Staqu is a Gurgaon based startup aimed to revolutionize fashion ecommerce. Founded by Atul Rai, Anurag Saini, Chetan Rexwal, Pankaj Sharma in 2015, the company has utilized the expertise of the founding members to pioneer an innovative image-to-image matching system, hence simplifying image search, automated meta-tag generation and real time recommendation for ecommerce companies.
STAQU – THE JOURNEY SO FAR
The search for a particular kind of shirt led to the creation of Staqu, an Artificial Intelligence based startup, striving to revolutionize the ecommerce and fashion industry. By trail blazing an intelligent bidirectional image understanding technology, Staqu endeavors to automate image to text and text to image discovery, hence disrupting fashion e-commerce, an industry predominantly dependent on enticing product images.The team at Staqu is committedly crunching data and smoking GPUs to leverage Artificial Intelligence in transforming the lives of consumers at myriad levels, encompassing superior search experience, fashion trend analysis and most relevant and customized product recommendations.
THE PRESENT SCENARIO
Emerging victorious in the IBM GEP Smart Camp Challenge, seen as the most promising startup in the region round, i.e. in North India, Staqu was picked amongst the top four startups by IGM’s Global Entrepreneur Program. The feat empowered Staqu to successfully raise funds from the Indian Angel Network in an investment round led by Ajay Gupta, Bikky Khosla and Neeraj Singhal.The investors perceived value in the products developed by the company, which can be leveraged to increase the sales of fashion ecommerce portals, reduce their operations’ cost and provide a seamless user experience, and also help OEMs include an additional revenue stream. Investing funds in further enhancing and democratizing technology, Staqu is poised to provide the innovative technical edge to India fashion retail, merchandising and ecommerce industry.
HOW STAQU WORKS
With its prime focus on AI research – image processing, deep learning, computer vision, and NLP, Staqu has produced the VGrep API suite, fundamentally offering virtual search engine and a hybrid recommendation engine among other solutions.Empowering shoppers to search for their preferred products by just uploading an image, the company automates search, bypassing the tedious process of having to define elaborate patterns, textures and shapes in words. The revolutionary technology simplifies the pursuit for a particular shirt, getting the celebrity look, or looking for a particular design of tile.
TECHNOLOGY BEHIND STAQU
Fashion Eye uses Staqu’s proprietary Artificial Intelligence (deep learning based) engine to help users discover products in the fashion domain through a single click. The technology is a combination of the state of the art artificial intelligence algorithms that automatically extract details from an image including but not limited to pattern, colour and shape and search it across all the major e-commerce catalogues in the country.Staqu has developed an extremely fast image retrieval algorithm that not only searches through millions of products within milliseconds but also compresses the images so as to provide the user a seamless experience over any network speed be it 2G or 3G.Along with this, Staqu is using its research prowess in image understanding technologies to create user-based recommendation engine that performs real time trend analysis in fashion. This will be achieved by detailed and automated analysis of users’ preferences and fashion choices along with real- time analysis of trends that, in India, are majorly set by celebrities and films. All this will be presented to the user right at the main page of the Fashion Eye application making it a seamless and hassle-free discovery experience for the user.
PARTNERSHIP WITH KARBONN MOBILES
To mark the launch of its Snap n Buy technology, Staqu has already partnered with India’s leading handset player, Karbonn Mobiles, debuting AI enabled fashion search features in its newly launched range of smartphones, Fashion Eye and Fashion Eye 2.0. The in-built app engineered by Staqu, utilizes the special compression technology to enable faster search results and a seamless experience, irrespective varying data speeds enabling the users to discover fashion like never before through the advent of AI. More on this, let’s hear it from ATUL RAI.Exhibit : Hi Atul, tell us what inspired you to come up with the idea of Staqu?ATUL : Staqu is just not a company but it is a thought process which started its evolution back in 2010. I started my career in AI research in 2009 and since then, my passion for AI kept building. I have always wanted to solve real world problem by applying AI.The same thought inspired me to develop a system enabling people with physical disability to control computer, without the use of hands.The project was covered by media back in 2010.Staqu was founded with the same thought, where we four like-minded co-founders met and decided to solve real world problems using artificial intelligence. At Staqu, we are building an automated image understanding technology which could cater automation, utilizing the image related big data, since 70% of content on internet are images. Though we have started with solving the problems of fashion e-com, soon we plan on to expanding to other domains as well.Exhibit : Your struggles in initial days and how did you fight those? AJ : Struggle has been a constant companion in my journey. I hail from a village in Azamgarh, U.P. where I received the elementary education. Being from a “Hindi medium” background and aiming for building an AI Company and roaming different parts of world (I did my MS in AI from University of Manchester and was working as research associate in AI at University of Szeged, Hungary,) to learn and apply the same was not an easy task at personal level. Besides, Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem has only begun to gain steam in recent times. However, while I was contemplating the move, the ecosystem was yet to evolve. Starting something as technologically advanced as AI, further added to the challenge. Also, before returning to India, it was really difficult to persuade my family that I’d beleaving EU to initiate my own start-up in India and that tooin AI.I became confident and sure of the idea, after meeting the co-founders.They all are experts in their own domains with proven records. We all had similar thought processes and having such like-minded early co-founders made things really easy. Everyday our aim was to build our solution stronger than previous day and improve our offerings as much as we can.Exhibit : Memories of fund raising – was it easy or a tough one? AJ : It wasn’t easy to raise funds. There were times when the investors would reject us, while at other times, we rejected the investors.We wanted to have an investor who had faith in our technology, team and plans. Our aim was to clear anydoubts that our investors had before raising the funds, because in the end we wantedto earn their faith and just not the investment. Somehow we were lucky enough to find investors who could resonate with our thoughts.Exhibit : How is Staqu different from other e-retailers? AJ : Staqu is not an e-commerce platform.We are an AI research startup which catersto the needs of different e-commerce companies to automate their task and at the same time, help them to save both time and money, which e-com companies really need in current market scenario. Currently we are automating search, recommendation, trend analysis and automated product description for the fashion e-commerce companies. Bringing such automation in various domains is novel, not only in the Indian market but also in the global market.Exhibit : Who are your target customers? How is the response so far? AJ : Potentially, any company which generates images or videosare our target customers, since extracting information from images without human interference isn’t otherwise possible and that’s the expertise Staqu has. Within 6 month of our launch, we have partnered with Yepme, Tradeindia, Roposo, Paytm, Karbonn, Panasonic, Lavaand more.Exhibit : When do we see Staqu in Android and iOS on a wider basis? AJ : So far, for the Android eco-system, our current strategy is to go B2B and partner with different OEMs to bring our AI powered solutions to the end user. As far as iOS is concerned, we are building the technology which could really revolutionise the online fashion shopping in India. However, I wouldn’t want to kill the surprise by divulging any more details as of yet.Exhibit : Where do you see Staqu 5 years from now? What precisely do you aim at? AJ : We at Staqu are working towards building one of the most advanced AI Company in India. In near future, we wish to introduce a new business model of “AI as a product” to the world.Exhibit : What lessons did you learn throughout the journey of startup which you would like to pass on to the newbies? AJ : Although I am still learning, but from by my past one year of experience, I would suggest every newcomer should focus on building a great product but should not miss out on making money out of it. As ultimately building great product and scaling it would require money so rather than running behind investors, you should try to generate it from the product itself and use it to innovate further. Never stop building!