With $5M Funding, Waldo Photos Aims to Find You in Pictures

[Corrected 2:58 p.m., 1/22/15. See Below.] The prevalence of social media and smartphones has made photo-taking, from food to friends to the ever-indulgent selfie, a bit of an exercise in futility. How do people keep track of all these photos of themselves, especially when someone else takes them?

An Austin, TX, company called Waldo Photos is developing a tool that helps its users find photos of them that others take. More specifically, Waldo Photos is expecting to provide a service to professional photographers and other organizations that might take photos of people they don’t know: Waldo’s tool uses facial recognition software to identify people in the photos—those who have signed up to use the Waldo app, not just anyone, that is—and then connects them with the photographer in hopes that the subjects might buy the photo.

Waldo announced this week it has received a $5 million seed funding round from Santa Monica, CA-based Upfront Ventures to help it launch, which it expects to happen in two to three months. The company is currently testing a closed beta version of the tool.

“We are able to take the needles out of the proverbial haystack, if you will,” says Waldo CEO and co-founder Rodney Rice. “We’ve seen a radical progression in the quality of cameras and the pervasiveness of digital photography with all of us having a camera in our pocket. There hasn’t really been any progress in the delivery mechanism and the way the business side works.”

Both professionals and consumers can upload photos to Waldo, and a user who signs up for the tool has to upload a photo of his or her face. The software will search Waldo’s database for any existing photos that match, and will notify the user if a new photo is uploaded by a friend at a private barbeque or a photographer at a public event, Rice says.

The economics of the business depend partly on professional photographers and organizations—a music festival that has employees shoot photos of crowds, say, or an amusement park that snaps pics of terrified roller coaster riders—signing up to use the Waldo app. Rice says that most professional photographers run their own business (91 percent of 175,000 nationally, by Rice’s numbers) and lack the technology or infrastructure to find all of the individuals they take photos of. By helping those groups gain more business, Waldo Photos would take a cut of the new revenue, Rice says, though he declined to provide any specifics. [Statistic showing the percentage of photographers who run their own business changed to update correct number.]

Consumers can use Waldo for free, creating and sharing albums at their discretion, he says. A user can make an album of photos private, and share it with specific friends, or public, something that a professional would be more likely to do, Rice says.

People can also use Waldo without downloading the app. If someone attends a specific event that Waldo has a photographer at, he or she can text a selfie to Waldo’s number, 735343 (yes, the mnemonic for the number is SELFIE), with a tag related to the event to see if there are photos.

Waldo Photos also expects to make money by working with brands at events, Rice says. If a Waldo user has a photo taken with a brand’s merchandise, that photo will have a watermark related to the brand, Rice says. If a user uploads that photo to any form of social media, the brand would then reach that user’s friends, he says.

Plenty of other facial recognition software exists, of course, with uses ranging from passport detection to Facebook’s suggestion that you be tagged in a friend’s photo. Rice says he thinks the market for this type of tool is large enough for Waldo to deal with any competitors. The company also has patents on the intellectual property related to the way the platform works, he says.

Rice contends that his experience prior to co-founding Waldo with Michael Beaudoin will help, too. In 1999, he and Beaudoin founded HomeAdvisor, a Colorado-based company that provided screenings and ratings of for-hire home service professionals. The company sold to New York-based InterActiveCorp (IAC) and Rice continued to work there until 2012. He developed the idea for Waldo in 2014.

Rice and Waldo made the connection with Upfront Ventures through partner Kara Nortman, who spent about seven years at IAC. Nortman, like Rice, is a parent, which helped her see value in the tool, he says.

“Every time I turned around, I felt frustrated in the friction of getting photos of my family,” Rice says. “I thought, well, there’s got to be a better way.”

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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