Before starting Placemeter, Alex was the Co-Founder and CEO of LTU Technologies. He has a PhD in Image Recognition from Telecom Paris, holds 7 patents in the field, and has over 20 years of computer vision expertise in applications ranging from satellite reconnaissance to augmented reality.
How did you get into the tech industry?
I am an engineer and scientist by training, I was trapped in the tech industry from the beginning. I did try to become a professional musician, but that did not work out...
Tell us about Placemeter. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
The future of humankind is in cities. Dense cities are the only way to accommodate the booming population of our planet while preserving nature as best as we can. The current urbanization trend is absolutely massive.
As a result, the limited space we have in our physical world needs to be optimized for us to thrive. Quantifying human activity in the world is an excellent way to get started, a necessary layer of data for that.
And video is the best sensor to achieve that goal. Cameras are ubiquitous, they blanket our world. Using computer vision algorithms, we detect and quantify pedestrian and vehicular traffic with these cameras. We measure human activity in cities, and transform cameras into a unique data layer that will one day tell you in real time what a place is like before you get there. We also use our data to give municipalities or retailers quantified information about how people use cities. Where they go, when, in how many numbers, how long they wait in line, etc…
The only way video sensors will work is if we protect personal privacy. Cities need data but it shouldn’t come at the expense of a resident’s peace of mind. That’s why we’re building our product with privacy built in from the ground up. We committed to some fairly simple principles like not identifying individuals and not recording any raw video. With the right sort of approach, we can build something that will be useful to individuals, businesses, and cities themselves.
What strategic partnerships have you implemented that have attributed to Placemeter's success?
Our investors are probably our most strategic partners as we just closed a Series A round. They help us build the ambitious, long term vision we have to make the physical world more measurable and more optimized. It is not easy to find long term, visionary investors like ours in this era of lean startup and copycat mobile apps. We are lucky to have found them.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
The open data and quantified-self trend emerged 4-5 years ago, creating a real demand for data about the physical world: people, businesses, and local governments all expect dramatically more data about our brick and mortar world. We are filling that gap.
Your greatest success as founder Placemeter? Most difficult moment - how did you overcome and what did you learn?
Biggest success was to build up our technology and product fast enough, and well enough, so that just ten months after our seed round, we had achieved enough to raise the next round of financing and get the company to the next level.
Most difficult moment was probably the first 6 weeks at Techstars, when we realized we had serious scaling issues with a previous iteration of our strategy. We knew we had to do something in the coming weeks, but we did not know what. We kept pushing hard, stayed true to our original vision, and finally found a way up. What I learned was two things. The first thing is something David Cohen taught us: no matter what happens, you need to stay true to your vision, to what made you quit your previous job, to the big idea that gets you so excited. A startup is about passion and ideals. With no passion or ideals, just stick to your 9:00-5:00 job. The other thing I learned is that resilience is the #1 quality you need to have as an entrepreneur. Never give up!
“It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey”.
I also have a favorite quote: “I re-did all the calculus, our idea is impossible. Now there is one thing we can do: build it” - Pierre-Georges Latecoere, French Aerospace Pioneer, early 20th century.
“Indexing the real world in real time.”
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Three important things:
Do not start a business by yourself, you absolutely need strong, complementary co-founders.
Do not downplay the importance of pitching and packaging your business.
Go see investors when you’re not raising money so you can build relationships.
Favorite travel destination?
#1 is my hometown in France: Strasbourg. Best food, wine, atmosphere.
#2 is the southern and western part of Andalucia. So wild and beautiful!
#3 is closer by: Ditch Plains beach in Montauk.
Favorite Placemeter view in the world?
The one looking at the flagship Muji store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Most frequented websites on your browser?
Slack, assembla, pivotaltracker - when I’m not working, tabs and sheet music sites. But if you want me to be really honest, it is actually lequipe.fr where I follow French soccer. Don’t tell anyone :)
Role model - business and personal?
I am a big fan of Xavier Niel. He is an investor in Placemeter through his fund KIMA venture, but this is not the (only) reason I look up to him. Xavier is a self made entrepreneur, who has repeatedly challenged industry leaders in very big industries. He made his first fortune on Minitel, the ancestor of telematics. Then he built the major, FREE internet provider in France. He created the first DSL all in one boxes that carry phone, TV, internet. Recently he built a cell carrier from scratch in France, and succeeded.
Every time, he was bold, disruptive and extremely successful. Every time, he used his previous gains to build something even bigger. Today he is investing his fortune in amazing projects to change education in France, and to create a unique startup ecosystem in Paris.
Outside of that, I have to add role models in two areas I am fond of: food and music. In food, I am a big fan of David Chang, culinary genius, entrepreneur, disruptive and bold chef, but also a real, full human being, who knows how to use traditional art and tastes into modern thinking like no one else. In music, or almost anything else, I have tremendous respect for Ray Kurzweil, who disrupted music and many other things.
My 1975 Honda CB550 Four. Playing drums (just started).
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
More Evidence That Goats Are a Good Municipal Investment: http://www.citylab.com/tech/2014/09/more-evidence-that-buying-a-goat-is-a-good-municipal-investment/380863/
What's next for Placemeter?
Scaling Placemeter and making it global. We are making the experience easier and easier for consumers and businesses alike. Whether that’s releasing a better ways to measure traffic outside your home to improving the UX on our our site. Through our real-time algorithms, we want to make Placemeter’s platform and data accessible to as many people and businesses as possible.
Making Cities Better
Placemeter was created to give people the power of knowing what a place is like before they get there. We collect and serve up-to-the-minute information like how crowded a place is, how long the wait is, and whether it will get more or less crowded in the next hour. Just like people can check the weather outside and the traffic along the way, they can now look up what to expect when they get there.
Under the hood, Placemeter is building the world's first real-time dynamic data layer. Used alongside static map databases, along with weather information, event calendars, and other information, we are able to provide very accurate information and future predictions.
Our data comes from a combination of our network of live video cameras and user reports from our mobile application. We use proprietary computer vision technology to calculate traffic levels from video feeds. With every new camera added to our system, we can provide more accurate information about more places.