Imagine moving your mouse along a photo of Rihanna at a Lakers’ game that identifies what she’s wearing: J Brand jeans, Converse heels, Acne Rita leather jacket, and a CC Skye crystal angel wing necklace. Or, what if you own a local bakery where any online image of your high-end wedding cakes links back to your Website with the ability to let you know that 300 people moused over that photo and 50 clicked for more info. Enter Stipple Inc., a San Francisco-based provider of cloud services for online images. Stipple monetizes photos by connecting images to accurate search and social shopping information.
CEO and co-founder Rey Flemings says Stipple was designed to solve the problem of making images “explorable.” If you post a picture all you can do is look at it,” says the 38-year-old tech maven. “If there is any content or verbiage associated with that image, it is usually around it or underneath it.” Anyone who uses photo tagging services knows that the moment you move a tagged photo on Facebook and try to put it on WordPress, Flickr, or Tumblr, the tags are lost.
Stipple is a free service for publishers, letting them label, share, and monetize content in the photos on their Websites or blogs. Publishers receive a commission based on what a brand advertiser has decided to pay for displaying its products. There are currently 2,400 publishers—from small fashion bloggers with less than 5,000
visitors a month to large sites with millions of visitors per month—who use Stipple. Roughly 200 brand advertisers are Stipple’s paying customers.
Before launching Stipple in 2010, Flemings served as co-founder and CEO of Tennman Digital, an incubator and early stage technology investment arm of the Justin Timberlake family. He also was COO of Tennman Records, a joint venture between Timberlake and Interscope. Stipple received $2 million is start-up money from big-name investors, including Justin Timberlake, Eghosa Omogui, Floodgate, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).
“At that time, I was dealing a lot with celebrity brands. Also, my wife did a lot of work with social shopping sites. One of the challenges that we noticed is that as soon as a photo is published you lose control of it,” says Flemings. “Also, the end user had no way of knowing what is contained inside of that photo. And publishers had no way of making money. Those three things dictated there needed to be a solution to those problems.” Flemings asserts editorial images generate billions of page views, and “if your product is in a photo but people can’t find out what the product is, then your brand loses potential marketing value and revenue.”
Flemings and his business partner, Michael Dungan, have built the 10-person tech company from the ground up, creating an image ecosystem of products serving advertisers, publishers and consumers. Stipple has a repository of licensed images from about 13 agencies providing 300,000 photographs a month. “We focused on editorial: news, sports, entertainment, and celebrity photographs, because these are the most highly viewed images,” adds Flemings. Stipple allows brands and retailers to create advertising campaigns around the products they want to sell inside photos, which are tagged with dots that reveal product descriptions, prices, and links. A bookmarking tool lets consumers purchase items featured in a photo or add it to their wish list.
“We believe people want to mouse over a photo essentially like they perform a Google search,” Flemings says. At the end of the day, “we want the behavior of exploring a photo to be fun and valuable.”