Talking Small Biz: For start-up, pictures are worth more than a thousand words

Apu Gupta, in his office at Curalate in West Philly, says he's trying to position his Web start-up to "enter a space that nobody else has." (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Apu Gupta, in his office at Curalate in West Philly, says he's trying to position his Web start-up to "enter a space that nobody else has." (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 17, 2013

A PU GUPTA, 37, a Wharton grad who lives in Fitler Square, is co-founder and chief executive of Curalate, which has developed image-recognition software for online marketers. The start-up, on the outskirts of University City, is banking on the notion that online consumers increasingly communicate about brands in pictures instead of words.

Q: You bill your company as "the world's first marketing platform for the visual Web." What's that mean?

A: Today we pin on boards on sites like Pinterest and share images of products we love. As consumers do this, they use very few words: 'Wow, this shirt is cool.' The problem we solve is that every single social-media-analytics software is built around keyword search. And if you don't have words to search, it doesn't work.

Q: Can you give me an example of what the platform does?

A: Consumers go to the Gap's website and find a shirt they like and they pin that to Pinterest. At some point, the Gap wants to know which of its products is most popular. What consumers are saving is basically an intent to purchase. If you're the Gap, you can't search the word "Gap" and expect to find that shirt.

Q: So, what's the "secret sauce"?

A: Image recognition. We look at every pixel on every image we see. We compare that to every other image we've ever seen, to form a match and relate it to a brand.

Q: And the name Curalate?

A: Pinterest feels eerily similar to Twitter's early days. Companies had to rise up to help brands understand how to use Twitter. Nobody has done anything like that on Pinterest. So we've bet the farm that if Pinterest follows the same trajectory as Twitter, somebody will need these tools, and you rarely get a chance to enter a space that nobody else has. So it's curating visual images and correlating them back to a brand.

Q: Who are your clients?

A: We work with large brands in publishing, retail luxury, automotive and grocery segments. Names like the Gap, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Campbell Soup and Meredith Corp.

Q: When did Curalate launch?

A: May 2012. We now have hundreds of brands on the platform.

Q: You're venture-funded?

A: $750,000 from NEA, which is in Silicon Valley. First Round Capital and MentorTech Ventures are local investors.

Q: How many employees?

A: We have 14 full-time employees and three interns. Two of the full-timers are in New York, a third person in Seattle and the rest here.

Q: The key challenge you face?

A: Having a focused path and extending our lead in this market.

Q: What's next for Curalate?

A: Pinterest was a starting point and a chance to react to change in consumer behavior. A number of emerging social networks are image-centric - Tumblr, Instagram and others that together have up to 100 million unique visitors a month. It's a big opportunity for marketers if they can leverage it.


Email: hinkelm@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2656

On Twitter: @MHinkelman

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