Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I usually do it from a really nice office in a really nice city in San Francisco, the heart of the tech world, we feel. Today, I’m here in Singapore. Part of my goal of traveling around the world, running a marathon on every continent, and interviewing entrepreneurs in other parts of the world. And, Oliver, there’s so much that have kind of blown my mind while I’ve been here. We’re going to bring it up in a moment here, this thing that you did that just shocked me with your technology. But, first, let me introduce Oliver Tan, the man sitting here to my right in our office here in Singapore. He is the founder of . . . I want to make sure I’m getting it right, ViSenze.
Oliver: ViSenze. That’s right.
Andrew: It’s so clear. I don’t know somehow in my head I had ViSenze and . . . it’s just like jumbled up.
Oliver: It’s okay. All right. I get ViSenze. I get ViSenze a lot from America. The worst is ViSenze, right, from Italians. So I got confused with some home furnishing company.
Andrew: They do visual search recognition that I usually we just ignore language like that is transforming commerce through AI. But it is. This is amazing what you do. So I was on your website. And one of the things that blew my mind was there was a woman who was taking a picture of the woman who was sitting right in front of her. And I had to check in with you to make sure this actually worked to say, “Was she actually using a camera to find out where she could buy, first of all, what the shirt that the woman was wearing was, and then where she could buy it?” And you said, “I don’t know what picture you’re looking at, but yeah, our technology can do it.”
That is mind-blowingly good, but not even as amazing what you showed me afterwards. We’ll talk about that in a second. And we can do it thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you are hiring developers, you should know about Toptal, but I’ll tell you about them later. And second, if you have a second in command, a CEO or VP of operations, whatever you call them, you need to know about the COO Alliance and I’ll tell you about those in a moment too. First, Oliver, it’s good to see you here.
Oliver: Very happy to have you here.
Andrew: I asked you about that technology. You pulled out your phone and just describe for people what it was and maybe you can just bring it up to me I’ll do it. They won’t be able to see it because it listening to the podcast. I’ll ask you in a moment why you have two phones. But, okay, you went into the . . . what phone is this?
Oliver: Well, this is Huawei phone, right, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It’s top of the range phone.
Andrew: Beautiful phone. I’ve seen this on YouTube videos a lot.
Oliver: Yep. All right. It’s a wonderful camera. It takes very, very nice pictures. But what’s more important than taking nice pictures? Is the lens, it’s a smart lens to be exact. Because lens in this smartphone could do a lot of things.
Andrew: Let’s see it. So you’re going to bring up . . . this is the native built in camera that’s in the phone?
Oliver: Yes. So this is the native camera lens.
Andrew: Let’s do it. Okay.
Oliver: So I want to fire up the camera. So it is normal camera lens that you take pictures with every day. It’s built with a lot of features. And one of those cool features is this little AI button.
Andrew: Yeah, there’s a lot of the other features I recognize. The portrait mode, the video mode, etc.
Oliver: These are standards features.
Andrew: And then there’s a circle with . . . I don’t know what to describe that image, but it is an AI. You select it and you said to me, “Andrew, hold the camera up to me,” which I did. I really like your shirt. It’s actually scanning your shirt right now. I didn’t touch a thing because I’m a little afraid of touching your phone and screwing it up. It’s vibrating. I guess I’m moving it . . . What happened? It was doing it so fast a moment ago.
Oliver: All right, you can move like that.
Andrew: Oh, wait, I might have tapped something before. I went to QR code by accident. Let’s bring it back.
Oliver: No worries. So this is the lens.
Andrew: Oh, you went to the shopping cart. Got it. So I’m holding up the phone again. And now I see all these little dots on your screen.
Oliver: It’s working.
Andrew: There it is. Now, it’s showing me the shirt. Is it possible that you paid . . . is it $9 or $69 for the shirt?
Oliver: You make a choice. These are different merchants selling it.
Andrew: Got it. Got it. So it’s the same style. I can’t actually tell the difference. Maybe if I looked at the detail, I could. The same style. And now I could buy either the $9 version, which is the cheaper version or the $69 version because it’s the more expensive. And as I scroll through I see other . . . This is mind blowing. And it’s built into the phone itself.
Oliver: Yes, it is.
Andrew: And this is your deal with Huawei to get it in there, right?
Oliver: Yes, it’s my deal with Huawei. It’s also my deal with Samsung. It’s also my deal with Vivo. It’s also my deal with LG.
Andrew: I’ve never seen this. By the way, I’ve tried the stuff that’s in Amazon. You can say maybe it’s not built into the iPhone, I understand. It’s not built into the iPhone, fine. I’ve done the Amazon thing where you hold it up, it doesn’t exactly work. It doesn’t work like this.
Oliver: Well, you need to ask Amazon. I’m not about to say, you know, negative things about it. But a lot of times, people try the Amazon visual search. They struggle it is. I think there’s certain algorithms at work inside here. The power of algorithms is that you need to optimize that for things that you’re looking for. Unlike, say, Google lens. We focused very, very heavily on products, which means to say if you lens something in front of you in a real world, my watch, your pair of sneakers itself, I need to be able to find that exact pair of sneakers, you know, that T-shirt, that watch in the very same way that you’re looking for it in a real world. Because that’s how real will people shop anyway.
Andrew: I get it. I want to understand how you came up with this. I want to know how you got the first customers to trust you, the first retailers. I have an idea because I did some research on you. And then also why you decided to even become an entrepreneur. My sense is the reason that I haven’t seen this because Huawei is not big in the U.S. and you built into Huawei. Samsung is big in the U.S. You guys in Samsung phones in the U.S.?
Oliver: So we’re not in Samsung phone in the U.S. yet. We are Samsung in India, in Southeast Asia, and soon to be in in another Middle East region.
Andrew: Okay. And that’s one of the reasons why I came here to Singapore. I do feel like I’m missing out on things by just being in the U.S. and believing that we have a heart of technology because they’re scooters everywhere. Meanwhile, this is going on. By the way, how much money have you raised?
Oliver: We raised a total of $35 million in three rounds of funding.
Andrew: Okay, can you talk about revenue?
Oliver: Rather not talk about it but we had 2x growth last year.
Andrew: Give me a sense of it. Are we talking about over five million? Over 10 million?
Oliver: We’ve close to about 10.
Andrew: Okay, all right, that gives me a sense of where you are. And the companies that have used you, Rakuten is big. They’re like the Japanese Amazon but they’re expanding beyond just online stores, right? Who else? Who else is using you?
Oliver: So we’ve got 100 retailers and the major ones, right? The ones that I can mention in this podcast interview itself, that’s [Uniqlo 00:07:05]. That’s ASOS from UK. UK’s largest fashion retailer is a £4 billion company itself. Urban Outfitters in the U.S. And quite a number of other retailers that use us in different ways. The way that, you know, we’ve just experienced, it’s using the lens to find products. There’s another way in which we’ve embedded our technology into shopping platforms that allows you to navigate visually.
Andrew: Give me an example of a client and an app just to know what it is.
Oliver: So we work with like in Southeast Asia, Zalora. The rocket internet company. It’s one of the major . . . it’s the ASOS of Asia, simply.
Andrew: Wait, actually, I don’t recognize either of those brands. Is it a clothing retailer?
Oliver: Yes. It’s a fashion retail. It’s one of the top three in in Asia itself. Essentially, they have recommendations engines that are being powered by different business logic. And one of those logics that they use is visual signals. Like, for instance, if I were a mandarin collar, this is a mandarin collar.
Andrew: And we should watch out actually for the mic.
Oliver: Okay. All right. So this is a mandarin collar and we’re able to then extract the vectors, meaning to say process, very simply.
Andrew: But we’re talking about functionally, they have an app that I can see what and then get what? What happens with the app?
Oliver: Well, very simple. I mean, the app has different visual search functionality. One of those functionality is the same as what you just use, lens of product. Activate the camera lens [through the app 00:08:41].
Andrew: And then it might show me a color like yours on a shirt that they have for sale.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. And what’s another thing that they offer?
Oliver: Oh, if you go to their shopping site itself, you’ll see a recommendation panel on the product display page. This is the final page right before you add to cart itself. You’ll be able to see recommendations below. Normally it is you may also like. Others who have bought this also bought this. Please consider this.
Andrew: And what do you do instead?
Oliver: We do visually similar recommendations. Other products that look like this. So it gives you choices. We’re all visual shoppers. So you like a certain style, you don’t like the color. You like the pattern, but you don’t like the cutting.
Andrew: Right. A big thing for me is I might see a shirt that I like but I prefer the V-neck in it because I feel like V-neck makes me feel a little more casual. Got it. And so you might show me the same thing but here’s the V-neck version or long sleeve . . .
Andrew: Got it. And this is the beginning of what you have to offer. Let’s talk about . . . by the way, it’s a little intimidating we talk about AI at all, any artificial intelligence. And when we talk to you about a company that works with these bigger businesses, it’s even more intimidating. Let’s go back a little bit to your childhood to get to know you as a person. Were you entrepreneurial as a kid? Were you more of an engineer?
Oliver: No, I was not born an entrepreneur. Like I was born here in Singapore. Education is a big part of, you know, our culture.
Andrew: What does that mean? Give me a sense of the culture of education here?
Oliver: It is one of the most important things. Every parent wishes for their kid to be a professor, to be a lawyer, to be a doctor.
Andrew: Literally they would say, “I want you to be a professor. I want you to be a doctor?”
Oliver: Well, not to a certain extent but the expectation is like that.
Andrew: So then what were they doing? I’ve got a kid right now. There’s a part of me that makes me want to just let him be himself and discover himself and a part of me that goes, “Andrew, don’t be weak. Get that training so that you can read before five. Get that . . . ” So what was it like for your parents? Let’s speak about you.
Oliver: Yeah. I mean, my parents came from an older generation. I’m a third generation Singaporean. Born here. Grandparents originally from China. So the work ethic and the emphasis on education.
Andrew: So at the end of the day, what would they do? Say, “Sit down and work. Sit down and read more.”
Oliver: Work harder, if not, you’ll be a road sweeper.
Andrew: Oh, yeah. For my dad it was, “Or else you’re going to be a mover.”
Oliver: Mover of what?
Andrew: I don’t know where that came from. Because you’ve to lug people’s couches and put up with their . . . Okay, so you’re going to be a street sweeper unless you what? Do your homework?
Oliver: Work hard. Okay, get your education. Education opens up opportunities.
Andrew: And so at the end of the day, you come home from school, you do your homework. Were you also extra classes after school? Things like that.
Oliver: Oh, man. This is really part of our culture. Every kid goes through extra lessons with tuition centers and private tutors to get that extra edge over the next guy.
Andrew: And learning what? What were you learning after school?
Andrew: Got it. So basics. They weren’t like sending you to learn macramé, karate. Not hobbies?
Oliver: Well, my generation was algebra. Today, you know, my kids, I give them choices. So three of my kids they learn to play the piano. They love that very much and I don’t force to. If you like it, you can play the piano. If you don’t like it, you can play the violin. But tell me something that you like.
Andrew: You need something. “I’m not letting you sit in play video games at the end of the day.”
Andrew: “You could play the piano, the guitar, but play.” Got it. Okay.
Oliver: It’s something that you like. Well, I mean, choices. You can take karate lessons if you don’t like playing piano, but do something rather than playing video games. So that’s the culture that we are but very highly competitive. We’re only 5.5 million people. The only way that we get to the top, Singapore just became the most competitive country in the world. All right. World competitive index. We literally beat the United States to be the number one country in the world.
Andrew: So what does it mean as an adult? How does it come across as you being competitive as an adult?
Oliver: It means that whatever we do is culture of excellence. It needs to create impact. And it needs to be successful. If not, for me, it’s simply not worth doing.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. It’s not interesting that you’re advancing artificial intelligence with your technology. No? I could see the look you’re giving me with that?
Oliver: Well . . .
Andrew: It’s good, but that’s not what you’re in this for. I got it.
Oliver: No. I don’t have lofty ambitions that I need to solve cancer in eight years’ time. That’s good. But I’m more of a practical AI entrepreneur, if you will. I want to solve problems immediately.
Andrew: So one thing that I was told growing up is as an American is we rebel against the educational system, which is what makes us more entrepreneurial. We rebel against the algebras of the world. That’s what makes us more creative. I’m not seeing a dearth of creativity here, frankly. I’m going to be talking to lots of entrepreneurs. Why didn’t it kill your creativity? Why were you looking at me even with this like held back smile as I’m bringing that up?
Oliver: Well, you know, you’re right. I’m pretty much a Singaporean. Pretty much shaped by the system and the culture over here. But what is unique about my experience, right after I left the Singapore education system, which by all means is, you know, highly competitive, but it gets us right at the very top in terms of maths and science. We’re, very, very good at that. We win math competition and stuff like that. But right after I exited the education system, that’s where I opened up my eyes because I left in . . . my first four years after graduation I lived in developing markets. I stayed two years in Papua New Guinea. I stayed two years in Burma itself.
Oliver: It’s basically finding out what I’m capable off.
Andrew: And what were you doing there to figure it out? Working? Doing lot of work? I’m looking at your resume, I don’t see that here.
Oliver: It’s right at the very bottom because it’s . . .
Andrew: I see investment manager.
Oliver: Well . . .
Andrew: Oh, investment manager. I didn’t even look where that was. That was Papua New Guinea. So you went there not too commune with nature or live in a tent, to still be an investment manager, but to experience something different. And through that experience, you discovered something that changed you, which is?
Oliver: Which is that it’s more than what the world offers than algebra. I can do a lot more than algebra itself. So I’ve started to explore things because this algebra actually solves the world’s problems or the other ways of actually solving the world’s problems.
And I became very good in investment. So my background primarily shaped . . . my earlier days have been about investments. I didn’t want to become a corporate banker so I went to the buy side. I did M&A with Singtel. That became my specialty. So a large part of my earlier days is I’m actually an M&A specialist. We do telecom asset acquisitions.
Andrew: You acquired telecommunication companies. One in Thailand, I see here. Actually three in Thailand. Did you acquire and sell one in Australia?
Oliver: Yes, I did.
Andrew: Yeah. So this is what you are out there doing. I still don’t see a man who’s like changed until if I scroll through here, you worked at a startup? And that startup was?
Oliver: It’s called e-Cop. It’s rebranded as Quann right now. It’s probably one of the world’s first and it is I think at that point in time. 24/7 internet security surveillance service. We conjured up the term called MSSP, managed security services provider.
Andrew: When you say surveillance, what do you mean?
Oliver: Well, the building has surveillance cameras, guards, and so and so forth.
Andrew: By the way, not only that, I hired somebody. I said, “Help me understand the culture here. Spend two hours with me. Walk me through. Show me what I need to know.” He said, “Look at this, look at this, look at this.” I said, “Great.” He said, “Andrew, did you notice any police officers?” I said, “I didn’t.” He goes, “That’s right. This is not a city with a lot of police officers because we have CCTV everywhere.” I went for a run late at night, I started looking up. I saw these bulbs with cameras inside of them. Now as an American that made me feel uncomfortable until I looked down and I noticed something else. Women in sundresses. This is incredibly hot. Not exaggeration, I was going to pass out at the end of a long day running in that heat.
So they were walking in sundresses comfortable not scared in the middle of these dark places that there’s nothing but cars. So, again, I’m not saying one is better than the other, I’m observing the changes in them. And so you have a different relationship with surveillance than we do in the U.S. With that in mind, what do you mean by surveillance when it comes to what you were doing at e-Cop?
Oliver: So the analogy is if the buildings and the parks and the roads have surveillance cameras, think about who is surveilling you, watching you for your networks?
Andrew: Who is watching to make sure that what is happening on my network? Protect against me what?
Oliver: That there are no intruders. There are no hackers getting into your parameters of your network itself, your online networks.
Andrew: Got it.
Oliver: Who is was watching a firewall? The firewall is your gate. The firewall is your door. Your intrusion detection system is your CCTVs. So just imagine in the online world, your OSI seven layers, who is watching all the traffic, all the packets as going through? So what we do or what we did at a point in time was to create what we call online observation agents.
Andrew: By the way, all this language scares Americans. It’s not something that in America we don’t have, we just use different language to explain it.
Oliver: I see. Okay.
Andrew: So I’m just bringing that up because I think it’s interesting to see that. The other thing that’s interesting to me is you went to do this at 2001.
Andrew: The internet world exploded the year before. Who leaves a banking job, who leaves the safety of corporate first startup when startup just all died and everyone is laughing at them? Why did you do that?
Oliver: Big leap of faith, I guess, leap of faith. I guess that I was very tired back then. I saw the startup and I was very, very early stage employee. When I asked the company founder, “What do you want me to do?” He literally said, “The A to Z . . . ”
Andrew: “Do everything.”
Oliver: ” . . . of business development?” And I said, “Okay, it looks interesting.” I get to do the A to Z of a 20 men organization back then. When I was doing M&A specialism, doing very well already, I was really top of my cohort, in Singtel for a 20,000 men organization. Think about how far could I be. If I need to move to a different department, I need to apply and I need to fight the system. I want to get this job and know all about your M&A specs. You’re not qualified to do this.
Andrew: Got it. I’m also sensing in you that there is man’s quest for meaning emanating from you a lot. Like you are looking to find some kind of meaning. Am I right?
Oliver: Yes. I mean, you notice, for most of us, I mean, we almost never regret the risk that we took. But for all of us, we always regret the risk that we did not take.
Andrew: I get that. But I also feel like there are a lot of people in your position, which would then say, “I’ve made it here. Time to work on the next generation, push them to take more algebra, push myself maybe to get into the right club or get the right score,” at whatever your hobby is, golf, tennis, whatever. I’m seeing in you also a quest for a meaningful life. Am I right?
Oliver: Yes. I want to make an impact before I kick the bucket literally.
Andrew: Yes. Do you think about death a lot?
Oliver: I think about the impact that I am making or can further make to the community or to the market that I serve. I want to be successful. The impact that I make as a professional, as an M&A professional, as an MD of an asset-listed company? What is that impact? Versus the real impact that touches everyone who now has a smart lens on their phone and buying T-shirts or buying products literally.
Andrew: I just want to say that I don’t think that’s a common thing. Most people don’t feel brave enough, don’t feel the sense of power to say, “Not only will I take a risk, but that I want to have impact on my own.” They would want to recycle that bottle to have an impact on the world collectively with others. But to stand up and say, “I’m now going to give up this comfort.” And you’ve done this and we’ll talk in a moment about, again, you got back on the corporate world. And then did you get . . . let me talk for a moment about my first sponsor, brand new company called COO Alliance. Do you have a COO? Do you have someone who’s a second in command?
Oliver: I have a CTO and a chief commercial officer, which is somewhat close to a COO but not exact . . .
Andrew: Chief commercial officer, what does that mean?
Oliver: Well, a chief commercial officer essentially is a combination of CEO and the chief revenue officer.
Andrew: Okay. Got it. The commercial is like the commerce part of things. Make sure that we’re making money, that . . . right?
Oliver: So essentially, the CRO looks after revenue, top line. COO looks after operations, you know, making sure things goes according to plan. A chief commercial officer marries the two and looks after the P&L itself. So it has heavier responsibility.
Andrew: The profit and loss and the people.
Oliver: And the people.
Andrew: And the people.
Oliver: And the go-to market strategy. Very, very important. So it covers revenues, it covers marketing, it covers operation, it covers, in a way, you know, HR hiring within the business unit itself. So it’s kind of like a mini general, if you will.
Andrew: So I’ve never heard of that role. But it is like you say second in command role. Now, look at you, as an entrepreneur, you have a lots of organizations you could be a part of. I saw that, for example, you’re part of the Forbes Technology Council, right? There are a lot of places for entrepreneurs to meet other entrepreneurs. For the second in command, there isn’t, which is why Cameron Herold said, “You know what, I’m actually going to create it.” He is the guy who’s been second in command in a couple of different companies. And it takes a sense of confidence and also . . . what is it called? Where you move your ego down to let someone else takeover to be able to be a good COO, but it takes more than that.
Managing people, dealing with what are the KPIs that you’re in charge of? How do you help manage a company without the full authority of being the person in charge? So what he said was, “You know what? I did it. Most recently, he did it with a company called 800-JUNK. If you were to drive to San Francisco, anywhere in the U.S, you’ve seen it, right? The “Got Junk?” signs. He was the second in command there. He took it from, I think, $2 million in sales to over $100 million. As the CEO, he said, “I’m going to create this organization for others.” That is what this is.
So for you or for someone who’s watching or . . . no one is watching, it’s listening to the podcast. Or for anyone who’s listening, if you want your second in command to have a tribe, to have someone like him to help guide them, to have other people to run their ideas by and that could be second in command is COO, VP of operations, general manager, president. If you want them to have that kind of help from Cameron directly and from others, I can’t get it for you. I’m not sure he can even get it for you. But if you’d like to see if it’s a good fit for you or that second in command, go to cooalliance.com/mixergy. Hit that “Get pre-qualified button” just to see if it’s a good fit for you.
If it is, he’ll let you know. If it’s not, well, you’re better off knowing before you before you proceed. COO, like chief operating officer, cooalliance.com/mixergy.
Andrew: Good stuff.
Oliver: Yeah, right? I think he . . . when he did an interview with me, he must have gotten a lot of people to send their second in commands over. And so he reached out and said, “Instead of pitching you to be on again, can I just buy an ad?” And so I said, “Yeah, sure. Let’s do it.” Okay, so you were there. You then went on to work for NASDAQ company. Actually, which of those companies was it where you worked?
Oliver: MNC Media.
Andrew: MNC Media. Subsidiary listed on NASDAQ, MNC is Indonesia’s largest multimedia group responsible for PNAs. I can keep going with what this is. Why don’ t instead have you tell the story of you sitting in a room about this size. What was that room?
Oliver: It’s a room somewhere in Singapore itself.
Andrew: Was it your office?
Oliver: Yes, my office.
Andrew: It was. Your office was about the size of this room, this conference room?
Oliver: Yeah, almost this size. Yeah.
Andrew: Okay. It’s a nice conference room.
Oliver: Yeah, but it’s a very lonely room.
Andrew: Okay. Why?
Oliver: Why? Because there’s only one guy sitting inside there and it’s me. And I sit in a room, like, almost every day. I do travel quite a fair bit. You know, I sit in a room, prepare reports. Okay, you know, if you work for a NASDAQ listed company itself, every quarter, it’s a report after report. You know, you’re preparing for the next analyst briefing itself and you get very little time to do what you want to do. And over time, you start to wonder what are you doing, actually? Are you writing reports? Are you preparing for analyst briefings? Or you making a real impact with what you’re given?
Andrew: I sometimes feel that way about email. What’s your day? Responding to email or changing the world in some way? So this is what you were saying to yourself, even though you’re in this office, even though you’re doing okay, you said that to yourself. And then what?
Oliver: Well, I just said to myself, look, I mean, at a point in time, I was roughly about 42 years old, almost at the prime of my life itself, reached the corporate ladder, traveling in a suit, traveling business class, and, you know, I was just wondering whose dream am I chasing?
Oliver: Yeah. We have dreams every day, right? But, you know, I’m sitting in this room like any other high-flying Singaporean, professional. Got this, got that, but hang on first, whose dreaming am I chasing? And I kind of figured that if I’m going to retire in this chair, in this room, wearing this suit, it’s not what I want to do.
Andrew: Yeah, being this person. Yeah.
Oliver: Yeah. And what’s more important, right? I had the first startup experience with me. It’s kind of like this feeling and burning fire that sits inside you that wherever you go, you just can’t get rid of it.
Andrew: Why didn’t you give it up? Was this because of the acquisition or the acquisition happened after you left?
Oliver: So the acquisition happened. And I felt that at a point in time, I’ve done what I needed to do. There’s no . . .
Andrew: You checked off the startup portion of my life. Kind of like I backpacked through Europe, I’m not backpacking anymore. You checked that off and you said, “This is it.” Got it.
Oliver: “This is it. Hand it over to the next guy. Okay, it’s your ball. It’s your run right now. I’ve done this. This is an excellent company. It’s doing very well already, 130 people.”
Andrew: Anything about age too that you were getting into the late 30s where you’re starting to think, “All right, startup is a younger person’s game.”
Oliver: Yes, I think that’s a very natural thing. Because when you go to Beijing, you go to San Francisco, “Hey, why are the founders younger than me?”
Andrew: Right. And so you said, “Okay, I got to go where I belong, which is I’ve earned the right to be at a NASDAQ traded company. I’ve earned the right to be the person at the top. I’m doing it.” You look around and you say, “This is not me.” I wanted to understand where you came up with the idea that where you were going to be an entrepreneur. Did you first leave your job and then look for an idea or the idea hit you? I couldn’t find it in my research.
Oliver: So the truth is chance always favors the prepared mind. You can’t in the present time and day is very difficult for anyone to sit under a tree and have the apple hit you and have a eureka moment that is so original that you’re the only guy in the world that has this idea that’s mind-blowing. Let’s face it, that’s fairy tale. For me, that eureka moment coincided with opportunity at the right place at the right time. At a point in time, I was kind of like, “Okay, enough. Let’s open up my horizon. Hey, Mr. Yang, Mr. Tan, okay,” my ex friends, right? “Tell me what ideas do you guys have, I mean, from the startup world?”
Andrew: You just went back to your friends and said, “What ideas do you have?”
Oliver: Yeah. “I mean, what cool ideas, what opportunities do you have?” Or, “What technologies have you guys seen?”
Andrew: Because they’re investors.
Oliver: They are people that I knew from the startup world. I wanted to do tech but I’m not a developer so I can’t develop. I can’t write a code piece of code and suddenly say . . .
Andrew: I was going to say how does a guy like you . . . we’ll get to that. Where does this come from? I know you spent a year working on it in stealth mode. I go, “What is this guy doing? Teaching himself to code in that year and creating this code? And . . . ”
Oliver: So the smarter way is that there are far smarter guys who can actually code 100 times better than this guy.
Andrew: Okay, so you went back to them . . . this explains a lot. You went to them and you said, “What are you seeing that’s interesting?” What did they say?
Oliver: So one of the best ways that I did, which is pretty much unique in Singapore itself because we’re not like Silicon Valley, start off in a garage. There are no garages in Singapore, by the way.
Andrew: You know what? Actually, that’s interesting. I went to this guy. The driver drove me to this one house. The guy combined two houses. Had a bunch of Lamborghinis or something. You know him. He’s a real estate owner. The driver who showed me around said, “And he has an underground car park.” I go, “Okay, who cares?” And he told me about the cars. “And he has an underground car park.” I go, “Who cares?” Now I’m understanding because it’s that unusual.
Oliver: Yes, it is. They’re old buildings and space is really, really expensive.
Andrew: Okay, got. Okay. So there’s no garage here. And it’s also not the mentality to just sit and screw around in the garage.
Oliver: That’s right. But we have good universities. We have excellent universities inside here. We have world’s best 50 universities. Singapore has two of them on that list, NUS, National University of Singapore as well as Nanyang Technological Institute. So one of the best ways for you is when you’re looking for new pieces of emerging breakthrough technologies itself is go back to these universities. Because somewhere out there, there’s a smart guy, a smart geek, or a smart scientists, who doesn’t want to be a professor teaching in classes, but developing awesome technology. But they don’t know what to do with a piece of technology. It’s literally a solution looking for a problem.
Andrew: Got it. And so you started to see . . . can you give me an example before we get to the one that you eventually took. What’s an example of something you saw when you went to the academics?
Oliver: So what I saw at one of the university, National University of Singapore, which is like the Stanford of Asia itself. I saw a bunch of very cool scientists experimenting on breakthrough technologies that leverages machine learning. So back about 2012, 2013, that’s where machine learning is coming into force. That’s where the world discovered how to train machines using ML technologies. At a point in time, there’s no TensorFlow, there’s no Caffe yet. But we were literally, you know, experimenting with neural nets as opposed to expert systems. Expert systems are like you train a machine to if A, do B. If B, do C. That’s expert system.
In neural nets, they build networks that mimic how the brain thinks. It doesn’t train it to do specific things, but it trains it to think like a human being. If this situation occurs, what would you do in order to take the next course of action? So it actually trains the machine to think like a human being. And when I saw what they did, it’s the same thing. Literally, they could use a good process, pixels, and images, extract intelligence from pixels itself, convert that into understandable concepts. So not only could we tell it’s a cat, we could tell that it’s a Siamese cat.” Not only could we tells it’s a tiger, we could tell the difference between a Siberian tiger and a Sumatra tiger.
Andrew: And their software could do that. But they didn’t know what to do with this.
Oliver: Was a piece of technology. So very much what happened, you know, in 2012 around the world when machine learning came into force itself, there’s a lot of new opportunities that machines could do. Now, we move from the age of discovery into an age of implementation back in 2012, 2013 to 2015. That’s where entrepreneurs like myself started to say, “Hey, I could do this. I could use this piece of technology to solve this problem, create a transformation over here, or disruptors. So very much so.
Andrew: I’m going by the way as you’re seeing me. It’s weird that you can see me as I look at my notes here on mute. I’m looking then to see what in your background would have made you say, “Retail needs this. That’s where we’re going to apply this technology.”
Oliver: Okay, so I came from a cyber-security world. I came from a content media world. So I used to run web analytics and so and so forth. So ecommerce is not my best forte. I have experiences in it but I’m not a B2C guy that set up like internet retail platform that reaches 100 million people. So you need to be smart in that and looking around and say, “Hey, if I need to be there, what new talents could I leverage on?” I never believe in trying to do everything alone by yourself. That’s probably the hardest thing. And the risk of failing is tremendously very high.
Andrew: I did notice that that you didn’t come out with an app that was then going to ping all the stores and get commission from those stores. You immediately went and you partnered with someone, which we’ll get to in a moment. I could see that in your personality.
But what I don’t see is why retail? I would have thought that . . . again, when I walked into this building here in Singapore, I saw a sign that said, “You’re under surveillance in this building,” right? Which, again, happens even in the U.S., but I get it. I would have thought you would have said, “What we’re going to do is we’re going to start to do pattern recognition, recognize who’s coming in so that we can maybe protect against bad guys or maybe alert Regus on the whatever floor we’re on 17th floor that Andrew who’s been in Regus in another office is coming upstairs.” I would have thought you would have used it for surveillance based on your background not retail.
Oliver: You’re right. There are three choices for me. We could do facial recognition, like probably for surveillance and security purposes. We could do ad tech, essentially create an image advertising opportunities.
Andrew: Right. Think about it, right? I walked down the street. I’m wearing this shirt. You say, “People who wear this V-neck shirt should know that there’s a new V-neck with a different color,” right? That type of thing.
Oliver: Yeah, something like that. Something like that. You know, all these YouTube videos that comes out, okay, that have all these annoying ads that doesn’t match the scene itself, we could actually process that frame and then say, “Hey, the James Bond BMW car came out. Wow, that’s a new model.” Could I have more information about that BMW, serve this up as an ad that is contextualized through that train for instance? Or the third choice. Could we solve problems that shoppers are having? And you know what the problem is? It’s a problem you have and almost everybody else has. Shoppers are searching but you’re not finding. They’re searching for a co-shoulder pencil neck, floral print dress. Can you imagine what I just said in visual sense?
Oliver: Exactly. So we all speak different languages, we all have different textual capabilities. But if I showed you the same image that you saw yesterday and I saw yesterday, we both recognize it instantly for a minute. The brain processes visual signals 60,000 times faster than text content.
Andrew: Right. You’re saying, if I got to see even an ugly picture of what you just described or blurry one, I would understand what it was immediately versus having to reconstruct the words that you use to see what a pencil neck this or that means in my head.
Oliver: That’s right. I mean, you know, you guys in America call it like, you know, a sneaker. The Brits call it cross trainer.
Andrew: I know. Some Americans call it tennis shoe. It drives me nuts.
Oliver: Exactly. They all mean the same thing, but we speak differently. And what more if I wanted to go to Japan I want to buy, you know, that nice suit or tuxedo, the Japanese one and I didn’t have the terms for it? Could I just show a picture to the shopping assistant or the concierge then say, “Hey, I have something like that but I prefer navy blue as opposed to black. And this color, the shade of navy blue.
Andrew: So it was you just saying, “I see this technology? Where could we use it?” I think of three different places that it makes sense too. I’m going to pick the one that I think I could act on, right?
Oliver: Yes, that’s right.
Andrew: And then it was a year of working on the software.
Oliver: It was a year of stealth mode.
Andrew: What was going on in this mysterious stealth mode year?
Oliver: Well, so we had two things, really had two things. One was a technology. It’s a breakthrough technology. It was never implemented in a market. Second, the shopping world hasn’t seen something like this before. So we’ve put the capability in the hands of the shopper. Would they naturally use it? Because it’s a new behavior. And one of the hardest things to do in a consumer world is to change behavior.
Andrew: So you were testing while the developers, I’m assuming, were building it out? You were testing to see will shoppers understand it. Do they want it?
Andrew: You, you personally?
Oliver: Well, me and my co-founder.
Andrew: What did you do personally to go test this out to see if shoppers would go for?
Oliver: We had to knock on the doors of these retailers, these online internet retailers and then say, “Hey, if I introduced this feature to your app, your shopping platform, you know, you need to make some changes on your UX and UI in order to incorporate those features. Would you want to try it out? You want to do an A/B test to see whether your audiences would resonate with that and how would they react to that?”
Andrew: And they said yes.
Oliver: Well, they said no.
Andrew: Oh, okay. Why?
Oliver: Well, because it’s new. It’s new and they weren’t sure. We have an excellent taxonomy right now. Our keyword search is it’s AOK. Our category search is AOK. Why do we need image search? Very same way, why do we need voice search? So think about the new opportunities that machine learning offers these retailers. So the world is like this. If there’s anything that’s disruptive, the guys that are working on the current wouldn’t say, “Okay, maybe not because you’re going to disrupt my navigation of flow. What about you?”
Andrew: So what did you say to change it then?
Oliver: Well, I say a lot of stuff. Why don’t you try an A/B test? This is innovation. Why don’t you try it with your millennial shoppers because these guys are going to be mainstream shoppers tomorrow? So what we did was to talk to the innovation guys as opposed to the product guys that are currently focused on text search or category search.
Andrew: You know what? It occurred to me, though, the people that you’re going after and your clients who you have now I feel like they’re less eager to innovate, less eager to innovate on the tech side. Why not go to a tech company and say, “People who are already using your stuff will embed it?” Let’s just for the sake of argument say, why not go to Pinterest and say, “People are already pinning all these things. Under every one of them, we’ll do a search, we’ll find the product, and we’ll sell it that way.” Why not go to the people who are more eager to innovate?
Oliver: Well, we approach the innovation guys. And the good thing now as opposed to back then in 2012, 2013 is that a lot of these retailers have woken up. And they are now embracing artificial intelligence, on their recommendation, their personalization strategies, their install strategies. They’ve opened up the eyes to what AI can do for them. So that’s where we capitalize on that opportunity.
Andrew: I see. So it’s wrong for me to just assume because they’re older, bigger companies, that they’re less innovative. One of the things that I am noticing is that they do have innovation people who are tasked with, “Go break our company before someone else does.”
Oliver: Exactly, exactly.
Andrew: Because it’s not that mind-blowing that something like this is going to come about. So you went and you talked to them. The first person that I understand you got was Rakuten, right?
Andrew: By the way, am I pronouncing the name right?
Oliver: Yes, you are.
Andrew: Yeah. They have these ads in the U.S. where they will literally pay people money if they could pronounce Rakuten and they’re showing in the ads. They still can’t pronounce it right.
Oliver: Well, you got it. Rakuten.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s a huge company.
Oliver: Yes, it is.
Andrew: The Warriors, which is one of the top basketball . . .
Oliver: I know them.
Andrew: I only know that because you’re in San Francisco and they back up . . .
Oliver: Well, that’s how you know Rakuten as well through the Warriors, right?
Andrew: Right. They have the R on it, right. And so you went to them and they said, “Yes. We’ll try it and we’ll also take an investment in the business.” That’s how you got your first client. And the way that they embedded in their software was how?
Oliver: So did a search by image on a shopping ad and a few other experiments that embedded our technology, visual search technology into their backend, which is not visible to USA shopper, but it works very quietly in the background, to be able to recommend with upgraded visual signals. So if you’re looking at a PDP page, product display page itself, at the bottom where you have visually similar recommendations, that is represented to you, you may also like this, it shows patterns that are very, very similar, but it gives you choices.
Andrew: Okay, so we’re not really breaking people’s brains by saying, “Instead of the search box, hit the camera. Point it at a friend and we’ll show you how to find it.”
Oliver: That’s right.
Andrew: We’re going with what they already are familiar with. And now you have an A/B tests where you can say, “Look, we’re showing based on visual search versus other what other people bought that. Look what’s getting more sales.” And that’s an easy thing for you to convince them.
Oliver: That’s the far easier approach where, you know, it’s very simple. They’re implementing us on the backend, and let the results speaks for itself.
Andrew: And did they?
Oliver: Yes, it did.
Andrew: It did, from the start?
Oliver: Especially in the visual categories like fashion and fashion related.
Andrew: So I gave the example that I thought was a little simplistic. I’m looking at a shirt. I want the V-neck of it. Your software might know to do that.
Andrew: What’s an example of something that’s a little bit more obvious that does work? Because what I’m searching for, I would I would naturally just type in V-neck shirt, right? I don’t think that I would need a visual search to tell me, “Here are five other V-necks.”
Oliver: Well, I mean, here’s the thing, right? You know, how much metadata do you want to put into a piece of power? V-neck, mandarin collar, quarter-sleeve, print, animal print? And so and so forth. We could go very, very long and very, very granular. In most of these merchants, they don’t even give you all of these attributes to begin with, right? How much attributes can you get? And even if they did, are they fashionably correct? Are they consistent across categories that if I shop in Walmart in the U.S. versus Tesco in the UK, they gave me the same taxonomy languages.
Andrew: I see it.
Oliver: So that’s the problem that these retailers constantly struggle with. Shoppers want to find the products in the most efficient manner. Retailers want to show their products to these shoppers, but they can’t get it there is because either the taxonomy is inconsistent. Not enough [that 00:47:00] to show them or is just simply not searchable. Is too far embedded in the product categories or in the database.
Andrew: Right. And you know what? And I keep thinking about a clothing retailer that has 20 or, let’s say, 200 items. Now, Rakuten is much bigger and it’s not all . . . it’s not products that they make, right? Okay, I’m going to come back and ask you about what you did next in a moment. But first, I’ll tell you and everyone else about my second sponsor. It’s called Toptal. They have Silicon Valley level developers, but because they work outside the U.S., you can get them at a lower price. And what they do is . . . like you guys might need them. If you need to hire a developer, you go and you put your ad online. You have to wait till resumes come in and you go forever, or you pick up the phone, call Toptal or go to their website, schedule a call with them, tell them what you’re looking for.
And they could put two candidates, not 200, two candidates in front of you that are exactly what you’re looking for. You could talk to those two. If you want, you could hire that one. And get started off in the next day. If you’re not happy, you just move on. That’s the idea behind them. Andreessen Horowitz invested in them. They’re doing phenomenally well. If you or anyone else wants to hire developers, here’s an example of how someone does it. They might listen to you and say, “[neural net 00:48:10], visual search artificial intelligence, I have an idea for what we could do. I don’t have a person on my team was specialized in this. What do we do?” Call up Toptal and say, “Look, I want someone who is going to work on just this project.” If it’s great and it embeds in our software, great. If we don’t like it, we get rid of it. And we let that person go. Here’s where you do. You and everyone else, do you like discounts? You do?
Oliver: Oh, good, good. Everybody likes discounts. Good.
Andrew: [inaudible 00:48:33] too well off at this one. Toptal is giving my listeners 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when they pay for their first 80 hours. And that is in addition to a no-risk trial period. So all you have to do is go to top as in top of your head. Tal as in talent. Toptal.com/mixergy of course. All right, toptal.com/mixergy. Great sponsors.
Oliver: Okay, good one.
Andrew: So Rakuten was first. Who’s the second sponsor? I mean, who’s the second company that you worked with? And I’m assuming it was you who’s going after them.
Oliver: Well, I mean, as the founder yourself, you need to be the face of the company, you need to evangelize this, and you need to speak about the benefits of it and impact that it could create. So at that point in time, we were very early. There were other visual search companies that were ahead of our time, but they failed for different reasons, either the tech was not robust enough, over promise, under delivered. And that’s actually very bad because for new technology that, you know, you promised consumers and consumers, “This doesn’t work.” It’s gets ingrained in them. So for the next guy that comes along, “No, I’ve done that before,” very much what you said to me just now.
Andrew: You know what? I happen to talk to a Siri engineer because I live in San Francisco. I bumped into these guys. He said, “The big problem that we had was we came out with Siri when it was isn’t doing great. And as a result, people are reluctant to try it now because we came out in beta and they just don’t know how much better it is.” And so that’s what you’re saying, other people promise more. Okay, that was an issue.
Oliver: It gets tougher for the next guy that comes along, right? Because, you know, the tech was improving, but it is not magic. I have shoppers that says, “Hey, you know, I’ve got almost like 95% of it, right? It’s just one little thing that I didn’t get it right. Ah, no, no, that doesn’t work for me.” So how do you deal with that, for instance, okay. It’s not magic technology. But it gets . . . it shortens the path towards purchase by 80%. The time taken for you to find a product. If we could shorten it with image search versus text search 80% faster, I think that I would have done a good job on that.
Oliver: All right. So that’s the first immediate metric, or the KPI on ROI that we look at. And then the next thing is, you know, how to use it in different ways to engage the users more repeatedly engagingly. So I give an example. If I gave you three choices, text search, voice search, and image search to find a product, which would you choose for different occasions for different products?
Andrew: Right. I knew my answer was going to be audio.
Andrew: But then I realized not necessarily.
Oliver: Yeah, because if you can speak it because it’s very clear, and the taxonomy actually, or the voice recognition actually recognize your voice and so and so forth.
Oliver: You comfortable in using that. But if you can’t, there are many other ways that you can actually do that as well. So we leave that to consumers. And I always like to say this, “All roads goes back to Rome.” We shop in a real world with five senses. We feel, we touch a lot of things. In the online world, we’re limited by what we’re capable of.
Andrew: But I feel like . . . so I said yes to audio because I do it all the time with my Echo speakers around the house.
Oliver: Okay, you do it, okay.
Andrew: I do it. I do Siri too all the time. I remember when I took BART to the office once, I saw a guy who had the perfect water bottle for me because my water bottle was leaking at the time. It had a button that he was pressing whenever he wanted coffee in his mouth. So it was water and coffee.
Andrew: It had a lid on it. It had three different protections to make sure it wouldn’t leak. I didn’t even think for a second to pull out the Amazon app to take, to use the visual search to find it. What I did instead was crane my neck, look at him and then when he looked at me, I looked away. I think should I ask him but he’s got his headset on. He doesn’t seem to want to be bothered. I finally got the name. There’s a habit that we don’t have. I wonder how many people are even now that I saw the Huawei phone do that. If I had the Huawei phone, would I remember to use it? It’s not part of my workflow. What do you do about that? About getting people to recognize this. Is this there to get them to try something they’re not habituated to try?
Oliver: Well, that’s exactly why, you know, for companies like ViSenze. We are advocating smart lenses, because the lens could do a lot of things. It could lens the world and give you information about what the Merlion is. You know what the Merlion is. Head of a lion, tail of a fish.
Oliver: Right. It’s a famous one that you need to visit you know. “What the heck is that creature? I’ve never seen that before.” Lens it and have information about what this creature is all about. It’s a mythical creature that is here in Singapore.
Andrew: I didn’t know that. You’re thinking kind of like the way Apple saw that no one was doing the QR search. And they said, “You know what? If there’s a QR in a picture, we’ll just bring up a little alert and say, do you want to go there.” You’re thinking, right now, it’s a feature that we had to click on to get to. You’re thinking in the future. I bring up my camera. I could take a picture of you but there’s a little thing that says, “If you want to see a shirt, just tell . . . ”
Oliver: Yeah, if you want to find out more about that object. It could be a location, it could be a product, it could be, you know, food. You want to know the food menu in this location, for instance, can I just lens the restaurant, the logo inside there, and then find out more information.
Andrew: If I don’t have to do anything to get to it. And it reminds me that it’s there, then I do it. And that’s what you’re going for. You want to get further and further into the camera until it’s just a natural part. And people don’t have to select, “Tell me what this is.” They just are told what it is. And they could ignore it if they don’t want it.
Oliver: Yeah, I mean, it’s choices. It’s built-in choices. They can use the normal camera lens, or they use the lens for finding out things, finding location, or just generally, okay, searching for information to enrich them
Andrew: Fair to say, though, that your spot and I know you’re about to show me something, and I’m going to ask you a question about why you have a phone.
Andrew: Fair to say that your first clients, and I mentioned a few of them earlier, they weren’t about using the camera to find the product that you want to buy, but more about. You’re looking at a page, we’re going to show you other products that you should want based on that. That’s what it is. That’s how you persuaded them. And now you are moving further and further to the world that you envision, which is why wait for them to look for something similar. Let’s make them. Let’s be more proactive. Let’s be top of the search instead of after they search.
Oliver: Yeah. So doing it through the backend way, it’s far easier method because I’m not changing any consumer behavior. I’m just altering the way that the algorithm promotes or recommend products to you. And everybody wants recommendation anyway, right? So it’s a far easier approach. And we demonstrate the ROI based on, you know, A/B test and we’re able to see that. Putting a smart camera lens in the hands of every shopper itself and being the first choice of search, image search, it’s a harder thing to do because it’s behavioral.
Andrew: Okay. That’s your vision.
Oliver: Yes. It’s part of it. Okay, it’s an angle, yes, to be able to offer smart lenses pretty much the same as smart voices to be able to help. It’s called augmented intelligence. It’s not artificial intelligence because it guesses what you’re looking for. If I lens this against the Merlion, for instance, what are you trying to do? Are you trying to find a paperweight that looks like the Merlion, you know, head of a lion, tail of a fish? Are you looking for location? Or you just simply looking for what is this creature all about information from Wikipedia, for instance. So we try to use the lens through different modes to guess your intention. So if you put on a shopping lens. Okay, you want to buy a T-shirt with the Merlion printed on it? You want to buy a paperweight with the Merlion as a figurine on it? We give you choices.
Andrew: I also reminded of an entrepreneur who tried something similar to what you’re doing and failed and then moved on to something that was more appropriate for him. And I remember one of the things that he wanted to do was feed in celebrity photos to his software, so that he could eventually say, “Anyone who buys this shirt should know this goes with that shirt too because this is what the popular people wear.” And that’s what you’re thinking, too. And are you doing that now?
Oliver: Yes, we are.
Andrew: Ah, you are.
Oliver: There’s so much more things that is . . .
Andrew: That is what I was getting at earlier. So it’s not just Andrew wants this V-neck, let’s find more V-necks by visual search. It’s more like Andrew wants his V-neck. The cool people who wear this V-neck also wear these shoes and that’s a high ticket item that you don’t necessarily search for shoes that go with it.
Oliver: That’s exactly.
Andrew: Got it.
Oliver: All right.
Andrew: What else blow my mind with more of the stuff that you’re doing?
Oliver: I’m not. All of us are fashionistas, right? We’re normal people who just probably wear . . .
Andrew: You’re very well dress, by the way. I like this shirt a lot.
Oliver: Oh, thank you.
Andrew: Actually, I was intimidated by you. I saw every picture of you as a man in a suit. I go, “Oh, my God. My first interview in Singapore as a man in a suit who’s going to see me in a short sleeve shirt. He’s going to say, ‘Who is this bozo?'”
Oliver: Yeah, but look, I love sports as well. Active wear, which is such a big thing in the U.S. Everybody wants to look good when they run?
Oliver: All right. See a nice lady running by with . . . my God, sports bra is amazing . . .
Andrew: And how do you know that? That actually drives me crazy because I know that they’re not real runners. Because if you’re a real runner, that’s not staying as clean as it is.
Oliver: Yeah, but looks matters, right?
Andrew: It does matter.
Oliver: So could we use algorithms, okay, to match the sports bra against, you know, track pants and nice sneakers, running shoes, right? There are certain algorithms. So not all of us are born fashionistas. The algorithms actually helps you make choices with smart cross recommendations, if you will, cross product recommendations.
Andrew: And this is what you’re doing today.
Andrew: You’re doing it now. And that is why these companies are saying yes to you.
Andrew: Are you taking investment from them? Also, is it more partnerships? Or is at this point, just sales?
Oliver: A few of my clients have become investors in ViSenze because they are convicted by what we do. And the mission that we want to do. So it’s not just in the online world today. What we’re doing today is to merge online. And real world shopping experience.
Oliver: Well, just imagine you walking into a store in New York, Gucci, right? You’re a fashionista. And you have Kim Kardashian’s outfit inside there. Would you know how intimidated a shop assistant is if you go up to her and say, “Hey, Kim Kardashian style, you know, bohemian style, and so and so forth”? And the shop assistant feels intimidated because you know, better than him.
Oliver: How will he be able to then respond to you and say, “Mm, okay, I think we might have this and I think I know better what goes along with this.” Be able to use AI powered fashion recommendation engine as powered, say, by ViSenze, snap it and have choices made available on the iPad.
Andrew: So that you’re helping them help the client better? Again, this is more of a break your brain type of a situation because they don’t want to admit that they don’t know the answer to that.
Andrew: But you’re seeing this is the future for you. When you sell, do you sell on a price per search? That’s what I imagine, right?
Oliver: We sell in different modes, right? We’re a SaaS company, by the way, software as a service, all right, enterprise. So more APIs calls that you make that’s where we charge more usage.
Andrew: That’s what I thought. Right.
Oliver: Okay, that’s the best way. So I’m only motivated in one thing, finding new ways or encouraging ways for you to generate more API calls, which is a good thing, which means to say more people are searching, right? There’s more backend usage, whether it’s recommendations, or search by image, or get a multiproduct search. You know, the world is very, very complex, all right? Half the time, more than half the time, I don’t stand you up against a white background and take a picture of your T-shirt.
We take a picture just like in a bar. The guy is sitting with that mark and as people behind it, sneakily take a picture of that itself. It’s all complex stuff. How do you distill that complexity and just focus on that demo [floss 01:01:30] that you’re looking at? That is artificial intelligence, understanding what you’re looking for, and focusing on it with very little information that’s available to try to approximate and give you the best recommendation possible.
Andrew: Right. I may not . . .
Oliver: That is the [inaudible 01:01:45].
Andrew: . . . be looking at the glass at that moment. And you could tell because the glass is not in focus. I’m looking at pants . . . but okay.
Oliver: So the algorithms have to be smart in compensating for all of this visual noise, if you will, okay.
Andrew: Tell me about the two phones. I’ve seen this now a few times. Why does some many people have two phones here? Is one an iPhone and the other is Android? Is that what you’re trying to do?
Oliver: So yes, I carry an iPhone, right? And I also carry an Android phone.
Andrew: But I’ve seen people with two Android phones too. It’s not just I want to see the two worlds. What is it?
Oliver: I guess it is . . . this has to do partly with iPhones, right? Because all iPhones comes with one SIM card.
Andrew: The latest ones will do, will allow two.
Andrew: And you need two SIM cards because?
Oliver: Because we travel.
Andrew: That’s what it is. And you don’t want every time you travel to switch SIM cards into other countries’.
Oliver: No, we don’t, all right? No, we don’t, okay. The Huawei phone and like most other phones from China and Samsung as well, two SIM cards. I’ve seen some Chinese phones with three SIM cards. It could be for business purposes, it could be for social purposes. For me, it’s because it’s one SIM card for the iPhone, you know.
Andrew: Okay, I got it.
Oliver: Right? Okay. And look, it’s only very, very recently, Apple talked about this, because Apple understands that people like me, you know, needs to have two SIM cards.
Andrew: It is a big pain in the butt. I have to make sure to receive that SIM card. I have a friend who when he travels back to Russia where his developers are, he has a special wallet with the SIM card. This is insane.
Oliver: Exactly. But this is exactly how people move around in the world.
Andrew: But we’re not recognizing it because we don’t move around that way. We go from state to state . . .
Oliver: That’s because Apple builds one product for the world, right? So one thing good about, you know, the OEMs from China and from elsewhere is that they have different models of phones for different countries, like for instance, like in India, right? You know, where they built budget phones with . . . they are not feature phones, but they are smartphones, but with lower functionalities inside that are still affordable, that still gives them access to the internet, and be able to do things that matters to them. Not doing like goofy images that uses half the processing capabilities in it that . . . they don’t do that.
Andrew: Right, right.
Oliver: So basic functionalities like location.
Andrew: Right. I don’t need portrait mode if I’m in India, and I don’t have much money. What I do want to make sure as I have location services,
Oliver: Exactly. Things that matter.
Andrew: And I have WhatsApp.
Oliver: That’s right. All right, iPhone builds iPhones for everybody around the world. Okay, so this is kind of like a philosophy, if you will, for two different companies. That’s why . . .
Andrew: So this is . . . we are not making smartphones, but this is an indication of the way that we need to think to recognize as a world that’s different from us. Do you have an example of something that’s a little bit more commonplace that we’re missing out by not being aware that right next to China, which is it where everyone is paying attention? They’re these other countries that operate differently?
Oliver: Think about Southeast Asia.
Oliver: Glad you’re here in Singapore, right smack in the middle of Southeast Asia, 650 million people across 10 countries that is going to go up to about 800 million, 900 million within 5 years.
Andrew: About twice the size of the U.S.
Oliver: Twice the size of the U.S. Think about the rising affluence. All right. Think about countries like Indonesia, close to 300 million people.
Andrew: Forty six percent of them are online right now.
Oliver: That’s right, through the mobile phone.
Andrew: But the majority are still not online. And the only reason I know it is I’m going to interview the founder of Circles.Life. He’s recognizing when these people are going to come online? I think I could create a SIM card for them and then everything else that goes along with it.
Oliver: Yeah, think about the . . . So one of the funny things that this side of the world, countries like China has gone around circumventing problems using their own approach. Credit cards, all right? Not everybody in Southeast Asia, not everyone and in China is bankable. As in, I need to check whether you have your monthly, sorry, your annual salary needs to be this before I issue you a credit card.
Oliver: But they buy stuff every day online. So if they don’t have a credit card, what are they going to do?
Andrew: What do they do here?
Oliver: So in China, and let’s speak about China first. Because a large part of the people don’t have credit cards. They do have smartphones, they do pay their bills, micro payments in buying a $10 meal, for instance. They’ve created these little wallets that allows them to put money in them and use this wallet to then pay for simple things like ordering food, you know, buying a piece of apparel and have that shipped to you. Does that require you to earn $100,000 a year for you to basically have that facility or the capability to use?
Andrew: I forget how hard it is to get a bank account because my parents took me to get a bank account before I was five to teach us about this stuff. But when I was in Mexico City, they didn’t have. They were also very unbanked. And so what would happen, is I go to these local grocery stores where you could put money in and pay for something that you bought online. I interviewed the founder of that, Conekta. When I went to Chile, the investor of Magma Partners said, “I have gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment for companies. They couldn’t even open up a bank account even to take the money in. That’s how tough it is. So what happens here and then?
Oliver: So what happens here is that, you know, Asian countries with large population that are not bankable in terms of credit card issuance, have said, “Let’s ditch the credit card. Let’s go on wallets in hand . . .
Andrew: And is that happening here? I don’t see it in Singapore, for example.
Oliver: Well, most of us are bankable, right.
Andrew: The weird thing about Singapore though is I can’t use a credit card anywhere. It’s really tough. Why?
Oliver: Well, because a lot of us are now using for instance, GrabPay, right? Grab is the Uber equivalent over here.
Andrew: So do you use GrabPay to pay for a meal?
Andrew: I finally found a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, highly rated. I go in there, I say, “Do you take credit cards?” The woman doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I show her the plastic. She still is like, “No.” Points to the cash jar. And a man had to show me where to go get an ATM. I walked over to the ATM. And then I got the money to pay her. When I landed at the airport, I wanted to buy a SIM card. I was ready to buy it. The woman said, “You can’t use a credit card, go to the ATM.” I said, “Forget it.” I went to someone else where I was able to use a credit. What’s going on with Singapore?
Oliver: Well, in Singapore, we probably very, very connected. We have different wallets, right? Of course, you can use a credit card but most of us have one of these wallets inside there like GrabPay or some other pay systems. I’ve got Apple Pay here, but I hardly use here.
Andrew: No, in Australia, I can use it everywhere. I could buy literally a pack of gum. Apple Pay, it’ll work. Sometimes they don’t recognize it works, but their device can take it.
Andrew: So when Mark Zuckerberg says, “I am seeing that the majority of the world is not serviced by the financial system the way that it’s supposed to. There are unbankable people.” Yes, you might have ulterior motives. But what he is saying and putting up front is absolutely true. There is a problem. And if Libra is the solution, I don’t know. But there needs to be a solution.
Oliver: Yeah. And that solution is really about finding the most convenient way to allow people to pay for simple things like ordering food, ordering a subway meal. Everyone has the phone. If you put a wallet inside there, just like the very same way that I am going to do with the lens because every phone has a camera lens.
Oliver: Think about the power that you are empowering the consumers.
Andrew: By the way, your phone has like six of them, right? What is this? This is like a . . . yeah, it does. It has five, no, four.
Oliver: Yeah it is four, yeah. It’s . . . I forgot the name of this. It’s a wonderful camera. It allows you to take, my God, amazing pictures. But what I want to show you here . . .
Andrew: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s close it out with this.
Oliver: Okay, so what I’ve showed you was taking a picture with the camera lens.
Oliver: What if, you know, you could go into your photo gallery, your photo gallery. Tons of photos that I have.
Andrew: Yeah, I feel like I’m getting a little too much of a personal experience with you.
Oliver: So . . .
Andrew: Yeah, I got it. That’s a beautiful dress. I don’t, I’m not a fashionista but I can say that dress is beautiful.
Oliver: Are you going to upload it? How are you going to upload it?
Oliver: Why can I just do this, long double press?
Andrew: Oh, look at that. You long double pressed, and now it says, “Here’s the dress and you could get it.” And that’s on anything in my camera roll?
Oliver: It’s in your photo gallery.
Andrew: Got it.
Oliver: It could be on your browser, any browser. It could be on Instagram, when you fire up the camera, sorry, the app itself and you on Instagram itself in the browsing. “Oh, my God. That looks very, very nice. Okay, can I do a long double press on it?”
Andrew: What app was that that you did that in?
Oliver: It’s not an app. It’s natively embedded into the camera.
Andrew: Huawei is embedding your software in?
Andrew: How are you only making $10 million if Huawei is embedding your software in?
Oliver: Well, because we are moving forward right now. Okay, so in every . . .
Andrew: You’re not charging them for every search, are you?
Oliver: We’re charging them based on . . .
Andrew: Still API cost.
Oliver: Cost per sale.
Andrew: Cost per sale.
Oliver: So we’re not charging Huawei, all right? The merchants basically pay me.
Andrew: And you get a percentage, got it. And then you give a percentage to Huawei. And so do people know that they could two finger press on something to get more info?
Oliver: Yeah, they’re knowing more about right now.
Andrew: You’re getting there.
Oliver: So we need to do user education because the phone is . . .
Andrew: That’s simple. Let me try it again. This is simple. So I go back like that.
Andrew: I’m sorry. I’m so delicate when I touch other people’s phones and also manhandled my own phone. Okay, here, I’m going to go to a different dress. This is a dress from I don’t know what this is. I double press two thumbs and now it comes up. That’s how I would do it. Two thumbs on the screen.
Oliver: That’s right.
Andrew: That and now I get to see it. How are these places selling it for $9.76 cents and this is Singaporean money, right?
Andrew: That’s 70% off of like 30% less than a U.S. dollar.
Oliver: Welcome to Asia.
Andrew: Nine dollars. That must be what it is. Holy moly. Your shirt, I could get for nine bucks and that’s a good looking shirt.
Oliver: So price comparison.
Oliver: Think about, you know, the opportunity to get you to do price comparison, to get . . .
Andrew: How did you get into Huawei? How did Huawei say, “Yes, come on in, we’ll put you in our phone?”
Oliver: Well, basically, we spoke with them.
Andrew: Who, who? How did you have a connection at Huawei? Number two handset maker in the world, right?
Andrew: Beyond iPhone.
Andrew: Yeah. So how did you get them to open their doors to you?
Oliver: You need to speak to the right guys.
Andrew: How did you find the right guy?
Oliver: Knock on doors.
Andrew: No, come on. You’re not just going knocking on doors. Literally, what’s the process?
Oliver: Well, it’s a big company, right? Okay. So the way that we work is very simple, all right? We show them what we’re already doing with the Uniqlos and the ASOS of the world.
Oliver: What if guys? Okay . . .
Andrew: So how did you find the right person to go to talk there? Your investors?
Oliver: If you know me, I will find every single road, okay, to get to Rome.
Andrew: So what did you do? What are some of the ways that you got to Rome?
Oliver: We’ll find . . . we speak at conferences. I get up on stage. All right. Speak to at forums itself. I get, you know, executive lunches.
Andrew: You mean, you go to executive lunches, or you host them?
Oliver: Yeah, we do that. Okay.
Andrew: And both.
Oliver: You know, we work with investor conferences where the top guys all goes there and we talked to them. It’s not that difficult at the end of the day to demonstrate what the lens is capable, the piece of technology. Never mind the how? More important is why? Why are we doing this? And what is the impact? They don’t care about how the technology actually works.
Oliver: That’s probably to . . .
Andrew: They’ll be honest with you every time that you started going into it. I cut you off because I just want to know what’s the end product here. What happens with it?
Oliver: Yes, exactly. You know, people buy why you do it? How you do it? Why we do this is because consumers are searching but they’re not finding. What is the benefit that you Huawei, Samsung, LG, and Vivo and everybody else actually does is that it makes your lens smarter. And, you know, because and that’s a differentiator, because your camera lens on your phone now allows people to buy products. Huawei, think about that. Samsung, think about that.
Andrew: And it’s you speaking on stage at conferences, going to dinners with people, your investors, were they helpful at all?
Oliver: I make my investors work for me.
Andrew: You do?
Andrew: How do you do that?
Oliver: Give them a piece of homework. I want to talk to this guy, you know, I want to have this connection.
Andrew: You do?
Andrew: Well, many people I’ve heard aren’t proactive, they’re reactive. You’re saying, “You’re my investors. Now do this for me.”
Andrew: Is Gobi your investor?
Oliver: Yes, Gobi is my investor.
Andrew: They’re the ones who connected me to you. They’ve been incredibly helpful here.
Andrew: Yeah. Like I didn’t know what to do. Who do I talk to, who’s full of it, and who’s not. They completely connected.
Oliver: So Gobi is doing my work for me, too.
Andrew: Got it. And by introducing you to me and get our word out there, they’re also continuing to work. Got it.
Oliver: That’s right. All right, this all good stuff, right? This are things that, you know, I basically want to democratize what we what we do. I don’t want to just put it in the hands of one retailer. I want to put in the hands of 1000 retailers, 10,000 retailers, and better still, how do I get to a billion users very quickly?
Andrew: And it’s not by creating your own app and trying to get people to download it, but by saying who has the billion users? How do I get to them?
Andrew: And not by saying the U.S. is the only market, but by recognizing, wait, the U.S. is 300 plus million people, but there’s this other group of people who in many ways now are more flexible and I’m going to go to them.
Oliver: Yeah, everyone has a camera. Everyone has a handphone. Samsung and Huawei, it’s like two times market share of iPhone, and Apple.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah.
Oliver: All right. So we start with that world first. The Android world is a lot easier, okay, do not have to do all of this integrations. Okay. And then, of course, the advantage of working with an OEM is that you get to work with the guys at a firmware level. Not an APK or something like that, all right?
Andrew: Right. Not an app on top . . .
Oliver: You get imbed. So you do a one-time integration, get it into the lens itself. Help them tell the story. Do a one-time activation, and bingo, your lens is now camera lens is now . . .
Andrew: And now you have to count on them getting their users to use it.
Oliver: Yeah, of course, right. So that’s where we work with the retailers to give exciting dresses like this. Nice sports bras. Okay, and stuff that people, “Oh that’s interesting. All right, can we lens it?”
Andrew: All right. It is so good to have you on here. The website is I’m going to spell it. Sometimes I never . . . Well, I’m going to spell V-I-S-E-N-Z-E.
Oliver: That’s right.
Andrew: And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’ve got a second in command, you need to arm them with a group of people who are going to help them and a mentor who’s going to help them. And that’s what the COO Alliance is for. So if you go to cooalliance.com/mixergy, you’ll have an easy way to get qualified. If it’s a good fit for you and introduce your COO to a team of people who could help. And I want to thank the second sponsor Toptal. If you’re hiring a developer, really the best of the best, go to toptal.com/mixergy. I’m really enjoying being here.
Oliver: Well, thank you for having me here. Okay. I’m very happy to be doing this interview here in Singapore.
Oliver: Instead of San Francisco.
Andrew: I am actually happy about that, too. I do find that because I’m here in your world. I get to experience it more and get to see what’s happening outside.
Andrew: And also, it gives me access to more people for whom the time zone would be an issue. And I think that we are, unfortunately, in the U.S. not looking outside enough to recognize what else is going on outside the U.S.
Oliver: There’s a lot of stuff happening. I just wish that, you know, there’s more of you doing this and bringing the sharing all the better stuff with the American audiences.
Andrew: I don’t think that they want to. I don’t think that they want. You know what they want? They want to hear about what’s happening with Uber for the millionth time. They want to be upset about, actually, Uber, they want to be upset of Facebook, and they don’t want to hear people with slightly different accents from countries that their friends aren’t admiring yet, with software that is a little too complicated. And so they feel like I can’t reach there. I don’t want to do it.
Oliver: Here’s one fact. All right. DiDi in China that is Uber’s competitor. On a daily basis, does more, 30 times more rides than Uber.
Andrew: I didn’t realize that.
Oliver: That’s a fact. Okay, so it’s a big world out there.
Andrew: It’s a huge world out there. All right. Thank you so much for being in here. Thank you all for being a part of this.
Oliver: All right. Thank you.