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  • By Dana Casadei

Josh Bryant

It all started when a teenager asked NFL wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a selfie.

“The kid opened up Snapchat, took a selfie, and asked Emmanuel to sign the picture with his finger,” said Josh Bryant, co-founder of Fangage, Inc, along with his cousin, Sanders. “I was like, whoa, that was really cool and really easy. Do you think people would pay to get their own photos signed digitally as opposed to paying to get a professional photo signed?”

The following week, he and Sanders were putting together an app. Within 90 days they had version one of Fangage for users, which they launched three years ago. Version 2 launched in December 2017.

Ok, so what exactly is Fangage?

To put it simply, it’s now a website where fans can upload photos that go to the celebrity of their choosing (from a list provided of those doing upcoming signings), who then digitally autograph it via Fangage’s iPad app, before sending it back to Bryant’s team. From there, fans get a link to the signed photo they purchased.

Ok, but how do you know it’s actually being signed by the celebrity you selected?

Fangage’s facial recognition technology.

“We were just on a mission to say, how can we eliminate that fraud? How can we prove without a doubt that it’s actually that celebrity signing the photo?” said Bryant, who has lived in Birmingham for almost a decade. “First, it was the facial recognition, then we transitioned to the live feed.”

With the live feed, customers can watch their items get signed.

People are clearly fans of the tech company. Fangage recently sent out their 5,000th photo while at this year’s Super Bowl, where they did 20 autograph sessions in 2 days.

“We basically did more autographs in 2 days than in all of last year,” Bryant said.

Bryant and his team also recently completed a startup incubator program in Boulder, Colorado. Their goal of raising $250,000 by the end of the year was met before the program ended, one of the first companies to do so.

“Since then, it’s been great, it’s been a wild ride,” said Bryant.

But that’s not nearly enough for Fangage. They have some lofty goals for the next few years, like crossing one million signed photos next summer at the 2020 Olympics.

In the next 6 to 9 months, they hope to cross from sports – currently the bulk of their celebrities, including the Houston Astros’ Tony Kemp and Eric Ebron from the Indianapolis Colts – to everything from musicians to WWE.

Bryant, who used to work in sports and marketing, said they work through talent and marketing agents to get celebrities to do a signing. He also said that they often hear comments on how easy it is, especially compared to a more traditional signing appearance.

While they charge customers fees – ranging from $3 to $75, depending on the celebrity – Bryant hopes one day they won’t have to charge and can gain sponsorships from companies that lean heavily on influencer marketing.

Bryant knows as a minority in the tech world the odds are against him. At first, he found that all nerve-wracking, but now it’s inspiration.

He can help break the mold.

“Honestly, I look in the mirror and say, 'I have an opportunity to do something special,'” Bryant said. “My nephews and my son can look up and say, he isn’t playing football, he isn’t on TV, but he’s still created something really special and he’s doing something that most of the people who look like us aren’t doing.”

Photo: Laurie Tennent

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