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Startup Camel, bringing you the best and the brightest of the Israeli startup scene. A new startup every week.
– [Lev] Hi, everyone. Welcome to Startup Camel, bringing you the best and the brightest of the Israeli startup scene. My name is Lev Kerzhner. I’m podcasting from Tel Aviv in Israel. For those of you who are joining us for the first time today, you’re welcome to join us every Sunday for an interview with the founders of the most exciting and innovative startup companies and entrepreneurs. If you like what we do, please visit our website at startupcamel.com, and subscribe to have new episodes delivered right to your mailbox. Now, today, our guest is Pini Yakuel, who is the co-founder of Optimove, who is the leader of retention marketing.
– [Pini] Hello, Lev.
– How are you doing?
– I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.
– Fantastic. It’s awesome to have you on the show. Now, today, this interview will have two parts. The first part is going to be all about you, your entrepreneurial journey, and about Optimove. And the second one is the Camel Race, where I’ll ask you quick questions and you will try to provide short, but inspiring answers. All right? You ready?
– Let’s go.
– All right. Let’s do this. So, let’s start at the start. Tell us a little bit about yourself and about Optimove.
– So, as you said, my name is Pini Yakuel. I was born and raised here in Israel, essentially from a small city near Tel Aviv. I’m 36 years old, have a lot of background in economics. So, I was you know, at the university doing my bachelor’s degree, and then my masters in engineering. And I even published a thesis, and I was about to do my PhD, and I decided that I wanted to work with people. And basically, Optimove was kind of born in the university.
– That’s interesting. That’s kind of antithetical to the Mark Zuckerberg story, who leaves…
– That’s very interesting.
– I’m the son of a…my father always said, like he would still love me to be in the world of academia. If I completed my PhD or something like that, he would have been much happier than he is today.
– But does he do that in a Polish kind of way?
– So, he’s not Polish. He’s Greek. But yeah, it’s like for him, he you know, lost a lot of opportunities because he didn’t study enough, and I think that you know, in the old world it was kind of true. And so, he was always like, “Study, study, study.” The joy of knowledge and you know, finding out things, he was always like that’s the way he was with me. Yeah. So, it came out of university.
– All right. Can you, in a few sentences, just describe what you do here at Optimove and why it’s important?
– So, we are in the world of marketing, so you know, all over the world of technology for marketing, marketing applications is getting bigger and bigger. And specifically, we handle retention marketing, so everything you do with your existing customers to extract the most value we can from them, to make them more loyal, to entice them to use your service again and again. You know, to have a win-win situation where customers get exactly what they need and what they want, and businesses get more loyal customers and get this kind of empathy. Or you know, people are affiliated with a specific brand, you know, they like the brand better. They’re emotionally attached to the brand, and you get that by marrying data science and campaign automation.
– So, I would say you’re the glue, the honey glue between the business and the client.
– That’s a nice way to put it.
– All right. All right. So, you had an entire journey in academia beforehand?
– Yeah. So, I think that I always kind of liked the world of business. I would say business, but you know, yeah, like doing something of my own. Like I always kind of felt I was drawn there, but I wasn’t ready. So, I had to do the you know, the whole route you know, of proper university and academia, and blah, blah, blah, until I reached a point that I knew, “Okay. Now, it’s time to go and cash my potential.” You know? You’re always in this…everybody is saying they have a lot of potential. They have a lot of potential. They have a lot of potential. Then, they’re like 28, 29, like, “Oh, my god. Now, I need to prove it,” and it’s a lot of pressure. But that was like the point for me.
– All right. What did you study?
– So, I was in the Department of Industrial Engineering, and my master’s was in operations research. So, I was doing my thesis, or something, it had to do with supply chain management. But at the time of the university, I met my partner at the time who was completing his PhD. And he was like saying, “Hey, why don’t we do something together? You know, there’s a lot of unsolved problems.” Like he didn’t want to do the post doc after the PhD, so he was saying, “Yeah. There’s a lot of problems.” I was like, “Who’s this crazy guy? What he wants?” And like things kind of…there was a few months and I had another friend helping me to code my thesis, because I couldn’t code it myself. So, I was using a friend. He was helping me to code my thesis and then he said, “Why don’t you make your thesis into a product?” I said, “My thesis is very you know, theoretical. You’re not going to make a product.” You know, in academia, you always must make a lot of assumptions to make the problem work. Like, “There’s only three orders and there’s only two customers,” or you know, like stuff like that to make it work and it wasn’t applicable. But I said, “Hey, there’s another guy here. We came together, the three of us, and we started like we were like a kind of an entrepreneurial team, you know, and meeting mornings and nights, and kind of like planning and scheming. It’s kind of like Pinky and the Brain, but with people.
– You know, they say a lot, the common saying about academia is that it’s often a little bit impractical. That the people that come out of academia lose touch a little bit with the day to day beat.
– If you stay there too long, for too long. So I was, essentially, like master’s, so it’s just you know, one more year. You continue for one more year. And I was never like the archetype of like the university professor, so it wasn’t a problem for me. But with my partner, definitely, like he had to tweak and change himself. And when we started to adapt to the business world. Absolutely. He was like that.
– All right. Let’s talk about your relationship a little bit. When you met him, what were the qualities in your co-founder that you felt that were good for you as a person and as a future business partner?
– So, you know, I’m just you know, taking advantage of an opportunity. So, the opportunity was that it was the right time for me. We had good chemistry, like we felt like good chemistry. We saw things I liked. I felt that he completes me in many ways. So, you know, stuff that I felt was going to be hard for me to get rolling, you know, certain tasks or certain things that we need to do in the business, I felt that he can complement my abilities, and he saw the same. So that was…and also, he had a PhD and it was… in terms of marketing value anyway, we had nothing, like anything. I guess that it was also appealing. I mean he was a PhD just when we met. Like I was thinking to myself, “You know, yeah. I can see myself in a meetings saying that the PhD has invented something, and people like buy it and nod, you know, and like what they hear.” – That’s funny. Because that’s marketing, pure marketing.
– Yeah. I didn’t even know I was, but later I realized that I’m thinking this way. And since we were both in the industrial engineering faculty. So, I mean, what are you going to do a startup on? Right? We can do a startup on a plant or you know, a supply chain, or inventory. Like no. It’s not interesting. So, what we did…
– Those are not it’s like that…
– Yeah. It doesn’t happen these days. So, he was doing machine learning and data mining. And I was saying, “You know what? The one thing you can do a startup from in industrial engineering is data mining and machine learning.” But I didn’t know anything about it. He did it, his PhD was on that and I said, “Yes.” So, there was another criteria.
– So, you basically came in, into his field of expertise, as an outsider… and you cut through it with a very practical application? Would that be a…
– Later. But at the beginning, it was like, “You know what? He does data mining. That’s the only thing that you know, you can actually…it sounds interesting. It’s hot. You know, data, it’s something like sexy. People talk about it a lot. It’s interesting. He has the PhD. It was kind of very romantic, like wanting to do something. And I felt, like my intuition told me that you know, that the conditions are perfect.
– The conditions are perfect.
– Yeah, from Wednesday, right? So conditions were perfect. Exactly. So, this is what I felt. But I didn’t know like, there was no market research. There was no, we didn’t say, “Oh, like who does data mining?” So, we just you know, started like that.
– I feel what you’re saying, because a lot of companies when they start, they just have that spark, that spark of an idea. And they start rolling and it combusts in an instant, you know, and they just want to get going with it. And then, there’s always a smart, you know, typically an MBA, and he sits there and he goes like, “Have you done your market research?” – Right.
– You know? And this will normally…and sometimes this acts like a brick wall that stops you.
– Absolutely. So, I mean, I mean, I always say like we’re going to do a post on our blog about it. So, you always have like the romantic entrepreneur versus the you know, the analytical one. And essentially, I think like everything in life it’s about balance, Daniel-san. So, the romantic entrepreneur, like to the extreme is going to fall in love with his ideas. He may be very unpractical. He’s going to go crazy, he will spend a lot of money, crash, and then burn. Right? And the analytical entrepreneur, what he does, he never leaves the Excel sheet. Because nothing works in Excel, like all the numbers, you know, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t add up. So, he never starts, because he thinks he can model reality and the future, which is super hard. And I think that…
– The truth is, as always, in the balance in between.
– And this is why, I like to, whenever I’m in all decision-making processes, I like to take you know, a small number of variables, which are you know, are very easy for me to quantify either in quantity or a qualitative manner. Like for example, “Okay. I just met this PhD. He does data mining and machine learning. It’s a super-hot topic. I like it myself and I’m drawn to it. Right? And you know, data is just starting and I know it’s going to be big. I mean, I feel it and I’m drawn to it. Like my talents are there, so I’m going to do it. I don’t care who’s out there. I’m not talented in 75 other things like. So therefore, I’m going to do it.” It’s easier to take decisions this way. Because even if I had you know, research, you know, whatever companies that was out there, I didn’t have enough understanding and knowledge to even…so, I either would have been too scared of it, or to measure it in a way that’s not correct. And yes, I’m happy. I think it’s exactly that. So, I think also, as an entrepreneur, you need to be a bit reckless, right? To a certain extent. You can’t be like…and this is why it’s also good to be younger.
– All right. Let that be a lesson to you aspiring entrepreneurs. Don’t be afraid to be a little bit reckless. You can’t do everything in a spreadsheet. All right. Let’s just take a moment and go back to that moment in time when you thought of Optimove, where it solidified into a product. Let’s just go to that ah-ha moment, to that, “Yes.” – Yeah. So that’s the thing. I think that, you know, so the way it happened, like we started the business, so going back, we started a business and we were just the two of us. I mean, we had another guy, but he left pretty fast. And it was just the two of us and we were starting to meet some VCs, and we didn’t know exactly what we were doing. And we had the basic concept and thought, and we said like we’d rather work. Like we want to meet real customers, you know, see their problems, and we didn’t like the dialogue with the VCs. So, we started to bootstrap the business. And to get money. What we did was we were both from the world of academia, so we took advantage of that. And actually, we taught for two days a week at the college, at the university and another college, and we actually got a paycheck. So, we were able to work for the rest of the like three and a half or four days a week. So, this was like kind of our seed money, if you want.
– So, you were technically funded by the university?
– Yes. Exactly. Technically funded by the state. By the country, if you want. And so we did that, and we started working with some customers. We showed them how can we model their customer data and which types of predictions we can do, and they liked it. And what I realized is we were able to sell. So also, I think it’s you know, in hindsight, it’s super important that one of the entrepreneurs is like a good, good salesman. I mean, otherwise, forget about it. I mean I think it’s one of the most…forget about the idea, whatever you do, one of the entrepreneurs has to be like a really strong salesman. So, this was me, but again I didn’t know it at the beginning. But essentially, we’re able to get some business and we got some customers, and we got their data and we played with it, and we showed them some stats and results, and models. They liked it. And slowly but surely, we got some cash from the Chief Scientist. So, we got a little bit of funding from the Chief Scientist. We outsourced it to where…and we couldn’t code, so we couldn’t build our own product. Right? So it was kind of like a disadvantage and an advantage. Like I wish I could code the product, I would stay up all night and I would finish it in like two months, or five months, or five years. But I would’ve done it, and I couldn’t. I had to build the business, get the money, and then you know, open like an R&D department internally, and fund it. So, we got one more services in like a consultancy business doing machine learning and data analytics, but like as a service, as a project. And the profits and all the money we’d gotten, we basically threw at the R&D. So, we were able to…you know, the business kind of pivoted from a service-based business. But we knew it, like we had an idea for the software from day one. But the customers themselves, like we learned a lot from them. So, it’s hard to say when was the exact moment. But you know, as time went by, at the beginning like we had just a few customers and at a certain point we could stop working at the university. And we just got you know, the business paid for us, and then we got some employees very quickly. At a certain point, like the services business, were like strong. We got some word of mouth. We got some more and more clients. And we said, “Oh, yeah. It is working.” It took a while. Like it wasn’t two days. And then, you know, we paralleled the software got it to be stronger and stronger, and stronger, and at a certain point, you know, we were like at the point of like maybe 30% or 40% and 50% of the revenues are software. And slowly but surely, we killed the services business. So, we stopped taking new business from the services, and all of the sales and marketing efforts were on the software. And today, it’s like you know, 95% software. It’s like the service business is long gone. It’s no longer there.
– I like that approach you know, because you weren’t afraid to not start on the linear path, you know?
– I had no choice. Like essentially, this is…yeah. I mean, we didn’t like the…it started from, like we said, “We’re doing this and we don’t want to have a boss,” and we saw VCs as kind of a boss. So, we didn’t want to go there. And the only other option was just…and we were excited about you know, we were very young, not in age, but in mind. Like we didn’t know what it takes to build a business. So, we enjoyed the experience. We enjoyed working with customers. We enjoyed learning you know, what they need. And I think that today that one of the reasons our product is very strong is because of those years you know, so close to the customers and understanding exactly how they do retention marketing. We used our models, but we also took the best from each one. So, the product is like a result of you know, best practices. Like really curated best practices from different customers that we had, some in retail, some in gaming, some in e-commerce, some you know, different, some even in banking. And yeah. But at a certain point, you know, you look and you say, “Oh, my god. This is a software business,” and it just happens to you. Right? It sneaks around. So I think it happens I think maybe when we kind of had like 70% of the business was software, and then you see that a big portion of the business is the R&D people. You know, the CTO is getting more and more powerful. And you know, the tech guys, the devs are here, and this is when you know it’s happening.
– I’d like to pause and take a lesson from that to our aspiring entrepreneurs, because this is a big deal what he just said. The approach where you’re not afraid of friction, where you’re not afraid to engage your clients, as opposed to sit around at the drawing board. By the way, quick pause, on my righthand side within this very nice office that we’re sitting is a blackboard that has paintings that slightly resemble Springfield that I know. Then, that’s Homer Simpson in pink. I’m not sure he’ll appreciate that. Then, in white we have a little… Could you talk about this, describe what we’re seeing here?
– Yeah. Essentially, so one of our old offices had like one of the walls were blackboards.
– The entire wall?
– Yeah. It’s like a blackboard paint. So, it’s a paint, and then you can use chalk on it. So, the first like relational diagram of the software was all over that board. And then, the new office, like the design I wanted to do like an homage for the old office. So, there’s a strip in each one of the rooms. And actually, this is one of the guys, his daughter was here for one day and she drew like a city, and Homer Simpson, that’s me, because it’s the only thing I can draw.
– That’s nice. It’s kind of a “don’t forget where you come from” attitude. I like that. That’s very nice.
– That’s a very nice Homer Simpson. All right. So, coming back from the blackboard, which is very cool, I must say, that’s a great lesson to take. The not being afraid of friction, not being afraid of customers, and not being afraid to grow as opposed to plan in a business, and even in a concept. That’s very cool. Let’s take a moment to go and observe like a different situation that you were in. I’d like to hear that moment when you paused for a second, looked back, and said, “Hey, I think we did it here. This is a success.” Your moment where you looked back and thought, “This was successful.” – So, I think there was a moment like that. I remember feeling like that. But I think that, as I said, like there’s a certain point when you’re out of university and you start working and doing this for the first time. And as I said before, you have all these years that you’re like a potential and all you do is go to school and maybe you have good grades, or whatever. But it doesn’t mean a lot. And then you go out to the big world and you expect you know, people to be you know, be mesmerized by whatever you say. And then, there’s a big, you know, there’s a big…
– Yes. It’s like a bucket of cold water you know, hits you. And then, basically, I think there was like a few years when for me it was always important to feel that what we were doing is actually real. Because we always you know, we always know, there’s so many people right now, as we’re talking here, there’s so many people sitting around and talking about their ideas. And they’re meeting again and again, and again. They spend some time, and every other coder you know wants to have his own startup. And at night, he does some apps. And essentially, a lot of this is like you know, it’s [Yiddish]. It was like an air business and very quickly it’s going to crumble, because either the entrepreneurs are not really serious, or they don’t really want to do it, or they don’t have what it takes, or you know, numerous reasons. And for me, it was always important to feel that what I’m doing and what we’re doing is real. Like it’s the reality. And it’s like t’s a very subtle line you know, between reality, and just you know, you and your partner sitting in a room. You know, and my wife used to make jokes about us, that you know, she comes home and we’re like working, and you know, there’s food around and like, “What are you doing, you two? Like God knows what you’re doing.” She was making fun of us. So, I remember like it was very important for me, the milestones of making this thing a reality. So, for example, one year we stayed at home, and then we took an office. And for me, like the moment that there was a door you know, with a sign that says Optimove on it was very pivotal, because like I needed that. You know, I needed that to…it’s like another stamp that says, “Hey, this is happening. Okay?” – This is real.
– This is real. Exactly. So, the office was one, and then there’s like a few employees coming in and I say, “Hey, some people come to work here, you know? It’s got to be real.”
– They think it’s real.
– Yeah. It’s real for them, and you’re always like, “Yeah. But maybe this is just a few services and it doesn’t scale. And I’m not sure.” Basically, I would say like there’s a few years, the first few years before it like you say, “Okay. I don’t know if it’s going to be massive or it’s going to be mediocre, or whatever. But it’s real.” And that point is like when you’re saying, “Okay. So, you crossed basically like what 90% of businesses can’t do, and this is nice.” Like you’re saying, “Okay. I don’t know. Even today, like it’s a success story. It could be a huge success story, a mini success story, a medium success story.” But you cross that point, and for me like this thing with what’s real or not was very, very… I could always touch it and like I needed that. Because I didn’t want to be in the situation of, “Yeah. I had a startup and I was talking a lot with a lot of people, and talking, and talking, and talking.” And I have a friend who talks a lot, and I always had him in mind. I don’t want to be like that. And again, it happens at a certain point. Like you see it’s like an accumulation of people talking. Like there’s a brand of your business happening. Like nobody can say and nobody can judge besides yourself to say, again, “Now, it’s real.” So, I had that moment of saying, “Okay. Now, it’s real.” And it’s a moment of a lot of satisfaction, I would say.
– All right. What were the steps that you took daily to make sure that this is real, that what you’re doing has substance?
– Yeah. The steps are… I think you know, it’s like it’s very existential, this question. But I think that what I realized is that, you know, first of all, it’s an obsession. Right? So, it’s not like, “Yeah. This is my work.” It’s an obsession. So, when you’re obsessed and you’re also able to keep your sanity, which is very important when being obsessed, and you have some ventilation mechanisms and also you are an adaptive creature, like you can learn, and you need a little bit of talent. So, I would say these four or five, whatever many factors I just said, this is basically… I think it’s super important. I think that you see that people think… I think in all types of creations, like if you see…We’re talking before about the musical bit before we started here, so even if you look artists or scientists or entrepreneurs, I think that a lot of them are obsessed, like they’re crazy obsessed. And this means that you know, when you walk the dog, you think about like…for me, I came to realize that the reason that sometimes I’m more advanced in like when I’m talking to peers or coworkers about a specific topic, I’m two or three steps ahead. Not because I’m smarter, because I’m playing like…
– The scenarios.
– I’m playing the scenarios in my head when I’m in the shower, when I’m walking my dog, sometimes when my wife talks to me which is quite unfortunate.
– I would appreciate it, I’m sure.
– Yeah. But essentially, what it does is you just, you know, you’re winding the thought, you know, X more hours a day than any other person. And hopefully that could lead to insight. When it does, then you have an advantage. And I wouldn’t say that like, so the steps you know, the cliché is you work hard, I have a few things that I do like… I forgot the question right now. But there’s two things you’re talking about what, the…
– I was talking about the actual practical little things that you do at Optimove.
– Besides being obsessed, right? This is too general. So, little things is, little things. So, usually I’m the type of a person that I talk a lot with a lot of people, and when you do that, you hear yourself thinking, and you can process your own thoughts. But also, you get feedback from many different types of people. And then I would basically, again I would curate things from everybody I can, and you know, depending on the person that’s listening, whether it’s somebody that knows about tech or another person that knows about marketing or another person that knows about building a business. And so, this is something that’s really, really important. Little things, you know, being able to sell, I think, you know, when you build a business you need to…it’s really important how you cultivate the culture of the business and yeah.
– Yeah. All right. How do you get things done? Like what is your recipe to getting things done?
– And this is important. So, I think that first of all, I’m a lazy person. So, I think that lazy people, they would perfect their task management and execution because then you work in more, more, more, more and you forgot you were a lazy person. So, a few things I do, so one is it’s something that I picked up but it’s known. I think it’s called the two-minute rule. So, if you have a task coming in, and it’s less than two minutes, you do it now. Like you don’t add it to your task list. Like if you see a person and he has a long task list, he’s an idiot. Like he doesn’t know how to manage his tasks, and it’s not going to work, right? The people that manage their tasks well, it’s always short. You see five or six items there, that’s it. So, one thing is, when you get like a…so, you go home you get whatever, the electricity bill, so open your computer, pay it now, done. You know, this is like an example. Another thing which is really important I think is that you need to look at tasks as a kit. So, for example, just to give you a really silly example from home, you know, when you make yourself some coffee and you pour the water and then you stir the coffee with a spoon, then usually you take the spoon and you throw it into the sink. So, what you should do is, when you make a coffee it’s like a kit of actions and this first action is making the coffee, stirring it, and then taking the spoon, opening the faucet, washing it, putting it in the bin, of the clean spoons. And then, basically, these things, like they add up. So, it’s just a silly example, but when you have a task, for example, you find a bug in the software. So, you write it immediately you record it, you send it to a bunch of people, and you send it to maybe another department to know that they’re supposed to…so like there’s going to be connected to that core action, there’s going to be four or three other actions and you need to complete them all at once. And then you don’t have to split things. And I think this comes from my supply chain management role. There’s one thing they always say, like no double ending. So, do you want to do things once? And yeah.
– I think that that’s a fantastic tip, especially. And a very good illustration with the spoon. I totally get the philosophy of it because sometimes we’re working on something and these minor details just keep adding up and adding up. And it becomes a hell of a task in the end that requires a lot of micromanagement because you to go, this happened from here, this happened from there, and you go through this never-ending list which is really difficult. So, I think it’s a good lesson to take, what you’re saying, where you’re basically saying as you complete the circle, the reaction, you don’t need something…
– Actually, you need to think what are the three step-brothers, they all need to be catered for now, together with that action. And then, it increases your efficiency by a mile.
– So, here’s a tough question. What was the hardest decision you had to make?
– Probably, probably when me and my partner had to you know, so he basically left the business like a few years ago, and I guess you know, the split, it’s like basically it’s kind of like a divorce. So…
– John and Paul, yeah.
– Yeah. Yeah. Ringo wasn’t there, but the, yeah. So, yeah, that was, I don’t know if it’s a decision, like it’s not necessarily a decision. I think again, like decisions there’s…yeah, sometimes we take good decisions, but essentially, I think that the combination of a lot of also like in many, like people are always looking for you know, the one deal that changed it. Or the one… I think that in many cases, like an accumulation of a lot of small ones. So, because the accumulation of small decisions they bring you to the point of you know, a specific crossroad, for example. So, again here, I think it wasn’t a decision, I mean but it was like a process that led to it. It was kind of hard.
– How do you decide? What drove your decision?
– I think the you know, what’s best for the business and obviously for me, I mean it was a stage that was still hard to distinguish between myself and the business. But I think what was best for the business. I think usually, like I think good businesses or good startups, you know they have a good sense of identity. And then when you have that, all decisions, it becomes like you know the bible of decision-making. It’s very easy. So, like you say, we’re a rock band. So, imagine like somebody would come to the Beatles and say, “Hey, why don’t you play you know, oriental music,” right? As we call it. So, it’s not who we are, right? It’s not our identity. So, it’s very easy for them to maneuver, especially in the world, if you have so many opportunities, and people will, you know, as well as defocus. So, this is a very important thing so, I think identity, like whoa, I cannot emphasize enough on how important that is. And the faster you know your identity, it’s better, but not in the price of having a wrong one. So, I think it’s super, I mean…yeah.
– This interview’s just full of brilliant lessons I have to say. It’s good stuff.
– Thank you.
– All right. What was the one decision that you did back in the day that you feel made all the difference today?
– Okay. So, I think there’s two. Basically, so people talk about pivots a lot, but I think the correct thing is that you know, again, it’s like there’s a lot of like micromovements or microswifts, that you…
– Wiggles, yeah. That’s a better word. So, one was that we worked in the beginning with a lot of types of businesses so we did retail and banking and telco, and guys like that. At a certain point, we saw that the internet guys actually loved you know, our product and our services, and whatever we did, the internet guys, you know, their eyes just lit up. And their culture was more you know, suited for us, so it was easy to talk to them, to close a deal, you know, we met the CEO who was wearing jeans, and you know, you could meet him, you could phone him up at night, and he would say, “Yeah, I’ll do it, blah, blah, blah.” And with the other guys it was like a huge very long sales cycle, politics, blah, blah, blah. So we decided it’s better, again, identity, like it’s easier for us, our identity is working with these types of businesses. So, we went away from the corporate and the you know, telco guys and banking guys and this was a very good decision. So still today like 95% of our customers are internet businesses. And the second decision was, and usually I’d call it the “Muhammed and the Mountain” revelation.
– All right.
– Because you know about Muhammed, he wanted the mountain to come to him and the mountain didn’t come, so eventually Muhammed decided to walk to the mountain.
– That’s a classic.
– We are called Optimove because we are able to recommend the best marketing action for the customer every time, like the best move. And our algorithms always knew how to do this maneuver but we needed historical customer actions. Like things that the business did with the customers as a past record that algorithm can feed on that and recommend. So, usually businesses never had it. So, we said give us the action data, give us the action data. They’d say, “Oh, I don’t have it, it’s over there, it’s over here, it’s over there, I don’t have it don’t store it anywhere. So, like Muhammed and the mountain, we decided to develop a contained management module that actually you know, tracks you know, customer actions in all the campaigns which the actions are stored and tracked inside Optimove. And now Optimove can recommend because it has the data. So, you know, this changed our business completely from selling something that was more you know, insights and business intelligence and analytics, and yeah, yeah, you can see smart insights with us and discover stuff and predictions which is great, but now it’s also actionable. So, you discover the thing and you can also you know, take action on it. So, the addition of that module was like today it beats like more than 50% of the product and it’s getting stronger and stronger. I think that was a major change.
– You built your own infrastructure, basically. Didn’t you?
– Yeah. But yeah, exactly I did. Like it started from a like a scientist point of view, hey, I want my data to do experiments, but essentially, it’s a very strong model for the customers because they manage their campaigns, the retention model campaigns inside Optimove.
– All right. It probably had to do with just the anticipation because you come from academia where everything is all about data, we collect that data, and then the surprise, the shock, of the world not doing the same.
– Exactly, exactly.
– What is wrong?
– So, yeah. It took… I mean I wish I would’ve done it sooner but there’s nothing you can do about, you know.
– All right. I think that’s very interesting insights.
– Especially the second part with the infrastructure. Very interesting. Okay, let’s talk a little bit about the future. What do you think the future holds for Optimove?
– So, hopefully Optimove will be the kings of “retentionogathy.” I think probably know we’re the prince, and hopefully we’ll be the king.
– Who has to die in order for you to succeed?
– I think more than the monarchy. I think I’m going to have to kill somebody. But I think that already we’re in a very good position. We have, I think, product-wise, we have superiority, and it’s just a question of business execution, getting the brand out there to the proper business verticals. Being you know, keep on being smart with innovation and interesting new capabilities, and we’re definitely doing that. I think it’s in our DNA, and yeah, I think it’s going to happen. It’s going there, and unless you know, there’s going to be a huge war here in Israel, hopefully not, jinx, jinx, jinx, jinx. You know this is Israel, you never know.
– All right. What’s your next goal?
– My next goal. So, my next goal, first of all, I’m going to be a father soon, so my goal is to master you know, diapering and you know, keeping my wife’s sanity intact. My own sanity intact. And hoping that I can, you know, split my attention like I said, it’s like an obsession so, hopefully I can have a new obsession and keep the old obsession running while the new obsession is taking over. And that’s one. Another goal is so we’re now in the growth stage so hopefully to make the most out of this stage, to become a substantial business. I mean we are a substantial startup and like a rising force, but you know, to be…
– If we stick to the monarchy example, it’s switching between being the conqueror to being the king.
– Yes. And maybe you know, I think I’m always talking about identity and I think our identity is still in the forging and in the making. It’s not, just like you know, a young person you know, when you’re 20 you know yourself a little bit better than you did when you were in high school. And then when you were 25 you know, and when you’re around 35 like you get to be a finished product.
– You guys have a few more years to do that.
– So and I think that, I feel like we are like the business is maybe 25 or something like that and it’s still so.. it might… I have the intuition of where we’re taking it, but you know, reality is always stronger as they say you know, [German] in German, it means…
– I thought it was Klingon for a second.
– I distinctly don’t know it. So, it’s a, you know, it’s a man plans and God laughs.
– Yeah, that’s a good quote.
– So, I think you know, essentially, we could be many things. We have to be you know, loyal to our identity you know, to our employees, to our customers, and you know, I hope then good results just come. You know, if you keep your values and you do, it sounds cliché but…
– It’s true. Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about your inspiration. What drives you. Is there a person in your life you would define as your role model, mentor?
– So, I think that, I don’t know, I don’t necessarily… you know I don’t…I mean, I do believe in learning from other people. You know, other people may have done great things, and you know, they have you know done some things that I can learn from. But I don’t have like a… I never idolized somebody you know, in a crazy fashion. Usually I’m the kind of guy you know, that learns by experience. Obviously, my father was a big influence, we talked about him over, the school obsession. And you know, just people I think that probably it’s like, so throughout your life you meet a few talented people, right? Maybe you meet a few extraordinary people, not too many, right? Probably maybe four or five. And then, essentially, I think that for me it was like taking the best out of each.
So, you know, my brother-in-law, who was a very successful businessman there’s like quite a few things that he gets. You know, and then you need to look closely into that, and listen there, and like get the things that he gets. But obviously, some of the things he gets are not applicable to my world. So, my father, being another example, and I feel it’s nice for the people that are close to you because you can, you know, clean away all the bullshit and fluff, right? Because people that you don’t know, there’s a lot of urban legends and you know, stories that can get hyped. And obviously, you know, like everybody, Steve Jobs, people like that, you know, and when you see interviews or stuff like that. So, there’s always a few points to take.
– What was the best advice you ever received before a presentation?
– Before a presentation. So, my wife’s an actress. And I actually… theater and movie and film in Israel. And so, I was asking her what does she do before she gets on stage? She’s like afraid, you know, she feels the crowd and by the way, and always afraid. If you think like they get used to it, they don’t. And it’s not only her. Like it’s all her friends and that’s the way it is. So, she said like, “I just, you know,” I’m going to translate from Hebrew. So, she’s like commits suicide on it. So, it’s like you know, the go for it like in a manic manner. So, before a presentation, when you go for it in a manic manner, but obviously, you don’t need to lose yourself, so, that works for me. And I think that it becomes kind of a profession. So, at a certain point it doesn’t matter who you’re meeting, you don’t really get, you know, stressed about a presentation. Like it becomes like something you do a lot so it becomes easy and yeah.
– All right. Where are you working from now? Where are we now?
– Tel Aviv, Israel.
– All right. Do you like it here?
– Yeah, I like it. I mean, I don’t know I guess I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I’m very Israeli by nature. So, you know, whenever I’m in the States I feel like I’m a savage because I’m not, you know, I’m not as polite or as how is you know, going to the elevator first, I don’t let people get out because in Israel you know, if you don’t go into the elevator somebody else goes in and you’ll be left outside. So, kind of the survival instincts and I don’t know, I think that yeah, Israel it’s a good place, it’s a complex place with like a very complex story, but I think you know, there’s beauty in complexity.
– This is true.
– So, I mean, that’s where we’re from, right? So…
– All right. [crosstalk] Are you hiring right now?
– Yeah, actually we are. As I said, a growth stage, so we’re hiring we just recently hired like I think like five people in the last two months. And probably I don’t know, end of 2015 maybe we’ll have 10 more people. So, we’re definitely hiring. Tech guys, sales and marketing, mainly.
– All right. Okay. So, we’re moving on to the second part of the interview. The camel race. All right. What happens now is I give you questions and you provide short yet inspiring answers. You ready for it?
– Let’s go. Hopefully I can do it.
– All right. The camel race. All right. So, I’ve looked into your toolbox. One tool that you use that you think our listeners should know about.
– Fantastic. If you could go back in time and change one thing in this startup journey, what would you have done differently?
– I would have known about minimal viable product. You know, in an earlier stage, not after three years or so.
– So, you would have read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis.
– Yeah. Probably.
– No, I wouldn’t have probably read it, but today there’s a lot of merits and good things are happening because we didn’t do MVP, but at a certain point, I got the concept and yeah.
– All right. Are you a reader, and if so, what’s your favorite book?
– So, my favorite book is “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Cien Años de Soledad.” However, I’m not a reader. It took me six months to read that book and I have a lot of problem reading. My inner monolog gets you know, into the process and intercepts what I’m reading. So, I’m usually the type of a person that’s going to talk to people, remember what they said, and you know, keep on processing the information. But I get the best information from people, just people. I think that people, they have a crazy ability of being succinct, and to the point. Like if you’re going to research a new topic, speak to three you know, experts. It’s going to save you hundreds of hours of browsing across the web. Hundreds. So, this is great. I think people have this amazing trait you know, of holding what matters. So, it’s yeah.
– That’s good advice. What would be another great advice from you to aspiring entrepreneurs?
– So, there’s a saying in Italian, that goes like, my grandmother used to say it. It goes like, [Italian]. So, it’s like he who walks slowly, [Italian], so it’s like, gets there sane and healthy, [Italian] and gets to a great distance. So, especially in this world of you know, hyper growth, VCs, tech, if you grow or die, land-grabbing, all that. So, I think it’s really important to keep your you know, if you walk slowly and steadily, and you have an obsession, and the rest of it is figuratively said, so. That’s my advice.
– That’s a good one. All right. Which company from the Israeli startups do you think is worth paying attention to?
– So, I was visiting today a prospect of ours called MyHeritage which you probably know. So, I think what they do is really just for humanity’s sake. It’s a really cool product. Helping families you know, build a family tree. You know, and they go generations up and up and up. And you know, they can help you find you know, rare documents and it’s a nice thing, and they also monetize pretty well. So, I think it’s a great startup.
– I’m actually familiar with them and think that you’re absolutely right. They basically transition the analog into the digital right now. The old school going into libraries and looking for old documents. Though that does have charm, if you will…
– Yeah, it does.
– But when you’re trying to find documents from someone who is like dying right now, a grandparent or something, it can get really hard. So, yeah, that’s a cool tip. One last question. What are you doing tonight after switching off?
– So, tonight I’m going to go back home to my pregnant wife. Probably going to walk the dog as it’s my turn. And after that, yeah, I mean I don’t know, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll probably some email some friends, that’s it.
– All right. Well, Pini, I want to think you for joining us today, it’s been insightful and really quite exciting. Please tell our listeners how they can reach you and we’ll say goodbye.
– So, they can find me at our website, optimove.com, so if you email to the info email, it gets to me as well. You can reach me on LinkedIn, Facebook, whatever, I’m quite accessible. So, thank you very much, it was a pleasure.
– Absolutely right.
– I learned some stuff about myself like talking about them, so, thanks a lot.
– My pleasure.
– Cheers, man.
– All right. All right for the rest of you who wish to know more about Pini and about Optimove or learn about the Israeli startup scene, please check out our website at startupcamel.com. You can also find us on Facebook, just look for Startup Camel. All right. Thank you for listening to this episode of Startup Camel and of course, please, join me or one of my associates next time for another interview full of insights, inspiration, and motivation from the Israeli startup scene. That’s it for now, this Les signing off. Goodbye.