What Tech Entrepreneurs Can Learn From the Startup That Beat Google
Facial-recognition experts at NTechLab kept a laser focus -- building credibility and buzz that allowed their company to expand across multiple industries.
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In 2015, algorithm developer and facial-recognition technology expert NTechLab was founded. In the company's first year, it bested Google at facial recognition in the University of Washington's MegaFace Challenge.
How did a young upstart insert itself into a developing industry and steal a coveted prize from a big player? And what can tech entrepreneurs learn from NTechLab's success?
Focus on your key ideas.
It's easy for entrepreneurs to get distracted. It's essential to know about the latest developments in your industry and keep tabs on your competition. But if you find that search for information steals focus from your key ideas, it's time to put on the blinders.
"Think about what you're really interested in as early as possible, without diverting to anything else," NTechLab founder Artem Kuharenko says. "If you have interesting ideas, you should do your best to bring them to the real, working-demo version, which you can show friends and potential investors."
Much of NTechLab's success is due to its closely-knit team of computer scientists who maintain an unwavering focus on becoming the best at what they do. By narrowing its machine-learning algorithm developments to facial recognition, NTechLab was able to beat Google at a game the giant practically invented.
Not only that, NTechLab set itself apart from competitors by creating a product whose algorithm can be applied to real-life industries. Kuharenko explains that narrowing the parameters pushed his company to "make the algorithm very accurate and quick at searching through large photo databases -- billions of them."
Another of NTechLab's core strategies involves aligning itself with well-known names. Think you can't compete on a level playing field with the biggest tech companies? Think again. Oftentimes a smaller competitor with a laser focus is more successful than a large company with unlimited resources but far less specification.
When NTechLab won a highly publicized prize in facial-recognition technology, the company leveraged organic public relations to make its name known. In the process, NTechLab became associated with major industry players -- the largest in the world. When your company name is used in the same sentence as the best and biggest in your field, you know you're doing something right.
Don't limit your market.
When you consider your technology's utility, make sure you remain open to all its possibilities. The artificial intelligence you're developing for biotech or medicine might eventually apply to a broader range of industry verticals.
"We try to look at the wider range of markets," Kuharenko says. "We're not only developers of one of the world's best facial-recognition technologies but can also create products using our vast experience in wider areas."
Facial-recognition technology presents many opportunities. As it becomes more widely known, a greater number of industries will become open to adopting these advances. A technology that started as a way to improve airport and homeland security now is spreading to retail, advertising, online dating and a host of other markets. Be careful not to pigeon-hole your product or brand into just one segment.
Offer solutions to real problems.
"If we talk about the algorithms of facial recognition, they greatly improve the quality of services and life in general," Kuharenko says. NTechLab didn't set out to create a technology for its own sake that failed to solve a real problem. Company founders understood they needed to meet an existing need.
Those needs are seemingly endless, from improving security and fighting crime to authorizing online transactions or tailoring retailers' offers to customers. Even online-dating platforms make use of the technology.
"I chose facial recognition," Kuharenko says, "as it was clear that if you make a fast and precise facial-recognition system, it will have a huge number of applications in everyday life."
Whatever problem your tech product aims to solve, there's something to be learned from NTechLab's example. Distill your ideas to a few, key points and eliminate distractions. Refine your concepts to address real-life challenges. Think big: Don't limit your technology's applications or your options to expand across multiple industries. That's how you take on the biggest names in your space -- and win.