NUS spinoff to use funds to boost R&D activities and fuel international expansion
Visual search to change how users search the Web, photo-sharing websites and more
SINGAPORE-based startup ViSenze Pte Ltd announced it has closed a US$3.5-million Series A round of financing led by Rakuten Ventures, the corporate venture capital unit of Rakuten Inc, with participation also from new investors Walden International and UOB Venture Management.
The investment comes about seven months after the company’s announcement of its first collaboration with Rakuten Taiwan, and comes just a few days after Rakuten Inc announced its US$900-million acquisition of messaging company Viber.
The new investment would allow ViSenze to increase its headcount in research, product and infrastructure development; scale up its cloud platform; and enhance its market development resources to support partners internationally, the company said in a statement.
ViSenze is a spinoff company of the National University of Singapore (NUS) that develops tools which provide intelligent visual recognition, visual search, matching and recommendation functions on the Web and mobile platforms, for e-commerce and contextual advertising applications.
“Since the announcement of our beta service launch in July 2013, we have secured several pilot projects with collaboration partners like SingTel Digital Media and Zalora,” said its chief executive officer and cofounder Oliver Tan.
“By focusing our strategy to address real-world challenges in e-commerce, our technology is now used by global Internet giant Rakuten and fashion social network Clozette.
“We are very excited to have Rakuten, Walden International and UOB Venture Management backing us – their international networks will help us scale faster.
“We will invest in accelerating the development of our own in-video visual recognition technology and are currently engaging key players in North America and China, two of our priority markets,” Tan added.
The rise of the ‘Visual Web’ has enabled companies like Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr to reach multibillion-dollar valuations, ViSenze said in its statement.
Visual search is set to change the way users search the Web, photo-sharing websites and image-based networks.
With images as one of the largest drivers of referral traffic on social media today, iPinterest generates four times more revenue (per click) than Twitter and 27% more (per click) than Facebook, ViSenze said.
More innovative visual applications in the US$1.2-trillion global e-commerce industry are also set to transform the online shopping experience for consumers, making product search more intuitive and less dependent on keywords-guessing, the company said, citing eMarketeer.
According to a UK study in 2013, 74% of surveyed consumers said that traditional text-based keyword queries are inefficient in helping them find the right items online, and 40% wished their online shopping experience was more visual, image-based and intuitive.
ViSenze said it derives revenue by enabling social networks, affiliate networks and media publishers to monetise traffic on their visual media assets, and helping e-retailers to achieve significant improvement in conversion rates on their visual merchandise with API-based (application programming interface) visual tools like reverse image search, visual-based similarity product search and recommendation.
“We are impressed by ViSenze’s ground-breaking technology and the team’s capability to take it further in the realm of e-commerce, affiliate marketing, and video advertising,” said Rakuten Asia chief executive officer Toru Shimada, also the senior executive officer at Rakuten Inc.
“This investment recognises the transformational potential of ViSenze’s technology and our confidence in the company. The Rakuten Group will clearly want to be the first to take advantage of this technology,” he added.
ViSenze claimed it differentiates itself from other visual search companies by focusing and leveraging on the domain knowledge of each vertical to render highly accurate search results.
This enables its visual search engine to detect and recognise target objects in complex images and videos automatically, while ignoring similarly complex backgrounds.
The search engine is also able to process huge amounts of visual data (including user-generated photos and videos) in real-time, and concurrently perform searches against large visual databases of related products and services.
This opens up huge potential for large scale applications of ViSenze’s technology in affiliate marketing and in-video native advertising, the company said.
It has also designed its core technology to be highly scalable, trainable and adaptable – all of which have enabled ViSenze’s visual tools to be adapted quickly from one domain (e.g. fashion) to another (lifestyle, automobile, home décor and landmarks) without too much difficulty.
“We are excited to invest in this young and promising company with the potential to transform the online world with its pioneering visual technology, which is already well tested in the fashion e-commerce vertical,” said Walden International Singapore executive director Yong Soo Ping.
“We firmly believe that as the Web becomes more visual, ViSenze is well poised to take maximum advantage as an early mover in visual search technology,” she added.
Prior to its Series A financing, seed-funding was provided by the four founders. The company is also supported by Spring Singapore and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) via a grant award under the Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme (TECS).
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