Tech Startup of the Week: Stipple Lets Photos Take On a New Life - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

I bet you didn’t know that computers were blind. Despite the millions of photos we post on social media sites, did you know that computers don’t see what we see? Well, Rey Flemings knew. But he made a bet that he could change that.

A machine has no clue what a group of pixels represent,” said Flemings, in an interview with Black Enterprise earlier last year. “We believe that the internet separates a photo from its story. It loses its context. The minute someone uses that pic again all of the data around that pic is lost. Stipple ensures that story stays with that picture forever.”

Flemings’ company, Stipple, is in the business of helping computers know what is in the images posted on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and e-commerce sites. It accurately tags photos at enterprise scale and connects images from third-party sites back to their original owners, enabling real-time distribution of media and commerce through photos.

Publishing partners earn revenue through purchases made via Stippled photos. Now, it has the ability to drive e-commerce directly from within the Facebook News Feed and Twitter timeline. The idea to monetize this technology occurred to Flemings and his cofounder, Michael Dungan, when they realized that the captions you write and names of people you tag in photos are lost once a photo is pulled from one site and reposted to another.

So they set out to build a tool that capitalized on semantic search, computer vision technology, and that generated brand awareness for any company–from the large multinational automobile manufacturer like BMW, all the way down to the local baker who wanted to make sure that photos of his wedding cakes posted on Pinterest led viewers back to his Main street shop.

Flemings, a former record company executive, and Dungan raised $3.5 million in Stipple’s first round of funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm, as well as musician Justin Timberlake and other investors. Then the co-founders loaded their board with big names like Al Gore and Colin Powell.

So far, Flemings’ “foresight” has paid off. In November 2012, Stipple tagged 12 million images and Flemings predicted that in December the company would tag more than 80 million images. “Stipple is now tagging more images per day than our competitors tag per month,” commented Flemings, in a recent press release. The company’s current image tagging rate is greater than 1 million images per day, with 100% accuracy, he reports. Hundreds of the world’s leading merchants, including Nike, L’Oreal, Zappos, Nordstrom, and more than 5,000 publisher website partners are leveraging Stipple to tag tens of millions of their images per month.

Stipple is Black Enterprise’s Tech Startup for the Week because of the company’s latest announcement to launch Stipple’s Facebook integration with premier brands and athletes including Sony Pictures, PEOPLE, Karmaloop and San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver. This news follows Stipple’s recent integration with Twitter, which created in-stream, interactive and e-commerce opportunities with Twitter’s 200 million monthly active users.

Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.