NoahFace founder Geoff Cropley uses his facial recognition software app to match faces with coffee orders in his Sydney cafe, and customers love it.
By Carolin Lenehan
When tech entrepreneur
Geoff Cropley bought a central Sydney coffee shop three years ago, he and business partner Julie Buchanan knew their point of difference was the personal connection they had with their regulars.
However, as Bahista Cafe 231 began to bulge with the morning rush of customers chasing a caffeine hit, the pair found themselves struggling to remember names and coffee orders.
“As a cafe owner, you want to build a relationship with your clients, so they keep coming back,” explains Cropley.
“For the customer, they love being greeted by name as soon as they walk in and not having to recite their order each time.”
He scoured the world for a software solution but was surprised when he came up empty.
“I found lots of facial recognition technologies, but they were all enterprise-level, crazily expensive and completely over the top for the needs of a small enterprise. I asked [an old colleague] John MacLean whether we could design and build a solution ourselves.”
MacLean, who worked with Cropley at self-managed super fund Super IQ, loved the idea and accepted the challenge. He spent 18 months developing a commercially viable algorithm that had AI learning; it was the start of what would become the NoahFace app.
In the meantime, Cropley raised A$900,000 in seed funding from high-net-worth investors including Toby Smith, founder of the Toby’s Estate coffee brand and cafes.
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“John then joined me full-time, and the Bahista Cafe turned into our R&D testing lab; we couldn’t have developed NoahFace so quickly without it,” says Cropley.
“We believe we have the most cost-effective and easy-to-use solution on the market. All it takes is commercial grade wi-fi, two iPads and a custom stand. The NoahFace software does the rest.”
How does it work? A customer-facing iPad identifies the customer as they reach the cash register. A second iPad facing the barista displays the customer’s name and order, and alerts staff if the customer has earned a free coffee, so there’s no need for loyalty cards.
A sign at the register tells customers that facial recognition is being used, and they are free to opt out. New clients can be added to the database within seconds and it automatically removes people who don’t visit the cafe regularly.
“Getting the speed of recognition to where we have it now – less than one second from when the subject is within 1.4 metres of the camera-eye – was a major challenge, but John has cracked it,” says Cropley.
"For the customer, they love being greeted by name as soon as they walk in …"
In its first 12 months using NoahFace, Bahista Cafe’s coffee sales surged 35 per cent. About 2000 customers are now on the cafe’s database.
“Stand in my cafe for an hour between 7.30am and 8.30am and ask all the people in our database what do you think of this cafe and why do you keep coming, and they’ll all say it’s because it’s so personal, and they then refer their friends to us,” Cropley says.
At first glance, NoahFace may seem like a simple idea, using technology to solve a very common problem for the hospitality industry. Dig a little deeper and it’s what’s under the hood that has prospective clients from other industries beating down the door.
For Cropley and MacLean, cafes are just the tip of the iceberg. Their software could be used for customer loyalty programs at gyms and retail stores, to allow building access, or for routine checks and recognition in government services.
NoahFace’s growth plans include a second round of funding to bring on more talent and develop the software to service a variety of potential business clients.
“Where this could go is now our focus. The cafe industry is tiny compared to the broader opportunities using facial recognition,” says Cropley.
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“Have a clear vision and plan with total unequivocal belief in your product or service.” Geoff Cropley
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