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Cadeera is doing AI visual search for home decor

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In recent years we’ve seen a whole bunch of visual/style fashion-focused search engines cropping up, tailored to helping people find the perfect threads to buy online by applying computer vision and other AI technologies to perform smarter-than-keywords visual search which can easily match and surface specific shapes and styles. Startups like Donde Search, Glisten and Stye.ai to name a few.

Early stage London-based Cadeera, which is in the midst of raising a seed round, wants to apply a similar AI visual search approach but for interior decor. All through the pandemic it’s been working on a prototype with the aim of making ecommerce discovery of taste-driven items like sofas, armchairs and coffee tables a whole lot more inspirational.

Founder and CEO Sebastian Spiegler, an early (former) SwiftKey employee with a PhD in machine learning and natural language processing, walked TechCrunch through a demo of the current prototype.

The software offers a multi-step UX geared towards first identifying a person’s decor style preferences — which it does by getting them to give a verdict on a number of look book images of rooms staged in different interior decor styles (via a Tinder-style swipe left or right).

It then uses these taste signals to start suggesting specific items to buy (e.g. armchairs, sofas etc) that fit the styles they’ve liked. The user can continue to influence selections by asking to see other similar items (‘more like this’), or see less similar items to broaden the range of stuff they’re shown — injecting a little serendipity into their search. 

The platform also lets users search by uploading an image — with Cadeera then parsing its database to surface similar looking items which are available for sale.

It has an AR component on its product map, too — which will eventually also let users visualize a potential purchase in situ in their home. Voice search will also be supported.

“Keyword search is fundamentally broken,” argues Spiegler. “Image you’re refurbishing or renovating your home and you say I’m looking for something, I’ve seen it somewhere, I only know when I see it, and I don’t really know what I want yet — so the [challenge we’re addressing is this] whole process of figuring out what you want.” 

“The mission is understanding personal preferences. If you don’t know yourself what you’re looking for we’re basically helping you with visual clues and with personalization and with inspiration pieces — which can be content, images and then at some point community as well — to figure out what you want. And for the retailer it helps them to understand what their clients want.”

“It increases trust, you’re more sure about your purchases, you’re less likely to return something — which is a huge cost to retailers. And, at the same time, you may also buy more because you more easily find things you can buy,” he adds.

Ecommerce has had a massive boost from the pandemic which continues to drive shopping online. But the flip side of that is bricks-and-mortar retailers have been hit hard.

The situation may be especially difficult for furniture retailers that may well have been operating showrooms before COVID-19 — relying upon customers being able to browse in-person to drive discovery and sales — so they are likely to be looking for smart tools that can help them transition to and/or increase online sales.

And sector-specific visual search engines do seem likely to see uplift as part of the wider pandemic-driven ecommerce shift.

“The reason why I want to start with interior design/home decor and furniture is that it’s a clearly underserved market. There’s no-one out there, in my view, that has cracked the way to search and find things more easily,” Spiegler tells TechCrunch. “In fashion there are quite a few companies out there. And I feel like we can master furniture and home decor and then move into other sectors. But for me the opportunity is here.”

“We can take a lot of the ideas from the fashion sector and apply it to furniture,” he adds. “I feel like there’s a huge gap — and no-one has looked at it sufficiently.”

The size of the opportunity Cadeera is targeting is a $10BN-$20BN market globally, per Spiegler. 

The startup’s initial business model is b2b — with the plan being to start selling its SaaS to ecommerce retailers to integrate the visual search tools directly into their own websites.

Spiegler says they’re working with a “big” UK-based vintage platform — and aiming to get something launched to the market within the next six to nine months with one to two customers. 

They will also — as a next order of business — offer apps for ecommerce platforms such as WooCommerce, BigCommerce and Shopify to integrate a set of their search tools. (Larger retailers will get more customization of the platform, though.)

On the question of whether Cadeera might develop a b2c offer by launching a direct consumer app itself, Spiegler admits that is an “end goal”.

“This is the million dollar question — my end-goal, my target is building a consumer app. Building a central place where all your shopping preferences are stored — kind of a mix of Instagram where you see inspiration and Pinterest where you can keep what you looked at and then get relevant recommendations,” he says.

“This is basically the idea of a product search engine we want to build. But what I’m showing you are the steps to get there… and we hopefully end in the place where we have a community, we have a b2c app. But the way I look at it is we start through b2b and then at some point switch the direction and open it up by providing a single entry point for the consumer.”

But, for now, the b2b route means Cadeera can work closely with retailers in the meanwhile — increasing its understanding of retail market dynamics and getting access to key data needed power its platform, such as style look books and item databases.

“What we end up with is a large inventory data-set/database, a design knowledge base and imagery and style meta information. And on top of that we do object detection, object recognition, recommendation, so the whole shebang in AI — for the purpose of personalization, exploration, search and suggestion/recommendation,” he goes on, sketching the various tech components involved.

“On the other side we provide an API so you can integrate into use as well. And if you need we can also provide with a responsive UX/UI.”

“Beyond all of that we are creating an interesting data asset where we understand what the user wants — so we have user profiles, and in the future those user profiles can be cross-platform. So if you purchase something at one ecommerce site or one retailer you can then go to another retailer and we can make relevant recommendations based on what you purchased somewhere else,” he adds. “So your whole purchasing history, your style preferences and interaction data will allow you to get the most relevant recommendations.”

While the usual tech giant suspects still dominate general markets for search (Google) and ecommerce (Amazon), Cadeera isn’t concerned about competition from the biggest global platforms — given they are not focused on tailoring tools for a specific furniture/home decor niche.

He also points out that Amazon continues to do a very poor job on recommendations on its own site, despite having heaps of data.

“I’ve been asking — and I’ve been asked as well — so many times why is Amazon doing such a poor job on recommendations and in search. The true answer is I don’t know! They have probably the best data set… but the recommendations are poor,” he says. “What we’re doing here is trying to reinvent a whole product. Search should work… and the inspiration part, for things that are more opaque, is something important that is missing with anything I’ve seen so far.”

And while Facebook did acquire a home decor-focused visual search service (called GrokStyle) back in 2019, Spiegler suggests it’s most likely to integrate their tech (which included AR for visualization) into its own marketplace — whereas he’s convinced most retailers will want to be able to remain independent of the Facebook walled garden.

“GrokStyle will become part of Facebook marketplace but if you’re a retailer the big question is how much do you want to integrate into Facebook, how much do you want to be dependent on Facebook? And I think that’s a big question for a lot of retailers. Do you want to dependent on Google? Do you want to be dependent on Amazon? Do you want to be dependent on Facebook?” he says. “My guess is no. Because you basically want to stay as far away as possible because they’re going to eat up your lunch.”   

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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India’s Paytm turns Android smartphones into POS machines in merchants push

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Paytm said on Tuesday it is turning NFC-enabled Android smartphones into point-of-sale machines, as it looks to win more merchants in one of the world’s largest mobile payments markets.

A Paytm merchant partner will now be able to enable card acceptance feature from their Paytm Business app. Once activated, they will be able to process a transaction by tapping a plastic card to their phone.

Paytm Smart POS supports Visa, Mastercard, and Rupeek, the Indian startup said.

Existing payment devices in the market haven’t proven very successful in reaching small and medium sized businesses in India, most of which remain offline, said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of Paytm, at a virtual press conference today.

To win these merchants, Paytm has in recent years rolled out QR codes that work across several payment networks, and launched jukeboxes and other gadgets to make it easier for merchants to accept payments digitally.

With today’s move, said Sharma, “the obligation of buying a POS machine, too, is no longer needed.” The startup said that most new Android smartphone models support the NFC feature.

Paytm also unveiled the newer generation jukebox POS that looks similar to a QR placard. “The reason why merchants haven’t actively adopted many of the existing POS machines is that they are not comfortable with it,” said Dilip Asbe, head of payments body NPCI, at the virtual conference.

The Indian startup, which processed more than 1.2 billion transactions last month, said it will charge a small subscription fee to merchant partners for accessing either of the aforementioned payments services.

The move, which in many ways pits Paytm against Sequoia Capital-backed Pine Labs, a market leader in the POS category but a significantly smaller startup, demonstrates just how aggressively Paytm is expanding its payments platform to go after merchants.

“Just the way, mobile phones saw an evolution from featurephone to smartphone, we believe the merchant PoS market in India is at an inflexion point to evolve from the traditional (aka dumb-PoS) to Smart-PoS. Unlike traditional PoS, which only allows transactions from debit/credit-card, some of the features of a Smart-PoS are: GST compliant bill, scanner/printer, takes all payments including UPI, is Bluetooth enabled and could be customized for different merchants as per their needs. While currently the Fintech companies are offering these devices, we expect banks to catch-up eventually,” wrote analysts at Bank of America in a recent note to clients.

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Taipei-based Influenxio gets $2M from DCM Ventures for its “microinfluencer” marketing platform

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Influencer marketing startup Influenxio's team, with founder and CEO Allan Ko in the center

Influenxio’s team, with founder and chief executive officer Allan Ko in the center

“Microinfluencers” are gaining clout among marketers. Though they may have as little as a thousand followers, microinfluencers tend to focus on specific content and be seen as more engaging and trustworthy by their audience, said Allan Ko, founder and chief executive officer of Influenxio. The Taipei-based startup, which connects brands with Instagram microinfluencers through its online platform, announced today that it has closed $2 million in pre-Series A funding led by DCM Ventures, and is launching a new subscription plan.

Founded in 2018, Influenxio has now raised over $3 million in total, including from seed investor SparkLabs Taipei. It currently operates in Taiwan and Japan, where it has databases of 100,000 and 250,000 Instagram creators, respectively. So far, over 6,000 brands have registered on Influenxio’s platform, and it has been used to run over 1,000 campaigns.

Influenxio plans to use its new funding for hiring and product development. Influenxio’s new subscription plan is a relatively novel model for the field, so one of the startup’s goals is to prove that it works, Ko told TechCrunch. The company also plans to build out its Japanese platform and expand into more countries.

A screenshot of Influenxio's platform

A screenshot of Influenxio’s platform

Influenxio analyzes past campaigns, performance data and client reviews to improve its algorithms. Since the entire campaign creation process–from finding influencers to paying them–is performed through Influenxio, this allows it to gather a wide range of data to refine its technology, Ko told TechCrunch.

Influencers typically make about $35 to $40 USD for each campaign they participate in, and most of the brands the company works with focus on food (like restaurants), fashion, beauty or lifestyle services.

Before launching Influenxio, Ko spent 15 years working in the digital marketing field, serving as an account manager at Yahoo! and Microsoft, and then head of Hong Kong and Taiwan for Google’s online partnerships group. He wanted to create a startup that would combine what he had learned about digital marketing and make accessible to more businesses.

Large brands have used Influenxio to quickly generate marketing campaigns for special occasions like Mother’s Day or Christmas. For example, one advertiser in Taiwan used Influenxio to hire almost 200 influencers in one week, who were asked to test and post about their products, and some of Influenxio’s highest profile clients include Shiseido, Shopee, iHerb and KKBox.

But the majority of Influenxio’s clients (about 80% to 90%) are small- to medium-sized businesses, and Ko said they usually create multiple campaigns to build brand awareness over time, working with a few influencers a month.

Influenxio’s new subscription plan, which costs less than $100 USD a month and is launching first in Taiwan before rolling out to other markets, was created for them. “The first year we launched the platform, we found small businesses want experts and advice,” said Ko. Many don’t have marketing managers, so Influenxio’s subscription plan automatically matches them with new influencers each month and provides them with analytics so they can see how well campaigns are performing.

Influenxio is among a growing number of startups that are tapping into the “microinfluencer economy,” with others including AspireIQ, Upfluence and Grin.

Ko said Influenxio’s biggest difference is its focus on small businesses, and serving as a one-stop marketplace for influencer campaigns. “The important thing for our platform is that it needs to be very easy and simple,” he added. “We spent a lot of time on the execution and details to make it smoother on the advertiser side. For the influencer side, we try to make it more convenient. For example, the way they receive money, our goal is to also make it easy.”

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Kia’s electric vehicle plans take shape with EV6 teaser, new naming strategy

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Kia started the year by dropping “motor company” from its corporate name and revealing a new logo and slogan as part of Plan S, a strategy to shift its business away from internal combustion engines and towards EVs, mobility services and autonomous vehicle technology.

Now, the South Korean automaker is starting to share more details of the first vehicle that will come out of Plan S. Kia released Tuesday several teaser images of the EV6, its first dedicated battery-electric vehicle built on its new Electric-Global Modular Platform, or E-GMP platform. This platform is shared with Hyundai and is the underlying foundation of the new Hyundai Ioniq 5 compact crossover.

These are teasers and so the vehicle isn’t shown in full. But even with the limited view enough design features are visible to begin to understand what Kia’s design language means for the EV6 and its other future electric vehicles.

The EV6 is a four-door crossover, which isn’t a surprise considering the popularity of such vehicles in the U.S. The low front end moves up into a roofline that is reminiscent of a coupe. The LED headlights have a segmented pattern and the traditional grille found on internal combustion engine vehicles is gone.

Kia teases EV6

Image credits: Kia

The company also revealed a new naming scheme to help consumers easily identify the EVs in its lineup. Kia said its new dedicated battery electric vehicles will all start with the “EV” prefix. A number will follow “EV” to indicate the vehicle’s position the line-up. That puts the EV6 somewhere in the middle of its upcoming lineup.

Kia said the EV6 will make its world premiere during the first quarter of 2021.

“Our aim is to design the physical experience of our brand and to create bold, original and inventive electric vehicles,” Karim Habib, senior vice president and head of Kia Global Design Center, said in a statement.

Kia’s strategy is more ambitious though than creating bold, original and inventive electric vehicles. The company said last year that it wanted to become a pioneer in the age of EVs, a brand beloved by the millennial generation and Z generation and a symbol of challenge and innovation. Kia has placed sales and product goals behind those aspirational objectives, including the launch of 11 EVs by 2025 that will give it a 6.6% global EV market share, selling 500,000 electric vehicles annually by 2026, and offering customized purpose-built electric vehicles for corporate customers.

Image credits: Kia

It’s also putting some capital behind the effort, to the tune of 29 trillion won (US $25 billion) by the end of 2025.  Kia said its targeting a 6% operating profit margin and 10.6% return on equity (ROE) ratio during this time period.

The EV6 is the first product of Plan S, a vehicle that will show investors and consumers if Kia’s grand plans are achievable. In other words, the EV6 is important for Kia.

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