EyeEm’s creative director on how the startup became more than a platform

The Berlin-based startup EyeEm helps amateur photographers sell their work to media outlets and advertisers.

One of Anca Asmarandei’s photos was recently featured on EyeEm’s homepage: It showed a woman wearing black ballerina flats and an ankle-long, bright red tulle skirt hovering over a concrete sidewalk. The woman’s face is not in the frame.

The 27-year-old Romanian has used EyeEm, a platform for stock photos that showcases emerging photographers’ works and connects them with brands and agencies, for three years.

A model blows confetti into a bowl of water, one of Anca Asmarandei's photographs.

A model blows confetti into a bowl of water, one of Anca Asmarandei's photographs.

For Asmarandei, the Berlin-based photography startup is more than a platform. It made her work evolve and become more focused, she says.

Up until 2013, EyeEm was often called the ‘Instagram of Europe,’ but after securing $6 million with the help of Earlybird, the company forged a different path.

Although still focused on curation and communities, EyeEm’s four co-founders, Gen Sadakane, Ramzi Rizk, Lorenz Aschoff und Florian Meissner, shifted more attention to developing Artificial Intelligence technology that “ranks the aesthetic quality” of images, automatically tags photos and monetizes creative talent. For a cut, EyeEm helps novice and up-and-coming photographers reach big agencies.

The startup even secured support from the controversial US investor and billionaire Peter Thiel.

“It was always our goal to get investment from the states,” says EyeEm’s creative director Sadakane. "It was a ritterschlag for us."

EyeEm for “pocket money”

logo_whiteSince EyeEm’s founding in 2010, the Berlin-based startup amassed a community of over 20 million different “creators” on the platform.

But this means the quality of images uploaded can vary drastically, Sadakane says. EyeEm’s technology helps decide which images are of quality by looking at blurriness, number of pixels, composition, the Golden ratio and the device on which the photo was taken. But that does not keep visually boring or ugly images from making their way onto the platform.

The good photos, however, helped EyeEm secure a partnership with Getty Images.

Which is great for users like Asmarandei, whose photos have been picked up by the photo agency: “It is an awesome moment when you make a sale for the first time… There is nothing like sitting back, posting images and waiting for the money to come.”

The startup keeps 50 per cent of each sale.

According to Sadakane, EyeEm is not a replacement for professional photographers: “There will always be a market for professional photographers, shootings for advertisements and campaigns,” he says.

Photographers should see the platform as a way to make “pocket money.” Sadakane says he makes around $300 a month selling his own stock photos on EyeEm.

Communities in the smartphone sphere

Sadakane has uploaded more than 6,600 photos and gained over 9,000 followers on EyeEm since the company was founded.

EyeEm’s communities and recognition matter, he tells the Heureka. This is why the startup grew to include a visually-impressive photography magazine, annual photography awards and exhibitions worldwide. Plus there are Missions, or weekly photo competitions, to engage photographers, Sadakane explains. Photographers can win prizes or have their work exhibited or published.

A model covers her face with her hair and hands, one of Anca Asmarandei's photographs.

A model covers her face with her hair and hand. Another one of Anca Asmarandei's photographs.

“The Missions challenge me to approach a topic differently, or to think of something that wasn’t on my mind,” Asmarandei tells the Heureka. “When I see great work it makes me want to work even harder to surpass the quality I see.”

Motorola, Mercedes-Benz, Airbnb and The Huffington Post are just some of the brands who create Missions to crowdsource images.

In the EyeEm community most users shoot with their Android or iPhone. EyeEm’s focus on the “smartphone sphere” is something the founders believed in from the beginning: “We knew there was something big behind apps and smartphone photography,” Sadakane says.

In 2016, EyeEm rolled out their new app, Roll. The app automatically tags, groups and ranks images across unique categories.

Keep it simple

In Sadakane’s opinion, the most successful images and campaigns are the ones that everyone can understand: “It has to be easy,” Sadakane says. “People need to understand it in Germany, Japan and the United States.”

And this principle applies to startups and pitching investors as well, he continues.

When EyeEm first started, Sadakane had no idea what a startup was. “We made so many mistakes; it was cryptic shit.”

Since then the Berlin startup scene has changed: “It is crazy how in this short time people became crazy professional,” he says reflecting. “Everyone is talking about startups and drinking cafe lattes.”

Even though things were at times “ridiculous,” EyeEm’s founders did not give up and kept securing investments: “Our approach was to get investments from people we like and people who trust in us,” he says. “The investors feel the passion and if it fits to the team.”

It is about the connection, he says.

Gen Sadakane will participate in a panel on how founding in Berlin impacted his business.To hear more from Gen Sadakane, join us at The HEUREKA Conference in Berlin. #HRK17

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