Chat with an Asia Artificial Intelligence Pioneer Entrepreneur – Visenze’s CEO Oliver Tan

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I’ve met Mr Oliver two years ago in Singapore. The first impression about him: he’s older than most of other founders in Southeast Asia. The second his startup Visenze seemed to be a very few AI startup in Asia at that time, even till now. I were interested in though I’m not sure if this advanced tech startup would go further in it’s journey as it’s solution was quite niche: “visual recognition for ecommerce sites”. At that time I just remembered one of it’s usage: users can upload a photo of a person or model wearing a dress or skirt and the site will perform a search to return products similar to the clothes in that photo.

Now two years has passed and Visenze has been progressed with some notable clients Flipkart, Lazada, Rakuten,… with other functions not just searching with photos and a goal of becoming a global leader in visual tech space. Let’s chat with Visenze’s co-founder and CEO Oliver Tan to know more about his AI for ecommerce venture.

Can you share a simple intro about ViSenze for normal online shoppers? How would they use the visual recognition tech on an ecommerce site instead of browsing and searching? 

ViSenze is an Artificial Intelligence company that develops visual search and image recognition solutions to help businesses in e-commerce, retail and content publishing.

Our technology recommends visually similar items to online shoppers in milliseconds, allowing shoppers to search for products on e-commerce platforms by uploading images instead of typing in keywords.

How did you and your co-founder get to know each other and how was the idea spun out of NUS NExT Lab?

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We have found that the visual web has exploded with tons of images and visual content, yet people are searching the visual web, using keywords. Fundamentally, there is a broken link between the word that they search, using keywords and what they are looking for. The problem that we are trying to solve is people are searching but they are not finding. If we can help them solve the problem by using images to search for other images, we would be able to solve that problem more directly than using keywords. That is how ViSenze was born.

We simplify the visual web and search using images and doing away with the hassle of keywords.

Used to be a regional executive for some well-known corporates, what motivated you to jump into the startup world with lots of risks and uncertainties? 

To be an ardent innovation enthusiast that solves real world problems, driven to make a difference kicking the bucket.

Note: Oliver is a former VP of MediaCorp one of the largest media firms in Singapore, owner of Channel News Asia…, he was also a Managing Director of MNC the largest media company based out of Indonesia.

Your startup have a very strong core team, which one helped to build your confidence first to start ViSenze: having a strong team or from the positive result of product/market fit? 

Both. We’re confident we have a solid piece of technology on our hands, with a solid team behind this technology. We were determined to identify the root problem shoppers faced in searching for products, and to provide a visual tool to help them. By constantly focusing our attention on this, we were able to make real headway.

Recently Vicenze got funded a series B round with more than $10M from Rakuten, UOB… to have total $14M in your firm bank account. What were the key factors to raise 10M and What would be the three top priorities you would spend this money for?  

Growth was a key factor behind our successful round of funding. We achieved significant revenue growth of over 300% year on year that the company has achieved in the last 12 months. Our global clients include well-known players like ASOS (leading global fashion marketplace), Myntra (India’s leader in fashion e-commerce), Rakuten Ichiba (Japan’s leading marketplace), Interpark Corporation (a South Korea leading online auction and online shopping mall), Lazada Group (SouthEast Asia’s leading marketplace), Zalora (SouthEast Asia’s fastest growing fashion e-commerce), Essilor (global leader in eyewear) and many more.

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Top priorities include expanding the R&D team of machine learning and computer vision scientists, growing our offices in the United States and India, as well as to open up new offices in the United Kingdom and China, and introducing new solutions to the market.

You mentioned that now you will spend more time in the US as there they can get the idea of ViSenze right away. How are their views different from Asian ecommerce & retailers?

The online shopping behavior of most shoppers across the world is pretty much the same; they want to look for stuff and do not want to be burdened with too much guesswork. They are generally looking for pretty much the most cost effective product that they could find. They could like a wonderful branded shoe, but they do not like the price, so that want to see more stuff that they could find for a cheaper price.

The behavior that we have seen in Asia is pretty much consistent, although in China especially, the search behavior is pretty much one driven be efficiency. They do not like to wait too long. They want to see the stuff right away, whether it is available or not, they will move on to the next site. It is pretty much that inpatient behavior. I have seen some behavior like this in different markets as well. In the UK, it is very competitive. In the US, there is behavior that is driven both by search efficiency but also driven by discovery, which is on the other end of the spectrum, you have a little more time and you want to look for stuff that intrigues you. We have both ends of the spectrum in terms of consumers that our solutions can be optimized towards.

How about the trend of mobile commerce from the end-users used ViSenze technology? Any difference from iPhone and Android users? What are some of the most popular categories?

End users enjoy an improved and efficient search process powered by our solutions.

Any ways to apply ViSenze tech in the stores for offline retailers?

Most, if not all retailers are trying to establish an online presence in this day and age. And with online product catalogs and databases getting even more expansive than before, ViSenze offers relevant solutions for these retailers.

For retailers who have yet to move online, we provide use cases for backend processes that organizations can use internally, such as Search by Image and Automatic Product Tagging solutions that improve efficiency for sales staff and team members when it comes to locating products and samples, and tagging and putting items in the right categories.

When facing new problem or a new goal need to acchieve, what’s your approach to get it done? 

Oliver: i have 2 philosophies that i subscribed to in approaching this:

New problem:  if the existing approach to solve new problems doesn’t work, iterate a new approach until one does. We won’t know until we try. If we keep on doing the same things, why would the future be any different?

New goals: I’m perfectionist by nature, but as a startup entrepreneur, i’ve learnt to live with less than ideal situations and move fast. When encountering new goals, I plan to succeed but I also always plan for Mr Murphy (Murphy’s Law). I never go into battle with only one plan. The people who worked with me before and staff who knows me well, know that Oliver always have Plan B and C up his sleeve in case things don’t go accordingly to plan.

Your team might come from different countries and cultures so what are top three qualifications you would look for from a potential candidate? what are most wanted positions you are looking for now? 

oliver-2Depends on what roles i am hiring for but the common top 3 things i look for in people: (a) Attitude, (B) Competence – the ability to get things done – no B/S, (c) Credibility (or some people say integrity). Rest are learnable.

You always hear the quote  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, and my immediate re-joiner to that is “maybe true, but there is nothing stopping the old dog from learning new tricks himself, right?”. It’s what defines us, what we stand for.

As a startup, I look for people to run with me, through rain or shine, tackle the challenges together and have fun doing what we’re doing.

And when the time comes for us to part, we can all look back and talk proudly of the things we’ve done together, and feel pride in have served or work together with each other. If we haven’t, then we have wasted each other’s time, and i rather we’d parted sooner.

Right now, we’re hiring sales people, sales development, business development, product managers, software engineers, machine learning scientists. We invite like-minded people to check us out at www.visenze.com/jobs and join us in our exciting journey.

What are you seeing from visual recognition tech and AI trend in Asia for the next five years? 

Visual technology will continue to be an important part of the visual web that is booming at an exponential rate. In the next five years, the challenge would be to integrate visual tech AI with other aspects of AI, such as natural language processing technology, to offer better solutions for end users.

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Minh Bui is a regional ecommerce marketer from both startups and corporates in online ecommerce and offline retail chain in Southeast Asia. He's also an avid Asia explorer and love enjoying local foods and learning different cultures in Asia.

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