TECHCITYINSIDER100: CrowdEmotion uses facial coding to capture people’s emotions. Its CEO and co-founder Matt Celuszak tells Andrew Dickens how his firm links its groundbreaking technology to businesses.
CrowdEmotion appears on the verge of being a startup success story.
In the space of a year, employees at the London-based firm have gone from working out of their bedrooms to sharing office space at the BBC’s White City HQ, investigating viewer reaction to shows like Top Gear and Sherlock.
“It’s gone fast, and with minimal funding. I look at my guys and I think I’m lucky to have a team like this,” says Celuszak, who co-founded the company alongside Giancarlo Mirmillo and Diego Caravana.
Despite the company’s rapid rise (more on the BBC later), there has actually been some hard graft to get to this point.
A year ago, Celuszak was looking for an idea that would disrupt the market research industry and saw the potential in facial coding as a big data solution.
Serendipitously, at the same time the Canadian was planning a side business to help small tech markets in bigger markets, a UK-based company called Demologics approached him.
“They had a piece of software that did facial coding at a very general level and they were trying to send it to academics but it wasn’t going as well as they had hoped,” he adds. “They said: ‘we are probably going to fold up shop anyway – if you are up for starting a company then come on board.’”
And, in July last year, CrowdEmotion was registered, and the wheels were set in motion.
In a nutshell, the firm’s cloud-based technology reads body language signals, making it possible to measure and understand emotions and apply this data to businesses.
The technology works by capturing micro-facial expressions which people share everyday when communicating. Through algorithms and machine leaning across millions of faces, the expressions are linked to moods, needs and actions.
CrowdEmotion then links the expressions to a number of industries to achieve better results and provides API access points so partners can add emotional intelligence to their business.
“When I looked at it a bit harder, I found this was not actually just a market research problem, but this was a human understanding problem,” Celuszak adds.
“How to understand human emotion at the same speed that we understand behaviour – that was the big question I kind of based the premise of CrowdEmotion on.”
Initial funding was split between family and friends of the company – around £45,000 in total. The CEO then threw in £30,000 of his own. “It was definitely a risk but how can you ask somebody to invest in something if you are not going to?” he asks. “This way, you find out pretty quickly what money you can make and what your company can and cannot do.”
CrowdEmotion was on the brink of entering a funding round before it impressively landed a spot on the BBC’s incubator program, BBC Worldwide Labs.
“Basically I sent a mandate out to the team that we needed free office space so we needed to join some sort of accelerator,” he says. “In April, David Boyle, exec VP of BBC Worldwide Insight, accepted CrowdEmotion onto the scheme and said it was the exact data solution he was looking for.”
The UK broadcaster now uses CrowdEmotion’s facial coding technology to examine how audiences react and behave towards its television shows.
The pilot study with BBCWW includes 200 participants in the UK, with a second round to take place in Russia and Australia and third in six other international markets.
“We were going to be forced to do a funding round or sell the idea, but part of the deal was that the BBC paid us upfront,” he adds. “I am going to keep the figure under wraps but I can tell you it was a six-figure amount and it obviously funded our growth.”
A further boost to the company came in May, when CrowdEmotion won the Innovator’s Innovator award at the Technology Innovators Forum in China, beating competition from 70 participants, a feat Celuszak describes as an “incredible experience.”
Looking ahead, the firm will continue with its current business model, earning money through a variety of academics and businesses.
“Our API clients will probably pay anywhere between £5,000 to £10,000 a month individually and the value they will get off of it is a lot more,” he adds. “From our B2B sales we are looking at six-figure packages over a year, per client, which works out as about half a million pounds for six months.”
While CrowdEmotion is going great guns, Celuszak insists he continues to “learn things along the way.”
“We aren’t a neuroscience shop and when people come to us with neuroscience questions we just refer them on to academics that we work with because they are in a better place to answer those queries,” he adds.
For the time being, the firm will remain at the BBC, which has “offered more space if they need it,” he says.
Not bad for a year’s work.
Matt Celuszak – CV
CEO and co-founder, CrowdEmotion
Director, Global Client Strategies
Research Manager, North America, IMG
The University of British Columbia.