Tech entrepreneurs on the cusp of yet another online revolution
To jointly set up one million-euro company looks like good fortune - but to set up two looks dangerously like serial entrepreneurship, writes Joanna Kiernan
At 28 and 29 respectively, Vinnie Quinn and Marco Herbst had already made well over their first million each following the €2.5m acquisition of their company Jobs.ie (which started as Nixers.com) by the Denis O'Brien owned Saongroup.com.
Over a decade later the duo are back in the start-up game with a new service that promises to revolutionise the way the world uses CCTV cameras and footage; opening the area up with more accessible sharing of data via cloud technology.
"After we sold Jobs.ie both myself and Vinnie headed off in our own directions for a while. I went to Berlin to learn piano and mess around for a while," Marco laughs, "and Vinnie went off travelling around the world."
"Time dragged on maybe four or five years and there was this gardening project going on outside one of my windows and outside another one of my windows there was this old piano factory that was being converted into an architect's supply store," Marco adds.
"I knew people who were involved in both projects, so I started making a sort of photo documentary of their progress. I set up a camera and had it taking a photograph every 10 minutes and making a video."
In order to keep receiving this constant stream of footage, however, Marco realised he had to keep his computer on all of the time.
"I spoke to this developer, the guy who had worked with us on Jobs.ie and asked if he would mind trying to make it run not from my computer in my apartment, but remotely and he did; he configured it so that from a web server we were talking back to the camera, bringing images back to the server and making these videos.
"So you could just go to the website and you could see the video of the building site or the garden," Marco explains. "It looked really good. It was just one of those moments where I thought, 'this has got to be useful to somebody'."
Marco soon realised they had discovered the foundations for a cloud based security system.
"We put together a website for it, Cloud CCTV and then we got a really big inquiry from Singapore Telecom who were interested in the system. At that point I really realised there was something in this," Marco says.
"So I contacted Vinnie and he was really enthusiastic about it and ready to get working again as well."
"The holiday was over," Marco smiles. "We decided to go for it, we wanted to sell to telephone companies so that they could offer as a service this sort of visual security and it sort of half worked," Marco admits.
"It was a little bit more trouble than it was worth and I think we underestimated the technical difficulties and the fact that the existing camera systems for just doing security were kind of OK.
"So, all in all we got customers - but it wasn't the runaway success we had hoped it would be." The process had, however, taught Vinnie and Marco an important lesson, pointing them in the direction of a largely untapped niche in the market - broadening the scope and use of CCTV cameras.
"We realised that outside of security, there was loads of opportunity to use those types of cameras for more interesting things like hooking them up to social media or using them for better managing one's business," Marco says. "Whether it is manufacturing or hospitality or whatever."
However, as the CCTV industry is largely controlled by the security sector, Marco admits that it has been a challenge to get people to think outside this 'security mindset'.
"We were thinking, well hang on a minute, if we connect that camera up to the till, if we connect it up to the manufacturing software and the software that is in control of the packages being shipped out to customers, what we can do is start grabbing images at all of these moments," Marco explains.
"So when people want to see what is going on with an order for example, they can see a visual record, which is a really powerful signature and can be quite fun as well."
However, sharing CCTV footage can be an issue, with the industry very much focused on security, there are a number of competing companies supplying cameras, which by their very design are incompatible with others, and as a result access or sharing of footage is difficult.
"You have mostly hardware companies out there now, so they sell that hardware and they will generally give software that allows you to look at their camera system from your phone or that runs on your computer - but the main purpose of the software is to make sure that when you have to buy one more camera, you are stuck in their system.
"So it's very fragmented and very proprietary," Marco explains. "It has all of those non-internet characteristics."
"I think cameras are one of the last frontiers, there aren't many big areas left on the internet that don't work and I think it's also the most difficult because the industry has been designed to make it difficult," Marco adds. "There are more than 200 different camera manufacturers and they don't cooperate with one another, so to write software that will work with any of those different cameras is technically very hard.
"The internet of things is largely about automation, taking humans out of the production process and letting machines do things, but inevitably stuff goes wrong and you need a record of what happened, traceability and that is where the cameras really come in."
Marco and Vinnie are working to improve the possibility of the access to and sharing of such footage.
"We thought, what if we take a software and a sort of internet approach to this and make it so that it is easier for people to share cameras," Marco says.
"If there are two cameras at work that you are interested in being able to have access to, if there is a camera at home looking after your mum or your daughter in kindergarten - the couple of cameras in your life that are important to you... you are able to have them on your phone or your smart TV or sending you alerts when something happens.
"Surprisingly that type of approach at the moment just really isn't possible - because it is all still in this security approach and each manufacturer has their own software, it's very closed."
Vinnie and Marco have formed a two pronged solution to this particular issue; Camba TV is their sister company, which installs hardware and Evercam provides the unique camera software.
"I sometimes compare it to trying to share a video before YouTube," Marco says.
"You could kind of do it, but you'd have to know what you were doing and it was a pain, but then YouTube came along and made it really easy for a regular Joe to drag and drop a file, send a link to a friend and it works.
"It's similar to Dropbox for file sharing and our position is that no one has really done that yet for cameras.
"There are two things that I find really exciting about it," Marco adds.
"It is huge, there are hundreds of millions of cameras and this is a really big problem everywhere in the world and the growth rate of the industry is really fast.
"Another thing I like about it as happened with YouTube and Dropbox, is that most people don't realise that there is a problem before they're given the solution to it."
Evercam is now providing added value for a number of businesses, by using their security cameras for alternative uses. In Carroll's gift store on O'Connell Street for example, they have turned a one time security camera into a social media camera.
"You can go in and sit beside the statue of the Guinness Zoo Keeper and it will take a photo and tweet it with #CarrollsCam," Marco explains. "So it is also a social media camera that has thousands of followers and sticks their logo onto every photo that gets shared around social media."
Currently, Evercam has over 5,000 cameras connected to its system with approximately 3,000 users.
"Most of our customers would be businesses," Marco says.
"We did a really big project for the beef industry recently in terms of increased traceability. It was the supermarket in that case, who said to the slaughterhouse: 'We want you to have cameras and we want to have access to those cameras, so that we can see that things are being done in the way that they have been promised.' That has been really effective, allowing a third party to have access to someone else's cameras and being able to share in a limited and controlled way."
"We do quite a lot of community CCTV stuff too," Marco continues. "So for example I might have a shop with a really good view of people coming out of your shop - so it makes sense for me to share that outside camera with you and you to share your outside camera with me.
"Normal CCTV systems would be really bad at that, whereas ours does it really naturally because it is on the internet and if someone wants to take a bit of footage and share it with the gardai or Dublin City Council; it is literally as easy as putting in somebody's email address and clicking send to either send that bit of footage or give temporary access to that camera to somebody else.
"It all sounds dead basic because we are so used to being able to do that with everything else in our lives, but that hasn't happened with cameras yet."
Up until now Evercam has mostly been funded by Vinnie and Marco, alongside support from some former Jobs.ie investors, Enterprise Ireland and Telefónica's Wayra start-up programme.
"The plan would be that sometime next year we will do a round of corporate venture capital, but we'll see," Marco smiles. "It's been five years of finding our way. With Jobs.ie that took about three years, then two years of kicking ass where it just grew really fast. We are at that point now with Evercam where I think it's just starting to take off."
Sunday Indo Business