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Wanted – Boring Walls!


The San Jose SprayPrinter team

From their offices at WeWork in Downtown San Jose, the growing number of employees at SprayPrinter have a fantastic view of Silicon Valley’s urban center. But for them, the increasing number of buildings here is something besides a nice view.

It’s inventory.

The company, launched in 2016, has earned buzz for an app-enabled device that attaches to smartphones and hooks into a can of spray paint. Wave it over a blank surface, and it “sprayprints” your image to create giant murals. An enhanced version – with higher resolution and accuracy – will ship next year. And SprayPrinter has developed a robot that can scale walls and even smokestacks to bring mural art nearly anywhere – making covering a large area a relatively quick process. The SprayPrinter website offers graphics and video of their technology.

Founded in Estonia by Mihkel Joala and Henry Patzig, the startup has established a headquarters in San Jose as it seeks out growth opportunities, partnerships and – perhaps most of all – walls. Or as CEO Richard Murutar says, “boring walls.”

“To convert boring walls to sales leads, that needs some manpower,” he said in an interview. “Probably in a year we’ll have six people full time here. For now, we’re rotating the Estonian team here. It’s important to transmit the vibe you have here to Estonia as we build up the headquarters here.”

SprayPrinter’s business model is twofold: It sells its SprayPrinter devices, which allow anyone with a smartphone to print big, beautiful murals using their own designs or the designs of an online SprayPrinter community. And it enables those who need murals to commission one; SprayPrinter then works with artists and operators to get the job done.

Building with large wall mural of Albert Einstein, applied by SprayPrinter technology

An example of SprayPrinter mural application in Tartu, Estonia

We stopped by the SprayPrinter to chat with Murutar about walls, coming to Silicon Valley and the company’s robot future. The company is co-located with the ABC Accelerator, an international startup accelerator based at WeWork. It’s one of dozens of startups arriving in the transit-rich downtown area in the past year, and by combining art, technology and real estate, it’s certainly one of the most interesting.

What’s SprayPrinter’s ultimate goal?
“SprayPrinter is a very visual startup. The ‘why’ is to make the world a better place. Making the world a better place is making better people. How we can do that is giving them better emotions and thoughts. How can we make better impact? Take the visual environment to a higher level. We can make better cities.”

So do you see SprayPrinter as a tech company or a design firm?

“It takes a lot of human work – a lot of time – to make a visual impact. The technology itself—it doesn’t matter. The impact part comes when people get engaged with the environment. So we need local artists, people who are living in the environment, and are impacted by the environment, to be engaged. But they don’t need to execute. We have a robot now for that.”

You started in Estonia, but you’re making a big move into San Jose. Why?
Estonia is a small nation, with a very low cost of living. But on the other hand it sets limitations. Although there are some good examples of success stories – like Skype – the mindset is too small. There’s no market. So we understood that. And we had created a lot of value. The ability to execute and the experience – is actually here. We needed to build up the headquarters here to make SprayPrinter a unicorn.”

How did you pick San Jose?
“In April there was an event in San Francisco, the Launch Festival. We had no tickets, we knew nobody. But in front of the building we painted a portrait of Jason Calacanis, (the entrepreneur and founder of Launch). A few tweets later he showed up and invited us to the main stage and said he would invest in us.

“We also met the ABC accelerator people at Silicon Valley Open Doors (a tech conference). We had a 10-minute chat with their local manager and an hour later we ended up in cooperation with them. They helped us establish a corporation for day-to-day operations. Together we found great value.

“Now we have our HQ here. We have attracted our first funding, and we’ve found our first walls. I would say we have our foot to the local artist community. There are some visual environment evangelists who’ve engaged local people to work with local artists. We see the mindset is here.”

Let’s say I own a wall and I’d like to do something with it, but I don’t have artist connections and I’m not sure what I want to do. What’s the process?
“The only thing you have to do is make a photo of your wall. Let us know what you need. Do you have a vision or not? And we connect our experts with this wall. We can work with a local community of artists. We have our own global community of artists who also provide ideas. It’s collaborative.”

OED is interested in hearing from readers on sites across the city that could benefit from a striking mural. The art can be literally anything – a corporate message, a muralist’s design, a soothing scene from nature. Email your suggestion to Elisabeth Handler, Public Information Manager, OED.