Internet of Eyes: A Sight to Behold & 11 Other Lessons from Investor Evan Nisselson

©Robert Wright

There is no exaggeration whatsoever in saying that out of all the interviews I’ve done lately Evan is the one person that has made me like him only by reading his answers. This is because of his view on life, because people are important to him (not just the product), and because he was able to give a very concrete definition of what he’s looking for as an investor. Add this to the fact that he likes Italy, we have that in common too.

He is also the only one who describes his previous (and vast) experience in being an entrepreneur, team leader, and digital media/imaging expert very briefly. So I had to improvise. What I can tell you though, is that he has a background of 18 years of building visual technology businesses and he is now investing in visual technology businesses. He’s a General Partner at LDV Capital and he’s looking to invest in people around the world who leverage visual technologies to entertain, increase efficiency, and solve problems: both North American and European companies whose products are commercially viable in the U.S.

His specialties range from Product Development/Strategy, ECommerce, Professional and Consumer Imaging Business & Technology to Digital Photography, Digital Media Search, Internet Marketing, Software as Service (SaaS), Digital Asset Management, Business Development, Raising Capital and Photography. He is also a frequent speaker, moderator and tech conference Master of Ceremonies at technology conferences such as The Next Web/Amsterdam, BizSpark Euro Summit, IDCEE/Ukraine, Pirate Summit/Germany, organizer of the LDV Vision Summit  and others around the world. Add this to the fact that he will also be joining How to Web Conference later this week – you can meet him in person on November 1 & 2 at the National Theatre of Bucharest.

Before that however, we discussed with Evan about the Internet of Eyes, trends and new opportunities in visual content, computer vision, machine learning and AI. We’ve also touched upon what he is actually looking for in a startup and how he likes to be approached as an investor.

  1. In the future, robots will rely on visual understanding in order to operate.

“Visual technologies are those technologies that are enabling the capturing, analysis, storage, display and monetization of visual data. So it can either be images, or video, or visual data that comes from sensors. The Internet of Eyes are cameras and sensors capturing visual data and they will be solving problems everywhere.  For example, autonomous driving cars – they cannot operate without cameras and visual sensors that sense objects, motion, sentiment and they do that from seeing. And that is the very high level of what visual technologies are.

So it could be AR and VR, it could be biometrics, gesture recognition, visual search, new cameras, or robotic imaging. The robots of the future will not be able to operate unless they can see. And the key way to think about that is: 90% of our daily interactions as humans relate to visual understanding and communication. So today and in the future computers will mimic those actions, and for new opportunities, they will be able to analyse visual data depending on their goals. And this can either be for consumer or B2B businesses.”

 ©Robert Wright
©Robert Wright
  1. The Internet of Eyes is the next big opportunity after the Internet of Things.

“The Internet of Eyes is a different concept than the Internet of Things. It’s based on visual technologies, the next opportunity after Internet of Things and it is connected to IoT.  In the Internet of Things, however, some products might not use visual data, for example, a sensor tracking electricity, might not leverage visual data.

Visual technologies encompass all types of technologies that leverage or analyse visual data. So one example could be a company I invested in called Clarifai that is computer vision and artificial intelligence that automatically tags objects and context in images and in videos. Or another company we invested in called Mapillary which is a crowd-sourced streetview platform that captures images from its community of thousands of people around the world photographing streets from their car or from their bicycle, or on mountain hikes. They’re stitching millions of images together leveraging computer science and artificial intelligence that automatically creates a 3D view of our world.”

  1. Shift your view towards the opportunity of enabling every day objects to see.  

“Biometrics has been around for a long time, but it hasn’t become a mass adopted technology, yet. I believe people will use their fingerprint, iris, and behavioral actions to open doors, instead of carrying keys for their car or their home. So the door will be able to see you – that’s part of the Internet of Eyes.

Your car will be able to see you. Imagine this: what if there is a visual analysis of when you get in your vehicle, before you turn your car on, what if it looks at you from multiple sensors and says: “Evan – you’ve been having too many whiskeys, and you should not drive right now and it doesn’t let you drive? Or you can get in an Uber, or a Lyft car, and your smartphone  says: the driver is very angry and aggressive from its visual analysis of their face and says, take into consideration another option because this may not be a safe ride?”

There are a lot of other opportunities. For example, what if when you go into your bathroom every morning and your mirror tracks your health every day and says: today you’re more depressed than yesterday, or you weren’t eating well yesterday and you should eat more green vegetables, or it says how well you slept by tracking your eyes, and over time it gives you an understanding of how to improve your health? The Internet of Eyes takes your mirror which is usually a nontechnical part of your home, and turns it into something that helps you improve your health and your life.”

 ©Robert Wright
©Robert Wright
  1. It will take between 5 and 20 years for this kind of technology to become a reality.

“I think many industries are starting to use all this visual data. Autonomous driving cars like Tesla are pushing the envelope for that, and that’s starting to happen now. So I think in the next 5 years we’ll see a lot more usage of this visual data from sensors and I believe that it will deliver real opportunities.

It’s still just the beginning, so I’d say it will take somewhere between 5 to 20 years until more of this kind of technology will hopefully solve problems for businesses and people, and improve our lives. Obviously, with all technology, there are benefits and adverse effects as well. So I think whether or not people are ready, it will be one step at a time as far as these new technologies come into usage.”

  1. Robots and artificial intelligence will not replace humans.

“Throughout every industrial revolution everyone is worried about technology replacing people’s jobs. Some jobs have been and will be replaced by robots and other jobs will be created where robots cannot succeed. There are a lot of things that we do every single day that are very repetitive and that can be replaced by robots or artificial intelligence. These type of jobs are not really creative. So why not have a world where robots do the non-creative, repetitive activities, and allow humans to focus on the responsibilities and jobs that demand intuition, inspiration, creativity, innovation, compassion, and imaginative analysis?”

  1. Visual technologies will revolutionize several fields, such as education and entertainment.

“I think there are going to be new opportunities for education to evolve as technology evolves. What if, instead of learning about the Egyptian pyramids or the Chinese Wall from books, we could explore them virtually from our classroom or home? I hope students continue to go on field trips to explore the world but these new technologies will empower more daily interactive and global education. I believe that visual technologies will bring a new level of inspiration and a new way to educate people. Instead of looking at two dimensional images in school textbooks – exploring three dimensional and interactive visual education will be more rewarding.

Humans interact mostly via visual stimulus more than they communicate verbally. Entertainment is also going to get more intriguing, more interactive, you’re gonna feel like you’re in new environments rather than having to wait to go places – this is a great opportunity to explore new ways of entertainment. We’ve gone from a small amount of people capturing images and video to billions of people exponentially creating and sharing visual information. So I think that’s improving people’s visual understanding of our world.”

  1. Don’t get caught up in the hype, create a product that solves a problem and validate it as early as possible.

“I think early stage startups and entrepreneurs should focus on solving problems by leveraging deep knowledge in their domain of expertise and whatever vertical they’re in, and focus on solving problems others are willing to pay for. What frequently happens is that startups are focusing on something they think is a solution to a problem and sometimes when they go to market their product they realise that their customers either don’t have that problem or not willing to pay for a solution. And that relates to anything from visual technologies to any other technology. The key is to do rapid prototyping towards a solution to a problem, either a business vertical or a consumer vertical. And the sooner you can get out and interact with your client and validate what you’re doing, that will help you be more successful.

Obviously, there are trends and hype cycles, we are probably at the top another VR hype cycle, and maybe in the next 2-3 years there will be more market adoption and validation. It is not a question of if AR and VR be mass adopted – it’s a matter of how and when.  There needs to be more headsets and more content to be created. One of the most important challenges for all startups = market timing.”

  1. Businesses that are combining and leveraging the appropriate multiple data signals will have better understanding and large opportunities.

“I believe the interesting piece in the next couple of years is not just saying “hey, that’s a computer analyzing an image with a small young girl with a red jacket in front of some mountains with snow on them.”

What’s going to be very exciting will be adding other digital signals to that, to know that the little girl with a red jacket on is happy or healthy, from other signals we can analyze in that image and from past images. Parents photograph their children every day. Today computers can understand that a kid looks happy outside, but it will be able to give us signals that the young child is also healthy or is not healthy, or will soon be sad, or maybe that child can’t hear well, and you can see from their expression over time across many visual signals captured. This is basically the foundation of how humans act and computers over time will gain these skills.”

  1. Keep focusing on your big vision and the steps you need to take to get there.

“Over time, we’ve seen technology tools and processes become commoditized and become understood. And as we understand and leverage technologies that are more commonplace and maybe a commodity, that will push the envelope on other opportunities that are in front of us and are not yet understood. We’re only in the very, very early days of leveraging computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence and there are exponential opportunities out there.

So, is it more complicated? I don’t think it has to be. I think that people frequently make things more complicated than they are. “Don’t boil the ocean” – have a big vision and focus on a small parts of the problem towards your vision and keep building on it. Many people don’t realize or remember that in the early days when Google started, a lot of people thought that search technology was completed and that there was nothing left to innovate. There were about 10 or 15 search engines like Yahoo, Altavista, Lycos, Excite, InfoSeek, Magellan and others. Some of the younger generations are not aware there was anything other than Google. But then Google came along and solved the problem in a more accurate and efficient manner. And in the early days of Google, they only had one product. They were selling search services to other search engines, and then over time they added dozens or hundreds of products on top of their platform.

It’s the same with Amazon. Amazon vision was to be the largest eCommerce website, as big as the Amazon. And they started with one vertical of textbooks in the early days, and they didn’t sell toothpaste, food, blankets, cleaners or anything else. And I think that’s an important thing all early stage companies should have: what’s their big vision and what are the first baby steps that solve real problems, towards reaching their vision. It’s impossible to do everything from day one, especially when you’re a three person team in Bucharest, London, San Francisco or Tokyo.”

  1. I look for people with deep knowledge that are hustlers, who are solving a problem in a market that has positive macro trends and is a big opportunity.

“I think that every investor has a different answer to that question.  “I’ve invested in people very early when it was only two people that had validated their initial algorithms by winning a top tier competition but didn’t have a product yet” and “I’ve also invested after getting to know someone over a year. Watching their vision and execution evolve to validate with a community of people capturing images.”  

My goal is investing in really smart people with deep domain knowledge, the entrepreneurial DNA to succeed, who are solving tough problems in a market that has positive macro trends at the right time.

  1. A good entrepreneur translates a “no” from an investor or customer to a “not now” and strives to continually evolve and prove validation of their vision.

“The most important thing is the people. People build companies. People make money. People hire other people. And so, you’ll hopefully find somebody that has deep knowledge of their sector and the drive to succeed. They could be working in computer vision for years as a Phd but now they have a new idea that they want to commercialize. And two, they have to have the ‘leader and hustler DNA’, the ability to make you believe that this person will recruit other top quality people that share the same vision. And, are they hustlers – they will not let anything get in their way and work to attain their vision. That’s the DNA of an entrepreneur.

“No” doesn’t always mean “No.” No really means “Not Now.” Unfortunately investor and customers say No all of the time but the question is how do people evolve a “no” into a “maybe” or a “yes?” It is always a positive signal when that person reconnects in the future to say “I wanted to check back in with you to share our progress, our successes and failures. I have now proven more aspects of our vision with new data points, paying customers, and recruiting top tier people who believe in the vision. I learned from others, thought about your comments and made our own decisions. We’ve evolved into into a more viable technology solution to our problem and now we have better validation trends. Let the data speak for itself. And a couple of months later, they still have that drive to constantly evolve and constantly improve the team, the product and the solutions that people will pay for.” It’s all about building relationships, trust and execution with potential customers and investors.

  1. Investors pay attention to the people in the company. Treat them like people, too. Here’s how to approach Evan during How to Web Conference.

“The best way is getting introduced to me is via other people that I know well. Because then somebody tells me “Hey, Gabriela is the best PR person in the world and she helped me on three product launches and she has a new prototype leveraging computer vision and a top tier team building tools that help companies do their PR more efficiently and economically.”

  1. It’s an introduction from someone I trust and know.
  2. They’re already telling me of your execution skills and track record.
  3. They’re saying that you’re working on something unique.

That is the best filter for me as an investor. I think it’s also great to meet new people who we don’t have mutual friends and build a relationship over time.  Sometimes people forget when they are in line to meet an investor that we are human too. The best thing that you can do is learn more about that person in advance and start building a relationship. Say “Hey Evan, I see you’re a telemark skier. I love telemark skiing, when’s the last time you went?” and build up a relationship, rather than trying to pitch your idea in the first 30 seconds. Or, “Hey Evan, your friend Steve from New York suggested we find you. I saw you wrote some articles on the exciting potential for Internet of Eyes. Did you see the Black Mirror show on Netflix that relates that?” Investors typically don’t decide to invest in you after the first 30-second pitch.”

  1. Let’s talk trends and new opportunities in visual content, computer vision, machine learning and AI at How to Web Conference.

“I’m excited to speak with the people at How to Web about new opportunities in visual content, computer vision, machine learning and AI. My presentation discuss high level trends and ways of thinking about solving problems and building big businesses in visual technologies. LDV Capital invests in European and North American companies. Looking forward to meeting great people working on interesting businesses that have business viability in Europe and the United States.

What’s interesting is that there’s great talent at How to Web and we’re interested in finding great tech teams that are solving unique problems.  We’re happy to invest early alongside local investors and help them come to the United States at the right time to find customers, to recruit people and to find investment dollars.”

Are you one of the early stage entrepreneurs Evan is looking for? Then do your homework, get ready and don’t miss the opportunity to meet him on November 1 & 2 at How to Web Conference 2016!

See you soon!

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