Jason Sosa, founder and CEO of Immersive Labs, a New York City-based face detection software company, will take the stage during the Real Estate Connect San Francisco conference, which runs from Aug. 1-3 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square hotel.
Sosa, 32, previously founded Mind Spin Research, which created radio research software used by radio stations nationwide and was acquired by Troy Research. In a session titled "Personalized Advertising Analytics," he will discuss what gathering real-time analytics data means for industries like real estate that are trying to target the right content to the right person at the right time.
Sosa responded to a set of questions posed by Inman News:
1. What inspired you to pursue your current career path?
The entrepreneurial bug hit me at a young age. Growing up, my father never discussed what college I would attend. Instead, he taught me how to hustle, work hard, move fast and get things done in a way that adds value to others.
I was in second grade when I was assigned a "What do you want to be when you grow up?" project. I was influenced by a Richard Branson TV documentary that I watched with my dad. It showed a young Branson arriving in a helicopter talking about the business lessons he learned. I can still remember the news reporter mentioning that he never graduated from college.
When I returned to school, I told my teacher that I would not attend college but instead wanted to be an entrepreneur. I said, "Someday, I’ll be just like the guy on TV. I want to change the world." Needless to say, my teacher didn’t share my enthusiasm. She was well intentioned and proceeded to tell me that Richard Branson was "one in a million." I was not deterred. It was then that I decided that I was going to be one in a million.
2. When did you found Immersive Labs and why?
I started a music research company that collected data for radio stations in 2007. We collected a lot of data and I was constantly frustrated by how difficult it was to collect real-world data for an offline medium. We ended up leveraging online surveys to gather radio preferences from listeners.
Following my experience in radio research I developed a 103-inch multi-touch display using a series of infrared lasers and a computer vision tracker. It was then that I realized how computer vision could automate the collection of data in physical spaces.
3. Your bio lists you as, among other things, an "expert generalist in Human Computer Interaction." What exactly does that mean?
Human computer interaction (HCI) is about understanding the interaction between humans and computers. I’ve experimented and explored a number of technologies and worked on a number of projects that range from gesture and touch computing to face detection analytics. I call myself an "expert generalist" because I am familiar with a wide variety of techniques, technologies and seek to gain business value by connecting dots through seemingly unrelated things.
Having a broad understanding allows me to spend more time on the human side of the equation, understanding how people and technology fit together. I’m fortunate enough to have a great team behind me that can execute on the deeply technical computer science side.
4. What is the most important business lesson you learned in the past year?
Don’t be intimidated by anyone. For the most part, nobody knows what they’re doing. The little secret no one tells you is that we are all just making it up as we go along.
5. What’s the coolest technology you’ve discovered this year, and how are you using it?
I’m very excited about emerging technologies like Siri. While they are not yet perfected, they represent a new way to interact with machines. If Phone 1.0 was about talking, and Phone 2.0 was about touching, then Phone 3.0 will be about sensory data communicating with our environment. Over the next few years as they improve you may find yourself confiding in your voice assistant, asking it to provide insights about an important decision, or use it to learn more about what your spouse wants for his or her birthday.
6. What are you planning to cover in your session at Connect?
Information is all around us. The oldest mantra in real estate is location, location, location. That’s on a macro level, but what happens when real-time data is collected on a micro level? What if you could find out who looked at a specific area? What if traffic and demographics was a moving picture, not just a stat captured in a single moment in time by some guy with a paper clipboard.
The merger of online capabilities and physical spaces is just beginning. Retail has come full circle, moving from bricks and mortar to e-commerce and back again. Now mobile and tablets are bringing the capabilities of the Web back to bricks-and-mortar stores. The gap between the online and offline world is shrinking, and big data is about to change everything.
7. Does your face detection software currently have any application in the real estate field? If not, do you anticipate it will be used in real estate and, if so, how?
Absolutely! At the moment gathering information in physical places is incredibly hard and usually requires a person to record data on a paper clipboard. Using a computer vision software like CARA (Immersive Labs’ computer vision platform) automates the process and provides real-time feedback on traffic, demographics and more.
Beyond its use in digital advertising, anonymous face detection can be used to improve business efficiency such as measuring how long someone stands in line, Amazon-like recommendation, and in-store experiences.
In the very near future you will be able to gather analytics for the real world, just like you do online. How effective was that endcap placement? Has foot traffic increased? How long did someone view an advertisement? You’ll see demographics of people entering a venue and a real-time overview of the engagement of traffic from multiple venues simultaneously.
8. Share a personal experience or anecdote about buying, selling, owning or renting a home.
Before moving to New York I lived in Michigan. In 2008 I learned that the price of real estate can go down. Ahem.
9. What do you view as the biggest problem facing the real estate industry today, and how would you fix it?
What can be measured can be improved. I find the lack of measurement standards and technologies to be a major obstacle. What if the Web had not developed analytics tools to track conversion, traffic and engagement? Yet, physical spaces still play by analog rules in an ever-increasing digital society. When the tools of the Web are brought into the physical venues then a true understanding of its value can be determined.
10. What is your advice for real estate industry professionals to thrive in this market?
There are two worlds — the digital and physical — and they are converging at an ever-increasing pace. Learn from the lessons that transformed the newspaper, music and other industries. Become a student of technology and learn to leverage these tools. You must have the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn quickly. Things change too fast to be stuck in a one-dimensional way of doing things. Be multidimensional; learn to see the world differently, from the big picture down to the smallest detail. Competition moves fast. Adapting in a landscape of change is the best strategy.
11. What is your favorite non-work-related hobby?
I’m a geek and work all the time because I love what I do. Occasionally I’ll dive into my acoustic guitar or play Skyrim on Xbox 360.
12. Who is your hero, and why?
My father is my hero. I was born in 1980 to a Hispanic family of migrant workers that moved to Holland, Mich., from Texas in the 1950s. My dad raised me as a single parent with the help of my four aunts and grandmother. My father is a self-taught entrepreneur and learned how to make money using his wits and relied primarily on his gut. He only has a third-grade education and taught himself to speak English. I’m amazed to this day that he managed to navigate the legal and business landscape building a 15-year restaurant business and eventually buying various real estate properties.
13. Tell us something we don’t already know about you.
Last year I participated in the TechStars reality TV show that premiered on Bloomberg.
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