Julia Junkin found herself at a juncture a few years ago. A licensed artist, she’d created designs for major retail brands via her ceramic company with product being sold throughout the country. But she wanted to change course and do something new.

The result: JUJU, an app Junkin created that allows individuals to essentially remix existing art from artists to create their own artistic expressions sent through postcards, text messages, e-cards and more. BendTECH recently sat down with Junkin to learn more about JUJU, its pending SXSW debut and the opportunity the app presents brands for customer engagement.

Startup: JUJU
Started: June 2013
Team: Founder Julia Junkin; Matt Kern, CTO; Ben Kinzer, lead designer; Jacqueline Smith, PR and marketing director; Natalie Puls, art manager
Headquarters: Bend
Employees: 8

Julia Junkin, JUJU founder. Photo: Thomas & Velo Photography
Julia Junkin, JUJU founder. Photo: Thomas & Velo Photography

Can you describe JUJU? It’s a creative library and tool that allows you to design and send amazing visual messages. We’ve curated work by artists from around the world that people can remix into their own designs. I like to call it emoticons on crack. There are few ways to create emotional context in texting, JUJU solves that problem. While we started as an app, I feel like we’re more than that — we’re a creative platform.

How did  you come up with the idea? I had great fun and success in housewares and inspirational products in the past. However after having kids and coming back into my work  I wanted to do the unexpected –– I wanted a new creative challenge –– I started thinking about art and the amazing opportunity for sharing it via technology. My question was, can we bring the heart into tech and give people an opportunity to easily be creative and share and inspire others?

A JUJU. Photo: Thomas & Velo Photography
A JUJU. Photo: Thomas & Velo Photography

And that was the start of JUJU? Yes. We began with the idea of creating inspiration and then it morphed into a broader vision. We licensed artwork from artists, designers, photographers, and typographers from around the world. Think about how DJs remix different tracks of music to come up with something new. With JUJU, you can spend 2 to 3 minutes tap into our curated library of art and create something that is totally unique to you.

When did you launch your app? We debuted the public beta version of JUJU in the App Store five months ago. Within the first three months we were ranked as the 75th top-grossing app out of 92,000 Entertainment apps. We have thousands of users.

Where does the revenue come from? Right now you can download the app for free, and then purchase packs of art to use much like you buy music on iTunes. That’s one of the revenue models. There’s also a potential for brands to use JUJU to engage consumers. For example, a user could make a JUJU with Disney characters in advance of a new movie. And then share it with their friends, etc.

More JUJU. Photo: Thomas & Velo Photography
More JUJU. Photo: Thomas & Velo Photography

How is JUJU funded? We had initial seed funding that totaled about $400,000. That helped us hire our team and create the first product. We just raised another $500,000 from investors here in Bend and in Portland. We’ll use that to really dial in our product adding the features that we feel are necessary for larger engagement and easy creating. Our goal is being ready to present at SXSW in March.

What are you doing at SXSW? We were selected to host a meetup: How to Unlock Your Creativity with JUJU. We’re excited for this opportunity and we want to be ready. For instance, we’re working on adding a search function, so people can find certain types of art without having to scroll through everything.

What else is on the horizon? A year from now we would like 1,000 artists, designers, photographers and other visual artists on the app. We are really working at acing our feature set. We want to introduce a great product to the world.

What’s next in #50startups: We are going to take a break from the #50startups series over the holidays. But we’ll continue to post on BendTECH. And look for new #50startups in the first week of 2015. Happy Holidays!