Tinus Le Roux has adapted NASA technology and made sales to premier sports teams, but he says moving to St. Louis might be his best business move yet.
Le Roux, 43, is co-founder and chief executive of FanCam, which captures high-resolution crowd photos at sporting events, concerts and anywhere else a large group of people might gather.
He built the business in Cape Town, South Africa, for nine years before moving to Creve Coeur about six weeks ago with his wife and three sons. He noticed immediately that he was spending more time with family, because business trips to New York or Minneapolis no longer required a trans-Atlantic flight.
He’s more productive at work, too. “I realize now just how jet-lagged I was for nine years,” Le Roux said. “Being a founder is difficult enough; doing so while being jet-lagged is not advisable.”
The South African entrepreneur’s path to St. Louis began after a chance meeting with Tim Hayden, co-founder of sports investment firm Stadia Ventures. Hayden encouraged him to apply for Stadia’s accelerator program, which involves 14 weeks of mentoring and an investment of up to $100,000.
A 9-year-old firm isn’t a typical accelerator candidate, but FanCam was beginning to pivot from marketing its photos as a fun fan experience to selling them as a rich source of data. Le Roux applied, was selected, and began coming to St. Louis in February for the mentoring sessions.
“As I came to St. Louis and got to know the place, I realized it’s central, it has good people and things are happening here,” Le Roux recalled.
He and his wife soon were packing to move, and shortly after that Le Roux found himself in the middle of one of the city’s biggest sports moments. He set up FanCam cameras inside Enterprise Center for the watch party during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, then photographed the Blues’ championship parade down Market Street.
With all FanCam photos, fans can zoom in to find and tag themselves for social media. FanCam is installed in 10 major sports venues, including Busch Stadium.
The company still has operations in Cape Town and a handful of employees scattered elsewhere, but Le Roux is the entire St. Louis staff for now. If FanCam can raise money from investors, he intends to hire customer support and data analytics people here.
Brandon Janosky, a Stadia managing director, says FanCam already has more traction than most early-stage companies he sees. “To have repeat customers at world-class organizations and venues, that can’t be denied and it can’t be faked,” Janosky said.
Stadia’s mentors, he said, worked with the company on how to market and price its data product. Using image recognition software, FanCam can give teams an age and gender breakdown of the folks in the seats, and can even tell how many at a given moment are watching game action, watching the scoreboard or staring down at their phones.
Janosky was impressed by how much thought Le Roux had put into the data product, including the privacy implications. “His ability to articulate what they do and, more importantly, what they don’t do, was one of the things that drew us to Tinus,” he said. “He understands the market and he understands the regulations.”
Importantly, FanCam’s data is aggregated and anonymous: It doesn’t capture anything that would identify an individual fan.
The aggregate data has told baseball teams that their average fan is 10 years younger than they thought. By scanning faces, FanCam sees all the children and grandkids who don’t show up in ticket-purchase data.
One client, which Le Roux won’t name, was spending a lot of money for fireworks on Friday nights. FanCam showed that fans weren’t sticking around, so the team should probably spend its fan-experience dollars in some other way.
“We view the crowd as an organism, and it hasn’t been studied well,” Le Roux says.
There are plenty of other applications. If a team knows which moments attract the most eyeballs to the video scoreboard, it may be able to charge advertisers a premium for those moments.
As documented in the book “Moneyball,” data began revolutionizing baseball’s on-field product about 20 years ago. FanCam figures it’s high time to eliminate guesswork about who’s in the seats, too.