by Guadalupe Gonzalez Staff reporter, Inc. @mariainnyc
In 2011, Nicolas China attended a friend’s wedding in Chicago and came across a product that would change his life: a photo booth.
China (pronounced “Kina”) had seen plenty of photo booths before, but the construction project manager had never seen an open-air booth quite like this one.
“It wasn’t a booth. It was more like a kiosk,” says China, who watched as guests took hundreds of photos over the course of four hours. “People were just going nuts for it.”
Having studied photography in college, China thought the quality of the pictures could be better, but he was still mesmerized by how this unconventional photo booth was stealing the show at the wedding. Upon returning home to Baltimore, he went online and searched for photo booth businesses in his home city. When he didn’t find any results, he saw an opportunity.
Within two weeks, China had enlisted the help of his brother-in-law, who brought along another friend, to pool together $2,500 and build a photo booth prototype using some DSLR cameras and Mac mini computers. They tested their product at a birthday party, charging by the hour, and in January2012, the trio officially incorporated their photo booth company, Pixilated. They began renting out their machine at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other events.
Pixilated started as a side hustle, but as word-of-mouth spread, the founders built a second photo booth, then four more, and then another four. They began booking corporate events, and by August 2012, China had quit his day job to focus on Pixilated full-time. Co-founder Patrick Rife did the same about eight months later. (The duo bought out China’s brother-in-law in 2015.)
Today, Pixilated rents its machines in three- to five-hour packages for events around Maryland, Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The company has six full-time employees and between 20 and 25 event staffers.
Last year, Pixilated raised a $500,000 seed round from Mavin Ventures, a Baltimore-based growth equity firm. The company used the funds to build out PixiCloud, a proprietary cloud-based software that it licenses to other firms. With the software, Pixilated gives clients access to the photo booth images and other user data.