Bull Crossing

Knowledge is Bliss

Munjal Shah of Andale

Posted by g.e. on September 18, 2006

If i have to pick one company in the web-era that was as smart as i2 Technologies or Aspect Development was in the client-server era, it would be Andale.

Very appealing to me because of the niche they are in, which is providing market intelligence tools for eBay merchant community, and the general appeal it will evenutally have in auction management. Like Umang Gupta’s Keynote Systems, it offers something very offbeat.

What of Web2.0? Checkout some nice insights into his new startup – the visual search pioneer – Riya from his interview to nPost here:

Riya is made up of about six, seven PhD’s in face recognition. It’s a pretty technology-oriented bunch that set out to do something very different. The face recognition technology’s been there, but what we’re using is actually quite different from traditional face recognition, and it’s led to significantly higher accuracy rates than you’d get with traditional face recognition. So, that was my second thing, and the third is, just realizing that you want to then create a long-term barrier from your competitors, which in our case – if you think about it – it’s those visual signatures. Once our system has a million trained visual signatures, even if a service that copies us launches, you’re gonna come and put your photos with us, because all of your friends will be recognized without your doing any work, right? So going to a new service, you have to do all the work from scratch. It’s kind of like a social network in the sense that the more people that are in it, the more valuable it is for a newcomer, and for that, we’ll grow and grow and grow. I kind of recognized those three things that we gotta make sure we have. And the last part is that we kind of shower our guys – we just try to take the best care of them, the best machines, the best things, the best toys in the office in terms of their productivity and their work environment and just try to take care of them. You’ll see me blog about them a lot in the blog and in some cases, in a very detailed way. That’s part of being authentic.

We ask each person to answer one question, and they have to be able to answer it to get the job. We said, “What’s the thing you’re better at than anybody else in the world?” which is a pretty bold question, actually.

They all stumbled for a while because it’s a very hard question to answer, but in most cases, for the guys that we brought on initially, it was things like, “Look, I know how to make a photo site scale to handle ten million users or one hundred billion users. I know how to do that better than anybody, or at least there’s maybe ten guys in the world who can probably do this.” In the case of the face recognition guy, one of the professors at Berkeley who had given me a list and said, “Look, what you’re doing is achievable, but I think there are only about twenty people who can really pull this off.” We got about five of those people on our team.

Find the NYTimes coverage of Like.com here.
Like.com represents a fall-back plan of sorts for Mr. Shah, who originally used the technology behind Like.com to create Riya, which helps users organize their digital photos. That service has been popular among users and investors, having attracted $19.5 million from venture capitalists including Bay Partners and Leapfrog Ventures, but Mr. Shah said it had a doomed business plan, because there were not enough ways to make money from it.

How good a search engine is Like.com? “It works good enough,” said Munjal Shah, Like.com’s chief executive. “We’ve found that this is an application where the failings of the technology can turn out to be an asset. People will look at an error and say, ‘I didn’t know there was another item that was close, but with a different design.’ ”

“So there’s a serendipity factor here,” Mr. Shah added. “And it’s also still orders of magnitude better than the alternative.”

“Trying to describe a pattern on a rug — that’s when you need this kind of search,” he said. In the future, users will also be able to upload photos of items they are looking for, and the service will search for matches.

Like.com earns a commission of 5 to 15 percent from Amazon, Ice.com, Zappos and other retailers each time a user clicks on something they see on Like and buys from that retailer. Mr. Shah said the site was limited to just a few product categories because those categories performed the best during early tests. Like.com will add clothing next, followed by home and garden items and other goods.

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2 Responses to “Munjal Shah of Andale”

  1. G.e.

    Thanks for the write up. I appreciate the compliment about Andale. Riya is getting ready to launch our 2nd product in a few months. I would like to personally invite you to join our private alpha test and give us feedback. Let me know if you are interested. Also if there are any others feel free to email me at blog3 at munjal.com

    Thanks
    Munjal Shah – CEO – Riya

  2. g.e. said

    Thanks for the comments. I got a kick out of Andale’s ideas when i first saw its recruitment ads in The Hindu (i guess they were just setting up the India office then). Same I had felt when i was learning of Romesh Wadhwani’s Aspect Development, in late ’90s and of TIBCO before that.

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