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Gaze | Startup Of The Month | September 2020

 

1. Hi Taus, tell us a little bit about Gaze.

Gaze is an artificial intelligence startup based in Singapore and Bangladesh. We build APIs for visual recognition AI, enabling software companies and developers to integrate computer vision technologies, such as face recognition, spoof recognition, etc. into their own software systems with little to no knowledge of computer vision or deep learning in general.

So, for example, if you want to enable face recognition for your users in your own software system, you can use our APIs to do so, without having to spend a lot of time and money in developing an accurate face recognition system yourself.

 

 

2. What problem does your startup solve for customers?

If you look at computer vision specifically, it is a very complex field and is very different from traditional engineering. When you’re doing AI or computer vision work, it’s not just about computer science or coding; it’s a lot of mathematics, data collection and analysis. This is where academics and engineers tend to work together to build viable solutions.

Let’s say, you want to create a face recognition system. To start off, you’ll need to collect a lot of data mirroring real life scenarios, labelled appropriately by seasoned and experienced data labelers. Then you need a team of engineers and researchers who will analyze and work with that data to build a highly accurate and generalized neural network model which will be able to recognize faces. The closest analogy is - you mathematically try to model a “brain” of sorts - the neural network itself - and then teach it to recognize faces by having it “learn” from the data. As you can tell, this task can be very time consuming, expensive and difficult to crack. However, because we have worked in this field for some time and have gathered some of the brightest minds to solve these problems, we have trained models for several computer vision tasks. You can use those models on your own in your app, desktop application, website, etc. by just integrating with our APIs.

So, you save both time and money in trying to develop and maintain your own AI models. You also get access to state-of-the-art AI models, deployed in a highly scalable fashion that can handle any amount of load you throw at them. In other words, we make it effortless for you to integrate computer vision technology into your own software solution.

 

 

3. The field of AI and Augmented reality is still developing in Bangladesh. What excites you most about this industry? And where do you see it heading in the near future?

Business-wise, our target market is global. Of course, we want to continue to serve our Bangladeshi customers and do have a large team here in Bangladesh but at this point, most of our revenue comes from other countries. We have engineers and managers based out of Canada and Singapore as well. At the end of the day, we are a SaaS company, trying to become a global leader in our field.

We see a lot of problems that computer vision can solve globally, with identity verification and authentication being two of the key issues. When you’re on an app or website, how does it know that it is actually you behind the screen? This can be easily solved by face recognition.

We’ve already seen Face ID on iPhones and fingerprint detection on various iOS and Android devices. So, biometrics is definitely a huge field for us. We foresee a lot of growth in that field, especially with our proprietary face recognition technology. But exactly what the future will look like depends entirely on our customers and users!

 

 

4. Being a relatively new field means challenges in getting resources - whether technical or human resource. What has been your approach in dealing with such issues?

Initially when we hired around 10 people, we went out to interview hundreds, getting even more resumes in the span of 7-8 months. And, they weren’t just random people, but some of the brightest minds in the country. All of them were brilliant, with extensive knowledge about computer science or plenty of experience in relevant fields. We always had the mindset of recruiting the best talent in every position we have. So eventually we started to venture outside Bangladesh for our recruitment. We are now a family of 23 people based in 3 different continents, and are growing.

We strongly believe in transfer of knowledge. Our CTO, based out of Vancouver, has over 20 years of experience in software engineering, which makes him an incredible asset to the team. Now, with most of our engineers being young Bangladeshis with 4-5 years of experience, everyone gets to learn from him and improve their skills every single day. On the other hand, our Chief of Research holds a PhD in computer vision and has over 15 years of research & engineering experience — who in turn helps our research engineers thrive and succeed. This is beautiful.

Talent is the most important resource for any company and by joining “energy” with “experience”, we believe we built an incredible culture of curiosity and constant learning.

 

 

5. Is it true that people feel more secure applying to well established MNCs and institutions as opposed to startups? In that case what attracts quality talents to startups like Gaze?

I definitely think that’s true for the most part. However, it might not be as true for people looking to build a career in artificial intelligence & deep learning in Bangladesh, mainly because there are just a few Bangladeshi companies who specialize in these technologies. So, if you’re a recent graduate interested in working on deep tech, Gaze is one of the few options available for you in Bangladesh.

Of course, it’s different abroad, there’s Google, Microsoft, etc. and so it is difficult to recruit people from such globally big companies. But in Bangladesh, I believe we have an advantage. There are a lot of engineers who are more concerned about the future of their career rather than the present. And the future is AI.

And so, to be honest, MNCs aren’t our biggest competitor in Bangladesh, it is the fact that people leave the country for higher studies or work abroad.

 

 

6. What kind of talent is Gaze looking for, and how can possible prospects connect with Gaze?

To connect, you can email us at iwanttobe@gaze.ai , and your resume would be sent to all our C-suite executives. If any of us think that you’re the right fit for Gaze, you’ll get called in for an interview.

Broadly speaking, we have 4 main areas in the company:

• Our research team is heavily academic, with a focus on designing, training and building the most accurate AI models.

• Our engineering team works on building out our APIs, deploying our AI models and improving our product.

Together they form our technical team, which makes up about 80% of the company.

• Our growth team handles the business side of our company, focusing on business development, market analysis, sales and PR.

• Lastly, our product team is all about designing and managing our product. They’re the ones who collect feedback alongside the growth team to design better products and help manage the technical team in building them. 

 

 

7. Boxer Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” What do you have to say about that?

I think that is very true. The one thing that is common in all startups is that they change over time. Startups start with a business hypothesis and they have to test it out, iterate and improve every single day. So, the good thing about it is that when you get “punched in the face”, you get to iterate to the next stage and solve problems as they come.

For example, we learned that the consulting model that we operated in for a long time isn’t very scalable, so we chose to adapt a SaaS model for our APIs. This allowed us to improve our business’ scalability and our product by a few orders of magnitude. As of right now, we are growing fast and have already served around 10 million API requests in the last month and a half.

 

 

8. Name five (or more) people who have inspired you the most?

Family – Parents, they started off with nothing and were self made.

Celebrities – Bill Gates; Mark Zuckerberg

Bangladeshi Entrepreneurs – Hussain Elius (Pathao); Afeef Zaman (ShopUp); Waseem Alim (Chaldal); Adnan Imtiaz Halim (Sheba);

Professional Life - Jayesh (former boss as CEO of Picatic in Vancouver, Canada.)

 

 

9. What similarities and differences have you found between entrepreneurs in different countries that you’ve visited?

Similarities:

● Successful founders in every country are passionate about the problem they are solving and/or the company they’re building.

● Successful founders are usually good at attracting world-class talent to work with.

 

Differences:

●      Founders in Canada/US have access to much, much more capital than founders in Bangladesh

●      Since there are way more startups in the US/Canada than Bangladesh, founders have access to more mentors and resources; at the same time, it could mean more competition as well. 

 

 

10. Among the five elements namely Idea, Funding, Business Model, Team and Timing which do you feel is the most crucial in the success of a business and why? Rank in order of importance.

It varies based on the stage of the company. If the company is at the same stage as Gaze, which is about 2 years old, I would say that the team is number 1 by a long shot. This is because if you have smart people who are passionate and looking to grow, they can improve on the idea, find funding and improve the business model. So, at an early stage, everything depends on the team —  they’re the ones who decide what the company is and will become.

That being said, I’d say, the idea and timing tie at 2nd position, since they’re both very important and inter-related. 3rd is Funding, and that leaves the Business Model to be 4th as it can change a lot over time, especially for early stage startups.

Note: this would be different for a more mature/later-stage startup.

 

 

11. Do you feel a person’s background influences the ease of gathering funding?

If by background you mean credentials and experience, of course it does, especially at an early stage. If Elon Musk wants to start a company tomorrow, he’d be able to attract billions of dollars in funding with his ideas alone. Would someone like me be able to do that? Definitely not.

Gaze, for example, found it relatively easier to raise funds at an early stage since both Motasim and I have experience working in the field of AI. My background in deep learning, work experience from NVIDIA and IBM, educational qualifications from UBC — all played a role in our early stage fundraising conversations. If our credentials were not there, the conversation would/could have been very different.

As a rule of thumb — the more experienced or well-credentialed you are, the more investors are likely to trust you with their money, especially at an early stage.

 

 

12. Where do you see Gaze in the next 5 years?

I can’t tell you exactly what we’re working on since we haven’t made any public announcements yet – which we will soon. But I do think we will be one of the biggest in the world, if not the biggest, in the particular verticals that we are focusing on. Within the field of AI and visual recognition we are working on some specific verticals and we will be making product announcements regarding that in the next month or two. I do believe we are positioned to be market leaders in those verticals.

 

 

 

13. Just to finish off, can you shed light on a brighter aspect of startups in Dhaka, that general crowd is unaware of?

When I left Bangladesh for higher studies about 5 years ago, for a startup to raise 30 million dollars was just crazy. Even 5-10 million dollars would have been crazy. But now we have multiple Bangladeshi startups that have achieved that, such as Pathao and Shohoz. We have started to use services of startups in our daily lives and sometimes we don’t even realize it. For example, sometimes when you order something via Facebook, a lot of merchants use ShopUp to send you the product. Many of us order our groceries using Chaldal and watch TV through Bongo. So, there are many startups helping improve our lives everyday, and most of these startups didn’t even exist 5-7 years ago. The startup scene in Bangladesh is growing and evolving rapidly, and I do believe the future is very bright for this ecosystem.

 

 

 

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