Expands customer footprint in China and India, to open ops in US & China
Now developing in-video object recognition capability
IT’S turning out to be a good year for ViSenze, a visual recognition solutions startup founded in Singapore as a technology spin-off from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2012.
At the recent 2014 National Infocomm Awards (NIA), the company emerged as the 1st Runner Up winner in the Most Innovative Infocomm Product/ Solution category for its flagship product, Visual Search (ViSearch).
The NIA is a biennial event hosted by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation (SiTF). It recognises innovative ICT leaders and solution providers, and strives to promote a spirit of innovation in both the public and private sector.
ViSenze was also listed in the Red Herring 2014 Top 100 Global award, which recognises the world’s most promising private technology companies and entrepreneurs.
Cofounder and chief executive officer Oliver Tan is understandably proud of ViSenze’s accolades, which capped a busy year that saw the company successfully close a US$3.5-million Series A round of financing led by Rakuten Ventures.
In an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), Tan said that novel visual recognition technologies such as mobile visual search are rapidly gaining mainstream acceptance by both retailers and consumers.
“Consumers are excited by the power of using their smartphone to take pictures of any merchandise that they come across – in the streets or online – and get to find exact or similar merchandise immediately, with no hassle of keyword-guessing or flipping through pages and pages of text search results,” he said.
Tan said that the challenge is to keep the search process simple, the search results accurate, and the consumer experience fulfilling.
With the ‘Internet democracy’ generating numerous new opportunities, the ViSenze team believes they are democratising it further by helping put visual search into the hands of the consumer.
Tan also shared that the company has been approached about participating in some Smart Nation initiatives but discussions are still preliminary. Smart Nation is the Singapore Government’s initiative to transform the city-state into a fully digitised country.
Search in motion
ViSenze had its real-world start in the fashion domain, but continued research and development on its image recognition algorithms which saw it expand beyond clothing six months ago, Tan told DNA.
“We have customers using our flagship product ViSearch in new domain areas such as home décor, consumables, animals, jewellery, and even art.
“Our image recognition algorithms are literally able to handle tens of thousands of image categories and sub–categories,” he declared.
Tan said that ViSenze has rapidly expanded its R&D capability in the last 12 months, both in visual search (image-to-image search) and image recognition (image-to-text), combining deep learning and cutting–edge computer vision expertise.
He said the team’s efforts are driven by real-world problems, with new use-cases geared towards helping customers achieve significant improvements in their business – such as an increase in e-commerce conversion rates, productivity improvement in database management, better customer experience through visual search engagement, or a boost in mobile search traffic.
“We are always quite excited to be challenged by interesting use-cases, but at the same time, we also need to be realistic that image recognition alone cannot solve all the problems. By focusing on practical use-cases, we get better quickly too,” he added.
Asked what the next step for ViSenze would be, from a technology perspective, Tan said the team believes that video is the next realm of visual recognition innovations.
He noted that with “tremendous growth” in online video and social video traffic on platforms like Vine, there are “exciting new opportunities” in video commerce and in-video contextual advertising.
“We have been quietly building our in-video object recognition capability while everyone else is still dealing with image recognition. We are working on some very exciting applications, so stay tuned,” he declared.
Expanding the vision
This year also marked a series of business wins for the company, with e-commerce marketplace Zalora and Goodrich Global, a company that provides interior wall coverings, carpets, fabrics and floorings, among its customers.
Tan said that Zalora has been a regional customer since the beginning of the year, and quickly understood the benefits of incorporating ViSenze’s solutions.
“They are a great customer – our visual search engine helps them to better recommend visually similar fashion merchandise to their web customers. We are also working with them to develop more interesting applications,” he said.
ViSenze has also made headway into markets such as China and India in the last three months.
“Customers include companies operating in online retail. We’re also in discussions with various partners and hope to announce something soon,” Tan said.
Asked about how ViSenze is doing on the revenue front, he said that this year marked the company’s first operating year.
“We jumped from bootstrapping with our founders’ own money in 2013 to Series A in February, and only started generating revenue in the second quarter of this year.
“Despite that, we have already achieved better than forecast revenue estimates for 2014 with less than two months remaining. We are projecting at least 15 times better revenue numbers for 2015,” he claimed, declining to share exact figures.
As part of its expansion plan, ViSenze will be setting up a sales and support presence in the West Coast of the United States, and Beijing in China within the next nine months.
“Our team strength is 18 today, and we are on an aggressive hiring exercise to double our strength to 35 by the end of 2015,” he said.
Asked if ViSenze intends to seek another round of funding, Tan said that if things move according to plan or faster, the company will be looking to raise its Series B funding in the next 12 months.
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