This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of 425 Business.
The inspiration came when Thomas Hurst was watching baseball. Flipping through the channels, he wondered if he could build a phone case that lets people snap photos while holding their phone flat, like a remote. That way, subjects would be unaware of the camera’s presence.
That’s the thought behind Covr, an iPhone case with what looks like a hood over the phone’s camera lens. Inside is a prism that allows the user to snap a photo while holding the phone parallel to the ground. The prism lens slides back should the photographer want to use the phone’s built-in lens. The case works with an app that flips the pictures, which are upside-down.
What photojournalist-turned-minister-turned-entrepreneur Hurst hopes to accomplish is helping photographers — both amateur and professional — capture the moments that might be lost. Back in 2012, Hurst and his family were concerned about losing those moments.
That was when Hurst’s then-pregnant wife, Angela, was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer. The couple had three young boys at home, and decided to treasure their home life as much as they could.
“I wanted to make sure we captured as many family photos as we could — the sweet little things that happen in your home when you’re a parent raising kids,” Hurst said.
He sketched his phone case idea on a napkin. He took it to an engineer friend, who then helped Hurst develop Covr. To Hurst, it was important to have a professional-grade lens, so the project took about two years to develop.
The product connected with people, including many photographers shooting street photos with their phones. A total of 1,281 backers pledged $85,612 on Kickstarter.
“It just kind of snowballed,” he said of the product’s success on Kickstarter. “Really, it was a tool I invented for my wife who had cancer.”
Angela’s three-year CT scan recently came back clear, Hurst said.
Hurst knows quite a bit about photography. He worked as a war photographer in Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Kosovo, Iraq and Pakistan. He shot for Time and The New York Times and had staff gigs at both The Boston Globe and The Seattle Times. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for his work covering the Seattle World Trade Organization riots.
While in college in 1992, Hurst saw the strife in Bosnia.
“I grew up with an interest in how people live their everyday life in a war environment, and how war kind of strips everything away,” he said. “That curiosity … finally drove me to just have to go answer that question.”
To witness the conflict, Hurst set up a fake newspaper to get credentials, even though he’d never taken professional pictures before. It was the strange start to a new career.
Photographers using Covr have taken to Instagram, tagging more than 2,600 photos with the hashtag #Covrphoto. Last year, Polish photographer Michal Koralewski won the iPhone Photography Awards contest with a black-and-white shot of an old man playing an accordion. It was snapped using Covr.
Hurst acknowledges that using a discreet phone camera may make some people uncomfortable.
“Covr Photo absolutely does not allow our products to be sold in adult-oriented stores of any kind,” he said. “As well, we have spent thousands of dollars securing Internet domain names that could connect our brand to something we find inappropriate or distasteful.”
Covr is currently a four-person company. The case is only available for iPhones, but Hurst hopes to expand to other models.
The first Kickstarter orders were delivered in December 2014, and cases are now available online. Covr cases are $39.95 for an iPhone 5/5s and $49.95 for an iPhone 6/6s. A case for the 6/6s PLUS iPhone is coming early this year. covrphoto.com