By Cara Bucciferro, Founder of Legal Graffiti
The journey to get to launch day has been long. And hard. And fun. Four years ago I came up with the idea of Legal Graffiti, an augmented reality culture platform. After playing lots of Pokémon Go with my son and walking miles around the neighborhood, I started wondering what else was possible in the augmented reality space. I had deleted my Facebook account years earlier, and left my Instagram and Twitter out to dry. I was unhappy with the choices of social media companies: the invasion of privacy, the prevalence of selfies, the political fighting and chaos ever present on the go-to social media networks.
Pokémon Go was different. My son and I could use it together; we could walk around the neighborhood, discover new places and have fun. But it wasn’t exactly a video game, and you weren't stuck in front of a TV or computer while playing it.
I wondered what else we could do with this kind of technology besides catch Pokémon. Could we do something intellectual, cultural? Could we create a social media experience that brings people joy and wonder?
I asked myself: What if we could discover new music, art, history, culture while walking around? What if we could connect people from all over the world, so I could see what people were posting in Tokyo and they could see what I was posting in New York? What if I could stand in Union Square and change the sign for Forever 21 to say "I wish I were 21"? What if I could leave a friend a song at our favorite restaurant?
The idea for Legal Graffiti was born in May of 2019, but it would take another four years to launch. I was working full time as a freelance designer at Victoria's Secret at the time, and they kept me very busy. During the pandemic they laid off all their freelancers, so I had a few months to focus solely on Legal Graffiti. But up until this past June I was working again full time at demanding design jobs while creating Legal Graffiti, living in NYC as a single mom and paying a very high rent. The life of a woman founder is not easy. While my male startup friends raised millions of dollars like it was nothing and worked full time on their startups, I struggled and persevered and was required to work harder.
I raised a friends and family round of $125K and did crowdfunding on StartEngine to raise a little over $50K. I worked with a company in Washington state to build my first product. They overcharged and under delivered. After giving them my first payment of $20K they decided they couldn't do everything they promised. Teeth gritted the whole way, I got my first beta. Sophie Lam, my friend and curator helped me share it with NYC artists who posted content around town. That was my first beta.
Placing content in locations was great, but it let me see what more Legal Graffiti needed. We needed featured creators, we needed a social feed, improved profiles, improved features and we needed to start building our Creator's Economy.
The Creator's Economy is our model where creator's get paid as the platform makes money. The first step of that was tours. Creators can build custom tours and either make them free or charge for them. The second part of that will be the Digital Marketplace, where creators can sell digital art and prints, all with a charge of the credit card. In my view, creators and artists have been completely undervalued and underappreciated in society. I wanted to build something that could offer new sources of revenue to creators and to Legal Graffiti.
By last year I had rounded out my team. I met Arman Atoyan of ARLOOPA in Armenia, an AR / VR development firm with major chops who I connected with and decided to work with to build the next iteration of the product. I had 2 advisors, Jeff VanderClute and Linda Bjork. I had Steven Miller helping with marketing, Sophie Lam as curator and Arikia Millikan of CTRL+X in Berlin helping me with social, copy, content moderation and everything in between. I gave equity to my team and paid what I could, and we did it.
Just two weeks ago—September 15th—we launched our platform on iOS, Android and the web. It was a beautiful thing and was well received. We had a group of inaugural artists post their work on the platform.
Now is the hard part.
Besides taking out loans, what I have raised so far is about 175K, and that was spent on development. I now have a launched product on iOS, Android and the web. I have 17 years of design and creative direction experience, as well as the experience of launching another startup years ago that gained over 11 million users. My first startup brokered the first ever sale of a URL as "fine art."
Legal Graffiti is a new kind of technology platform, and fills a hole in the augmented reality space, creating something that is accessible and has the potential to be ubiquitous. We have run two beta tests, have over 1,100 pieces of media posted and have a solid platform that is built expertly. We are looking for pre-seed funding, that means early stage. Yet I still can't find funding. Even the people who supposedly only support women founders don't return emails.
So what is a woman founder supposed to do? Where is the support? Tech is a boys club, and I'm trying to break in. But it's hard. It's really freaking hard. My team has no marketing or PR budget but we have lots of determination. According to TechCrunch "Women-founded startups raised 1.9% of all VC funds in 2022, a drop from 2021" https://techcrunch.com/2023/01/18/women-founded-startups-raised-1-9-of-all-vc-funds-in-2022-a-drop-from-2021/
Legal Graffiti is a culture platform where people can share the beautiful things they spot everyday, their own fine art, videos and music, or history. They can experiment and create new experiences. They can create tours and tell a story. Think of it as a combination of gallery + social media + marketplace. Because content is moderated and curated, it is a safe place for people of all ages and educational institutions. It is everything I ever dreamed of creating.
So, where are the investors? They may show up when we hit a million users or a million dollars of revenue. But is that what it is really about? Is it impossible to find a person who believes in our vision, who believes in me? As a founder I am constantly receiving emails with companies that want to take advantage of my position, offering every kind of service you could imagine.
I will not give up. We will continue to persevere, and if I have to go back to work and support the company myself I will do it, I am doing it. Society responds loudly, as it always has: “work harder.”