Back in the heady days of filters, film simulations, and Kodak-like borders, Android and iPhone users had two leading players they could choose from: Instagram or EyeEm. Pepsi or Coke, YouTube or Vimeo, Ford or Ferrari, you get the gist.
And while the heart still beats at Vimeo, iterating and pivoting after realising there was simply no way to beat YouTube at the game, it would appear that EyeEm, the “other” photo-sharing app that had similar origins and intentions as the now ubiquitous Insta, is calling it a day and has filed for bankruptcy.
For a while, the “we’re not going to beat Instaverse / Metagram / whatever you want to call it” pivot had promise. Less than three years since launching, the Berliners had forged a deal with Getty Images to push user-generated imagery even further.
With some 13 million users in March of 2015, the EyeEm team took things even further, offering their own online marketplace for users to sell, splitting the proceeds 50/50.
Less than a month later, EyeEm announced that it has raised $18 million in a Series B funding round led by Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures.
Keeping this training rolling on down the tracks, by early 2016, EyeEm had now inked a deal with Alamy as yet another distribution partner. The company was so on the up and up that its deep learning computer vision framework which used AI to identify and rank a creator's photos by aesthetic and concept parameters, essentially the basis for what would become the company’s The Roll app, was announced at WWDC in 2016 as one of the first apps to integrate with Siri.
At this point, EyeEm has disclosed raising $24 million and seems to have a winning strategy in place. But sadly my friends, this may not be the Cinderella story we’re all hoping for.
User interest is a fickle thing, and speaking from personal experience, perhaps even more so in the photography world. I know, or at least would like to think I have a fairly good idea of what makes for a world-class image, one that can and should be sold. Be it on a stock photography market, photo agency outlet, or even individually.
But who really cares? When ‘good enough’ is just good enough or ‘we can use that with the watermark, no one cares’ is the prevailing attitude, for a business that’s built its revenue model on sales of a product the mass media presumes is free, well, you see where I’m going with this?
In 2018 EyeEm took on another $10 million in funding in a private equity round that saw Luxembourg’s late-stage investor Cipio Partners join the cap table alongside existing investors OpenOcean, Wellington Partners, Valar Ventures, Earlybird Venture Capital, Passion Capital, and Atlantic Labs.
Now, what happens between 2018 and mid-2021 is a bit murky, and perhaps for a good reason.
Reportedly, at the end of 2020, EyeEm was undergoing a reshuffling of the deck, and according to Linkedin, one that saw co-founder and CEO Florian Meissner depart in October 2020, co-founder and CPO Lorenz Aschoff leave by January 2021, and co-founder, CTO, President, and MD Ramzi Rizk call it a day in June of 2021, which would place him at the helm of the company at the time of the acquisition. Again, according to LinkedIn, the fourth co-founder and creative director, Gen Sadakane departed the company in March of 2018.
Almost six months to the date later, EyeEm shareholders sold the company for approximately $40 million to the listed Swiss investment company New Value AG in mid-2021. Since the end of 2021, formerly known as New Value AG has been trading as Talenthouse AG.
And now the fun(?) begins. In the summer of 2022 popular freelance photographer forums start to see similar warnings and questions arising. “Anyone else not yet been paid from EyeEm?”, with one early poster noting that her payments were now two months in arrears and others stating “I also believe that the agency is at the end.”
Sensing where the tide was headed, Talenthouse AG issued a statement regarding payments citing:
“Over the last few months we have navigated listing the business on the SIX Swiss Exchange and acquired several businesses into the group. Throughout the quieter summer months we started the process of centralising our accounting and cash management systems and restructuring our newly merged finance teams. This is an arduous process and challenge, yet it will better facilitate timely payments to our global Creatives”
“Capital markets are also severely impacted by global events, further impacting operations here at Talenthouse. In the meantime we are making manual payments to all our Creatives with outstanding balances.”
“When we floated the business, one of the initiatives we embarked upon was a custody account (known as a safeguarding account, in financial terms) for all Creative payments, allowing immediate access to funds earned. Getting that in place is a complicated endeavour given the diversity of local regulatory requirements we have to navigate. We will be raising capital specifically to fund Creative payments in advance for those who need immediate access to their hard-earned money.”
Be this as it may, one look at Talenthouse AG’s stock value since acquiring EyeEm in mid-2021 speaks for itself.
So too does the swift departure of Clare McKeeve (CEO of Talenthouse) and Scott Lanphere (Chief Corporate Development Officer) following a Board of Directors mandated review of the platform’s business.
And just shy of a month later, EyeEm’s insolvency proceedings are filed with the Charlottenburg district court.
Since departing the company, EyeEm co-founders Florian Meissner and Ramzi Rizk have gone on to co-found aware, a Berlin-based healthtech service designed for the 21st century, and one that has the ambitious goal of ridding the planet of chronic diseases.
Gen Sadakane is a lecturer at Miami Ad School, founder and advisor to Berlin Photo Week, and parter and creative director at Berlin-based FAKE AGENCY, and Lorenz Aschoff has co-founded Together, a relationship health app developed by couples therapists.