LISBON – As a graduate of the Oxford University of Engineering and Computer Science, Mark Cummins expressed his thanks for the chances of getting a job on Google.
Oxford is one of the most recognized universities in the world and is ranked globally for computer science. Cummins graduated from Balliol College at the top of his year and, as he said, "I thought I had a very good CV".
Cummins filed his application and, like any Oxbridge graduate with a top-level diploma, expects bids to roll.
"I did not even make a phone call," he told Business Insider at an interview at the Web Summit in Lisbon. "I had a back and forth with a recruiter, but I never understood it."
Cummins had the last laugh. Five years later, Google will continue to buy its first launch. And a few years later, Google would also be an integral part of the success of the latter.
The first launch of Mark Cummins was Plink, an application that recognized artworks
After several more job discharges, Cummins chose to stay at university and do a PhD in the then unknown area of robotics and mechanical learning. This was before the revolution, as DeepMind's AlphaGo made AI sexy again, and the whole field of learning was still emerging from a second "Winter AI."
Interest in robotics offered the sperm of a startup idea. Cummins was working on recognizing robot space for his dissertation, especially about how they process images to determine their location.
"My doctoral work was on a robot [that] will collect pictures as he was driving together to find out: "Have I returned to a place I was before?" "Cummins explained." The first iPhone just came out, the first Androids were just coming out, and the cellphone was just starting to take off. I thought this looks interesting, maybe we can do something with matching photos, so we started a company around it. "
The company, Plink, was a kind of Shazam for art. Users will photograph a piece of artwork and the app will recognize it. The app raised 50,000 users in the first six weeks, and Cummins and co-founder James Philbin won $ 100,000 during an Android Developer Challenge. This brought the application to the attention of Google, the one-time Cummins dream employer.
Google began to care about the launch, and the new founders of Oxford reached the meeting of senior executives at that time, such as Android product representative Hugo Barra and Google+ architect Vic Gundotra. They impressed the top brass to make an offer.
The pair accepted what Cummins described as a changing amount of money and took jobs on Google. While Plink's consumer app was closed, its technology ended up being used in many Google image recognition services such as Google Lens and Google Photos.
Cummins hit the second startup idea while working on Google
Three years later, Cummins moved to Australia and was still working for Google. He had an idea for the second start, when he realized there were still some elementary questions the search engine could not answer for the users.
In particular, he drank beer at a party one night, and then was unable to find a nearby store selling the same brand. "Where is the nearest store with this product? It looked like a basic question, "said Cummins at Business Insider.
The problem is that most small local retailers are not interested in recording all the stocks they have. Their cash register, as Cummins put it, may "look like a western". There is no way for consumers to know for sure whether a local store is selling something that they need – so they turn to the Amazon and deprive the smallest retailer of a precious touch.
Cummins began to spin around small retailers in Australia, asking what they needed to load their inventory and make it online. He concluded that he needed some material and would be looking for another technical co-founder.
Philbin, co-founder of Plink, had a new family and was not available. Cummins hit another old friend since Oxford days, Charles Bibby, a sailor expert who was in the midst of an annual sailing trip to the Mediterranean.
Binny found the vision so urgent that he cut the trip shortly after three months and fell home to start Pointy.
Pointy helps people find what they have in their local stores
The end result is the Pointy box, a small device that looks a bit like a 9 volt battery.
It connects to a vendor's barcode scanner and records items as they are scanned for purchase. Finally, Pointy's software records what the retailer sells and can get a good guess when it's out of stock.
This information is then listed on a web site hosted by Pointy, so anyone trying to find a local store that sells, for example the Scottish tape, can click on a Pointy link and see if it's available nearby.
Although it's easy to see it on Google when the local hardware store is open, it's pretty hard to check what it can have in the stock. "It's not e-commerce, it's more about driving a trap," said Cummins.
The box costs $ 499 for US retailers. Pointy also offers the place of local ads to retailers on Google and receives a bit of advertising revenue.
It feels like a strange decision to concentrate on brick and mortar shops in the Amazonian era, but Cummins claims electronic markets account for only 10% of US trade. The majority of the population still prefers a trip to a local shop when something is needed.
Cummins says Pointy is "ranked well" on Google. And in the summer, the launch announced a collaboration with the search company, which means that product information is shown in the "list of knowledge" in search and on Google Maps.
To date, the company has raised $ 19 million from Vulcan Capital, Polaris, Boston Ventures, LocalGlobe, Seedcamp, and well-known angels, such as Map Maker Lars Rasmussen, Co-Founder Taavet Hinrikus, and WordPress Matt Mullenweg founder. It has its central center in Dublin – Cummins is Irish – and manufactures the Pointy box in Ireland.
At present, Pointy focuses on persuading retailers to adopt its technology. Cummins reports that 1% of all US retailers are on board, citing US Census Bureau statistics. That's about 10,000 US retailers. It also has some pickup in its domestic market and across the UK.
On the part of the consumer, it seems that the start is quite dependent on Google – something that is nice, it is enough for the company to play ball and integrate Pointy data into search results. Today's cooperation is a blessing, but the start may need to be branched out to defend the turf. Cummins says Pointy plans to develop its offer so that retailers can do more than just have an online store page but will not give further details at this point.
And could another Google acquisition be on offing? Cummins said his former employer came around to get involved with Pointy early in his development, but he gives a firm denial that there may be a takeover. "There is nothing in the cards," he says.