How Would You Sell a Virtual Makeover?
ModiFace lets people give themselves a computer-generated makeover -- whether they want to see what they would look like with a new hairdo, a new eye shadow, or a new nose. Users upload their photos and select alterations, and the company's technology automatically detects facial features and applies the changes. Parham Aarabi founded the Toronto company in 2006 after years of researching computer facial recognition as a professor at the University of Toronto. ModiFace operates free, ad-supported online applications such as HairMixer, a hairstyling tool, and WeightMirror, a weight-loss simulator. ModiFace also licenses its software to clients, including the manufacturer of Botox and the publishers of beauty and fashion magazines. The company charges clients a development fee for each custom application, starting at $20,000, plus a fee for each photo it processes, which ranges from 10 cents to a dollar. Last year, ModiFace brought in nearly $1 million in revenue. Over the next 16 months, Aarabi hopes to increase ModiFace's partnerships from 20 to 200. But he sometimes finds it difficult to win over potential clients who are unfamiliar with the technology. How can ModiFace put its best face forward? We asked five entrepreneurs for their suggestions.
PITCH NO. 1: Focus on fitness
Matt Friedman, CEO of Wing Zone Franchise Corporation, a restaurant chain based in Atlanta
"I think ModiFace's technology ties in well with the health club industry. People love to see before-and-after pictures, and the industry's core customers are affluent and Internet-savvy. ModiFace could do cross-promotions with gyms: New members could use the applications for free when they join. ModiFace could also partner with companies such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers."
PITCH NO. 2: Go offline
Edward Foy, CEO of eFashionSolutions, a Secaucus, New Jersey, company that runs e-commerce sites for fashion designers
"To increase customer awareness, ModiFace needs to get distribution offline, in salons and drugstores. If ModiFace remains online only, I fear its technology will be considered just entertainment. There are free programs that function similarly, but while they are fun to play around with, you don't get the sense that they're really accurate."
PITCH NO. 3: Try retail
Elaine Tajima, CEO of Tajima Creative, a marketing and design agency in San Francisco
"If ModiFace wants to increase its partners tenfold in 16 months, it should focus on retail. Retailers such as CVS, Target, and Sephora often have co-op advertising with product companies. ModiFace could develop applications to showcase makeup, hair, and skin products from different brands. It could develop displays that take photos of customers and let them see how they would look after using different products."
PITCH NO. 4: Raise prices
David Koretz, CEO of BlueTie, an e-mail software company based in Rochester, New York
"I don't think ModiFace is placing nearly enough value on its product. It should charge more per photo and target plastic surgeons. If its technology can offer a good view of what someone will look like after $10,000 worth of plastic surgery, then $50 is cheap insurance."
PITCH NO. 5: Get sappy
Maureen Kelly, CEO of Tarte, a cosmetics maker in New York City
"ModiFace's message needs to be about reimagining yourself and feeling good. More touchy-feely, less about technology. It should market its software to reality-TV shows such as What Not to Wear and The Biggest Loser, which are about making contestants feel better about themselves."
FEEDBACK ON THE FEEDBACK: Aarabi agreed with many of these suggestions. He is in the process of rolling out kiosks, which the company has tested at trade shows. Aarabi also has contacted weight-loss programs and TV-makeover shows, and although he has not yet landed a meeting, he will continue to pursue those groups. He balked, however, at the idea of substantially raising photo processing fees: He doesn't believe that customers will support such a steep increase. And though Aarabi agrees that ModiFace should differentiate itself from competitors, he remains comfortable offering online applications designed for fun and games. "Down the road, we may have to choose one over the other," Aarabi says. "But I've seen no evidence of conflict so far, and it's hard to cut away a revenue source."