It’s official – Facebook has bought Face.com. According to media reports, the social media giant paid $63-79m for Face.com. Social media expert Andrea Frahm met Face.com-CEO and co-founder Gil Hirsch in his hometown of Tel Aviv shortly before the acquisition and talked about Facebook, the Israeli startup scene, privacy issues as well as advice for young internet entrepreneurs…
What’s on the horizon for Face.com?
Our mission is, and has always been, to find new and exciting ways to make face recognition a fun, engaging part of people’s lives and incorporate remarkable technology into everyday consumer products. If you’re anything like us, Facebook is a part of your life every single day. I can’t share too much, but we’re working on new ways to share information about people, starting from photos. We’re keeping that as a big center of everything we do. Plus you will see more users come in through other platforms. Very exciting!
[Face.com already has a Facebook app called Photo Tagger and a newly launched iPhone app, Klik that detects friends’ faces in real time and links to users’ Facebook contacts. There’s also an API so that third parties can tap into their tech.]
Do you think Facebook will still be around in five years from now?
I think so. I don’t think it’s going to look the same or feel the same or that it will necessarily do the same things. Facebook feels like a party/club/classroom. The company knows how to move fast, they’re leading the space and are a great role model for other startups.
How many people work for Face.com right now?
We are 10 people here in Tel Aviv. Engineers, Designers, Product Team including founders. We have three more people working for marketing in our Palo Alto office. They do mostly PR and deal with communications. I live in Tel Aviv and travel to Palo Alto on a regular basis.
Have there been any privacy issues? Do people fear to be tagged in photos they don’t know about?
Klik only recognises your Facebook friends. It’s not like you can point this at someone on the street and make it work. You cannot identify someone you don’t know. Once your friends have been identified, the photo will be tagged and can be shared on Facebook, Twitter and email. We allow you to opt out whenever you want. Transparency and privacy have always been very important for us.
We’re telling users exactly what’s possible and what’s not. We haven’t had any single privacy complaint. It’s a consumer friendly service. 45,000 developers are using our API, no one was able to crack the system and make it work in a different way than expected. This system has been engineered from the get-go to preserve privacy and also delivers a social fun value and nothing creepy.
What do you think of the market potential of apps like Klik?
It’s huge. We’re getting 30 business development calls a day. It was two a day last year. We’re seeing a lot more traffic coming through. It’s exciting to see how many people are deploying and using our service and they don’t fear it.
What’s the secret of your success. What are the key ingredients to become a leading technology company?
We’re all very much connected to the technical side of everything. We feel that it’s very important. At the end of the day, we are a technology company. When you build a product like this if you don’t understand technology you’re assuming too much. You’re assuming that it will work or not work under certain conditions.
If you’re going to hackathons they ask you a lot of questions. If you don’t know how to answer, you lose them. Everything that we do here in the company is technically driven but also product driven. You need to understand both. Programmers understand product and our product understands programming. I go to a lot of Hackathons myself and talk to people. At the end of the day it is all about user experience. We care about our users.
What’s the new Silicon Valley? Berlin, London or Tel Aviv?
Definitely Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is still by far better. I’ve been to all three and I think the start up scene in Europe is budding. But if you have startups being built and financed as quickly as they do here in Tel Aviv then you know you have a winner. It’s in our blood because Israel is a startup. This is it. This is all we have.
What do you think of Berlin?
Berlin is a great place! I went there with my family two years ago. You don’t feel any strictness or German way of doing things. It’s multicultural. I love it.
Internet Entrepreneurs are very young nowadays. They come straight from University and start up their business without any professional background. Any helpful advise you would like to share?
Two things, very easy. #1 Come up with a business idea, which actually makes sense. #2 Just do it. That’s all. It’s your full responsibility, be very brave about it! About 10 years ago I would have told people to build their skill level first. Today I’m like “Don’t waste time!” Being able to adapt quickly is much more important than having experience. Surround yourself with experienced people. Make your own mistakes and learn from those mistakes. You need to know how to move fast.