Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Waldo Photos: Finding Your Photos In the Proverbial Haystack
Are you out in public a lot--at festivals, weddings, sporting events, and elsewhere--and wish you had a way to find photos of yourself from those events? Waldo Photos (http://waldo.photos) is hoping to make that as easy as just hopping on your phone and opening an app. The Austin startup recently raised seed funding to build out its solution. We spoke with co-founder and CEO Rodney Rice--a serial entrepreneur and angel investor who founded HomeAdvisor and sold it to IAC--about how Waldo Photos wants to change how people find photos of themselves from other people.
What is Waldo all about?
Rodney Rice: What we are building at Waldo Photos is a platform for photographers to use to better monetize their photos, and to really take the friction and antiquated clunkiness out of the delivery of photos to consumers. What we've observed, is that when you are out at a venue or event, whether that's at a wedding, concert, festival, or amateur sports event, we're often photographed by others, and often by professionals. But, there's no easy way to get to that content. We've built a system that helps to move that photo from a photographer's camera into the cloud, and which employs facial recognition to pull your photos out of the proverbial album haystack, delivering it to your smartphone. That can either be through app notifications, or texting. It just makes it very simple to get your photos from a photographer, venue or event, in more of a push fashion, rather than pull it from a sea of photos from a website. With Waldo, you can receive those photos with little to no latency. You get those photos while you're still at an event, and it's only you in those photos, the needle in the haystack.
It seems like there are lots of people at an event, how does facial recognition work in that situation?
Rodney Rice: The way it works, is if you have the Waldo app in your pocket, we use location services information and time and geographic information from your app, and figure out that, for example, you were at ACL from 11am to 4pm on Saturday. We have photographers at ACL, who also have been shooting thousands of photos of fans. We have access to data that tells us when and where those photos were taken, correlating the time and geography of a photographer with the person being photographed. Where those match, we consider that face. We're not looking at every face in our database against every photo. Even if you or your friends may not have Waldo loaded, you as a fan can also come into our system, and text our app and hashcode ACL16, and we can provide you access to the system and help narrow down what faces to look at based on your time and geographic information. In either case, we've significantly narrowed the universe we're considering through facial recognition.
How did you start Waldo Photos?
Rodney Rice: I founded HomeAdvisor back in 1999, and grew that business through the 2000's, and ultimately left in 2012. I spent another 24 months angel investing and advising other startup entrepreneurs. In late 2014, I wanted to build another business, so I spent nine months looking at what I wanted to do. One of those that kept on popping up and bugging me, was this paint point. In the last fifteen year or so, as a parent and father of 13, 15, and 17 year old teenagers, I kept on running into similar use cases. All of my kids play competitive tennis, and I don't have any good photography of that, because as a parent it's just not possible to get good photographs of them because of the vantage point. However, traveling around, I found that there were several tournaments where people were photographing tennis players in various activities. But, even though they were, it was really clunky and cumbersome to get to that photography. At one tournament, there was a fixed camera on a pole, where you'd have to wait until the end of the day, write down a number, wait for the lady behind the desk, and finally get your photos. In the meantime, we had dinner reservations in fifteen minutes, and just couldn't wait in that line. Those photos are now gone, and 50 percent of the people never knew there was a camera taking pictures on a pole. That's a pretty big missed opportunity for the venue. It was the same with my kids in the summer. We went to an inflatable water park in the ocean, and they had a photographer paddling around in the water taking photos. He would come down to the shore, go behind a desk with a 1980's computer and his SD card, and everyone would go watch him hunt and peck for their photos. We got caught behind these 12 British girls who were mobbing the guys, so we just gave up. We're never going to get those photos, either. I've seen that time and time again, and I see it as a lost opportunity for photographers, and a lost opportunity for the family to get those moments. It really was a personal pain that resonated with me, and as I talked to people, every one had their own use case. It's the same scenario whether you just ran a triathlon, or you have kids in sports, or you've been at a wedding. Every single solitary person I talked to for six months when I was doing due diligence saw the same pain. So, in June of last year, we started digging in and creating this product.
How does it work for photographers?
Rodney Rice: For photographers, our goal is to make it very turnkey, so they just have to execute their craft, shooting photos, and we automatically pull them off their cameras and upload to the cloud. Then, they can sit back and watch the cash register ring. On the photographer's side, 91 percent of them are sole proprietors. They don't have technology resources, and they just don't have the size to get this side of the business down. Our goal with Waldo Photos is to take all of that pain from them, and help with monetizing and running the business. They click the photo, and we take it from there, in terms of monetization. It will be a revenue share. Photographers are passionate about photography, and for the most part are are passionate about marketing their business, and dealing with sales, and all those operational pieces.
Where are you in terms of launch?
Rodney Rice: We're in closed beta right now. We have people beating on the system and providing us with feedback, and cycling through based on that feedback. We hope in two to three months to open up for broader use.
How did the whole funding round go for you?
Rodney Rice: We're thrilled to have Upfront as a partner, and we really love the firm, and specifically Kara Nortman, who has come on to our board. She's very passionate about what we're building at Waldo, and as a mother of three young daughters, I think she understands us at a very personal level. She's already proven to be very helpful to us. The funding, I think, was about as painless as they come, and we're really happy where we ended up.
What's the biggest challenge now for you?
Rodney Rice: There are a lot of pieces to this. There are a lot of things. Obviously, we raised capital to bring on the personnel necessary to build out the product. There's been a lot of work, both from the technology and product perspective. The biggest challenge, however, is probably scaling the team. In this environment, it's a tight labor market, and we're looking to build a world class team, and bring on strong folks who can drive the vision and scale this very quickly. Managing that piece is certainly challenging, in this market. Beyond that, we have got to walk the balance between the development of photographers, as well as the consumer side of the business and marketplace. We've got to execute at a very high level of consistency, walking that tightrope.
Thanks, and good luck!