“You get so many “slaps in the face” in the beginning and so many crazy highs and lows in a single day. And if you’re not feeling that rollercoaster, it means you didn’t do something right – you didn’t go BIG enough, didn’t do anything drastic enough.”
Maor Shlomo, co-founder and CEO of Explorium, is a true trailblazer.
Through Explorium, 25 year old Maor is disrupting the market and changing the way the data part of data science is done. From their new Tel Aviv office (Google’s former office, no less), where they are planning to triple the amount of employees by next year, we shared an honest and humbling conversation with this inspiring CEO who can often be seen walking around the office barefoot while coming up with the next game changing idea.
Aiming to drive social change through economic impact, the impassioned Maor tells us his plans for building a company culture of diversity, inclusivity and global thinking. In his words: “We’re going to be the world’s first data search engine for machine learning models. We’re defining a new category of Automated Data and Feature Discovery, which will allow individuals, companies and other networks to discover better data than the data they already have – and also discover new forms of data they didn’t even know existed.”
Maor has a long history of entrepreneurial experience, starting as a teenager when he lead a youth group in the Scouts. Through his mandatory military service in the IDF, Maor entered the world of data science and has built revolutionary products for a wide range of customers, from startups to Fortune 500 companies to government healthcare organizations. His mindset is to start each day asking “What will I create today?” His ability to visualize what the outcome would look like at the finish line allows him to take his original ideas and innovative concepts to fruition.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
When I was young I drew a lot, and I told myself I have to be the very best artist in the world. I even had plans to study art in Italy. Math came easily to me, but I didn’t have any interest in pursuing it. When I led data science and development teams in the 8200 intelligence unit in the army, something really special happened, which is when I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I could build a product at night, imagining how it would affect people, and have my friends use it the next day. They could tell me whether the new feature was good or didn’t add value. And we’d do this over and over again. I loved that the cycle was quick, that was super motivating.
I see a very clear connection between drawing and programming. You have an idea, you move your hands a little bit, either with a pencil or on a keyboard, and you create something. You turn an idea into reality that people can look at and find value in, whether it’s an artwork or code. A second ago it was in your head, now its reality.
What is the most exciting part of the entrepreneurial journey?
A year ago it was just a handful of people sitting in a dark room with an idea. The most exciting thing to me is to see that idea become reality, it’s one of my main drivers, and it gets even better if at the same time I can create jobs and contribute to making Israel a leading force in innovation. I’m in love with the process of having an idea.
Where do you see the company in 5 years time?
I’m looking forward to our HQ being in the US because that’s where the market access is, but there’s also something super exciting about hiring talent in Israel. We’re focused on building a company that has the best of both worlds and that has an international economical impact.
As long as it is my choice and it is feasible, I’d love to keep our development team in Israel and include all fabrics of Israeli society. Today, more than half of our staff are women, we’ve hired people from the LGBTQ community and will hire from the Arab sector as well.
How did you meet your Co-founders?
Or Tamir and I were both in the same course in the army with two years apart. Omer Har, who is really modest and won’t tell you this, is considered one of the best data scientists in Israel. When I started the product, I wanted to get validation from him. And he fell in love with it. Then I found out he’s really good friends with Or. The three of us really strengthen each other and make a powerful team.
What was the first high and the first low?
We had a lot of lows. When you ask people in the startup scene how they are doing they typically answer “Killing it, crushing it,” but it’s hard to believe because at the beginning there are inevitably so many highs and lows. The first major low was when it wasn’t clear if we’d be able to keep paying people’s salaries.
What is the recipe for getting over the lows?
From day one we hired really good friends, and if they weren’t good friends we turned them into really good friends. I think the fact that I’m younger made it easier for some people to relate to me. At the beginning at least, it’s very important to have the people you work with be your friends.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back a year?
First, understand that rainy days are part of life. If you don’t, it’s hard to survive. You get so many “slaps in the face” in the beginning and so many crazy highs and lows in a single day. And if you’re not feeling that rollercoaster, it means you didn’t do something right – you didn’t go BIG enough, didn’t do anything drastic enough. Don’t wait for your product to be perfect, go ahead with a flawed product. You have to seek out all of these crazy experiences but also know how to cope with them.
Secondly, focus. Everyone always says this, but it’s really true. When you’re a founder you think you’re building a company, but you’re really building multiple different companies over its lifetime. When you start you’re just a couple of people, which is very different than being a thirty person company, and that’s very different than being a one hundred person company. These companies don’t look anything alike. Every time you reach a new phase you have to change the way you run the company, you have to use different capabilities, you have to learn new ways. Ultimately the only skill set an entrepreneur has to have is versatility and the ability to learn quickly. Focus changes, but it always has to be there. It’s better to tell one consistent story and hear a lot of “nos” amongst some “yes’s”.
I didn’t realize how different the company would be. At first it was really hard for me to adapt to these new phases. Suddenly I’m not the only developer – suddenly I’m not developing at all – suddenly I’m the only sales person – suddenly I’m no longer the only sales person – and learning to adapt quickly is crucial.
When was the very first high five?
The journey has been filled with small high fives and big ones. The only thing I can be boastful about is that from day one, even though there were a lot of things that were not in place, the first thing people always said was “You’re going to change the world”.
The first big high was that Omer and Or decided to join as co-founders. They took a chance on me, and I realized that I have something here. The other highs were always with customers.
There’s always a high when you get an investment, but it’s not truly a reflection of your success. We know that being attractive to investment happens only because of the value our customers see in us.
It’s very important to really understand what success is – it’s always the market and the customers, not the funding. We really love all of our investors, but when it’s the customers that give you the “yes,” it’s the ultimate feeling of success. It’s when you start feeling that you found a product market fit, that’s the best kind of high. To this day, every time we see our customers using our platform to find the data their models need, not the data they have, it ends in high fives.
How did you know you found the product market fit?
From day one, we went to many customers and asked for feedback. We always focused on building quickly and going out and showing the market.
So to jump back a bit, you came straight from the army and backpacking to this. How did you learn to be a founder?
At the beginning I made a lot of mistakes, but one thing I did well is to learn to adapt quickly. I was also very open with the people I brought on board. I brought on people that are much smarter than I am and that genuinely like me and want to advise me. I really listened to what they said. I was really terrible at some things that I’m still working on today. But I learn from the best people, and then I try to think like them.
You could have just done an MBA, you’d get much more sleep 😉
Yeah, I know (laughs). I’ll sleep when we’re done making life better for data scientists everywhere.
F2 Capital is a specialized, seed-stage venture capital fund backing Israeli deep technology companies at the junction of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Connectivity. Founded by Jonathan Saacks and Barak Rabinowitz, F2 Capital invests before others are ready and partners with leading international venture capital funds in future rounds. As value-add investors, F2 also operates The Junction, Israel’s leading pre-seed investment program to back game changing founders from the ground up.