On January 16, 2018, Coller Ignite hosted Omer Keliaf, CEO of Innoviz - one of the most interesting startups in the field of autonomous vehicles. The event was nothing like a standard talk of a successful entrepreneur. Sitting in a small class for more than two hours, without any presentation or other pyrotechnics, Omer has succeeded to fascinate a group of 20 students joining the meetup after a long day of study. Omer stayed far beyond the event’s planned ending time to share his story, answer every question of the curious audience, and provide insights and tips from his very rich and impressive experience.
The session felt like a conversation between friends and not like a lecture of the CEO of one of the most promising startups in Israel, who raised more than $82 million and runs a company of more than 100 employees. This special atmosphere was created thanks to Omer’s openness, modesty, and authenticity. It was a unique opportunity to ask this inspiring entrepreneur everything we were interested in — from how he succeeded to raise impressive funding, to how almost everything went wrong in the CES conference in Vegas, where the Innoviz LiDAR system was first presented.
It would be hard to summarize this open discussion, where we moved back and forth between Omer’s personal story, including his military service in the special intelligence unit 81, the first days of Innoviz as a 4-people startup, and the extremely fast growth of the company these days.
Therefore, instead of a summary, we chose to bring a few interesting points from the discussion, which could be relevant to anyone dreaming of building a startup company one day.
One of the first decisions of a startup, and the most important one, is choosing the right partners for this path. There’s a lot of ‘WFIO’ moments (Google it) in the life of a startup, and you will need your partners to lift you when it happens. The founding team has to be built from people you completely trust.
Choosing the Idea
A good idea is much less important than ‘a good problem’. It should be a problem you are interested in, something that makes you sleepless at night. There should also be a really good explanation on why you would be the right person to find a solution to this problem. Omer had a lot of other ideas for startups, but it wasn’t clear to him why he should be the one executing them. With the autonomous vehicles industry and the problem of remote sensing, he knew this was something he is the appropriate person to solve, thanks to his academic background, his professional experience and his interest. Omer ‘fell in love with the idea’ (if we go back to Nimrod's lecture in our opening event) and he knew he would be the perfect man to find a solution for it.
You need 10x People. These are the people who build the company and make the difference. Even if one of these people would’ve gone missing, Innovize couldn’t have been in the place it is today. They must be people you can blindly trust, team players whom one can assign tasks to from day one without supervision.
People are the most important resource of a company, and when the company grows you will need to have an amazing HR department in order to keep the company’s culture and spirit. Omer was somewhat skeptic regarding the role of HR before founding Innoviz, yet today it is one the key functions in his company. He even fully backed his VP HR when she decided not to hire a very good friend of his, recognizing that he’s not the right fit for the company.
If you want to build a startup, you should love working while taking risks. The only way to play in this competitive environment, competing with huge corporates (in the case of Innoviz — automotive giants), is to be able to take big risks and to know how to manage them. One example was the decision of the Innoviz team to showcase the system in the CES conference, even though its design wasn’t ready yet. They could choose the safe way and to showcase only the already developed and working parts. Nonetheless, they understood that the only chance of a small and unknown company from Israel to stand out in the conference is to present anything but the best system in the expo, even if the system is not ready yet (and burns a few days before the flight). This strategy helped them get some of the most powerful connections to Tier 1 companies, which changed the game for Innoviz.
We were extremely happy to welcome Omer as a friend and contributor of Coller Ignite, and we will continue to follow the fascinating journey of Innoviz as the company keeps growing and conquering new frontiers.
To learn more about Innoviz watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bd-XtECHmQ
Stay tuned for our next events: https://www.facebook.com/coller.ignite/