In Conversation With Ori Cohen, Founder of Fotegrafik
March 15, 2010 by Gwendolyn Regina T
You might have read our feature on visual search solution provider, Fotegrafik Labs. This time, we managed to interview Ori Cohen, the founder of the company, to find out more about the origins of the company, and what prompted them to change direction to then set up Fotegrafik Labs.
What is your background and what were you doing before setting up Fotegrafik Pte Ltd?
My affair with Singapore began in 2002, when I was asked to move here and manage the Asian HQ of Dalet Digital Media System, a global leader in T.V & Radio Broadcast and Content Production systems. I come from a marketing and biz-dev background but I also have a long software engineering background having worked for years as lead software engineer and product manager in different small and large companies,and even a small exit at these happy 90′s selling one of my first startups at the age of 22.
During my MBA studies at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I spent time in the US and in general traveled a lot, and I have lived in various continents since childhood.
The company started off doing stock image galleries. Why go into that field in the first place?
I was following my personal passion as a very enthusiastic photographer.When did you branch off and set up Fotegrafik Labs, and why?
After starting the Stock Photo Agency we realized very soon that the process of acquiring, categorizing, keywording and later on searching and retrieving content by customers is labor intensive expensive and subjective since you are dealing with how human beings look at images in different ways.
My founding team and myself have a very deep technological background, we took this as a challenge to try and solve the various issues faced by large image and video libraries and buyers. The result was Fotegrafik-labs that was formed about 2 years ago, and ever since has become our main focus and area of interest.
There are many different companies and products doing something to do with image recognition. What do you think differentiates Fotegrafik?
Its a common misconception to think that image recognition is one specific area that solves all the problems in the universe. In reality, machine vision is a very large space for researchers and one technology or another doesn’t cover all aspects of this universe. A simple example is face recognition which is a very different area from barcode reading or OCR (e.g. automatically reading vehicle license plates) – these are completely two different problems that researchers and companies have built their products around for many years.
Our products are currently targeted to solve real life problems in two main areas: Media and Security. Our team comes from a strong digital media background, and traditionally we designed our products for this industry. However over time we were approached by various government security agencies and commercial security companies that were amazed by how unique and advanced our technology is and the numerous problems that it can solve in their space.
There are many advantages to our technology, I’ll name two of the key ones:
1. It is super scalable. We are able to index and retrieve images and videos from huge databases of content – and by that I mean: billions of images or hours of video, in a matter of milliseconds and without compromising on the accuracy of the results.
2. Our technology is one of the most versatile in the market today. It is as useful for image libraries (stock agencies, photo sharing, etc..), mobile devices, retail applications, security agencies and the list of ideas or requests our clients and prospects bring is growing all the time.
Please enlighten us on your image and video search technologies.
Our two main technologies are: a) A visual search platform & b) an automated image tagging system, both are offered in a license model or as a SaaS platform for developers.
On top of this platform developers (3rd party or our own) are able to develop unlimited number of applications. So far, we have already developed certain products and applications for specific clients or application. To name a few:
1. A Media Metrics service that automatically analyzes TV shows (currently Sport events), and generates a detailed report for advertisers and sponsors about the performance of their campaign and to help them estimate the ROI. e.g. A sponsor of a soccer team would like to know the amount of screen-time that their brand/logos had received, and other metrics around it.
2. API for stock photo agencies – who wish to enhance their service, by adding a visual search engine or automatic keywords to better monetize their visual assets.
3. Video analytics for security – a very powerful and cutting edge toolset for Command and Control centers and crime investigators that allows them to quickly locate suspect vehicles and people in large live installations of CCTV cameras, solely based on a visual description of an eye witness.
We understand that you collaborated with an Israeli company to develop your technologies. How did you get in touch with them (or was it vice versa)?
The connection with the Israeli company, was made possible through my academia network. I looked for a team that can genuinely complement our domain knowledge and and I was privileged to locate a great group of world leaders in the area of machine vision, in a company called RTC Vision. The synergy between the two companies was perfect – Fotegrafik brought a great deal of market knowledge and deep technology understanding and experience, and they brought their very unique IP in the form of very advanced algorithms and 15 years of prior research.
The successful combination brought us to the SIIRD Foundation of EDB in Singapore, who awarded us a generous grant that funded our mutual bi-national research for the last 2 years.
Are the technologies then co-owned by RTC Vision and Fotegrafik?
Fotegrafik has a great R&D team of very experienced engineers in our R&D office in Singapore, a team that has over the years generated its own significant IP. And indeed some of the technologies that were codeveloped with RTC are accordingly co-owned.
What was the one thing that on hindsight was the best decision you ever made for the company?
In various aspects a good decision was to base our operations in Singapore. At that time, the debate was between Israel, Silicon Valley and Singapore. Israel and Silicon Valley compete every year on who has most VC money per capita worldwide, both places are very attractive to base a technology startup, also due to availability of the superb human capital and access to funds.
However in retro perspective Singapore was very generous to us and the amount of government support came in very handy in those financially tough times, and we never had any difficulty locating and recruiting the best people around.
Xavier Lepretre from the Fotegrafik team at a conference.
And what was your biggest mistake?
Probably the biggest mistake was to reject money from investors when it was more accessible in the years 2007-2008. Those were good times and various funds knocked on our door asking to invest in the company. At that time I believed (and I would have probably done the same thing again) – that it’s wiser for the company and its seed shareholders to build significant and tangible value before accepting any money from institutionalized investors (PE, VCs, etc…).
We are all aware of what has happened in the financial markets since then, the rest is history, and we ended up with piles of IP and value but no cash in hand.
The upside of this story is that we have survived the biggest financial crisis in modern history and we came out stronger, wiser and with less competitors who didn’t make it through ;)
Where do you see Fotegrafik in one year and what do you need most to get there?
The number of business leads that we are currently dealing with is overwhelming and growing fast, and it doesn’t really fit the size and capacity of our company. In other words – we have way more opportunities that we can handle. These are of course very good problems – and I anticipate that in a year from now we’ll see a much bigger company with at least four to five times bigger staff, and very significant revenues.
What we need most to get to that point is to convert a couple of medium size sales, which are already around the corner. After which we might feel ready for a Series A round if need, to get take us to the next level…. not to mention the M&A potentials that are beginning to surface already.
What would your biggest advice be to a struggling entrepreneur?
Three big pieces of advice:
1. Be very nimble – ‘Agile’ like the techies like to call it. Keep changing, adapting, correcting, improving – every single day!
2. Don’t underestimate the power of your network – “surround yourself with people smarter than you, and do not be afraid to ask for their help!” (quote accredited to Napoleon Bonaparte)
3. Last but not least: Don’t pay too much attention to the all the Naysayers out there – most of the are just jealous of your courage!
Thanks so much for your time, Ori! Good luck in Fotegrafik.
Image of Ori courtesy of Sir Michael Culme-Seymour.
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About The Author
Gwendolyn Regina T - Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Gwen is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of SGE. Previously, she was a partner of early stage technology investment firm, Thymos Capital and she has had two exits, one of which is iHipo. She is also an investor in Padlet, a Y-Combinator startup. Gwen also sits on the Board of Advisors for the Singapore Innovation & Productivity Institute, Steering Commmittee for the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation Awards 2013, and Board of Advisors for Social Media Week 2013. A frequent public speaker, mentor and judge at various startup bootcamps, events and competitions, Gwen loves meeting founders, developers, designers and scientists across all ages. An alumnus of the National University of Singapore and its University Scholars Programme, Gwen also spent some time in Silicon Valley and is a graduate of the NUS-Stanford University overseas college programme. She is also a mentor at Polish tech startup incubator Gamma Rebels, the Singapore curator for US-headquartered StartupDigest and the Singapore Ambassador for the Sandbox Network - the leading global network of innovators under 30. Gwen has also been a Worldwide Judge for Imagine Cup - the premier student technology competition helmed by Microsoft. She has also spoken in Hong Kong at one of its largest youth conferences, MaD Asia, and was recently in Austria to help envision the future of the country's economy in 2032 on invitation from an Austrian governmental organization. Gwen speaks 3.25 languages, loves physics, travelling, dance and adventure sports. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Gwendolyn Regina T