The Chamber caught up with this year’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year to see how the Philadelphia business community has contributed to their success. Check out what Ted Mann, CEO, Slyce has to say as a trailblazer for young professionals in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The smartphone is increasingly becoming like an auxiliary memory bank for our lives. And nowhere on the phone is more rich with signals and shopping intent than the camera roll. We take photos of furniture for our homes, present ideas for our kids and spouses, things we need to remember to pick up at the grocery store, loyalty cards and coupons.
Describe the moment that you decided to go into business for yourself.
After founding a mobile app business, SnipSnap, which was built around scanning and recognizing coupons, and turning them into mobile offers, I saw there might be an even bigger market opportunity to utilize the same image-recognition technology for products. Slyce was born on the idea that if you can identify any product within a photograph, you can create a multitude of retail experiences right from a camera snap on your smartphone.
Who has been an inspiration to you as a business owner and why?
My father, Peter Mann, has been my biggest professional inspiration. Though he started businesses in the packaged goods industry, not technology, I’ve always aspired to create the kind of tightknit, motivated teams. Whether you’re trying to build a CPG brand or disruptive image-recognition tech startup, you’ll never achieve much if you can’t inspire your colleagues and earn their trust. My dad has started or helped launch a dozen companies, some of which have gone public or seen billion-dollar exits, but the thing I most admire about him as a leader is the work family that he created along the way.
What makes your business model special?
Slyce is enabling an entirely new breed of search, using the smartphone camera as the input. Like voice search before it, visual search is gaining rapid adoption, and finding that it can be a utility not just on mobile devices, but also in connected hardware like smart glasses and in-store kiosks. Slyce primarily works with retailers to enable visual search on their mobile apps and websites, and we help enable use cases like building gift registries (Bed Bath & Beyond), finding hardware in store (Home Depot), and shopping the looks at fashion shows and on social media (Tommy Hilfiger).
What is your business philosophy?
We believe that visual search will change the way people search and discover things with their smartphones. However, the technology will only capture popular imagination and go mainstream if the experience of using it is magical. Thus, we aim to delight our customers and the end users of technology with a delightful user interface, groundbreaking accuracy and speed, and a little bit of pixie dust.
What is the most challenging about owning/running a business in the region? How do you deal with the challenges?
Access to capital, and finding investors who are tolerant of the risks of early-stage companies, has been a challenge in Philadelphia. Fortunately, this region has a growing number of successful software and technology entrepreneurs who have helped support and back Slyce and my prior company, SnipSnap. Philadelphia may not yet have its version of the PayPal mafia — the founders of that company who all went on to start and invest in new businesses in the Bay Area — but I and my team hope to be a part of building our own version of that ecosystem locally in the years to come.
How has the Greater Philadelphia business community impacted your success?
The network of entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia area has been like a support group, and business accelerator. Fellow startup CEOs routinely help with recruiting, fundraising, and general advice about how to grow a business. I participate in a monthly Ben Franklin Technology Partners-organized CEO group, where I routinely turn for advice and counsel. I also started the South Jersey Tech Collective, a PSL-like group, with a friend and local VC, David Horowitz. That group of startup leaders once a quarter in South Jersey for both education and networking.
Others will be looking to you for advice about starting and/or operating a business here. What are you top 3 tips?
- Try to avoid validating your technology idea by writing code. Use existing tools and software that others have built to test and de-risk all your assumptions.
- Sell and recruit your team based on the vision, not the job description.
- Bootstrap as long as humanly possible.
What are your strategic growth plans for the next 3-5 years?
Right now Slyce is squarely focused on providing visual search to retailers. We have 60 brands live with our technology in their apps, and hope to double that number in the next year. As part of that growth, we’ll continue expanding internationally, providing a solution for Grocery retailers, and enabling new segments like Jewelry and Wine and Spirits. But visual search on mobile devices and in retail is really is just the beginning, and in the next 3-5 years we expect to spread our wings much further.
What resources or opportunities in the Greater Philadelphia region helped your business succeed?
I’ve benefitted in more ways that I can count from starting companies in Philadelphia. I was able to raise money from local VC’s, like Red and Blue Ventures and Ben Franklin Technology Partners. SnipSnap was started at DreamIt Ventures, the Philadelphia based startup accelerator. We got free office space and support from the Project Liberty incubator at the Inquirer. And organizations like PSL and Technically Philly have been invaluable in both networking and recruiting.
What resources do we need more of in the region to help our business community succeed?
More programs to connect the local startups to the Universities, to help raise awareness with our college population about the opportunities — especially startup jobs — in the Philly region.
Are there other businesses in the region you admire? Why?
DreamIt Ventures is an operation I have a huge amount of admiration for, both because that was where I cut my teeth as a startup founder and learned how to build a business, but also because DreamIt’s accelerator programs have launched more companies in the Philadelphia region than just about anyone!
What’s something that you think would surprise people about your business?
Slyce’s visual search technology is over 95% accurate at identifying just about anything that’s sold at our retailers — everyone from Home Depot to Macy’s. And our visual search usage has been growing on average 20% month over month for 3+ years!