Facebook profile photos are becoming videos with Toronto startup Flixel

Amid the drones, bots and goggles, Facebook announced a partnership with Flixel, a Toronto startup.

Facebook announces partnership with Toronto app at F8 conference

Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference this week to announce a suite of potentially world-changing technologies.

Among the announcements:

  • A space drone that can bring internet access to the continent of Africa.
  • An automated customer service chatbot for Facebook Messenger.
  • An affordable virtual reality headset.

On top of that, the CEO took a news-making swing at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. 

But amid the drones, bots, goggles and presidential politics, the social networking behemoth made public a partnership with Flixel, a small Toronto video startup.

Together, Facebook and Flixel will turn profile photos in Facebook into profile videos, or cinemagraphs.

For anyone who uses Facebook, a profile video is a seven-second, looping, moving image (see here to view one on mobile). But for Flixel, it's an opportunity for exposure to a potential market of almost 1.6 billion people.

"Like the moving photos in Harry Potter, cinemagraphs are an exciting and magical new visual medium that bring still photos to life. I know the Facebook community will love creating these living photos for their Facebook profiles," said Ryan Houx, Product Marketing Manager, Facebook to the F8 audience on Tuesday in San Francisco.

The partnership will allow users to create high-quality profile videos and upload to Facebook directly from Flixel's Cinemagraph Pro app. The Toronto startup joins Vine, Instagram's Boomerang, and Facebook's MSQRD app as the social network's first partners.

The 12-person startup is the smallest of the partners announced at F8, and the one that got top billing in the announcement.

Pitching to Facebook, on Facebook

In late 2015, when Facebook announced it would make profile photos come alive, the team at Flixel wrote an article on its site explaining how to use its app to make profile videos.

It was a useful article for users of Flixel's Cinemagraph Pro app, but that wasn't all.

"We basically created that blogpost hoping that it would reach the right folks," the Flixel co-founder Philippe LeBlanc said from the conference in San Francisco.

The "right folks" in this case were Zuckerberg's team in Menlo Park, California, Facebook's headquarters.

"We knew we had something that would work perfectly," said LeBlanc. "If they did see it, they'd see us as an ideal candidate."

To reach them, LeBlanc and his head of marketing, Robert Lendvai, needed to get their product in front of as many Facebook employees as possible.

And what better way to reach Facebook employees than using Facebook? The two set up an ad campaign which geo-targeted Facebook employees in that area of California, a feat made possible by Facebook Advertising.

The plan worked. "They reached out to us, said we love your product and this would be perfect for a new Facebook profile videos," said LeBlanc.

From Toronto to 1.6 billion people

Founded in 2011, Flixel has racked up some successes in its first five years. Cinemagraph Pro for iOS boasts one million downloads, was used by the Emmys and counts supermodel Tyra Banks as an investor.

But the Facebook partnership might be the biggest push toward making Flixel's technology mainstream.

"The good news is this is really going to expose everyone on Facebook to the world of cinemagraphs. We really believe this is the next great visual medium," said LeBlanc.

LeBlanc said this was possible with smart marketing and great software — all by his small team in Toronto.

"The great thing about software is that its really small teams that build world-class products," he said.