Updated: Oct 5
Though “Innovation” and “Invention” may sound interchangeable, they are anything but. While innovation is about improving existing processes, invention is creating something that did not exist before. For this reason, invention is much rarer than innovation.
And Warwick Robinson, founder of PhotoSVR (pronounced “photo sphere”), has managed the rarest thing of all: to do both.
Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, PhotoSVR captures, generates, and serves the world’s best-looking, smoothest-moving, and most cost effective 360°3D images - specifically tailored for online and mobile viewing.
However, by utilising PhotoSVR’s platform-based strategy, it goes so much further than simply capturing and generating interactive virtual 3D images. Delivering extra value via the hosting, metadata management, administration and sharing of both 360°3D and 2D product imagery, Photosvr offers brand owners, e-commerce businesses and platforms a secure, shareable and centralised brand-asset repository.
The “why” and the “what”
But before all that, its important to understand why the solution was conceived in the first place. After investigating methods of automating product photography, for a customer who needed to shoot upwards of 90 000 products, he battled to find an existing solution that ticked all the boxes.
HD resolution, web-friendliness, and the ability to enhance to spin-interaction were imperatives. Add in the ability to manage, share and analyse the data, and the options started narrowing even more. And all this before even considering the enormous investment needed to capitalise a single machine.
His solution was to create hardware that required as little custom manufacturing as possible, while ticking all the boxes of what he believed would deliver the value, easy to use software to run the machine and a platform to extend the security, distribution and management of the data. When he consulted with a South African industrial design professor who specialises in reverse engineering through 3D printing, the response was fairly direct: “No one has got a machine like that. Build it.”
So he did. Today, PhotoSVR is disrupting the product imagery space not only in the way it captures and serves 360°3D images, but also in its speed and cost effectiveness in doing so. Together with flexibility, extendibility into multiple media formats and many future opportunities available though the platform. Most people believe AR/VR and metaverse objects are sometihng to consider in the future, but they would be surprised to find out how close these technologies are to reality today. The company owns the IP to its hardware, the software that runs the machinery and the platforms that backs it all up and delivers content to consumers.
To fully understand Photosvr’s offering, first consider traditional product photography.
Say a company has four products they want to photograph and put onto their website. That involves finding a photographer, hiring them, shooting the products, and waiting for post-production tweaks. It’s basically a two-week turnaround for about half a dozen flat images (at best) that must then be resized and uploaded. And probably ends up stored on a USB stick in a drawer somewhere.
And because they’re paying for the photographer’s time, the company ends up spending a considerable amount per product - for half a dozen images delivered to them in a dozen days.
Now imagine if a large retailer wanted 25,000 product images online. That’s a years’ long engagement for a team of photographers. And the cost? Yikes.
Compress a two-week process into hours
PhotoSVR can photograph four products per hour (at a minimum) using a single piece of its hardware. The same customer who could wait two weeks for a handful of flat images can come to Photosvr at 9 am and walk away at noon with four 360° 3D images, at least 12 flat images of each product (at resolution high enough for printing), 12 months of online hosting and platform access, and as much metadata as they want filled in for each of those images. Adminstration, enhancement and sharing tools are all part of the solution.
Since its launch in October 2019, Photosvr has shot brands as diverse as Apple to Nike and Nikon, Smeg, Swarovski, Canon, Sony, and so many more for big name brand owners such as Nestle and retail platforms like Vodacom World.
“What we’ve created originated with client need. This isn’t something we dreamed up because we thought it would be cool,” Warwick says. “What clients need are higher rates of sales conversions. What leads to those higher rates? Better engagement and understanding on the part of the consumer. As important: a better understanding from search algorithms. We’re delivering all this, plus more, while saving our customers time and money. It’s a win-win-win-win situation. There’s no loser in the way we’re going to market.”
The manner in which they have conceived the technology means that the offering can scale in both capacity and physicality to suit any business – almost anywhere, for almost any product. So a single item shoot up to a solution catering to a business with 10’s of thousands of SKUs, is all possible.
You don’t have to be a retailer to nerd out on the value provided.
“The product stands out because people are not used to seeing a product move like this,” Warwick says. “They can look at it from every angle and even go into full screen for really zoomed in detail like bar codes or ingredients on food products.”
The 360° 3D image Warwick describes is known as a “sphere”, abbreviated to SVR (which co-incidentally originally represented “Swift Virtual Reality”). The SVR can be displayed in a variety of resolutions, depending on the viewer’s connectivity. At lowest resolution it loads almost immediately without compromising smoothness along every axis. The tech compresses One GB of photo data into a package as small as 1.5MB to a maximum of 15MB at full HD (1920px resolution). Next to video, a SVR is a smaller package to deliver digitally and ideally suited to distribution online, while offering maximum interactivity.
Warwick likes to demo Photosvr’s offerings using a pair of dirt bike boots - shot as a SVR, of course. “I ask the customer, ‘Can you tell me what size these are?’ They can move it around, find the label inside and see that the boots are size 12, made in Croatia in 2014. Nobody on earth currently has a solution that can match this.”
It’s proven that the more a customer understands about a product, the higher the trust that is developed in the product, and this relates directly to the rate of sales conversion. A SVR gives the viewer a feeling of virtually holding the product in their hands, and so engagement on that level is high. This engagement builds trust, brand equity and by implication loyalty, and drives sales.
The other important engagement aspect comes from search, which depends on metadata and algorithms. Every image Photosvr uploads to its platform can include a full set of metadata.
To illustrate the point using the same Motor Cross boots as an example: “We’re giving Google over 300 visual impressions of what these boots look like,” Warwick says. “At the same time, each of those 300 impressions can contain a full set of metadata.”
That’s roughly 600 times more data than Google is used to receiving, and understanding about a product from a single flat image. And that means that SVRs organically boost the amount of information a search algorithm understands.
It gets even cooler as you consider that most search is moving to higher visual recognition.
“I can have a photograph of, for example, a motorbike flying through the air, and with the SVR, we’re basically saying to Google, ‘Okay, you can only see the boots from that weird angle, but here this meta data to let you understand what they are.’ So Google’s image recognition algorithm can now know that the guy on that bike in the air is wearing AlpineStar Tech 7s, and if you’re looking at that image, Google can conceivably tell you, ‘By the way, this is where you can buy them nearby you right now.’ That’s the power and immediate future application of what we’re doing. It’s about so much more than just a cool way to view products.”
As if that weren’t enough, pricing is a further point of disruption. The idea is to offer clients more for their money – almost 10 times more 2D image data, plus the 360°3D, plus the hosted adminstration solution - all for the same or less than they are used to paying for 4 flat images!
A single piece of hardware can generate around 500 sku captures per month, on a single shift. In 12 months, it could conceivably put about 25,000 products online for one customer. Using traditional photography as a comparison, it would take about three to ten times as much time and money to do the same thing.
The platform is the major value-add.
“We’re using the basic concept that a company like YouTube uses,” Warwick explains. “As a user, you benefit from having your content hosted there, first of all from an infrastructure point of view - it’s better for your website to feed that data in, rather than crash your own website’s architecture.”
The second reason is that with every feature the platform adds, the user benefits, too.
“Think about what YouTube did for content creators,” Warwick says. “more than just a place to show off their content, they can monetize the content and have a share in its revenue.”
PhotoSVR has the potential to do the same for its clients, only with SVRs of their products. Shooting in this manner offers content creation possibilities in mutiple media formats at a disruptively low price point and delivery timeframe.
Hardware is traditionally the barrier to entry.
While other companies that offer 360° product images do exist, their business model is completely different. They sell customers the hardware needed to create spin photography - a cost anywhere between half a million and 3 million Rand ($92,000–$185,000).
“And that’s just so you can set up and do the work yourself - which again is not very productive. It creates an enormous barrier to entry,” Warwick says. “Companies that can quickly sign off on that amount of money are few and far between, and ones that sign off R3 million and can still implement the work themselves - even rarer. That’s why most businesses can’t take on this type of technology. And for all of that, the resolution isn’t usually very good, they tend to be quite small (about 600px wide), don’t allow for zooming, the interactivity is poor, and they spin only on one axis.
“A lot of running a business is about running into the glass door. Sometimes you learn, and sometimes you end up with another bloody nose. When I looked at these images - and maybe I just haven’t learned my lesson - I thought, we can do this better,” Warwick says.
We have chosen a different route based on providing a better, smoother and more web friendly result, and extended this to the business model. We aim to provide a low risk initial engagement project, allowing a business to prove the value. Then when they extend the application across a wider range, we offer a subscription type payment plan with pricing levels based on increasing volumes”. Right now the business is service based, but with larger batches is already moving to a subscription model and ultimately aims to have a full SaaS offering in the foreseeable future.
Tech startups are not for the feint of heart.
That said, starting a business in South Africa does have its advantages as a startup-friendly environment. “We can make mistakes at one seventeeth (or is it eighteen today) of what they would cost if we were in a US market,” Warwick jokes, referring to the Rand’s value against the dollar.
The South African government also has a fair amount of resources allocated for new businesses that generate intellectual property, but accessing them proved quite an adventure. The Department of Trade and Industry pushed PhotoSVR through its Innovation Hub ecosystem, where Photosvr qualified for its Maxum incubation program.
This enabled the startup to engage suppliers to get the various components of the technology built. The lost time pushed their launch to September 2019. A tough time of year to launch a new technology (or any business, really), given South Africa’s “Silly Season,” the summer months known for holiday festivities and not so much for workplace productivity.
“We basically had February 2020 to really engage the market, and then we all know what happened in March 2020,” Warwick says. The lockdowns and unconventional trading conditions of the last 2 years gave us the opportunity to invest further in the technology while engaging customers grappling with how to convert their e-commerce offerings.
So despite what can be seen as setbacks, PhotoSVR has really developed the perfect solution for the times. A number of key early adopters have led to the comapny shooting some of those previously listed famous brands, which is great from a marketing and credibility viewpoint too. As time has allowed more and more brands and platforms are seeing what enormous benefits this technology can add to their businesses.
The big 360°3D picture
The applications for the innovation and invention that is PhotoSVR are practically endless. While the current focus is on the e-commerce and master data applications, virtual and augmented reality opportunities are being catered to, as well as the possible metaverse and NFT application.
“Our early vision was simply to create a better, faster, and nicer way of shooting and interacting with product images.” Warwick says. This vision evolved to where PhotoSVR can become to product imagery what Shutterstock is for stock photos, plus more. Aspects of digital asset management and master data applications have developed almost organically, and the business keeps identifying new opportunities.
PhotoSVR is sure to become a really valuable resource for brand manufacturers, platforms and retailers the world over. The list of points to derive value from keeps growing at a rate that no other solutions currently seem to be able to match. Innovation and invention are not the same, PhotoSVR has achieved both and looks to keep on going.
Check them out at photosvr.net. Our readers can qualify for an exclusive added value coupon, by using the code “SASVR” on filling out the booking form on their website . Greg Serandos - Sausalito Technology Advisors // www.sausalitotech.co