Visual technologies give smaller operations a chance to keep up with major companies.
Nine out of 10 businesses fail, and it’s not simply due to a bad idea or product-market fit, as many believe. They fail because, in some way, the cash-strapped owner or overloaded founders weren’t able to overcome the time-cost-quality continuum that every company faces.
Visual technologies that leverage computer vision, machine learning and AI will help and are already helping small businesses reduce aspects of the trade-off's small companies, with limited resources, are forced to make. Use this hour to fix up my website or fulfill two more orders in the pipeline?
Visual tech is reducing the time and cost associated with marketing, manufacturing and logistics, and backend processes which are critical for small businesses to succeed.
What are visual technologies?
Visual technologies are technologies that capture, manage or analyze visual data often leveraging computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence to do so. Visual data comes in many forms such as photos, videos, 3D, LiDAR, Radar, Thermal, MRI, UV, infrared and beyond.
There is a range in sophistication of visual technologies – from basic photo sharing and video surveillance, like on Instagram and Nest, to complex interconnectivity between visual sensors, for things like self-driving cars and robots, where the vehicle must use LiDAR, RADAR and cameras "see" the world around it and move through it.
Cameras are no longer just for memories. They are becoming fundamental to improving business and personal lives. Most of the pictures captured will never be seen by a human eye.
Here are three ways visual technologies are allowing small businesses to complete with larger and more estalished companies.
Marketing is critical to success in today's world, as a bad website can decide the entire fate of a company. Most founders have little to no experience in design or outreach strategy, much less web or app design. Suddenly, it becomes critical to success and yet entirely secondary to the actual product offering.
Visual technologies are making marketing easier, cheaper and more personalized. From the simplest stages of marketing through to complex campaigns and personalization, visual tech is helping.
Something as simple as high-quality photos for your website or blog, were once expensive and hard to come by. But there are now providers who make unique photos freely available. You have likely seen photos from these sources on almost all small company websites (like the default for Squarespace image search).
Developing an app has become central to success for most businesses but it currently requires a significant budget and outsourcing to create. Uizard, still in beta, is already benefiting customers by making app creation as easy as drawing a picture of it. Doodle a wireframe on piece of paper, whiteboard or napkin, take a photo of it and Uizard transforms it into design files and front-end code. Small businesses won't have to dedicate significant budget to creating their first beta off the ground.
Manufacturing and logistics automation
The vast majority of small businesses, from restaurants to ecommerce businesses selling skincare product, create, box and ship physical products.
Currently, the processes for doing so at a small business or startup are enormously different from those zooming robots you see from videos at an Amazon distribution center. While big companies have already begun automating, small businesses, still have to do everything manually, which is both costly and inefficient. Visual technologies are changing that.
Augmented reality business applications are on the rise with everyone from Huawei to Apple to Facebook working on affordable AR glasses and other wearables for enterprise. For small businesses, every moment and unit is critical to success, and AR wearable solutions will have a big impact on production.
Automation via robotic solutions has traditionally priced out any small business but companies like CarbonRobotics are looking to change that with their trainable robotic arm that costs less then $5,000. According to a report published by LDV Capital, a VC firm based in New York City which focuses on visual technology:
"Robotics will have 20X more integrated cameras. Visually enabled robots will operate in industrial, consumer, retail and warehouse sectors."
Robots that use real-time computer vision to see and understand visual data to create, sort, select and box, will have a tremendous impact on even small-batch production and logistics.
Another pain point for founders is taking time away from the product and mission that they feel so passionately about, to get their finances, general operations and IT in line. Computer vision and machine learning have the ability to automate the menial aspects of backend processes.
Expenses, for example, take valuable time to create digital records of paper receipts matched to bank statements. But companies like Brex, a corporate card for startups, uses computer vision to automatically reconcile a photo of your receipt to the charge on your card.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is applying computer vision solutions to automate well-defined, rules-based business tasks. Small businesses will be able to find solutions to purchase computer vision and AI to automate their backend processes, like doing the first filter of resumes from job postings.
The bottom line
Visual technologies have many applications to backend processes that will help startups and small businesses save time and money on finance, ops and IT.
Startups and small businesses must constantly prioritize where to focus their limited efforts and budget. Often, the hard trade-offs founders and forced to make due to their limited resources are the main reason for the company failing.
Visual technologies will help to improve the time and cost associated with many aspects of doing business, three of the most important for startups being marketing, manufacturing and logistics and backend processes. By lessening the burden in these areas, visual technologies will help more small businesses succeed.
Marketing often gets sidelined by small businesses as they prioritize their precious time and budget and ultimately are a cause for the business going under. These visual technologies and many others, will help lessen the need to choose between basic marketing and other priorities.