or process. … And as soon as you start to scale without that it becomes very disconnected.”

This time from the very beginning Barros was very clear about a purpose.

“It’s just a much tighter group, a much stronger foundation. Last time we made a rad product and a shitty business. This time around we’re making a really good business and making good product. That discipline from the beginning has made a huge difference.”

The startup look is in effect in Seattle’s Bemis Building as members of Moment’s small team work on a recent weekday. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

His Contour co-founder, Jason Green, emerged this week with his own startup, Greenlight, which makes a kit for turning a smartphone into a dashboard camera. Like Barros, Green is applying lessons learned from the GoPro battle to his new venture.

At Moment, Barros said his past experience has fueled the growth pace because the team knows what it’s doing now. And new tools have altered the entire process of bringing something to market.

“It took longer because you didn’t have social back then, where you could hear about a young brand, you didn’t have crowdfunding,” Barros said. “So there are tools now that allow you to go faster, so we’ve seen a much faster ramp.”

As a 15-person company Barros also said Moment is at a flex point where, as they add more employees, they’ll probably have to start building teams and so forth.

“The first 15 you can just be one team and get a bunch of stuff done,” Barros said. “And now we’re going to have to figure out how we organize ourselves and go from 15 to 50 people.” He said this week’s capital will “improve a few more points along that journey.”

For Moment, the journey is about capitalizing on a massive cultural movement in mobile photography, which Barros called bigger than ever. Literally being part of the moment — the stories and inspiration around creating images — is fueling the hardware maker’s desire to move beyond just functionality.

“Contour was very functional, the name was functional, the way we sold it was functional. It was about one button, easy to use,” Barros said. “GoPro really taught us about capturing hearts. We tried to capture minds, and they crushed us by capturing hearts. They really did a good job of capturing the essence of action video and the emotion around it and what it meant.”

A lot of Moment’s philosophy is illustrated by the users and influencers whose work is shared through the Momentist blog on the company’s web site and its social channels such as Instagram.

“With Moment we realized the purpose is much deeper. It’s about empowering people, helping people become better creatives. The products and tools are part of that process, but this time it’s much deeper.”

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