Posted on December 16, 2016 by staff

Google tech talent behind Zento race photos app


A Birmingham start-up which aims to crowdsource photos for keen runners and cyclists is using image recognition tech developed by a former employee at Google.

Zento is a web-based app which allows freelance photographers to upload pictures from mass participation sports events, such as the London Marathon.

Anyone can then download the pictures, after searching for their race and bib number, for a fee set by the owner.

“Official photographers at races often sit at the top of a hill,” founder Oli Hills told BusinessCloud. “I cycled the Great Western Ride, Bristol to Western Super Mare through Cheddar Gorge, and there were only a couple of photographers for 100 miles!

“There are freelancers and professional photographers all around the course taking photos which you can’t get hold of.

“With Zento you can upload them, allowing participants to see photos from all around the course.”

Zento has been trialled at 21 events. So far it seen 307 photos downloaded, with 265 of those for free to trial the software and amass user feedback.

Hills added: “Five per cent of people buy a photo from mass participation sports – that’s the industry standard. If you look at a photographer’s website, they are not coders themselves, so the user experience can be very poor.

“At Zento we bring the customer experience into it and listen to all their feedback so we’re getting downloads of 10, 15 per cent.”

Hills, who says Zento takes a 20 per cent cut of fees which usually range from £3-5, has brought in Paris-based Samuel Charron as CTO.

He said he searched online to connect with people who had worked on Google’s Tesseract, an open-source engine which recognises characters within images from 60-plus languages.

“It was a shotgun approach – but a controlled shotgun approach!” Hills added.

“Samuel is working on text recognition and facial recognition, but also software that will enable us to extract even more insightful and valuable data from the photos.

“The commission on sales is the first form of revenue to prove that the model works, but when we go into the data side of it that’s where we see our true revenue.”

Hills said that only 15 per cent of event photos are shared on social media, meaning there is 85 per cent wastage – therefore brands such as UnderArmour, Nike and Adidas are missing out on valuable data.

Following a link-up with the People’s Run to Remember, a series of 5K runs, Zento will look to trial an improved website at the Clough-Taylor People’s Run in  Nottingham in February, with a view to a full launch in March.

He said a recent BusinessCloud roundtable at KPMG in Birmingham had helped the development of his start-up.

“I had a few conversations after the event which pointed me in the right direction,” he said. “It was extremely helpful.

“I’m in discussions about improving the core functionality of the website, based on user feedback, after our previous developer left to pursue his career.

“We now have a marketing intern, straight out of the University of Birmingham, who is looking to increase our fanbase through social media.”