Picture This: NJIT Alums Launch New App that Changes the Face of Emoji

Ricky Isibor '06 and Haig Jean '07, creators of the Expresser app

Looking for a new way to express yourself in text messages that goes beyond run-of-the-mill emojis? Ricky Isibor ‘06 and Haig Jean ’07 have teamed up to create a free app that is—literally—changing the face of text messaging on mobile devices.

The Expresser Keyboard app allows texters to enhance their messaging capabilities by inserting photos—dubbed “Expressers”—illustrated by pop culture icons ranging from comedian Jimmy Fallon to pro boxer Manny Pacquiao. Users can not only learn more about the origins of their Expresser by clicking on the icon, but they can also obtain custom-made expressers by uploading their own pre-existing expresser emojis to the My Expressers page inside the app. They can also submit their photo via an In-App Purchase, from which a personalized “expresser” will be generated. Response to the app has been “overwhelmingly phenomenal,” according to Isibor.

“Our one simple goal has been to revolutionize communication and make the experience unique and fun for the user,” says Isibor.

Not only have they trended 15 times at No. 1 on Trending Searches in the Apple App Store, but they have also peaked at No. 5 on the chart for Top 200 (Free) in Utilities for iPhone. And, since February 2015, they achieved nearly one million downloads worldwide in the App Store alone, which they attribute to their own grassroots marketing efforts and word of mouth. After forming HAIRIC LLC in 2012, the pair has since been working tirelessly around the clock to build the Expresser brand. 

Isibor and Jean first met in the summer of 2001 as students in NJIT’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and developed an even deeper bond when they were both selected to be part of the Black Engineering Technology Alumni Association (BETAA) program. Coincidentally, they discovered that they were also long-time neighbors: they both grew up in Irvington, N.J., lived around the corner from each other and attended the same elementary school. The similarities didn’t end there, as they also were both raised by immigrant parents and completed engineering degrees at NJIT: Isibor in electrical engineering and Jean in industrial engineering.

They both credit the EOP program and Executive Director Tony Howell with encouraging their interest in technology.

“Mr. Howell allowed me to further my education as well as meet others from similar backgrounds,” recalls Jean. “I find myself visiting the EOP office often to catch up with the EOP advisors and mentor other students. NJIT is not only an institute but a family.” 

“I come from a large household and we shared one computer,” says Isibor. “My brothers and I would constantly bicker over computer time. So, when I received my very own first desktop computer as an incoming EOP summer freshman, it meant the world to me. I wouldn’t be the tech-savvy individual I am today.  The individuals in the EOP office have assisted me through my years of college and even nine years removed from college. To date, the amount of resources and relationships I've been able to utilize from being a part of this program is endless.”

Isibor credits his entrepreneurial acumen to his father, who launched Newark Transitional, a homeless shelter, in the late 1980s that he still operates to date. Both of his parents are also educators: his mother teaches in the Newark Public School system and his father is a part-time professor at Essex County College.

Jean’s mother is a physician at University Hospital in Newark and his father is employed as a Project Manager at the Department of Environmental Protection in New York.   

“My parents provided the blueprint for how to make dreams a reality,” says Jean. “They both instilled the value of education and made me believe that you can achieve anything through perseverance and hard work.”

For the Expresser team, that hard work is paying off.  Jean and Isibor plan to release an Android version on Google Play next month and project their user-base and downloads to triple from the demand.

By Christina Crovetto
crovetto@njit.edu