Superfish aims to transform the web by transforming it from a text-centric experience to one based on images. The company has developed advanced visual search technology that eliminates the frustration of searching for images without knowing exactly what an item is called or how to describe it.
Superfish has filed 12 patents.
Artificial neural networks, Machine learning, Image processing, Artificial intelligence, Classification algorithms
Artificial neural networks, Machine learning, Image processing, Artificial intelligence, Classification algorithms
Latest Superfish News
Sep 29, 2023
Very large text size This story is part of the September 30 edition of Good Weekend. See all 14 stories. Idon’t know it yet, but I’m about to make Kieren Perkins uncomfortable. We’re talking about Atlanta in 1996 and his momentous, second successive Olympic gold medal in the 1500-metre freestyle. You remember it, right? Perkins had always seemed imperious in the pool, yet a form trough had somehow seen him plunge into underdog status. The swimmer known as “Superfish” performed poorly in his heat, barely scraping into the final. He spent the following day in a roiling panic, counting down to his medal race in a cold sweat. “I’d never felt self-doubt before,” he says today. “There was this overwhelming public support, but in my mind there was also this build-up – I don’t think I can win – and it was distressing.” Remember how he charged off the block, defying anyone to pass him? Australia rode his domination in the water stroke for stroke that Saturday morning, until commentator Dennis Cometti loosed his famous baritone at the finish: “This is rare gold! The best kind of gold!” Before Cathy Freeman, before the Matildas, this was the uniting moment of Australian sport. And afterwards? Perkins was feted more than ever – and confronted by that adoration. “I still don’t feel there was anything special about what I did,” he says. “I didn’t cure cancer or bring peace in the Middle East.” Yet people stopped him in the street – they still do, almost weekly – to tell him where they’d been when he won. I know where I was. I was playing footy for Murrumbeena in an away game against St Kilda City. I’m not sure why, but I share this hyper-specific memory with Kieren Perkins. The retired swimmer, now 50, nods graciously, because those moments are beautiful to him, but they’re also awkward. Every single time. “It’s a fascinating psychosis,” he says. “It’s weird to have stopped people’s lives, because the things that stopped mine were Lady Diana dying, and the Twin Towers falling, so it’s hard for me to rationalise.” But here’s the important bit. That uncomfortable collective recognition? Perkins has made it work for him in the 27 years since. Advertisement We’re chatting 23 floors above Melbourne’s CBD, inside the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), where he became chief executive 18 months ago, charged with steering our national high-performance and grassroots participation strategy for Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth games sports. Perkins wins gold in the 1500m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. “I still don’t think there was anything special about what I did,” he says. Credit: Getty Images Today the Superfish is one of our most powerful sporting leaders, at a pivotal moment as we enter what the ASC calls the “green and gold decade of opportunity”. We’ve just hosted a groundbreaking FIFA Women’s World Cup (following world cups in women’s basketball and men’s T20 cricket), and there are more global competitions on home turf to come, including cycling and rowing, possibly rugby and maybe swimming, all leading to the distant beacon of the Brisbane Summer Olympics in 2032. If we’re going to pull this off, says Perkins, sport needs to do better – to be more agile and sustainable, and open on socio-cultural issues from LGBTQI+ rights to gender inequality. This introverted, relatively conservative cleanskin has thus emerged as an unlikely woke warrior – a white, middle-aged male change agent driven in no small part by the sense of responsibility he feels towards our fading flashbulb memories of one fateful swim. “I absolutely carry a custodianship of that moment – this memory that helped inadvertently create part of Australia’s sense of identity in sport and who we are,” Perkins says. “I’d like to think I would not do anything in my life subsequently that would diminish or undermine that. It’s a very big driver of who I am, what I am, and where I am today.” A few days later, Kieren Perkins is sitting in the Velodrome Room in the ASC’s offices, this time talking about his childhood while fiddling distractedly with a piece of plastic detritus left on the table. “I am curious by nature,” he says, smiling. “It infuriated my parents, but every gift they ever gave me at some point I would destroy. I wanted to know how things worked.” Advertisement A wistful expression crosses his face when he talks about his mum, Gloria, now in care with dementia. She struggled with her weight, he says, before joining WeightWatchers, working there and eventually rising to state manager. She had fans of her own, and they used to stop Perkins at the mall and tell him precisely why he was such a great swimmer: his inspirational mum. “My mother?” he would wonder. “Are you shitting me?” But he sees it now in her daily mantra: It’s gonna be all right in the end. And if it’s not, it isn’t the end. That was good advice for what happened when he was nine. Playing with his brother at home in suburban Brisbane, he ran through a plate glass door, slicing his right calf muscle in half. It was impossible to tell how much blood had poured through the wooden deck by the time medical help arrived, but the loss of life and threat of amputation were real. Marathon microsurgery – 87 stitches – was needed to knit the limb. “Mum kept the piece of glass,” he says. “Why did she keep that?” Part of his rehabilitation was walking in a weightless environment at the John Carew Swim School, but he also learnt technique, doing drills and skills. The oblivion of black-line meditation suited him. His favourite days were those when he went home at night with shoulders so sore he couldn’t sleep on his back. He was also close to his late father, Kevin, a computer consultant – but their bond was different. “No emotion, hugging, telling your son you’re proud of him,” Perkins says. “He was very demanding but extremely fair.” He forced Perkins to take accountability for his commercial life, beginning at 15 with Eyeline Swimwear, his first goggles sponsorship. “I was never allowed to sign a contract without being able to tell Dad – in my own words – why I was signing it, what I was committing to, the values I had that were aligned with the organisation, and what I knew I would need to do to make the agreement successful.” Loading Kevin pushed Perkins to claim his “brand value”, too, getting into epic, stand-up brawls with Swimming Australia over agreements that would pay his son a pittance while signing away his marketing rights. When the swim team was expected to appear at events wearing their branded tracksuits, his dad rejected that, too: Kieren would wear a suit. The rest of the team looked at Perkins like he was an idiot, but he was used to such discomfort, thanks to his school uniform at Brisbane Boys’ College, which included a distinctive straw boater. “You got to a point where the dress code was something you defended,” Perkins says, “because every other high school in the system was laying into you for those stupid hats.” Advertisement His best friend David Lyons, a national-level diver who wore the same boater, notes that Perkins’ push to be treated as a professional helped establish precedents enjoyed by later athletes such as Ian Thorpe. “He was always happy to stand up against something he thought was wrong, and the sponsorship issue was a big deal,” Lyons says. “[Legendary swim coach] Don Talbot said it once: ‘Kieren changed everything.’” Perkins was aided, of course, by exceptional ability and drive. He loved the early mornings, the heart rate sessions, and plotting his progress in wax paper logbooks with an oil pencil. Many athletes begrudgingly train, motivated by their fear of failure on race day. Perkins trained passionately and raced begrudgingly. “It wasn’t because I thought I was indestructible or better – I just fundamentally didn’t care about winning,” he says. “It was always about beating me.” When other athletes snuck off for a drink, Perkins declined, furthering his reputation as a stiff-neck. His cold logic – Why disrupt the benefit of my training? – didn’t help. “Go to the movies? Go bowling? Go for a meal? Absolutely,” he reasoned. “But go to the pub? Gouge my eyes out with a hot poker, please.” His former teammate and roommate, fellow Olympian and gold medallist Chris Fydler, says it was easy to misinterpret Perkins’ self-belief as egotism, his discipline as scorn. “Particularly given the psychology of the 1500,” says Fydler. “The way Kieren ran his races was to get out in front so that no one could pass him, and he could dominate in that way.” “(Legendary swim coach) Don Talbot said it once: ‘Kieren changed everything.’ ” It reached a point where almost anything Perkins did was seen as clinical or calculating. He recently read fellow Australian 1500-metre-star Daniel Kowalski’s account of Atlanta, in which the pair crossed paths on the morning of the final. Kowalski was shaving down when Perkins – his friend and competitor – entered the change rooms, glared in silence then walked out, a devastating act of psychological warfare. In reality, Perkins was so convinced he would lose that he was unable to make eye contact. “I cried when I read that. It just broke me,” Perkins says. “I cannot reconcile that the cost of my gold medal was Dan’s despair.” It’s not the only lesson from Atlanta. Perkins is often accused of being “boring” or “unreadable” (which probably started at 15 when a piece of anonymous hate mail, dripping with vicious abuse, taught him to limit and control his public engagement), but his outward reserve was forged in the crucible of those games. The event was so singularly stressful that nothing since has compared. When tested, Perkins says he simply doesn’t panic. Ever. Advertisement “Basically, bad things happen, and I come across as this emotionless robot who doesn’t care,” he says. “It means that if I’m stressed about something, I actually have to tell my staff I’m stressed about it because otherwise it will seem like any other day.” That rings true. When our initial interview time is up, for instance, Perkins says he’s happy to keep going. Sort of. His monotone response goes like this: “Yes, I am happy to give away another 20 minutes to talk to you today, understanding that whatever material we cover now diminishes the time allotted to our next meeting.” I wonder what the emotionless robot does to unplug. “The uncomfortable bogan truth,” he says, “is that I’m a petrolhead.” Growing up in Queensland, motorsport was ubiquitous, so he learned to love V8 touring cars and 500cc motorbikes. He owns a BMW, a 2007 Porsche 911 Carerra, and loves boats, too, but his baby is his motorbike: a sleek, red 2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4S. He fires it up and gets out of Melbourne most weeks, cruising through the Yarra Valley or along the Surf Coast, hugging mountain spurs and shoreline switchbacks. “You’re deeply, deeply engrossed in it,” he says. “You’re part of the environment as much as this visceral mechanical thing.” There’s an anonymity to riding, which was impossible to find when he retired from swimming after the 2000 Olympics. Still, his public profile led to what came next: the speaking circuit, and a decade of continued sponsorship from the likes of Qantas and Uncle Tobys and Pura Milk. It sounds like a dream transition. It wasn’t. “I was not a good person throughout a lot of that period,” Perkins says. “That transition out of sport is horrific for a lot of people – I don’t care how successful you are – but because I was busy it was probably five years before I had my meltdown.” Perkins had married journalist Symantha Liu and they’d had three kids – Georgia, now 26, a primary school teacher, Harry, 24, an IT professional, and Charlie, 18, a design student – but the marriage slowly broke down and ended in 2012. As an athlete, Perkins explains, a large portion of your life is surrounded by people who enable a narcissistic world view. Then you wake up one morning, sport is over, and people no longer pander to your whims. “I was really unhappy, really not engaging with the universe, and more interested in doing my own thing or being alone,” he admits. “And when you have a young family, that’s not acceptable.” “I was not a good person … that transition out of sport is horrific for a lot of people.” Kieren Perkins Advertisement Perkins had also begun working with Clark Perry, the former head psychologist at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). Together they offered a leadership consultancy to clients from Toyota to Pfizer. For a few years, Perkins commuted to work in Sydney, living with Perry in Neutral Bay when he wasn’t in Brisbane with his family, but the divided life wasn’t healthy. “Kieren was such a private person as an athlete, putting everything into boxes – ‘No one is allowed to see inside Kieren Perkins’,” says Perry. “But sometimes it doesn’t do him favours. It can create havoc later.“ He found a new path, working for NAB in business development. People assumed he was there for his celebrity, to make connections and schmooze, so it used to throw them off when he was interested in learning every basic detail. Having spent every lunchtime at high school in the library playing chess or doing maths homework, he found banking suited him. He rose to executive level and met his new wife, Karen Davis. I meet Perkins one morning at their home, an apartment in Melbourne overlooking Treasury Gardens. I’d expected to find him on a leafy block in affluent Brighton or South Yarra. “I think there’s a perception that with position, status and wealth comes great scale,” says Perkins. “But we have more than enough room, and when we want to go do stuff, we step out and walk. Everything’s here.” There are a few pieces of Indigenous art and a dozen pink roses in a vase. For an anniversary, perhaps? “No, Karen wanted to make the environment nice for you,” says Perkins, casting his eye around the space. “There’s a painting by Rod McRae over there, which Karen informs me is of significance.” There’s also a David Bromley, but not one of his signature naked ladies. “Karen refuses to have boobs on the wall, so it’s a child on a rocking horse.” Later, I ask Karen to assess her husband’s weaknesses. She’s got them loaded. His sweet tooth. His wilful inability to load the washing machine. His commitment to not speaking so much as one word to anyone – including her – until after his first cup of coffee of the day. “Kieren’s not someone who’s concerned with what he can’t do,” she says of him. “He approaches everything from the position of ‘I can absolutely do that’.” By November 2020, Perkins was an ascendant banker as well as president of the board of Swimming Australia. The organisation was in the spotlight not long after over historical sexual abuse claims, with various female swimmers citing a misogynistic culture that included everything from body-shaming to sexual assault. Perkins made a strident public statement that there was no endemic issue within the current team. “That was like a red rag to a bull,” says one close observer. “It’s never a good idea to come out swinging against someone alleging harm.” Perkins knows there are many who feel he was tone-deaf, but maintains he never denied historical abuse. He points to his establishment of an independent review that led to an unreserved apology to women and girls in swimming and recommended everything from more female coaches to a ban on skin folds tests. ASC chair Josephine Sukkar remembers giving Perkins a call to see how he was dealing with the pile-on. “There was something in his manner. This restraint – a desire to contact the victims, stand down guilty coaches, and put the sport first,” Sukkar says. “He was what the role needed.” Perkins with wife Karen Davis. “Kieren’s not someone who’s concerned with what he can’t do.” Credit: Getty Images Perkins rebuffed the first approach from headhunters to take on the ASC gig – “No thanks, I’m a banker” – but accepted the job once the Brisbane Olympics had been won. When he put his feet under the big desk in March 2022, he found a system that was fragmented and underfunded, engaging in the same tired political arguments and still trying gamely to “punch above our weight” and buy gold medals. This year, for instance, $132 million in federal money was disbursed to high-performance pathways, and just $17 million toward grassroots participation. “That rebalance has definitely got to happen,” he says, “because right now it’s well and truly out of kilter.” The consequence, he argues, is obvious. When Aussie kids are aged nine to 11, three out of four play organised sport only. By the time they reach 18-24, that percentage is down to one in four. Sport, he says, has always helplessly thrown its hands up over this – hormones, screens and schooling get in the way, the untalented drop out – but he believes the vast majority drop out because they have an awful experience. “It’s a demeaning, demoralising, stressful environment when you’re coming into your teenage years,” he says, “and all anyone is pushing on you is to be harder, fitter, stronger because you could be a superstar one day, and if you’re not, you’ve failed as a human being and wasted your talent.” Perkins, who no longer swims (“bad back”), never pushed his own kids into sport, other than for enjoyment and health, physical literacy and team skills, and none pursued it at a high level. For his eldest, the reckoning came in her first swimming carnival. “One of the other parents quite innocently said, ‘Georgie, you’ll have a great day today – you’ll win everything!’ And of course Georgie turned to me – ‘Dad, why would she say that?’ – because to her I was just Dad. She was five and had no idea what I did. She never swam again.” He’s not suggesting Australians shouldn’t chase excellence – merely that we recognise the inextricable connection between playing for fun and playing to win – the “virtuous circle” in which a girl is inspired by Mary Fowler, joins a soccer club, finds it welcoming, well governed, well funded and nurtures her capacity whether she ends up a Matilda or not. This national strategy – codified recently by the ASC – is summarised on new branded materials in two words: “Win well.” “I understand the importance of getting this right,” says former athlete Sarah Cook, who watched the opening ceremony of the 1992 games in Seoul when she was seven years old, told her parents she wanted to go to the Olympics and represent Australia, then did exactly that. (She’s now chief executive of Rowing Australia.) “We’re just not supportive of a ‘win at all costs’ approach anymore. That’s not what sport is about for Australia.” Loading What can Perkins do? Refine integrity safeguards, support community coaching – even streamline the process for volunteering and officiating. But he can only do it if sport is united. His biggest task – achieved over the past year – has been to bring the sporting network together in a series of forums and summits. “We’ve never had that,” says Matti Clements, director of the AIS, which sits under the ASC umbrella. “Some of us couldn’t have sat in the room together without taking pot shots at each other.” Another important message began trickling down from his office: that sports need to find new ways to stand on their own two feet, whether by streamlining administrative tasks or diversifying revenue streams. “Kieren has to say that because there is no more money,” says veteran sports administrator Kate Palmer, chief operating officer for AusCycling, who sat in Perkins’ chair from 2017 to 2020. “I used to have those meetings myself: ‘Great to see you, wonderful to hear what you’re doing, but just to be really clear, I haven’t got any money to give you.’ ” Former federal sports minister Richard Colbeck once told the ASC’s Sukkar, “The politics of sport is more savage than the politics of politics”, so there’s also the question of how Perkins will cope in an inherently political position. Palmer thinks his name might be his trump card. “Kieren Perkins could probably walk into the prime minister’s office and be heard,” she says. “That’s his power.” Perkins isn’t so sure: “While my name might get me in the PM’s door, if there’s nothing to back it up, it won’t get me very far.” No further than a handshake or a photo op, he adds, or maybe a few million dollars for one shiny initiative. It certainly won’t fix the dilapidated Australian Institute of Sport – a 65-hectare site in dire need of uplift. Perkins spruiks its programs and staff, but the wear and tear and leaking roofs stand out. It’s hard to hide generational funding neglect. “I feel for Kieren, because it’s a disaster area, which the government has refused to repair,” says one administrator. “Nothing has been done. AFL clubs have got better facilities than the AIS.” I wonder, in that light, what it was like to see Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, in Hobart in April, pledging $240 million towards a new, $715 million stadium for an AFL team in Tasmania. How did the sporting network take the news? “They went nuts,” Perkins says, “and I understand exactly why. Because it looks like a couple of hundred million dollars was given to a billion-dollar sport.” I’m curious, too, about the cancellation of the 2026 Commonwealth Games in Victoria. After all, the 1990 games in Auckland were an “amazing, positive, joyous” – and formative – experience for Perkins. How did he take the news? “It’s completely disappointing and incredibly damaging for Australia’s reputation,” he says. “We have, for generations, been a country that you could rely on to be a partner and a host, and this dramatically undermines that.” Kieren Perkins is no stranger to hard work, and former colleagues say he expects that of others. But he also knows he can’t apply Olympian standards to his staff. He’s getting better at understanding downtime and work-life balance, including his own. When he flies, which is often, he does everything he can to avoid work, losing himself in fiction (most recently The Survivors by Jane Harper). Perkins says he avoids leadership manuals and biographies, being uninterested in corporate deification or journeys of self-reflection. “I’ve done enough of that. I prefer escapism.” His wife tells me they watch Ted Lasso together, as well as Masterchef. “He loves how nice the people are, and how they help each other even when competing,” she says, laughing. Perkins at the launch of Australia’s high-performance 2032-plus sport strategy. Credit: Getty Images Perkins talks constantly about helping others along, and gender inequality is a focus. Of the 487 athletes sent to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, 54 per cent were women – and 10 of our 17 gold medals were won by women – yet women represented just 18 per cent of accredited coaches. At the administrative level, national sporting boards overwhelmingly skew male, and just one in five has a female chair. He’s committed to closing systemic gaps – fixing issues around maternity leave, flexible work and superannuation. He recently finalised his eight-person executive, five of whom are women. He’s chasing cultural diversity, too, keen to ensure sport reflects the broader Australian diaspora. Historically, the ASC has influenced outcomes in different sports using only guidelines. “But over time they won’t be guidelines anymore, they’ll be requirements,” he says, “and there will be a shift to holding people more accountable.” Loading Perkins has been outspoken on LGBTIQ+ issues, most notably defending the right of transgender people to join in community sport. Given the tiny number of elite transgender athletes, it bemuses him that the “transgender issue” keeps popping up as a pivotal challenge facing sport. “Does it impact sport? Nup,” he says, shaking his head, and throwing up his hands. “Does it hurt me to provide that equity? Nup.” The question worth considering, he says, is whether an already at-risk, highly ostracised part of the community should be further ostracised. If people want to call him “woke” over this, he says, it only shows the shallowness of their perspective. “I just shrug.” Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and the man once known as “King Kieren” takes the mantle of champion incredibly seriously. He doesn’t believe, for instance, that elite athletes have any choice but to accept they are aspirational figures, and to act accordingly as role models. “If you don’t want that,” he says, “please don’t play sport. Go do something quietly in the corner that no one else sees you do.” Extend this principle further, and it’s easy to see why he chafes at anyone who belittles an athlete by telling them to “stick to sport”. It baffles him that Pat Cummins can earn the ire of anyone by taking a knee for Black Lives Matter or calling into question a sponsorship with a greenhouse gas-emitting energy company. “What is wrong with someone actually being interested in whether or not the world they’re operating in is having a positive impact or not on their children’s future?” Perkins asks. “What’s the big deal?“ He would, however, probably prefer that major international championship stages be as “free of the corrupting influence of politics” as possible – while erring on the side of the rights of athletes to express themselves. “Most of us need to be reminded that they’re human beings, not our playthings.“ That isn’t completely theoretical, either. Former colleagues from his time at Swimming Australia contend that billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart was essentially trying to coach the team and run the board until Perkins arrived. “Kieren pushed back – gracefully and respectfully – saying, ‘I’m not copping your shit’,” says one insider, “which Kieren can do because he has that background as a hero.” Rinehart pulled her support, but potential sponsors who’d refused to sign on because they didn’t want to be associated with Hancock Prospecting were only too happy to fill the void. Perkins refuses to be drawn on the topic, but he’s happy to field a few drive-bys from anonymous peers. He’s unqualified for this position, some say, appointed only because of gold-medal greatness. What made him a successful athlete – a blinkered unwillingness to compromise – makes him a poor leader. I read aloud quotes about how he doesn’t suffer fools, or is ill-equipped for battle between feuding fiefdoms. “To create change you’re going to need someone with exceptional people skills,” says one insider, “and I don’t see that in Kieren whatsoever.“ Loading Perkins nods. He understands. Even agrees on some counts. He disputes that he has a fixed view on anything, insisting that he plays devil’s advocate – hard – only to test every position. His goal, he says, is to surround himself with people who are much smarter and more capable, so they’ll make him look like a genius. “Why would you want to sit on top saying you’ve got all the answers?” The people-skills criticism is stickier. Perkins says he’s available to anyone at any time to discuss any matter, but you’ve only got to imagine him talking to me in his best emotionless robot voice – describing his job as the “strategic, transparent and dispassionate” deployment of government money – to see where the disconnect might lie within a system used to blokey backslappers and handshake deals. “Everyone’s mates, everyone wants to have a beer, and I’m not that guy. I’m not interested in that. If you’d like to be my best friend, you’re probably shit out of luck,” he says. “I’ll probably take a lot of knives to the back over time, and will probably come out the other side of it beaten up, chewed up and spat out. But if I’m fortunate, at least sport will be in better shape.”
Superfish Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
When was Superfish founded?
Superfish was founded in 2006.
Where is Superfish's headquarters?
Superfish's headquarters is located at 744 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto.
What is Superfish's latest funding round?
Superfish's latest funding round is Series D.
How much did Superfish raise?
Superfish raised a total of $19.3M.
Who are the investors of Superfish?
Investors of Superfish include DFJ Tamir Fishman Ventures, Threshold Ventures, Vintage Investment Partners, Xenia Venture Capital, International Venture Fund and 3 more.