Sophie Lebrecht

For predicting which images will go viral.

Sophie Lebrecht
[Illustration: Evan Bech]

More than 1.8 billion pictures are uploaded to the Internet every day–and Sophie Lebrecht knows exactly which ones you’ll choose to look at. Her company, Neon Labs, uses an algorithm to help a brand (or blog or game) select the single image from a video campaign that’s likeliest to be shared. Each of Neon’s customers has seen a 10% to 30% increase in engagement, she reports, and in just over two years, Lebrecht has served up more than a billion images. “Between Instagram, Snapchat, and TV, content creation grows and grows,” she says.


Bonus Round

Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?

I like to look at creative people who are in the image space, but not directly. Some of my favorite artists are Doug Aitken, a really interesting multimedia artist, and Edward Burtynsky, who does some really interesting stuff on large-scale photography. I find following these artists’ work really thought provoking.


I like to see how people use imagery in a non-functional way, like, just capturing beautiful images because they’re really powerful. There are ways that artists can highlight the importance of images and it allows us to celebrate beautiful images. Neon is trying to create a business around it, but I often find it really inspiring to see how playful and experimental people can be around images, especially when we think about new features to put in our products.

What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?

Lately, I’ve enjoyed @interesting_jpg, a Twitter account that has a sense of humor about just how hard computer vision really is. It’s based on a computer vision/deep learning project (or, teaching a computer to recognize and communicate what’s in an image) out of the University of Toronto that pairs images from Reuters with captions that best approximate the content of the images.

What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?

I always cycle to work. I live in Noe [Valley] and our office is in South Park, which is about four-and-a-half miles, and in the morning and evening I find that bike ride really good to clear and focus my mind. I also surf. It’s what brought me to California when I was a teenager, so I try to get out in the water at least once a week, and that is incredibly mind clearing and humbling. When you have a big week and you feel overwhelmed, just to paddle out in big waves reminds you of what’s important and not to stress over the little things.

Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?

Nicki Minaj. She’s been an incredible pioneer. There are very few female rap artists, so in the sense of how committed she is to her role within the music field, and to her craft. She’s incredibly diligent about the work that she creates and that’s why I admire her as a person. Her imagery is also just stunning. It’s so visual, so colorful, and she’s so playful with the imagery that she creates. She’s beautiful and she owns that. She’s trying to be her own person.

Are you a rap fan?

Actually, no. But I’m a Nicki fan.


About the author

Lauren Schwartzberg writes frequently for Fast Company.