Sydney-based startup Noah Facial Recognition is preparing to pitch to a panel of food-industry heavyweights at a new ‘Lion’s Den’ competition this month, after developing facial recognition software to help cafe workers remember a customer’s name when swamped during the morning rush.
The startup was founded by cafe owners Geoff Cropley and Julie Buchanan after Cropley realised it was “impossible” to remember the “sheer volume” of his customer’s names when he first purchased Cafe Bahista in the Sydney CBD three years ago.
After failing to find an affordable solution to the problem, the pair enlisted the help of co-founder John MacLean to develop the startup’s NoahFace product, which uses facial-recognition software to help cafe owners and staff remember customer names in an effort to provide a more personalised service and keep customers coming back.
The software, which was officially launched two weeks ago after a year of beta testing, uses a front-facing camera attached to an iPad at the cafe’s counter to scan a customer’s face. Their features are cataloged in a database, which then recognises customers on repeat visits.
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“It’s a powerful tool for getting in to a more personal relationship and creating a family of customers,” co-founder and chief executive Geoff Cropley tells StartupSmart.
Noah Facial Recognition raised $1 million in funding late last year from “high net worth individuals” to facilitate the marketing and launch of the NoahFace product and a handful of Sydney-based cafes have already adopted the software since its launch, according to Cropley.
The startup has now been selected to pitch to a panel of food-industry experts this month at the ‘Lion’s Den’: a pitching competition created as part of the Fine Food Australia trade show in an effort to encourage more startups and entrepreneurs in the food and hospitality sector.
The inaugural Lion’s Den pitching competition will be held in Sydney as part of the trade show, and is designed to provide expert feedback to budding entrepreneurs who have “great ideas but not necessarily the means to grow them”, according to Fine Food Australia.
This year the panel includes Unilever managing director Yezdi Duruwalla; business executive officer of Nestle Professional Scott Stuckmann, managing director of Food Innovation Australia Limited Dr Mirjana Prica; and managing director of Food Industry Foresight Sissel Rosengren.
The winning pitch will gain entry into the FSAA Understanding Foodservice program, which covers trends and dynamics in the Australian food services market.
Cropley says the competition will provide crucial publicity for the startup.
“We entered [the Lion’s Den] because we genuinely believed we made a breakthrough in the hospitality industry to make customer engagement seamless and simple,” Cropley says.
“Not just an idea”
Since being deployed in his cafe mid last year, the NoahFace software has saved more than 2000 customer records.
Cropley says customers have been “unbelievably receptive” to the software, largely because the cafe staff have been “quite open and frank” about what the scans will be used for: developing personal relationships and improving loyalty offerings.
“In 12 months we’ve only had two people say no to [their] images [being scanned]: the overwhelming majority of people are embracing the technology and the loyalty system,” Cropley says.
NoahFace’s software signs customers up for a loyalty program “the moment you are put in the system”, Cropley explains. The program therefore does away with the need for physical loyalty cards, instead using its facial-recognition software to give customers their 11th coffee for free.
“The whole loyalty program is flipped in the favour of the client,” Cropley says. “It’s us saying ‘this one’s on us’.”
This loyalty-based approach is showing dividends. Cropley says that in the month of August alone, coffee sales at the cafe are up 37%, net of discounts from their loyalty program, adding that the cafe’s revenue “is growing at that sort of rate year on year.”
Cropley says the since installing the software, the growth in the cafe’s revenue in the last year alone has outstripped the combined revenue generated in the two years prior to its installation.
The NoahFace recognition software costs “about the price of a coffee” per day for businesses to run, and can be either stand-alone or integrated into existing point-of-sale systems, according to Cropley, who says the software’s applications extend beyond hospitality to airport lounges, pubs and clubs.
“There’s a raft of opportunities for where the technology can be used — we’re focusing on cafes today but already getting beaten down by people wanting to talk about its other uses,” he says.
While it’s still early days for the startup, Cropley says Noah Facial Recognition has global expansion in his future sights.
“We want to see this thing go global. It’s such a simple device, it’s so cost effective but the rewards are compelling,” he says.
“It’s not just an idea, it’s a reality with proven results.”