Ramzi Rizk: Not Just Another Selfie

Meet entrepreneur and software developer Ramzi Rizk, one of the founders of EyeEm, the premiere marketplace and community for a new generation of photographers available on Android and iPhone.

Before EyeEm, Rizk was just a humble student with ambitions and dreams for the future. He began programming in high school and soon after graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the Lebanese American University. After graduating, he moved from Lebanon to Hamburg, Germany to complete a master’s in software engineering, before heading to Berlin to work on his PhD in information systems.

His passion for software development would take him farther than he ever dreamed of. HOME for Summer caught up with Rizk to find out more about him, his incredible journey to success and what’s next for EyeEm. 

How did you come up with the idea for EyeEm?

My cofounders and I got together one “ominous” evening a few years ago and started talking about the changing landscape of photography. It was at the turning point of photography, with smartphones having good enough cameras and people starting to have the tools to take, process and share their photos instantly. We saw a new

generation of photographers that were mobile [phone cameras] first, or even mobile only, and believed that we could give them a HOME, a playground to express themselves, improve their skills, interact with other photographers and eventually make money with their photos.

What need did you see in the market for your new app to fit?

We started playing around with the idea for EyeEm in 2010. That’s when we organized the world’s first mobile photography exhibition in Berlin and followed that by exhibitions in New York, Paris, Tokyo, London, LA and so on. The photography space was still in its early stages, but within months there were numerous tools to edit and share your photos on social media.

We thought back then, and still do today, that the challenge was not in creating content anymore – more photos were uploaded in 2013 than were taken in the entire history of photography! – rather, the challenge was in discovering the most beautiful and relevant photos in that “digital nirvana” that’s the Internet. That’s why we set out to build a platform were people can constantly get inspired and discover beautiful works from all over the world, tailored to their interests.

"More photos were uploaded in 2013 than were taken in the entire history of photography"

Who is your app mostly targeted to? Professional photographers? Artists? Amateurs?

EyeEm provides a HOME for visual enthusiasts – people who appreciate beautiful photography and have an eye for capturing great moments. We believe that anyone has the potential to take great photos, and we want to offer them a space to share that content and get recognition and feedback for their work, and maybe help them to become professional photographers. 

How is EyeEm different from/ better than Instagram?

Photo sharing is a commodity nowadays. There’s nothing easier than taking a photo and sharing it to Facebook or Twitter. We think the journey of a photo starts after that, and while we provide a great editing experience and all the requisite sharing capabilities, our focus is on connecting photographers with other like-minded talents, allowing them to participate in photo missions and get discovered, and also to earn money with their beautiful shots.

Another thing that differentiates us from everyone else is that we have one of the best computer vision and search teams out there, working on some cutting-edge technology. Our search can automatically recognize and describe the contents of photos, and rank them according to their beauty based on our proprietary “computational aesthetics” technology. This allows us to search for and intuitively find the needle in the haystack that is the billions of photos available online.

A few months ago, we announced a partnership with Getty Images, whereby select photographers from the EyeEm community are invited to add their photos to the EyeEm collection at Getty Images. The partnership is a great opportunity for us to allow these talented photographers access to buyers from all over the world, and it’s been a beautiful experience so far. We also regularly conduct photo missions with our partners, where EyeEm photographers can take part and eventually have their photos licensed or featured. At the end of the day, we ourselves are photographers at heart, and it’s a great feeling to be able to earn money doing what we love. 

Anything coming soon that you’d like to tell us about?

We’re constantly building and improving our entire platform, the community/apps, the possibilities to earn money with your photos, and our best of class visual search engine that helps you find the most beautiful and relevant photos automatically. Exciting times ahead. 

Where do you see yourself and EyeEm in the next five years?

We see EyeEm growing into the premiere place for passionate photographers to interact, discover beautiful content and be discovered.

We want to index the world’s photos and change the way people search for photography forever. 

What is it like being an entrepreneur and working for yourself?

Being an entrepreneur is an amazing and terrifying experience. It’s a luxury to build something you’re truly passionate about, and grow and work with the best team in the world. There’s nothing like coming to work every day and knowing that you’re impacting millions of talented people and offering them a channel to express themselves.

It’s also a huge responsibility when the buck stops with you. My cofounders and I, and our team, never really stop working or thinking about the future of photography. I like to say that it’s a thrilling roller-coaster ride with constant ups and downs – I can’t see myself doing anything else. 

What is it like being away from Lebanon and your family?

I’ve lived in Germany for almost 12 years now. It’s not easy to build a life somewhere else, but Berlin is definitely HOME for me – it’s got the perfect balance of technology and art, is full of inspiring people, and offers an amazing quality of life. My family regularly visits and my brothers both live in Germany at the moment. We live in a time where distances don’t really matter that much anymore, it’s not a big deal to spend a weekend in Lebanon with my family!

What do you miss about Lebanon?

Lebanon is far from perfect, that’s why I left, after all. That being said, it still is a special place. The things that I miss about it are the thing that I love: my family, the food, the rich nature and history, my friends, the eternal optimism of the people who live and struggle there – yes, people are ridiculously optimistic in Lebanon, despite doing their best to sound pessimistic. I’ve recently started spending more time there, particularly to interact with the creative and entrepreneurial scene, and there are some amazing people building and supporting an ecosystem that could eventually match the other hubs of entrepreneurship in the world. I’m optimistic about the future.

Do you still connect with your Lebanese heritage while abroad? If so, how?

There isn’t a huge Lebanese community that I interact with in Germany, but I am constantly in touch with other entrepreneurs in Lebanon and abroad, and we have ideas on how we can help the ecosystem, that’s something that I’m very excited about.

Apart from that, I make a mean hummus!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, it’s a nice feeling to share my experiences with other Lebanese people, and I’m always more than happy to lend an ear or a helping hand – so if any photographer or entrepreneurs are reading this, feel free to reach out to me anytime on Twitter or EyeEm [@ramz].

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