“People Have A Tendency To Overestimate What They Can Do In The Short-Term, And Underestimate What They Can Do In The Long-Term” With Zeev Farbman, CEO of Lightricks

Be highly ambitious in regards to what you expect to achieve in the future, but be conservative in the results you expect to immediately achieve. Defining realistic timelines and deadlines is a challenge, but your team will get better at this with experience.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Zeev Farbman, Co-Founder and CEO of Lightricks. Zeev Farbman holds a PhD in Computer Science, with most of his research toggling the border between image processing and computer graphics — a field now known as computational photography. He is the Co-Founder & CEO of Lightricks, the successful Israeli startup behind an award-winning ecosystem of creative apps, including the well-known Facetune app and the Enlight suite of tools (Photofox, Quickshot and Videoleap — all available for free on the App Store). In addition to winning Apple’s prestigious design award for the critically acclaimed Enlight app, Lightricks’ newest app Videoleap was just selected as Apple’s 2017 App of the Year in over 76 countries!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was born in Yakutia, in the former USSR — one of the coldest populated places on earth, with winter temperatures dropping below -50°C. You’d hardly associate my village as a tech hub, but somehow my parents found me a BK0010–01, a popular Soviet microcomputer of the 1980’s. With this machine, I started to teach myself computer programming.

After moving to Israel as a young teen, I held a series of odd jobs to buy myself more computer equipment. I was grateful for the opportunity to work towards my dream. Unlike in Yakutia, I had friends that were passionate about computers as well as dedicated mentors at the schools I attended — a supportive community that really encouraged me. I studied computer science formally in university, eventually pursuing my PhD. My PhD was put on pause for a few years, though, when in 2013, a group of friends and I began to chase an idea that was just too good to ignore. It was here that Lightricks was born.

Our story began four years ago in a tiny apartment with a team that has grown from five founders (yes, five!) to nearly 100 employees. As a completely bootstrapped startup with only a $500 marketing budget, we released our first product, Facetune, a fun and powerful portrait retouching app now used by millions worldwide (including the Kardashians — believe it or not).

I’m incredibly proud of what Lightricks has become. Our goal at Lightricks is to give aspiring artists a new generation of fun and powerful creative tools that feel nothing short of magical. Since Facetune, our flagship product, we’ve built an arsenal of powerful creativity apps: Photofox (an artistic photo editor), Videoleap (a creative video editing app) and Quickshot (zooming in on the capture process with amazing filters) — all available on the App Store.

We believe that the advent of new platforms like mobile devices, VR and AR, coupled with advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence allow us to build tools that give unprecedented power to creative individuals around the world.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

There are a number of great stories surrounding the genesis of Lightricks. One that I vividly remember was when I worked with Yaron, our CTO, on a rendering engine for a research paper that we aimed to submit to SIGGRAPH (an acclaimed annual computer graphics conference). We worked against the clock to meet the nearly impossible deadline. One night, we left the computer science lab so late that we couldn’t even catch a cab. In the middle of our long walk home, Yaron turned to me and exclaimed “if we were working this hard outside of academia, we would be millionaires by now.”

For me, this was a “lightbulb moment” — one of the first times that I actually considered a life outside of academia.

What makes your business stand out? Can you share a story?

The core Lightricks DNA is made of an interesting blend of super talented people from unique backgrounds. Much of our company was built with junior talent — we love to recruit the most driven students fresh out of university. We have researchers with innovative ideas from the newest academic research, technologists with the best engineering practices from the industry, and a marketing team with a truly analytical, performance-driven approach. All of us have a passion for creating products that people love to use and we all put a great emphasis on design and aesthetics (after all, we create tools for creative people).

In my opinion, we are also distinguished by how seriously we take our passion. We put our 110% into everything, whether it’s recruitment, customer support, the garden around our offices, or the design of our apps. For example: our Creative Director discovered a designer on Dribble, and loved his portfolio of logos and icons so much that we brought him all the way here from Siberia to create ours. Once he got here, she had him do 100 iterations, working months on each icon until it was deemed perfect. We put that level of dedicated effort into everything we do.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Along with the advent of mobile devices in everyone’s pocket, our apps are part of the global trend of democratization of products, services and ideas. In our case, we’re democratizing creativity — making creative expression and content creation accessible to the everyday smartphone user. This kind of thing is no longer reserved exclusively for design experts or pro photographers with expensive products or complicated desktop software. As our products become increasingly widespread, I see more and more of our users creating amazing photos and videos with the apps we’ve built — I feel that we’ve made an impact on the world by giving every individual the potential to create extraordinary content from their own mobile device.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I Started my Business” and why?

  1. It’s going to be an all-consuming journey. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — for some people it’s the best life choice they can make, myself included — but this is reality. For example, I recently overheard someone talking about how they were going to start their post-doctorate and simultaneously open a startup. This is something that is just not going to happen realistically.
  2. People have a tendency to overestimate what they can do in the short-term, and underestimate what they can do in the long-term. Be highly ambitious in regards to what you expect to achieve in the future, but be conservative in the results you expect to immediately achieve. Defining realistic timelines and deadlines is a challenge, but your team will get better at this with experience.
  3. The power of specialization. People need that one person who is the top expert in a specific field. When graduate students ask me about startups, I always advise them to finish their PhD first, so that they will become true domain experts in their field and will know if their specific knowledge can be leveraged to a true competitive advantage. With this comes the power of delegation: you don’t have to be the best at everything, but you do need to find people who possess the skills you are seeking and partner with them.
  4. Put effort into more than just what you’re best at. This may be a no-brainer to many, but for fellow Computer Science PhDs, it’s important to realize that even the most technologically-oriented company cannot thrive with only a developer’s skill set and mindset. Create a workplace that will be compelling for everyone: your design team, HR, marketing etc.
  5. Teams build products. A startup is a team sport: at some point, a big part of it it boils down to hiring the best people who work well together. If you can figure out how to hire the top talent, great things will happen.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.

I’d enjoy a conversation with Yuval Noah Harari, the man behind of the books ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ and ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’. I found these books to be really interesting (especially the latter). Harari paints an array of possible futures and poses big, thought-provoking questions: How does the storytelling of homo sapiens make them a unique species? Did people become happier as history unfolded? Will humanity at some point diverge into a number of different species?

Yuval, if you’re out there — let’s do lunch!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!