The Impossible Project is one of my favorite start-ups. I discovered them last year when I first began to develop my interest in photography. (Pun intended)
For the past five years, they’ve been hard at work recreating the magic of instant photography, a void created when Polaroid ceased making cameras and the chemicals to make Polaroid instant film dried up, literally.
Impossible Project restores old Polaroid cameras. They refurbished an SX-70 for me. Their core business, however, is film production. They are the only makers of instant film for Polaroid cameras. In an era of ubiquitous iPhoneography, it sounds like a niche business, but there are a lot of people out there who still find magic in taking a shot and seeing the print minutes later. Trust me. The smiles I see on faces when I take out my SX-70 are very wide.
Anyway, film chemistry is very complex. And, although The Impossible Project produces film out of an old Polaroid factory in Europe, they are doing so with their own formulas. They’ve been trying to recreate the tones of Polaroid film, but it’s really hard. They’ve been doing this while also trying to expand internationally, expanding the camera refurbishment business, and becoming a showcase for creative excellence with instant film. It’s a lot.
In fact, it’s too much. After five years, the quality of the film has improved dramatically, but it’s not great yet, and it’s not at internal standards of excellence. I often struggle with shots that don’t develop, or that develop poorly. The resources required to get to the next level are significant.
So, they’ve decided to pivot. From hereon out, the priority will be to improve the next generation of film. Some parts of the business will be restructured. Others will be eliminated. All in the service of making the core product shine. I’m excited to see the change.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Product development is hard. I’d wager to say that hardware is more difficult than software. Look at the gestation cycle of the iPhone. The software to make calls, play music, and surf the internet was out years earlier. The hardware package to bring it all together lagged behind. Same with Polaroid’s famous cameras. The chemistry was there. The design of a portable darkroom wasn’t.
If you want to understand the differences between product development in hardware and software, meet Frank Love. This link entry will tell you all you need to know: