Looking Glass

What is the problem that Tahzoo is trying to solve? We want to implement technology that enhances the human experience. All too often in marketing, the one size fits all approach brings depersonalized experiences, stealing brand equity with a callous disregard for the needs of the individual. Our Fortune 500 clients have made massive investments in their products and services that are slowly eroded with benign neglect.

I want everyone to take a moment and put themselves at a social event. There is someone who you know pretty well; let’s say you interact with that person once per week. Culturally and psychologically, it is expected that you greet or at least acknowledge one another. It may be a nod, a handshake or a warm embrace, but to not acknowledge someone you know is an offense, plain and simple. So, imagine this person ignoring you or pretending not to know you – what are you thinking how does that make you feel?

When the President and Hillary Clinton didn’t shake hands at the during the presidential debates is was the subject of much reporting and speculation about how much they dislike each other. For many reasons rooted in our evolution, greeting someone is part of the human condition. We are trying to make sure that the practical implementation of technology doesn’t rob consumers of their humanity. We are trying to create experiences that are pleasing and relevant, replicating human-to-human interactions. Keep this in mind while I shift to a different topic.

When was the drone developed and when was the first unmanned flight? Human history is replete with examples of technologies developed for war or in pursuit of a national effort that resulted in commercially viable products. We can credit World War II for advances in aviation that made commercial flying possible. The software created to optimize power consumption for drilling on the Apollo missions became the basis for developing The Dust Buster, a cordless vacuum cleaner. One of the more well-known examples is that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in 1968 contracted with BBN Technologies to build routers which enabled the first version of the internet.

It took almost another 25 years for the internet to take hold and become commercially viable. If you think of technology as a layer cake – one advancement built on top of another – while there is continuity in the progression, the practical implementation usually comes in a moment of inspiration. An entrepreneur or a visionary sees as a unique combination of technologies to solve a business problem. Let’s take the Xerox Park example: You had a bunch of researchers and engineers inventing the Graphical User Interface… Xerox had the technology, but Jobs and then Gates saw the value. They saw this was going to profoundly change computing… the rest is history.

The misnomer is that when inventions are marked ‘a moment of genius’ or brilliance and the idea ascends to meteoric heights, fortunes are made and the world transforms. While this fits the American cultural narrative, it’s largely a fantasy. What actually happens is that someone sees the practical application of a collection of technologies to solve a common problem. Sometimes it’s just making things easier, sometimes it’s a whole new experience – but at the core, the invention replaces something that already exists or that we were already doing, it’s just better. We were able to walk to our friends, then we rode horses, then we drove cars and maybe soon, we’ll beam over.

What was the last technology revolution in retail related to the customer experience? Sure, we have systems that manage inventory or store operations more efficiently, but something that makes the in-store experience better…? There hasn’t been much in the last 50 years. Arguably now that Point of Sale systems are tied to computers, transactions happen more quickly and a cashier can look up the availability of a product but really… Is that a better customer experience than Amazon can provide with super efficiency?

This brings me to our Looking Glass Product. Marketing to customers, serving customers and managing store operations is something as humans we’ve been doing for thousands of years. The efficiencies of Amazon aside, shopping is a quintessentially human experience. We trade our hard-earned labor for things we need or want… agree with it or not, we enjoy shopping.

Looking Glass is a novel implementation of existing technology to improve the customer experience. With a camera and a digital display, we use visual recognition technology to make determinations about a customer or groups of customers and then modify the content on the screen to meet the needs of the customers. For example, if you’re a middle-aged mom with two kids in tow, rushing into a Starbucks, Looking Glass would present content about the Mobile Order and Pay feature on the Starbucks Mobile Application… “Move to the front of the line with mobile order and pay”. If you’re an Asian man in a duty-free airport store walking up to the Jack Daniels section, the video will feature the Sinatra-branded Jack Daniels created specifically for the Japanese market. If you’re walking with a sense of urgency, we may identify you as having a propensity to action and share different content to someone who is browsing.

Our product delivers this capability built on technology that has been around for decades. What enables our solution is the increases in computing power and algorithms that have been developed in pursuit of bad guys after 9/11. We can collect vast amounts of data, quickly process it, and in real time deliver a differentiated experience. What’s astonishing is how much data science has evolved during the war on terror. There is no real difference in how you predict behavior – its accuracy is largely dependent on having enough data to have a reasonable likelihood of success. With a camera in-store, we can understand and measure how people behave, how they react to various types of content and the conditions within the store. If through a network of cameras I am monitoring behavior to see if someone is acting in a way that might lead to a crime (“propensity to action”) and I can also monitor behavior to see if someone is likely to make a purchase (“propensity to action” )… it’s the same thing. We’re just applying the technology to different business problems. One of the things that is most remarkable is the accuracy of the visual recognition systems to determine gender, age, ethnicity, and sentiment (level of happiness) for every person that passes by the camera. On top of that, we can see how fast the line moves, what was your happiness score when you walked into the store, and what was it when you left.

Looking Glass is a tool and technology to present custom experiences, to collect first-party behavioral data and create enriched in-store experiences. We can tie the online and offline worlds together. It may not be the same thing as talking to your favorite salesperson at Nordstrom, but it’s a big step forward in that direction. When we couple Looking Glass with Artificial Intelligence, well then, the real magic can happen.

I am very excited about what we’re doing and although the application of what we are proposing is novel and unique, it’s founded on technology that has been around for a long time. Sometimes the best ideas are a simple change in paradigm.

The answer to the drone question is that in 1916-17 the first pilotless drone was developed, and the first unmanned flight occurred on Long Island in March of 1918. It only took 100 years for drone technology to make its way to the commercial market. Hopefully we’re going to bring Looking Glass to market fast than that.

Let’s go be great!

Brad Heidemann

Author: Brad Heidemann

As CEO, Brad Heidemann drives the strategic vision for Tahzoo and directs the overall planning and execution of the business. He has grown the company from a few employees and some great ideas to an agency that serves the Fortune 500, maintaining offices from Amsterdam to Seattle.