May 5, 2023

Episode 265: Timur Khabirov, CEO & Co-founder of Prequel Inc.

Timur Khabirov is an American entrepreneur, designer, and investor best known as the co-founder and CEO of Prequel Inc., the company behind the Prequel mobile photo editing app.

In 2006, he launched a B2B company developing and maintaining high-load intranet applications, one of its major clients being American Express.

Timur later took an interest in digital design, computer vision algorithms, photo editing, video, and 3D - co-founding AIAR Labs. Based on AI technology, Prequel launched in 2018 as a complete package of graphics editing tools for mobile, and to date has been downloaded over 100 million times by users around the world.

Julian:Hey everyone. Thank you so much for joining the Behind Company Lines podcast.Today we have Timur Khabirov, CEO and Co-founder of Prequel. Prequel is arevolutionary creative app for photo and video editing, helping people toexpress themselves and put their most daring art projects to life tomorrow. I'mso excited to chat with you and really this whole new craze around.

AI and what it'sbeen able to really do in terms of just not only disrupting kind of differenttypes of automated roles and, things along that nature, but also in thecreative space and what that really means for the evolution of the creativespace. I'm so curious to see not only how your users have been able to use theapp, but also you know, what it means for, not only video content, but ed,photo content as well as others and, and kind of where the evolution's gonnago.

But before we getinto Prequel, what were you doing before you started the company?  

Timur:I'm a, I'm an entre entrepreneur. The, the whole life. And I started when I was17 years old and in, in tech interest, I'm like, for more than 20 years, Iwould say 23, something like that. Yeah. I had a big experience, but before themobile market I worked with in B2B segment on the corporate level service taskactually.

And the servicecompany as well. Hmm. Yeah, yeah. Something like that.  

Julian:Yeah, sure. But on the main point I I was gonna, I was gonna ask into themobile app space. Yeah. What kind of inspired you to go into kinda more of aconsumer,  

Timur:you know, my partner, he's a good friend of mine, actually, research and heintroduced me the mobile market why I so respect mobile market, because there'sa lot of, democracy over there and you have the reckon pack with your customer.

Yeah. And you canrecognize your business model, your product's, good or not. You don't havesomebody in the middle, like third party. Yeah. You have direct conversationwith your customer. If they like it, you are the rockstar. If they don't,nothing, that's it. Yeah. Yeah. That's very honest. That's why I respect,unlike the mobile segment.

Julian:Yeah. And what in particular about, video and, and photo editing at least, didyou see to be able to kind of think about ways to, what, to do, what Prequelsdone and really kind of empower creators to do more creative things or createmore unique projects? And what in, in particular did you see in the marketthat, kind of, it kind of signaled you to, to start creating that direction?

Timur:Yeah, you're absolutely right. It's a great question. Because before you thinkabout, something, some individual like uniqueness or some, innovation, you haveto understand your audience, the market Yeah. Itself. Cause our audience.Embraces many different identities, like our customers.

Yeah. But not toescape, but to express who they are. Yeah. Like that was the main point. And inour business model I would say the main idea of critical, it's recall it's a,we usually create a platform for all versions of you. That was the main idea.What about the uniqueness? Actually we have, we are in the art and techsegment.

Mm-hmm. Art andtechnology. And we combine everything together, perception, art, tech, andhuman. Which means our uniqueness is where the art vision, the art experience,knowledge means the technology. And our main goal, combine them together. Yeah.Because, we have a lot of different like, technology of the frameworksespecially with the artificial intelligence.

And in our case weare trying, to combine this together in a perfect way. Yeah. How to promotethose tools for our community.  

Julian:How have you made those tools? In terms of photo editing being that they'retypically very, detail-oriented, very granular, and, and where you couldchange, different kind of more traditional settings, exposure, brightness, allthat into what Prequel does, which is kind of create a whole differentexperience and add a different layer of, editing and, and, and not only with,with those functions in terms of, of the micro changes, but also with new kindof modern tools that people are using.

What kind ofbrought you to, to, focus on that direction? How have you been able to do itand what are some ways that users are, are actually using the product to createthose unique experiences?

Timur:Our main priority is like a explained before the first of all, the, thecustomer needs. The main needs is like how to express your. Current mood, youremotions. And we started with the retro filters, retro effects, and we startedeverything. And we have our own lab with professional photographers, withprofessional videographers, like from the worldwide experience.

And we, we, wesearch everything. We work with the reg real films. We work with the real,like, ball. Yeah. With everything and the, our idea was, how it works. Maybesometimes the people tell me the market, they don't need like the realauthentic, sure.

Something likeeffect. But in my opinion, we have to do this. We have to provide the real,authentic, like visual effects and. We created the trend on the market with aprofessional, with a aesthetic, with a, the real Correct. Like visual effects.Yeah. It doesn't matter what kind of film you use.

Maybe Juniorbrothers or like Charles Chaplin from that ages, or you use like, for example,like. Movie, et cetera, like eight millimeters film. Our main idea was to comeup how to, how you can combine together experience of Generation Z, forexample, with your legacy from the history.

Yeah, yeah. And wefound that, yeah, have to find a compromise. How to create a platform becausein our platform the main point is this all before how to express yourself.Yeah. With old versions of you. And maybe you can feel like you are in thesixties, you are in sevens, you're in eighties and nineties.

Does that matter?You, you have to express yourself. You have to cause every single person. As a,some kind of unique message Yeah. To this world and new message is yourlegacy.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. It's so interesting. That's, mm-hmm. It's so interesting thinkingabout the ways that, creators can use this and, the ways that, influence and,and creative creator influencers and all the individuals that, that come alongin this category.

What are some waysthat you've been surprised about them using the application? Outside of thetypical, user story, which is, I'm have a kind of a personal image, a brandimage, and I may be influenced for certain brand o other brands, but it'sclothing, apparel, lifestyle. What, what name you and kind of, use thisbranding package to, to to, to kind of, promote myself.

But outside ofthat, have there been other unique ways? That people are using prety to promotebusiness or use it for their personal means. Mm-hmm. What, what have you beensurprised by?  

Timur:You know, How's the surprise? Okay. We provide the styles I would say wheneverone on the planet with the sterilization.

Yeah. And the sametimes we promote the tools. But follow your question actually, I think the mainpoint here is our customer. He decides what he wants to tell. Our goal is justto help him. And it doesn't matter, it's a business or like c b2c, a c a B2Clevel. It doesn't matter for us.

Cause you know, onother side maybe you're watching the commercial, you're watching like usergenerator content at the same time. Yeah. Your perception can recognize thereal thing, right? Yeah. Let's say, let's talk about art. What is that? Sure.Art is a tool. Art is a platform. Yeah. Which helps to provide some kind ofmessage.

Yeah. From creativecommunity to our entire world. That's why we have the culture. Right. Yeah. AndI think in our days our goal and our responsibility to provide the aesthetic,authentic and high quality tools for creative community to promote themselves.Yeah. Cause it is a culture. Yeah. We cannot ignore that.

We have to part ofit. Right,  

Julian:right, right. In, in regards to, how the technology works speak a little bitfor our audience to kind of understand, and for context sake, how, you're usingkind of AI and obviously it's popular now because of ChatGPT, but mm-hmm.Obviously other companies have been using it for a while.

What ways haveAI's. Not only made and empowered kind of your company to grow, but what aresome unique ways that it, it's, used in video and, and and photo kind of imagesthat we aren't typically aware of? Cause I think people are used to likelanguage models and natural language models, cuz it, it's tangible, but youknow, I think video medium is a little bit less to digest for people.

So yeah. DescribeAI kind of its involvement and how, it's able to be used at pretty cool.  

Timur:Mm-hmm. Okay. First of all, let's let's separate the visual generative I andlanguage based model. Yeah. Like ChatGPT, we work on the other side. On thefirst one, visual generative ai. And I'm not gonna talk about the AI ingeneral, but my opinion the first of all for me is just a tool.

It's a newgeneration of tool and the main point where the main benefit. It's a timesaver, right? Yeah. For example, like, 10 years ago I used Photoshop for all mylife. I w I started to use this like 20 years ago maybe when the first versioncame up on the market, and could you imagine like 10 years ago, for example, ifyou wanna remove ground, From your portrait, from your selfie, that will, ittakes like at least one hour or maybe 40 minutes.

A lot of details onyour hair. Like it's too complicated. Now we have this technology, like we canprovide this in less than one second. Yeah. It's a time saver. And don't lookat the eye like it's not our enemy. It's not your enemy. For example that was acase with the, in photography, mm-hmm. Some kind of awards and the, somepicture won the the first place and it was generated based on ai. Wow. But,what's the main point? Who is the outer of that? Yeah. It doesn't matter whatkind of tool you use, my main point Artificial intelligent Canada orbi us,cause humans have many innate abilities. Yeah. Such as creativity, likestrategic thinking, self-awareness, empathy and love. Right? Yeah. And thisliterally in great abilities have not been hacked, therefore cannot be fullyreproduced. That's the main point. And that's the pre. Ai, just a new kind oftechnology.

That's it.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. What are some ways that you're generating graphics with, with aiand how are those graphics generated, Generated?  

Timur:We have a lot of collaborations with no real. Paint artists or other creativepeople, photographers, etc. And we have collaboration with them. And our maingoal in the future to come up with a marketplace platform where you can shareyour experience.

For example, if youare, I live in New York, I'm a New Yorker, and in New York it's not that easyto find some photographer for your, dash. For shooting and the, the price is$500, right? Yeah. Per day, per session. Yeah. It's not that cheap. And not alot of people can afford that, but in our case, if you're professionalphotographer, you have your own style, like Weinberg for example, like, or likefamous photographers.

You can teach yourown AI model and you can share it. With the entire community, with millions ofpeople, and maybe you'll you'll get like just $5. Yeah. But could you imagineif you'll sell with millions of people? That's the main point. That was thesame revolution was the iTunes. You remember?

Yeah. Yeah. Beforethat was cities orry. But you you need to show on the market your album, right?The people they have to buy like your album at least. So 25 bucks. Yeah. But iniTunes you can buy just one song. The same point with us the the main energy,the creative community. They have to understand, don't stay again, this aiYeah, you have to find some kind of, You know the friendship with that.

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. And and  

Timur:embracing You have to start. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And we provide thetools. Cause what you seeing Prequel, everything based on our collaborationbehind the scenes we have a lot of creative painters is photographers, thisother.  

Julian:Yeah. How are they able to, without any technical ability, describe theirrelationship with Prequel and how they're gonna go through the journey.

Are they creatingtheir own kind of unique mock-ups and then kind of creating or, or submittingthem to this engine and then the engine kind of. Creates other, mm-hmm. Kind ofgraphics in lieu or, or in relationship or using those images. Mm-hmm. How isthat journey? Describe that to our, our,

Timur:um, Yeah, for now it's let's be honest we have to conduct us and we'll providethe the tools.

But later on we areworking on that, like, working a name. Let's say we called it Prequel Studiofor now. We're gonna come up with a tool, it's gonna be native application forMark and for Windows and Web version as well, where you can log in and that'sit. And you'll have the whole APIs, everything.

It's up toyou.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. And so they upload images  

Timur:and Yeah. Our, our item, sorry. The, our the business model in this marketsegment is not to. Not to promote something from our side, but for example, HBOand Netflix, they have their own TV series, right? They have their own TVshows, but it's just five for 10% of the content.

The rest issomething from a site, right? The same with Prequel. We will work. With our labto provide something from us at the same time. It is just a showcase. Yeah. Ourgoal to promote the tools for creative community. Yeah. Because it's sobeautiful, like every person like, is so unique.

Yeah. They cancreate something, like amazing.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. What, I respect  

Timur:people and I think the, the human first then AI or any other tools.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. What are some of the biggest risks that Prequel faces today?

Timur: Idon't know, like any other business, like recession technical default, I dunno.On the market. Yeah. No, the biggest risk is ai. Yeah, let's be honest. And butnot just for our industry. It's everywhere. Yeah. Cause the problem with aibesides the commercial, goes, let's say it's, I don't know you will at it ornot, but the main point is AI to date based on language models.

It's like newnuclear weapon. Yeah. It's a huge confrontation between the huge leaders. Yeah.On the planet between US and China, and I know like El Musk and other peoplefrom CPA training post, but I think it's inevitable, it's impossible to make anpause to stop cause it's a new era of nuclear weapon.

But the mainproblem with ai, cause it is a nuclear weapon, but with intelligence. Yeah.With the brain. Yeah. That's the main problem. And I, you asked me about theproblem, we don't have any problem. Sure. We're still working. We have a lot ofgoals. But the main problem is the ai, how you can manage this.

Yeah. Will you winor use it or, AI will win. That's it.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. If everything goes well, what's the long-term vision of thecompany?  

Timur:We're gonna increase our pro product line and for the whole market segments,we're gonna be bigger. We'll use AI definitely in this case, but we have thelong term story.

Yeah, yeah. In ourvision.  

Julian:Yeah, I always like this next section. I call it my founder faq. So I'm gonnaask you some rapid fire questions and we'll see where we go. So, first questionI always like to ask is what's particularly hard about your jobday-to-day?  

Timur:The hard part? Mm-hmm. I don't know. I travel a lot.

I have a lot of jetlags. That's the main problem. But I'm familiar when for me it's common thing.I work 12 hours a day. Yeah. Sometimes 24 7. Yeah. Like said, yeah, you have towork a lot. That's it. The main point, you have to be in focus. That's it.Yeah. Sure, sure. Yeah. You have to understand everything.

The market yourenvironment, your people, everything.  

Julian:Yeah. Thinking about, Prequel and what it's able to do, to help, photo peoplecreating photo and, and video content, how has it changed the speed at whichpeople are delivering content and, does that change the, the, the type ofcontent people are, are ingesting?

Have you seen anychange in that direction in terms of, speed or, or, or unique and uniqueness innew types of content?

Timur:You already provided the answer, the time saver. Just one top editing. That'swhy we prefer AI for that. People now, they're familiar. They have, theyalready have an experience. Mm-hmm. Like for example, like 15 years ago, mymom. I have no idea how to upload the video photo to Facebook.

Like, sure. Rightnow she knows everything more than me. She's 70 years old and she fam familiarwith everything how to edit video picture, et cetera. But in your question, youalready have the answer. One, tap editing. The time saver. It's number onepriority. Everywhere in metaverse, in in Eva Revolution.


Julian:Yeah. Yeah.  

Timur:How, the main point for tech industry is a time saver. .  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. How, how have you kind of thought about, Prequels, value as a toolfor people who say necessarily didn't have the means to start a company orstart, building a brand in, in, hire an individual to create.

Now they have this,these tools that are superpowered to be able to create really highly branded orunique content or similar content, over a certain amount of time. So it kind ofcreates an experience, how, how, what, what do you feel like opens up, thegates in terms of people being able to use Prequel, as a means to kind of,create a consistent image or things like that?

Do you kind ofthink about what it, what it helps people do?

Timur:There is no one you major to, honestly, let's be honest. The first of all, it'sup to you. You have to you have to understand who you are. Yeah. What kind ofmessage you have, especially from the business perspective, right? Not ingeneral, like you're gonna promote your, like cosmetology or you're gonnapromote your life services consulting, wherever.

It's up to you. Butour main goal is to understand our community. We can help. To express yourmessage expressing what we can do that. But it's up to you. You have, you haveto find your way. You, you have to make a lot of market research before you'regonna come up with some kind of product or service.

Right. We cannotreplace that. But we can help you how to promote this in an aesthetic andprofessional way. That's right. That's why I know we have some kind of exampleslike Gucci company. Famous fashion brand, Galliano some people from movieindustry to industry to use. Yeah. Yeah, because I'm very happy.

Cause, they havethe, like, high level art designers, eye directors, right? And the users, I, Ithink it's for everyone. But depends on your mood, depends on your position.Depend on your message, your passion. You can find a lot. Yeah, yeah. You canfind the huge variety, of tools.

So, but first allwe are, we're not the two providers, we're providers of styles.  


Timur:It's kind of like fashion industry in the digital world. Kind of augmentation.Yeah. Why you want to the rule number one. Sometimes people, they like toaugment the content just to hide behind this, or they use it as a tool.

If we're talkingabout the business community, they need some kind of tools, how to augment yournaked content and. Yeah, to provide the, like, the right message for yourcustomers. That's it. And we think AI in the future will already have a lot oftests in our marketing department. Maybe we're gonna come up with some kind oftechnology, which will help like small, medium sized businesses how to createthe, the commercial for them.

Yeah, because rightnow it's too expensive, let's be honest. Right. We need to hire people at leastthree or four or five. It's not affordable. Affordable for SMB level. Yeah.Yeah. Like in us, right? We have 27 million SMB companies. Yeah. And like the70% of them, they cannot afford this. That's uh uh, why we're gonna help  


Yeah. What'ssomething you know that you are good at as a founder that you wish you werebetter at earlier on in your career? What, sorry? Yeah, what? What's somethingthat you're good at now as a founder verse that you wish you were better atearlier in your career?  


I think you need.To find the professional people on the early stages. Sometimes you think it'stoo expensive, for example. Right. I will hire them later on or something likethat. But no, I think it's a good investment Yeah. To have like the real smartpeople from the beginning.  

Julian:Yeah. How do you go about, identifying who the right people are? A lot offounders talk about, ways that they've tried certain questions. Is it, yeah.Certain reference calls. What in particular is actionable, you advice that yougive to other founder and how to find the right people?  

Timur: Ithink it's very simple actually.

Like, you have tounderstand what's your goal, what's your main business idea, right? Yeah. Thebusiness model. And you have to understand what is my experience? Again let'slet's put aside, like your passion, your id, your genius, whatever, right? Butdon't lie to yourself. You have to be the honest person, right?

Okay, I have thiskind of experience, but I need some strategic partners or smart people. Tocreate some kind of core, to go. Yeah. And that's why some people somestartups, they don't understand. They don't need just money. They needstrategic partnership, right? Yeah. The people with experience.

Especially ifyou're in mobile industry, you have no idea how to promote, how to yourproduct, how to market this. Yeah. How to create campaigns, how to work withthe ization models, the analytics. If you have no, any experience, it'simpossible. Yeah. You have to find the partners or some strategics, advisors,whatever.

But first of alldon't lie to yourself. Yeah. Your main goal, don't promote yourself. Promotethe business, right? Yeah,  

Julian:yeah, yeah. That's it. Yeah. What are some ways that, you think founders canbetter connect with their customers?  

Timur:Mm. Use your product. Yeah. They have to use the product. Yeah. They remember.

I remember thedevils advocate, you know the movie with Yeah. Yeah. And when he asked, when hecame down to Subway, I live in New York. I like Subway. Mm-hmm. I use Subwayall the time, cause I love people. I have to understand why they use, what kindof apps they use how they spend time with their cell phones.

And that was a hugeexample from the nineties from that movie when Keanu Reeves asked the Alpac whyuse the subway? And the said, I have to understand my customers. I'm notcomparing myself or a business to devil, but You have to understand people.Yeah. You have to use the same tools. Yeah, the same services.

Right. And if youwant, if you wanna understand your community, you have to use your ownproduct.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I always like to ask this next question because I love howfounders extract knowledge out of anything that they ingest, whether it's earlyin your career or now, what books or people have influenced you the most?

Timur:Yeah, yeah. No, I, I, I agree they're absolute heroes, but for me they're notmy idols. I, I know they're icons, but if you have wisdom, if you are a smartguy you have to understand what is your. What is the path for your inspiration?Yeah. You have to put something on the side. If you are like, if some personinspires you for a hundred percent, it's not good.

Yeah, right. He'san idol for you, but you, if you are an entrepreneur or a business guy, youhave to put everything on the side. Okay. I like this part from this hero, ormaybe this one, and that's it. Sure. You have to like books collection, right?For example, I like Freddie Mercury music, but could you imagine just FreddieMercury and nobody else?

No. I like BobMarley. I like a lot of musicians, the artists, but the inspiration, I thinkit's so, it has to be  


Yeah. Yeah. What,is there anything that stood out to you that you've kind of. Use as a frame ofreference throughout your career or even today, something that you've read orsomething that, somebody said that that kind of sticks with you as you, gothrough it.

Any, any bucket ofthose items that, that you think is, is particularly impactful?  

Timur: Isee this every day, daily basis, like, I like to read articles about business,about some science thing, like astrophysics, biology, everything, yeah. I thinkinspiration, not based on your idols. Mm-hmm. It's based on your position.Yeah. If you are hungry, you have to feed yourself, right?

Yeah. Yeah. And ifyou are smart, you will find. The good, place or the right person. Yeah. Orfigure.  


Timur:Yeah. I think it's very flexible.  

Julian:Yeah. I always like to, I know we're at the end of the show, so I always liketo make sure we didn't leave anything on the table. Is there any question Ididn't ask you that I should have or anything that we didn't talk about thatyou'd like to talk about before we end here?

Anything left onthe table?

Timur: Idunno. Looks like everything, like the old questions about ai, about art, abouteverything. Mm.

Julian: Iguess what's, what's next on the agenda? Yeah, what's next on the agenda interms of this year? Where are you looking to expand or grow? Any kind of newerpartnerships, any newer products? What are you particularly excited about interms of the next stage of Prequel?  

Timur:Okay. Definitely we're gonna grow up, right?

And I have a goal.We have the right company cause we have the long term story and we need morerevenue, more customers, more professional people in our team. It's commonthing, yeah. For every business actually. But we're not gonna stop, we don'thave any investment outside. Right. And we are. Independent company, but in thefuture, why not?

Julian:Yeah. What, what's been able, what's allowed you to bootstrap for this long andnot have to take investment?  

Timur:Nowadays it's not that easy anyway. You'll need the money if you have your own,let's say No, we have a huge on the market. Yeah, basically because of the AItechnology and the mobile market in nowadays is not the easy thing.

Like it was likefive or 10 years ago. But, it depends on this market segment. Yeah. If youasking generally about like, business experience, I don't know. We have a lotof version segments right after the Covid or maybe after every session. Youknow the people, they are so smart. Yeah. Like a museum.

Maybe they're notin, but they can find something. Wow. We're gonna come with some new solution.Yeah. And I think you have to understand what kind of segment you're gonnaachieve. Right. The mobile segment is not cheap anymore. You need to find somestrategic partner, strategic investors, maybe any other business, I dunno, inhospitality or whatever.

You need to makethe research first, but you have to be agree. If I'm gonna grow up yourbusiness, don't lie to yourself. Okay. Be honest. You, you need not only money,right, right. Not just money. You need some smart people in your team. You needsome like very smart advisors, right? Yeah. And the people who will share thebest process for you.

That best practicewill not impact your idea. Your main idea. It, it's okay, but business isbusiness. Let's say for example, Prequel, right? We are on a photo videosegment. We, we unique or whatever, but it's just a represent for the 70%. It'sbusiness. Yeah. Yeah. Like everywhere, everywhere. Yeah, business is business,right?

Nothing personal.Just business.  

Julian:Yeah. Yeah. It's Timur. It's been such a pleasure. Not only, talking to youabout Prequel, but also about your background, your experience, what you'velearned in, in your career. And I'm so excited to see kind of the growth thatyou, your company kind of expects and how many people are using the platform,the different ways in, in that they're building unique content and the morethings that come out of it.

So, Thank you somuch for being on the show today. I hope you enjoyed yourself and I'm excitedto share this with the audience. Yeah, thank you.  

Timur:Thank you, Julian. Thank you so much.  

Julian:Of course.  

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