Facewatch has an eye on $1bn club with arresting way to fight crime 11/21/2016


Oh, the irony. A year or so ago at a Conservative Party fundraiser, Simon Gordon saw the chance to lobby the then-Home Secretary Theresa May over the tech company he founded to help the police crack down on petty thieves.

But the future PM gave him short shrift. “I can’t talk now, my bag’s been stolen,” she fumed, wearing the flustered look he’d seen on dozens of similar victims in London’s landmark Gordon’s Wine Bar, which inspired him to set up Facewatch in the first place. The handbag eventually turned up in a bathroom, he recalls.

Simon Gordon is not your typical tech entrepreneur. He’s 60, he didn’t have his big idea until well into his fifties — and he lives in Hampshire, not hipster Hackney or Shoreditch.

The chartered accountant made his money in insurance, rising to become finance director of Skandia UK. But he suffered bouts of depression and finally quit more than a decade ago for a stint running the family’s eponymous wine bar in Villiers Street next to Embankment Tube station. The hostelry’s doors have been open for 126 years, but it gets scarcely any of his time these days.

We’re not in the dark caverns of the bar, sharing a nice red, but in Facewatch’s offices around the back. Gordon is hunched over his laptop, showing off his pride and joy.

The idea for Facewatch came from the frustration he felt when trying to report petty crime, and the rigmarole of the police having to come and pick up CCTV footage and wade through it themselves.

His system allows edited footage to be emailed straight to the police, and lets businesses and the public share intelligence. “I realised just how inefficient the whole process was,” he says.

His goal is “not tech for the sake of tech, but trying to reduce crime”. The amount that supermarkets lose to shoplifting is “ludicrous” in his view, and he reckons Facewatch could save a big retail chain £30 million a year.

Gordon is about to embark on the next stage of evolution, combining Facewatch’s data on light-fingered customers with a new age of advanced face-recognition cameras. He’s planning a UK launch in the next couple of months after a successful pilot in Brazil that was three years in the making.

“We are right on the cusp of a major revolution in the way crime is prevented and detected, because we are going to have thousands of cameras all going back to the cloud, where it is analysed and compared to Facewatch watchlists, and then the alerts will go back to the business.”

Isn’t all a bit Big Brother? Gordon says the system “will only share in a proportionate manner under the Data Protection Act”.

He adds: “To be on there, there has to be evidence that you’ve committed a crime and that you continue to be a threat.” One of his advisers is former MI5 head Jonathan Evans, who was a friend of a friend; the potential interest of such a system to the security services is obvious.“If you read about any kind of terrorism incident, anywhere in the world, it says they were involved in local crime prior to that,” Gordon says.

“But there’s no scary tie-up — we’re not financed by MI5 or anything. It’s just me trying to stop low-level crime. We’re trying to create — we will create — a global business which could be one of the biggest things to come out of the UK for years — Google, Facebook, that sort of size.”

He has his eye on joining the “unicorn club” of companies with a $1 billion valuation. Another adviser is James Macpherson, one of the most senior UK figures at fund giant BlackRock. Gordon has put everything into it including his house — “every penny I ever saved” — and still owns more than half the company.

He’s been burning through cash but reckons the company will be producing eight-figure revenues within three years. At that point, he’ll be looking to retire, maybe selling to a US company.

“We’ve created this thing making little money but investing a lot of money over six years — and now we’ve reached the stage when we can turn it into products,” he declares. Shoplifters, beware.

Article supplied by: Evening Standard


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