Our MVP Interactive Podcast is back! Join CEO James Giglio on this month’s podcast as he sits down with Tinus le Roux, founder and CEO of Fancam and CrowdIQ. A generalist, with an academic background in engineering and theology, Tinus has spent the past 10 years exploring ways in which technology can be used to better understand the composition and behavior of crowds.
When he’s not grappling with pixels, product development or parenting he likes to disappear into wilderness areas in search of birds to add to his list of a 1000 species seen and photographed.
Transcription of Podcast
All right, welcome back to the MVP Interactive Podcast. After a pretty lengthy hiatus, we have a very special guest in Tinus, Tinus Le Roux from the CEO of Crowd IQ, formerly potentially known as Fan Cam or maybe co-CEO of fan cam. But Tinus is the CEO of Fan cam, which for those of us that don’t know, combines high-resolution 360-degree gigapixel imagery with custom branding and engagement features to become the ultimate crowd selfie. If you found yourself in a stadium over the last few years, chances are Tinus has taken a photo of you and put you online and you’re able to search where you sat and what the look on your face was when your favorite team scored or lost. It’s an awesome technology and we’ll learn a little bit more on this podcast, how that parlayed into a new platform called Crowd IQ, which is a state-of-the-art computer vision to provide actionable insights on the composition and behavior of crowds. All about analytics. A little bit of the fun on the front end, a little data on the back end. Sounds very familiar to the MVP experiential model as well. So Tinus, how are you, buddy? It’s been ages.
It’s been ages. I’m good. I’m really thank you for the invite. It’s great to see you and talk with you again. I’m excited.
Absolutely. And neither of us have aged a bit since we met back in 2014.
In fact, we’re it’s like Benjamin Button over here,
<laugh>, that’s right.
I’m glad there no visuals associated with this podcast to prove the opposite
<laugh>, Yeah, that’s intentional. That’s intentional. Well, you know, okay, so taking back a little bit into the time machine here. I recall meeting you at the FAME seat conference back in 2014, I believe it was in Kansas City. You and your partner James were on site and we were both emerging companies just getting our feet wet in the experiential and in the sports market. And so we instantly hit it off personally and really saw the value in each of our technologies and what we were looking to do collectively in the sports tech market. And so why don’t you talk to us a little bit more about essentially the inception of Fan Cam, where you guys started? Obviously, you were overseas and then dating us into pretty much today.
Yeah, happy to as you can pick up from the accent, not from around here. So I’m a South African born and raised and James and I studied engineering together and we figured out ways to take really big pictures quickly. That’s it. And so going into the technical detail of that, but essentially it allowed us to bring gigapixel photography into the live event space. And so gigapixel photography is simply, they initially develop it for the Mars Rover as where you zoom in into an area, take a picture and move a bit to the right, take another picture, do that a thousand times and then stitch those together. It was typically quite a long process and James, I just figured out how to do it quickly. And so we took a few pictures at rugby games in South Africa and then jumped on a plane to the states and suddenly everyone liked it.
And then we didn’t sleep for a few years <laugh>. So you and I paths crossed about three years in that process and initially we went like six continents within the first six months finding partners to sell this in different markets and then realized quickly that’s not feasible. We wanna focus on one market and the US being the biggest, we chose that. We still did a few Uefa championship league finals and cricket in India and stuff like that. But the focus was here and I think around 20 when we met was around about the time when we took our sales responsibility and process in-house and started boarding those relationships. And so that’s the origin of it as you touched on the product. But it’s very simple. Technically it’s complex, but we give fans the opportunity to prove they were at an event, that’s it. And so they zoom in, find themselves in a crowd and share that with social and that people like pictures of themselves. So that just kept on working.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And you know I think just to your humility and who you are as a person and you’re understating the level of difficulty in technology advancement at that time, 8, 10, 11 years ago. So if just for the lay listener here not involved too much heavily into the technology, but I mean imagine being able to stitch multiple cameras and camera angles and shots and sequences together to match a hundred thousand people in a stadium. And this is prior to where virtual reality technology had landed or 360-degree cameras that the technology has brought forward. So at that time, I’m sure it was quite the arduous process, even though you had called it, you know, figured out a quick way to do it. It was still fairly laborious I imagine. Yeah?
It was. And specifically, when we have this overlap and people start moving as you can imagine, it’s difficult taking, just getting my family to stand still for a Christmas photo <laugh> or Thanksgiving photo. If you’ve got 70,000 people in there, you’re not gonna get them to sit still. And so in those areas of overlap, that required a lot of manual work in terms of Photoshop. And so we typically spend about 80 man-hours on each image and had it live the next day. And then over time, we improve the process and the speed of capture, which takes those things away. So it is technically complex but I will say it’s not really false humility, it’s just the way it just happens the way James and my brains combined that’s the easy part of the business. For us, what was more challenging was productizing it and saying, what is this worth? And so that’s why I was immediately when I met you so interested in your world and experiential what is engagement, how do you do engagement? I mean I’ve intuitive understanding of it but had no background in marketing and sponsorship. And so understanding that part of the business and how to position it as a product, I find it to be much more challenging than actually just taking out nice pictures.
Sure, sure. I mean that’s a pure lesson in entrepreneurship as well, right? Good ideas and cool little widgets are a dime a dozen, if you will, but executing on those ideas, the efforts, the products, and productizing it and then finding an addressable market to fill a need, <laugh> is certainly an undertaking that most people may not consider when that light bulb moment happens. But yeah, we certainly can appreciate that challenge as well. And so that actually leads me to my next point in terms of taking us back 10 years. right? Fan experience in general meant a different thing in our minds. I think it meant the same thing in where it is today and what you were going to do for consumer engagement and how you were going to leverage sponsorship and brand dollars in sports to create a memorable experience for the fan. But I remember the early days where, you know, ownership or on the news or on a soapbox talking about fan experience because of a new jumbotron and that was, or maybe a new concession method or <laugh>. So breaking into sports talk to us about some of the maybe early challenges or early adoption issues that you were faced with selling this through trying to productize it and then, you know, you seeing sports as the perfect opportunity for the product. But were you ahead of the market from a business perspective or what was some of your feedback?
Yeah, we’ve typically been ahead of the market and it’s not a badge of honor people like saying, Oh, we’re cutting edge and ahead. But if you’ve really been ahead for a long time that it comes with a lot of frustration because then the gap between where you know things will be going and what the reality is that that’s just frustrating. You’ll pitch 10 years ago, I’ll be explaining to folks stuff that’s obvious today. Oh, immersive content is gonna be more engaging fan-centric content. These are the things that should not be difficult to explain. But we were going up against alternative Spains of saying, but we just got a great piece of new signage in up from the corner and we’re gonna spend a million on that and it’s gonna be awesome, but how is your cool photo gonna help us sell more beer or whatever.
So that was, yes, we’ve always been ahead, but there’s also a bit of being naive and not coming at it from with any background in sports business or any background in photography for that matter. And so just as a fan saying, I like this, I want a picture. And so being really stubborn about that and then I think what’s that part helped, But what helped most is that the product worked and it kept on working. And so that comes down to people often get caught up in the technical stuff and what, what’s new? And I always go back to this thing, it’s very simple. If you give a fan a picture of him or herself at the event, and you can add context to that so they can see where they’re sat, they can show where they’re sat, they want to see it, not our headsets can change everything.
It’s a very simple premise. And so initially we had a lot of folks saying, Oh, this is a gimmick and I bet my house on it because I knew that that fundamental psychological driver is not gonna change. And I mean we’re busy doing, to give you a comparison, one of our biggest first deals was the U2 360 tour. And so this is 10, 11 years ago. We’re currently busy with Justin Bieber’s tour and the metrics look exactly the same 10 years later. Amazing different demographic. And it’s both based in those fundamentals. So long answer to your question, but yes, articulating with a bit of common sense, finding people that want to look at things that make sense. So finding the right clients and then also just it working, it just turned key and take a picture with the fans, the help come streaming in and there’s no arguing against that.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I really appreciate the first part of your answer there in terms of the naivety of trying to go to market with this, and I, you’re a hundred percent accurate and I think as business owners or believers in your own product and what you’re looking to, that is by far the most important validation that you need to get out and know and take on the challenge of hearing all the no’s or trying to break through. And to be fair to the sports properties, they’re seeing it from a much different lens as well. They’re not used to investing real marketing dollars or maybe even sponsorship inventory to things that at that time that were so somewhat nebulous in terms of what a non-tangible asset inside a stadium would be. And so we experience that too often far too often where we got a lot of cool eye rolls, So who pays for this <laugh>, right? And here, here’s our value as a property and here’s how we sell sponsorship dollars and so on and so forth. But yeah, I mean if you tried to research and really understand the sports business and understand each property and ownership’s values and of revenue models would’ve never gotten out of own way with that. So having the sheer determination and naivete as just kind of go for it is extremely value. And something that I resonates with me personally as well. Cause that’s the very similar approach that we took.
I think just to add to that, it’s as I’m as you know relatively analytical, so I’m always problem solving and quite quickly in the process I bit of luck bit a chance, I realize that sponsors are more incentivized. You think about engagement than teams are, teams are thinking this is not true everywhere. This is not true of all time. But at that point I just summarized to myself like, Oh, the team’s job is to get the sponsor. And so the team really cares about spending money on fan engagement if it helps them keep the sponsor. And so we quite early on, we started working sponsor direct and we had most of our success there. And over time the teams realized, Oh, okay, so these guys with the weird accents are selling to our clients and we’d rather work with them then go sell it to our clients. Over time. We didn’t wanna break any, but we didn’t know any better. It’s just, it just, Oh, you wasn’t, man, we’ll go there. So that helped as well. It kickstart the whole process. If BOLO comes in as they did and say we’re doing 30 college football games and the next year suddenly the college are working with you.
Yeah, that’s interesting. Cuz we were the exact opposite. It was the total chicken and egg thing right by on both, we had no idea, right? And so we were selling to the teams and we learned the sports business in the sports model. It took us pretty much a full year to understand why are we getting so many no’s with this? But then we sort of cracked the code, so to speak, where hey you know, the psychology with the sponsorship had shifted. Teams were getting far more privy with like yes, this is a leverageable asset that we can kind of present to the sponsor. But had we gone to the brand or the sponsor first, I think that would’ve cut down our launch pad of success a little bit in time <laugh>. But we had to learn. And so I do have to ask, keeping it in the sports realm you had mentioned the U2 tour. Was there any particular team or stadium that gave you the first opportunity to work with here in the US?
Actually, it’s always a person and a personnel case was Pat Coyle who’s become a good friend.
Oh Yeah, Of course
Literally. So you can imagine back to being naive and stubborn is I just sat in South Africa saying, Oh, this will work in the States. At that point, I’ve been to the States for once on holiday, I didn’t know anyone. Sorry. I did a search and found this Coil Media digital sponsor conference in Atlanta, booked it email Pat. Pat met with us beforehand and he got it and made a few introductions. And so the first one was the cult and we did their wild-card game for free and the next week they paid us. And then the week after that we did that. Our first total was 500, we’ve done seven since that blew up. And then with just a roll-on effect. And so, it’s as simple as in our world, fan cams sell fan cams. The more we do, the more we sell.
And so that’s always been true. I mean recently, we were on a call with the MLS team and we just signed them a shot at FC and we’ve been kicking out some cool stuff for them. And so we glad that we get a call from another analyst team, we’re on the call saying, Oh, do you guys see our work with John FC? And she said, No, no. My boss was at my, was at a Justin Bieber concert, <laugh> <laugh>. And so we didn’t know you guys. So that’s exactly the things, the more we do in different verticals more people get to see it as soon as they use it, they want it.
Absolutely. Yeah. And a very good point when it just takes one believer, right? Sorry, sorry to use that word after you said, Justin Bieber. Now that was a pun not intended for sure <laugh>. But yeah, we had a similar experience. And I always tell this story that I Forest Gumped my way into the NBA League office early on. And to this day, I honestly cannot remember why Mark Tatum, who is now the executive global <laugh> or the executive commissioner of the league. So he’s probably heir apparent to Adam Silver if the career path still follows. But at that time, he was the global director of marketing at the NBA. And I went in there, I pitched a couple of ideas and what we were looking to do. And he was gracious, he was generous. He didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, that’s for sure.
But he said, I feel like you could talk to our events team and it’s gonna connect with them, talk to them. So he did broker that and their events team very similar. They’re like, Well, we’re not gonna pay you, but we will give you tickets to the All-Star festivities and do the proof of concept with your device. And at that time we were doing digital bobblehead face filters, and this was pre-Snapchat. Snapchat. So this was like, who are these guys? And that’s all it took. So I always say that we have two start dates when I filled out the paperwork. And then what then, And two is when we actually became a business, when we were at a jam session and with the NBA, which does a fantastic job, by the way, with all of their market global marketing events. And we were able to walk home with a contract as a result of that.
But look, I think there’s also a cautionary tale in there for maybe there are other people in the startup space being wanting to be vendors in sports is that you’ve gotta do a few things for free but there’s definitely a time where you’ve gotta be able to, the product needs to be worth it by itself. So I’m said no to doing Super Bowl for free. Oh, because we did it once and then said, Right, it worked. Sorry. So people said, You’re crazy, but it’s gotta draw the line at some point.
Absolutely. And I think as new businesses grow, and no matter what your length of time of business is, you have to have respect and value your own property and your own product. And we see that all the time. And when we branch out into different verticals, well, can you do this for free? Absolutely not. We have a good resume. Strong resume, We can give references and we’re far too along in sort of,
Yeah. And then the other thing is also, if you keep on doing that, you don’t really get a market test of your product <affirmative>. So, I’ve seen quite a few startups having they build the portfolio and as I said, did that still do that? But you need to be selective because at some point you need to test if someone’s willing to pay for it. Because especially if you’ve got something that’s cool, people want cool. And so we’ve got a relatively sexy product. People, they always take the meetings we always get the nods. But at some point you need to draw that line and say, Okay, is this worth something to you <affirmative>? Because if it’s not, then I should stop drinking my own Kool-Aid and stop betting my house on it. Sure. So I think it’s, you get that moment early on in the business and you go through those phases and you’ve gotta be strategic in saying we’re going to Europe now, how important is that, But giving, just getting the brand name is not always as important as you think. Rather get a lesser brand, see value in your product <affirmative> then anyway, that’s it.
Yeah, yeah yeah no, Absolutely. And listen, I think that’s extremely valuable because the intention of this podcast as a whole is not only to learn about new technology and what’s in the experiential market but really, have an entrepreneurial slant to it and learn different strategies. And everyone has a background and an opinion in terms of where their start began and some of the life lessons as a business owner evolved. And so no, we you’re on <laugh> brand, <laugh> put it that way for sure. So slanting back to a little bit of the technology side. I remember a conversation you and I had years ago about virtual reality. And at that time, when you’re a company like ours where our product is really the stack of IP and the knowledge base of being able to create these immersive experiences, we have pretty cut and dry straight products, but also the value is the entire MVP experience from creative design, development and execution.
And so in the experiential world as you know with marketers they chase the shiny light, whatever’s hot and trending, what brands are looking to do, what technology is doing. And because that’s their job is to really keep pace with the overall consumer market. So a company like ours that we’re also a little early in terms of bringing this type of technology into live experiences, there was a lot of pressure at one point to say, Hey, do we rethink what we do and what we are and become just a virtual reality company? And at that time, because we’ve done some 360 content captures and we’ve built some four, was really considered augmented reality, <laugh> you, our XR technologies, we gave a hard look. And then I called you and I said, let’s talk about this market. I don’t know if you remember this conversation, but it was a real eye-opener.
And I give you a lot of credit for having me think about it in a more broad way where I think we used this analogy of, remember VCRs in the eighties right? And there was Panasonic, Mitsubishi, VV, RC, you know, just named the manufacturers. And at that time in the virtual reality world, there were so many startups, manufacturing hardware, and so many <laugh> unicorns being built and raised in Silicon Valley about the new widget of the headset. And Oculus was certainly emerging and building, but then every type of tech company was building their own rig or their own camera. And the conversation that you and I had was like, what the content ultimately is the most important thing. I don’t care how comfortable the headset is or if your camera’s round, square, rectangle. And that’s where the VCR analogy came through. And it was a literal race to the bottom when it came to hardware.
I, I’ll take it a step further, I think the content is also just shorthand. It’s the story that’s most important. People connect to it. And I think with all the shiny objects, as you mentioned, it gets confusing. You see a lot of analogy, a lot of similarities now with crypto and octane stuff. What’s essentially happening, why this is in our day-to-day narrative is because a lot of money in the VC space is being paid on that. And there’s a bit of relate there because one of those guys are gonna pop out and make billions are gonna be unicorn. It’s the same happened VR. Anyone that had VR in their name or their mission, <laugh> got money. And because they have money, they’ve got salespeople and now the teams, now VR is the thing, but amongst all that noise it becomes difficult to look at why, what is the value of VR?
Because people, there are some fundamental things in terms of our psychology, why we’re involved with sport and entertainment. That’s not changing. And if technology can help you lower the barriers of entry, increase the experience or that it’s great, then there’s it’s worth money. But technology for technology’s sake, innovation for innovation’s sake. I mean, we’ve seen this story <laugh> so many times, it’s a waste of time to me. There are other models where serial entrepreneurs that were in VR that are now in crypto and good for them. I like to build something. I like to see how does it actually help the existing product And the existing product in sport is a story a narrative that fans can dial into that can give them a sense of belonging, a sense of identity. And so if a VR headset can put you right in the middle and that enhances that, you can make a sure bit, it’s gonna be part of sports <affirmative>. If it’s just gonna be a cool gimmick, then you can sure bit, it’s gonna be cool for a year or two and it’s gonna go away. Sure. And so I think that’s rambling a bit, but I think I still have those same conversations and trying to distinguish what’s tech for the sake of tech and what is something that’s really enhancing the product. But for that, you need to know what the product of sport is. And I don’t think many people do.
Yeah, that’s a testament to really staying the course as your core values as a business and an entrepreneur and making sure that, you know, don’t get distracted by what the market is chasing at that time. And I think back, the lesson for us is we’ve been able to keep pace and maybe stack some IP on past technologies into emerging ones and new ones. So that’s the value. But if we did a full hard pivot on any of these technologies that came and gone over the last 10 years, we wouldn’t be here today. And so
That’s exactly your value, James, is that you need people in. And I think when we haven’t spoken in a while, but I’ll take a guess that you’ve been successful because of who you are, It’s what you’re selling to an extent is trust. People can come to you and say, Tell me what’s the best solution here? And you can say, Well, augmented reality is hot now, so it’s gonna, if you do this. People are gonna look at it and next year you’re not gonna sell that to them. You’re gonna sell something else to them. So I think that’s a really, because sports teams are under pressure. The business model does not allow them to pay the people well. They can’t have big teams. And I think that’s where folks like yourself can come in and say, I can really help you because I’ve spent time think I’ve thought about VR, I’ve thought about VR, this is how you use it, <affirmative>, don’t get distracted by the shiny stuff. And so that it makes sense to me.
Yeah, absolutely. So trending towards that path a little bit, let’s talk about big buzzwords in technology. And I can see how one of them you may be sort of accidentally approached to towards, enter into, I don’t wanna say metaverse, but in your world, 360 capture and the big technology right now to help influence Metaverse capabilities is volumetric capture, in essence 360 degrees live render full 3D capabilities. Have you, Where’s your head space regarding that? And I could take a guess, but I’d be interested to.
No, no. It’s not a focus for us not that, but just because we’ve found a bigger fish to fry we can do all that we’ve done. I really enjoy everyone changing their locker rooms into METAS setups at the moment. We did that 10 years ago. I’m glad that it’s adding value <affirmative>. I don’t think it’s tied onto the previous comments. I don’t think it’s changing the fundamentals of why people want to buy jerseys. So it’s cool but we’re in a different direction and it was fun talking about the 360 capture stuff, but these days I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about that. That’s almost a, it’s something we do. But we’re a data business now. We’ve used we realized about five years ago and this is why it was difficult to introduce me, there’s Fan Cam and Crowd IQ <laugh>, right? And I’m founder and CEO both.
It is two different companies, it’s the same company. But we had to separate those things that we could have conversations with people about content. So everything we’ve spoken about now and then we can have conversation with people about data. And so just quick intro on the data. And so that’ll answer your question of why I’m not focused on Polymetric stuff at the moment, is we figured out over first five years, my job is looking at pictures of fans. And so being my brain working the way it does, I start picking up differences and similarities and thought that’s interesting. I can look at this crowd, I can predict their engagement because I can see there are more female fans in there, or bigger groups together, or there more people wearing a team’s merch or stuff like that. And so the thought was, right, could we automate that data extraction?
And the answer is yes, If you have high enough resolution images, you can train algorithms to count the number of home team jerseys versus away team jerseys you just need enough pictures of high enough resolution. And so at that point we were sending photographers to capture the tenfold events, but if you want to pivot to a data business, you want to capture every game. And so we started working on remote control captured. So I started installing cameras in buildings and the first one was at Madison Square Garden where we start building this IQ interface. And today we’re in 15 venues with cameras automatically switching themselves on two hours before a game and just scanning the whole venue. And we deliver everything from demographics to how different sections fill up because you can count the number of fans there to what are fans paying attention to.
So how many people looked up at the big screen when the Bud Light ad was on? Versus how many people looked up when the Verizon ad was on. And so the Crowd IQ part of the business is ingesting these high resolution images that we use to create the fan cam content, structuring it in a way that we can automatically extract data from it. So that’s the part I’m passionate about today. That’s where we bid our future on. And so then once you’ve done that, you, you’re required to focus. And so I enjoy the volumetric stuff. I know we can add value there, but we are very much focused on using our technology to gain a better understanding of crowds and helping teams use that data to make more money.
Yeah. And that’s great. And that was actually my final transition into where you navigated into IQ. So thank you for <laugh> heading there.
Sorry. And just the context was just I, I mean I can get barometric stuff. I look at some of the stuff, I really get my Oh
Sure. No, no. I’m data we’re focusing. And the reason for that is because all also tying back to the conversation about shiny stuff, We’re in the crowd business, you and I, sports industry, we’re in the crowd business. It’s just the fact that these teams are able to attract crowd. That’s the reason we have businesses <affirmative>. And so for me, understanding that crowd seems like something that’s never gonna go away.
And it’s help. So that’s the bit of gold we discovered in the field and the send, right? This is a thing I want, I wanna own.
And that’s going to be the sustainability we met referenced at the top of the podcast, creating that fun experience on the front end. That’s great. But if there is no sort of data behind that, and a brand or a team cannot understand how you get to an roi, even though that we are in the experience business. And I can argue that that’s a very difficult ROI to quantify in terms of experience, but it’s incredibly valuable. I think you’ve mentioned these festivals. I was one of the original Coachella attendees where it was just art and campfires and there was no brand awareness, but the experience had evolved, become so big, so massive. Of course, American Express and Coca-Cola and Budweiser, they’re all going to have a presence there. And there’s a reason because you can monetize as a business, have a tangible or a tangential technology that weaves into that experience, that provides valuable insight into the consumer behavior. And of course all the cool widgetry up on the front end, that’s great, but if there’s not that data piece, you’re not gonna sustain very long.
And I love what you said there because you’re right quantifying experiential is difficult. I like that <laugh> something that it’s just, I want to be busy with things that are difficult, that are not challenging. And I think that’s part of the new is saying this is challenge. I always said say, Oh, we don’t know so well, maybe we could now maybe we can use technology. How can we use 360 high-resolution technology to gain this knowledge? How can we use censor technology so that that’s part of the challenge.
Nice. And solving problems. Sometimes it gets exhausting, but it never gets old. It’s always a new challenge. <laugh>. Well Tinus, we can go on and on and on. And I know that you’re on holiday in vacationing with your lovely family. So thank you very much for taking the time and your personal time to catch up here. Where can our listeners find you and what you’re comfortable with disclosing to find you?
<laugh>? <laugh>. It’s probably safer to direct it to LinkedIn where I don’t shout at rugby referees and stuff like that, as on Twitter. So Tinus Le Roux it’s really to be simply Mini with that name, <laugh>, so T I N U S and Le Roux is L E R O U X. And if you do a simple search on LinkedIn, the folks will, they do a good job in allowing you to find me. So
Absolutely. Well, this was great. Thank you so much for your time. And until next time for the MVP podcast, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.