Internet entrepreneur sets his site on pictures

Thursday, March 13th 2008, 4:00 AM


NAME: Avi Muchnick

JOB: Founder and CEO of photo-editing Web site

AGE: 28


TIME ON THE JOB: 6 years

You guys created a Web site that hosts some of the most popular picture contests on the Internet. What exactly is

It’s a Photoshop-concept
site where artists from all over the world can come. The name comes
from the phrase, "A picture is worth a thousand words." We’ll give them
a theme contest: For instance, take celebrities’ faces, and take
different elements of them to make super-celebrities out of those
pieces. And the artists will create them and post their results through
our Web site. Visitors can come and vote on which ones they like the

Where did the idea come from?

I was editor of my school paper in Queens College (I was born and raised on Long Island). So I was exposed to [Adobe]
Photoshop there through laying out the paper. It was a lot of fun to
create different works in it for photo compositions, but I realized
that in order to get people interested in creating stuff along with me,
the contest format was a great idea. So I put the site together while I
was in law school (at Cardozo in the city).

Law school! Sounds like you took a very different path to success.

Law was very dry and boring. I have an affinity for creating art,
and you can’t spend your life doing something that you don’t enjoy,
especially if you can make just as good a living doing what you do
enjoy. I turned it into a company, and we really took off right away.

How often do you put up new contests, and where do you get the ideas for them?

We do a new one every single day, and we’ll look at different things. Sometimes the news: At the time Martha Stewart
went to jail, we came up with the idea to decorate her jail cell. A lot
of times we’ll just look around nature and see something really
interesting. A zebra has stripes, okay, well, wouldn’t it be cool if we
had a contest where people could redefine how animals have patterns?
And people will upload pictures of zebras with plaid stripes on them,
or elephants with polka-dot skin.

What are the some of the craziest contests you have come up with?

I’m personally more interested in some of the artsy ones where
people redefine landscapes, or where people blend animals together to
show what a frog would look like if it was mated with an elephant.
There’s a great one where people take cyborgs, and they’ll take a
famous celebrity, let’s say Scarlett Johansson, and they’ll show that she’s really a robot under her skin.

Have you entered any of the contests yourself?

I won, once, where we had a contest to make celebrities overweight, and I took Britney Spears
and I made her heavy. This was probably four years ago, before …
everything. [He starts laughing.] I almost feel bad about it, in

You just launched How does it work?

I noticed that we had tons of visitors come to our site every day,
but very few people, relative to that amount, were contributing. So we
realized most people who contribute need Photoshop, but very few people
actually have it. So I thought, if we could build something similar to
Photoshop, but that was based right within our Web site, that would be
a huge win, so everybody would now be able to edit images, and not just
images, but music, 3-D, video, all right from our site.

How exactly does Aviary differ from Adobe Photoshop?

With Photoshop you have thousands of features, and you as a user
will probably only use 10% of them. We polled our artists to find what
features they actually use, and we made sure to include those. It’s a
light version of Photoshop, but the fact that it’s based right in your
browser and there’s nothing to install – you just go to our URL to use
it – makes it somewhat unique.

What are the rules for posting pictures on your site?

We don’t let people upload pornography, and we have certain rules
that we have, to try and keep things interesting. For example, Britney
Spears seems to get uploaded a lot, so we eventually just said, all
right, no more Britney Spears.

Nicole Lyn Pesce


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