EyeEm, ‘Europe’s Instagram,’ Picks Up $6M To Build Out Its Visual Search Engine And Crowdsourced Stock Photo Service

EyeEm, the free Berlin-based iOS, Android and Windows Phone photo app that has at times been referred to as the “Instagram of Europe,” is today announcing a new round of funding to help expand why it is in fact quite a lot different from Facebook’s photo app. EyeEm has raised a $6 million Series A round led by Earlybird Venture Capital, with participation from existing investors including Passion Capital and Wellington Partners. And, at a time when startups are increasingly focused on making sure they have business models from the word go, EyeEm is doing the same: Florian Meissner, co-founder and CEO, says the funds will be used to keep building out its business around two services that it set out to create early on: a visual search engine, and the EyeEm Marketplace, a kind of crowdsourced platform for stock photography.

These are services that not only help distinguish EyeEm from other photo apps (like Instagram), with a focus on discovery and a way of letting users make money, but also give the company the potential to grow in two directions, and ideally both: as a supplier of tech to other companies, and as a marketplace in its own right.

To date, the app has around 8 million downloads. Although Meissner does not disclose active users, he says that the pace of growth since October 2012, just before it announced the 1 million download mark, has been around 1 million installs monthly.

The visual search engine is something that EyeEm has been using for its own platform: when users take pictures, the algorithms that EyeEm’s engineers have created take that image, parse it and organise it by keywords. This then becomes a way for users to discover those images across the EyeEm network later on, and a way for those taking pictures to shortcut the tagging process that can sometimes be laborious on mobile phones when you are on the go.

Meissner says that these days EyeEm is also talking increasingly with “large internet companies” both in the U.S. and Asia to license this technology for their own use. Names not disclosed, but you can see how this could be something very useful for a company like Yahoo to better index photos on Flickr (the search there is really not up to scratch today and relies on users to tag well, and does annoying things like produce all pictures taken on an iPhone when what you’re really looking for is a picture of an iPhone). Alternatively, given that EyeEm works already in 20 languages, this could be an excellent way for an Asian company with international ambitions to take an existing, photo-based service and export it to other parts of the world using visual indexing algorithms as the bridge.

The stock photo service, meanwhile, is an interesting marketplace concept that plays on some of the founders’ own interests: they all met in New York around a common interest of photography and believe that with the invention of the smartphone camera, all of us have that same potential. “We don’t talk amateurs or professionals in photography,” Meissner says. “‘Notogs’ is the term we have coined. There is a photographer inside in all of us.”

And so, it seems, and entrepreneur. The idea behind the EyeEm Marketplace is that not only can users present their work for sale, but those on the hunt for a particular picture can request something from the community, naming their price in the process. (This is not unlike Snapguide’s recent launch of how-to guide requests, although the latter hasn’t gone so far as to add a financial transaction into the mix. So much for the trend of startups tied to clear business models from day one!)

Up to now, EyeEm has been gearing the Marketplace to brands, agencies and small businesses “who want to find easily searchable and crowd-sourced mobile stock images of places, people and environments,” with some customers including Lufthansa, Redbull and Vice Magazine, which have turned these into actual marketing campaigns (EyeEm’s name for these gamified campaigns are “Missions.”). Now, it looks like the funding announced today will be used to extend this out to a wider group of buyers and further promote the idea of selling later this year.

The key for EyeEm right now is to capitalize both on its existing user base for the marketplace, and close some of those API deals for its visual search engine stat, with in both spaces seemingly emerging by the day. Both smaller players like WeSEE and those slightly bigger like Google in the visual search space, and those who are also intent on disrupting the world of stock photos.