Israeli startup Wizer is a consumer research solution, that leverages AI and smart data to help companies grow. It has been named one of its country’s best new RetailTech brands. Wizer co-founder and chief business officer Idan Geva spoke to Red Herring about working in Israel’s renowned tech industry, blunt advice and the dangers of mis-communicating a solution.
How did Wizer begin – and how difficult was it to turn your idea into a business?
It all began with two of the founders, being complete strangers, commuting together on the train from Haifa to Tel-Aviv back in 2012. Through a casual conversation, they had discovered that they shared an entrepreneurial mindset as well as a passion – and a solution – to fix some of the problems they both saw in market research. The idea took a little longer to simmer, and in late 2013, I was brought along to join the founding team, forming a unique combination of founders who share expertise in market research, technology, and business management.
How great a boost is being located in Israel?
Starting in Israel is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, Israel is a startup powerhouse, home to the brightest tech and business minds, which means there are many investment opportunities, as well as a relatively accessible good workforce.
On the other hand, Israel is a very small and uniquely behaving market for both B2B and B2C. It serves as an excellent playground, but at the same time it is significantly remote from any sizable market for actual validation, or immediate clients. Other than being blessed with a team of resourceful and hardworking people working at Wizer, we were lucky enough to receive a lot of help from some early-adopting international clients with Israel being their HQ.
Additionally, we had Nielsen Innovate, the Nielsen-backed tech incubator and VC, which invested in us and pushed us forward to meet new customers and investors. Those have had a major impact on our ability to catch the break we needed, in terms of being fundable, and working our way up the value chain of enterprise companies.
In terms of roadblocks, our road to success (that’s still being paved) wasn’t as surprising as it was abundant, from unexpected backup failures, to key team members leaving abruptly, and cutting it close with the company’s runway. Thankfully, we overcame, and emerged stronger and more resilient.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has given you?
In one of many investor pitches, a managing partner at a relatively large Israeli VC said he generally liked what we did, but he would not invest. He said that to our face, on the spot, 15 minutes into the meeting, which is not customary.
But he also explained why. “Why are you here?” he said. “Excuse me?” we replied. “Instead of sitting here in front of me in Herzliya, you should be out there, in your target market, pitching them, signing them, building your brand.” This wasn’t really new to us, other than the somewhat blunt approach.
“Well, we definitely intend to set up camp after this funding round,” we replied. “No. You need to be there yesterday, irrespective of funds. Show me you believe in this so much, you’re willing to risk everything, including moving there before you have the money for it.”
Upon exiting that meeting, we decided that I’ll be on the first plane to our target market, leaving my wife and kids at home in Israel, living with roommates in a cheap apartment building, eating $7-worth of Chinese food every day and setting up an improvised office, courtesy of our friends. That was a major turning point for the company, and that very same advice is what I would give my fellow entrepreneurs, especially internationals with aspirations to sell in remote markets. Be resourceful, put your hiney on the line, and be unbelievably persistent. Leave no stone unturned.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from pitching investors?
The biggest lesson, that can be applied to most, if not all startups is: Don’t be too arrogant or stubborn to listen to investors. Sometimes they seem to be nitpicking or petty, sometimes they bash your go-to-market plan, your market sizing, the way you introduce your product, so much to even doubt the very essence of your company’s existence. Don’t walk in with a know-it-all approach.
I’m not saying you should pivot after every pitch. However, I do think you should listen, apply common sense, try not to walk into a room with a bias or truths that are set in stone. And, always be open to getting good advice. You get the opportunity to present to people who possibly have a lot of success in “betting” on companies. They might know a thing or two.
What’s the toughest thing to get right in the RetailTech space?
When we started, our offering was not only directly defying analysts and researchers, it was inadvertently and bluntly obviating them, and ultimately threatening their job security. This messaging problem created some unexpected backfire, both on the client side – because the research function is often our buyer – and on the channel partners’ side. We realized we were mis-communicating our value and vision and had moved to a much more pro-researcher approach, since that was our original intention, poorly as it may have come across.
The market research industry is well known for its conservative nature, and so as simple as it may sound, many typically complain about the old, antiquated solutions, but are often reluctant to push for innovation.