Magazine Article


Spotlight on Yuval Yashiv

Spotlight On Yuval Yashiv
Chief Executive Officer of Pixology Ltd.

by Dan Havlik

Yuval Yashiv is Chief Executive Officer of Pixology Ltd., one of Europe's leading digital imaging companies. Yashiv recently sat down with PTN to discuss some of Pixology's latest technological breakthroughs, including its new IRISS software which is designed to detect and eliminate red eye in digital images. Yashiv, a former captain in the Israeli Army, also discussed his background and his take on such hot industry topics as"Infoimaging;" online photo sharing and printing websites; digital photo kiosks and image enhancement software. Pixology's new IRISS technology automatically detects and corrects red eye in digital images. Pixology was launched in 1987 and has become a leading digital imaging software company in Europe, but it's not as well known in the United States. Can you give us some background on the company? Pixology was founded in 1987, and since 1994 has been focusing on the digital imaging space. In 1996 Pixology launched its first image browser, and that same year was demonstrating the sending of digital images over the Internet from mobile phones. In the past couple of years, following an investment from 3i Group (Europe's largest VC firm) and Young Associates, Pixology has entered the Internet printing and digital imaging services businesses by supplying unique solutions to leading industry players such as Kodak, British Telecom and MSN as well as to leading European retailers such as Jessops, Staples, Comet, Argos and others. We provide retailers, ISP/ Portals, hardware vendors and others with end-to-end solutions in printing, sharing and managing of digital images. Is Pixology planning to expand further into the U.S. Market? And if so, what areas do you plan to target? In the past Pixology has sold its image editing products in the U.S., including a global bundling deal with Kodak for Kodak Picture Pages Software. Pixology has recently announced its new IRISS technology (Intelligent Red Eye Imaging Software Solution) that automatically detects and corrects red eye in digital images. This technology will be able to be implemented in both hardware and software forms, such as digital cameras, home-printers and so on. Pixology plans to sell this technology globally, but particularly in the U.S. market which is ahead of the European market in terms of mass-consumer adoption of digital technology. The other area we are targeting is the OEM market, where we have a pipeline of products for hardware vendors in the space, such as our recently launched Picture Share product. This product has a unique approach to sharing of images, which is totally different to the online sharing sites which exist today. This is basically an "e-mail for images," and we believe that end-users will find it a much easier and more compelling proposition than existing offerings.
Tell us more about IRISS and why it's such a technological breakthrough. As mentioned, this technology automatically detects and corrects red eyes in digital images. Today we know of no other commercially available product that performs this in the way that IRISS does. Red eye is considered the number one problem in consumer photography, and there is no easy way to get rid of it as far as the mass user is concerned. IRISS does that for the mass-consumer and that is why it is different and unique. Implementation within hardware such as digital cameras will enhance the benefits consumers get from digital photography in yet another way, and implementation within digital minilabs will enable red eye elimination at print-source, for film based pictures. Getting rid of red eye in film based images is even more cumbersome, and this nearly always results in a wasted print. IRISS will take care of that by eliminating red eye within a digital minilab. This is truly revolutionary for both digital and film-based photography. Will IRISS eventually be available at the retail level in the U.S.? We see IRISS being implemented in hardware, but also in software and in on-line services and therefore consumers will be able to use it both in camera and in software applications, both online and on a PC. Most consumers would probably purchase image enhancement software, such as IRISS, more frequently if they were less intimidated. What else needs to be done to make digital imaging products and printing services more user-friendly to the consumer? That question is actually (to use a "European term") the "raison d'etre" of Pixology. I totally agree that the obstacles facing consumers today is the lack of simplicity inherent in a lot of the digital technology out there. Consumers are interested in printing, sharing and managing their images, and that is what needs to be provided in a simple, easy to use way. At Pixology we say "One Click or No Click," meaning-if it takes more than one click, it's too complicated. This is our approach to the mass market and we are focused on providing these kinds of solutions. Today there is also a lack of consumer awareness of what can easily be done with digital photography, and most users believe that all that they can achieve is sharing pictures from their digital cameras by e-mail and printing some of them on their home printers, many times with unsatisfactory results. The truth is that consumers can easily obtain high-quality glossy prints from their digital cameras in a variety of ways, and they can also get other print formats such as albums, greeting cards, posters, calendars and so on at very competitive prices. That gap in awareness needs to be closed and this is what our products and services attempt to provide. The term "Infoimaging" is one of the hottest buzzwords in the imaging industry right now. What does the word mean to you and how will it affect the future of the imaging market? The term Infoimaging means that photography is no longer a stand-alone, distinct industry, like it had been for many decades. It means that Photography is simply a sub-segment in the technology world, and that photographic prints are just a sub-segment within the world of digital printing. Therefore, for the industry, it means that tomorrow's industry leaders are not necessarily today's (and yesterday's) leaders and that the map will drastically change over the next 5-7 years.
It means tremendous opportunities for small, fast moving technology companies. It's an opportunity for new entrants, who have not been associated with photography in the past, to be pivotal industry players. Naturally it is a revolution for consumers both in their private lives and in their professional lives, as they will be making use of images in ways that they haven't done in the past.
Like anything in the technology world, the winners will be the companies that provide consumers with the right products, at the right price in a way that consumers can easily use. Those that attempt to dictate their views on the market, will feel the full wrath of market forces. Online photo sharing and printing websites are relatively easy to use, but they have not caught on as much with the consumer as had been predicted. Do you agree? Why or why not? I am not sure to what extent online sharing and printing has not caught on as much as high expectation of revenue have not caught on. That, however, is due to the flaw in the business model inherent in the early versions of online sharing and printing which, like the entire B2C Internet space, failed to produce the expected revenue. The revolution is happening in a big way actually, as we speak. It is simply taking years and not months. For example, we at Pixology have seen 16% month-on-month revenue growth for 19 months now. This is not exactly bad going. Additionally, bandwidth is a technical issue facing online sharing and printing services (more so in Europe than in the U.S.) but this is also being taken care of as we speak. For that matter, we at Pixology provided printing via a client application rather than an online solution, from the word go. From a user perspective, this is much more practical and feasible. Digital photo kiosks are being touted as the next big step in revolutionizing the consumer digital photography market. What, if any, will be Pixology's involvement in digital photo kiosks. We see digital photo kiosks and Internet printing as "two sides of the same coin"-some consumers will opt for the Internet and some consumers will want to go in-store. Therefore, Pixology is very much active in this sector and we are launching an in-store product in Q3 of this year; we have successfully piloted our solution in one of the major U.K. retail chains and the product is now under final development.
The other area of involvement is via what we call a "Connectivity Solution"-since our infrastructure provides a wide degree of flexibility, we are currently in discussion with several kiosk vendors (two of which are U.S.) about giving them the ability to provide a wide range of printing formats from and to any retail location. They will therefore be able to extend offerings which include "order from home pick-up in store" or "order from store and deliver anywhere" in a variety of formats: silver halide, posters, albums, merchandise and so on. Talk about your work with high-profile clients such as Kodak, the Microsoft Network and Jessops, which is one of the United Kingdom's largest photo retailers. Pixology provides Microsoft's MSN portal in the U.K. with a celebrity gallery service. This enables members of MSN to browse through a gallery of celebrities and stars and order any kind of print format: door-sized posters, mugs, coasters, framed 8x10 etc. This is a true "Print on Demand" service, which is an area in its infancy. We use Indigo and Xeikon technologies to fulfill that.
With Jessops, which is the number One photo retailer in the U.K., we provide a full Internet printing service (which has been running since June 2000) and we also provide the platform for the Jessops online printing service within the U.K. edition of Windows XP. We also offer Jessops as an affiliate partner within HP's Share to Web client application, which is shipped with HP cameras and printers.
As I mentioned before, we customized a version of our image management software to create Kodak Picture Pages Software, which was a global bundle deal on the PictureMaker 120 and PictureMaker 200 home printer range. Prior to becoming CEO of Pixology, you spent six years at Gerber Foods where you worked in strategic planning and business development and then served as Group Finance Director. Prior to that you were a hardware engineer with Mercury Interactive and a Captain in the Israeli military. That's an interesting job history. What brought you to Pixology and the world of digital imaging and Internet printing? At the end of 1999, I was asked to look at Pixology by Lord Young-previously a senior minister in the Thatcher government and a past Chairman of Cable & Wireless, who is Chairman of Pixology and of Young Associates. I saw great technology in what already was a massively promising industry, so it was not a difficult choice to make and I decided to come on board. I was previously in consumer goods, but wanted to get back to the technology world and Pixology came as an excellent opportunity to do just that. After I joined, we embarked on an investment course by raising VC funding from 3i Group and Lord Young's VC company, and that is how we got to where we are today. I must say that this is an exciting industry to be in, with an amazing array of opportunities. It is fast growing, dynamic and an interesting clash of "old meets new." It is also appealing to almost anyone, because everyone knows what photography is, and it makes it that much more interesting. What was it like serving as a Captain in the Israeli military and how, if at all, does it relate to being the CEO of a digital imaging company? Being an officer in the military at a young age is a very maturing experience. It gives you some good fundamentals for later life. You very quickly learn the meaning of responsibility and accountability. Curiously enough, it does relate to running a technology company: you have to be quick, you have to plan but also to improvise and you have to "accomplish the mission", come hell or high water. "Cannot Be Done" is not an option; these are the basics in the Israeli military, but also in modern corporate life. Other than that, leading from the front, by example, is also common to both disciplines. The point is always to ask: "what have I experienced in one area, that can be applied to the other?" What's next for Pixology? Pixology aims to grow its existing offering across both Europe and the U.S. We are still a small technology company, but growing fast. Clearly our responsibility is to create value for our investors, which comes after you've grown the business on solid foundations. The markets are not great for floatations at the moment, but Pixology will look into that when times are better. The industry itself is doing well, and that gives us a great opportunity to succeed.