‘Digital fingerprint’ proves key to shopping start-up

Digifeye’s technology will help shoppers to locate lookalike items

Digifeye co-founders  Bobby Pringle, Dr Mark Hughes and Dr Oisín Mac Fhearaí

Digifeye co-founders Bobby Pringle, Dr Mark Hughes and Dr Oisín Mac Fhearaí

Mon, Sep 1, 2014, 01:50

It’s been an “exciting few months” for Digifeye, fine-tuning its final product, getting a new chief executive on board and opening an office in New York, according to co-founder Dr Mark Hughes.

The company was built on almost a decade of research into visual recognition technology by Hughes and Dr Oisín Mac Fhearaí that began at DCU. The pair – along with fellow co-founder Bobby Pringle – have based their business model on finding a “digital fingerprint” for retail items.

The technology allows smartphone users to take a picture of a piece of clothing or an accessory – whether from a magazine, online or real life – and search for comparable items from a list of 900 retailers and three million items.

Pringle believes the revenue capabilities of the technology in terms of direct sales and partnerships are “just huge”.

“We were developing the technology behind the scenes to try and recognise when certain types of products and certain types of objects are located,” says Hughes.

Commercial partners

What followed was a process of getting “a whole bunch of connections with commercial partners, and now pretty much any high-street store you can think of” is on board, as well as a large number of online stores.

“Because we have all these partnerships, we can generate visual fingerprints for all the products that Topshop have, for instance, or everything in Arnotts and other retailers,” says Hughes.

Consumers are directed to the items they want using a geo-location element within the company’s technology, which directs the user to the nearest retail outlet that has the item.

With a price filter available, items can be sold at a discount through the Digifeye platform itself, creating a revenue stream for the trio and their colleagues.

The company’s partnerships take in 3,200 brands. High-street names on board to work with the platform include Oasis, River Island, Debenhams, Karen Millen, LK Bennett and Warehouse.

‘Windfall of coverage’

Key to gaining those contacts was the release last year of an app called Style Eyes, which was “testing the technology while we were still developing it”, says Hughes.

The beta version of their idea created a “windfall of coverage” from media outlets such as Grazia, Cosmopolitan and Vogue, after which potential partners came to the trio looking to work with them.

The company has since dropped the Style Eyes name and will not be updating that particular app.

Hughes explains that the business model has altered. “We have no plans at present to release any more apps,” he says.

“Our focus is to integrate the technology as a platform into existing online publishers, retailers and media outlets.”

Pringle adds that “the platform can be installed into existing systems very easily”.

The company is currently running trials with several clients, with official partner launches due to take place within the next three months.

Hughes, Mac Fhearaí and Pringle are based in the NDRC offices on Thomas Street in Dublin alongside five other Digifeye employees. They have also recently appointed Gary Freilich – a former senior vice-president at NBC – as chief executive. He will head up operations in New York.

‘Shoppable’ products

“We’ve all known each other for years,” says Hughes, “and it was something that all of us wanted to have a crack at – a start-up company. We sat down and had some interesting ideas based on the research we were doing ourselves, and Digifeye stemmed from that – making visual content into ‘shoppable’ products.”

Pringle says the company is “working towards profitability”, though, for the moment, “the focus is on the technology”.

He adds: “Once we’re launched fully, we should see profitability quite quickly, but at this stage we’re not stressed about that, we’re looking at getting a really exciting product out there.”

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