Kairos: Miami facial analysis startup with big acquisition plans

A surprising Florida startup which ditched Silicon Valley and is actively acquiring

It is very unusual for a three-and-a-half year old startup to make acquisitions, but Kairos made its first, IMRSV, back at the start of April. Now it claims to be the “only facial biometrics company in the world offering both facial recognition and emotion analysis tools for developers”.

Brian Brackeen, CEO of Kairos tells us over the phone from Miami – where he moved from San Francisco in 2012 – that this will be the first of many acquisitions. His reasoning is that in the space there are a lot of “brilliant PhDs” who have great ideas but lack enterprise experience. He plans to gradually acquire these in order to build his company into “a world leader”.

The long term plan for Kairos is to become a “people API”. This means via its facial recognition and analysis solution, it intends to become the go-to place to help companies understand “who the people [their customers] are and how they feel about their product or service”.

At the basic end this includes placing cameras at trade shows and malls to track demographics across different areas – for example there is a pilot currently running in Westfield San Francisco. In its more advanced state it includes more sophisticated telemedicine techniques where facial recognition is used to verify identity. And then emotional recognition – based on five ‘emotional faces’ which purport to have 90% accuracy - is used to determine how a doctor’s bedside manner impacts the patients.

In 2012 Kairos landed $500,000 in seed funding from a group of Miami angel backers. Brackeen says early stage funding opportunities are very good in the city and explains that based on stats he pulled from AngelList a few months ago Florida has a little over double the angel investors San Francisco has. “It is not that surprising,” he laughs,“you get rich, you move to Florida.”

However, once you start to scale to series A and B funding he adds, you might need “to get on a plane and go to New York or San Francisco”.

Across the US there is a big move to pinpoint the big centres for tech outside Silicon Valley. Brackeen says he weighed up: New York; Boston; Philadelphia; Miami; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; San Francisco and San Diego against a set criteria. These included access to talent, the burn rate and overall standard of living. And Miami was the clear winner.

“People don’t realise Miami is such a centre for education,” he says. He cites the large numbers of computer graduates emerging each year and unlike many other parts of the US he stresses there is a “brain gain” rather than the reverse. The reason for this, he feels, is because in the past people might have felt: “Miami is a cool place, but where would I work?” While now, of course, this is not the case.

Miami is also the ultimate gateway to the massive growth market in Latin America. “There are direct flights to every country,” Brackeen says and his Latin American clients favour Miami for its location and for the language skills available in the city.

“People are always trying to call us Silicon Beach,” says Brackeen “we hate that. We’re not trying to mould ourselves into the next San Francisco. We have our own vibe.”