“Diversity provides a complete toolbox to overcoming challenges, and you never really know who’s going to be the person taking the lead or be key to solving a certain problem. And it’s always changing, we do not have a single ‘star’ that dominates. We’re really working together.”
In this edition of Founder Stories we sit down with Mickey Balter, co-founder of Oriient, the first company to make GPS available indoors. At forty two, Mickey is the proud husband of Sivan, father of Dana, Maya, and Yarin and CEO of this rapidly evolving, ground-harnessing (spoiler alert) venture.
Mickey started his career in a prestigious military program where he first pursued an engineering degree from the Technion, and then completed his military service. He later received an MBA from Tel Aviv University, and now has over twenty years of experience working in science-based tech that provides both engineering and business solutions. Mickey shares the insights derived from his journey as a founder, tips for fundraising and what the meaning of success truly is.
When did you know it was time to become a founder?
After I completed my military service, I worked for a couple of semiconductor startups in various positions up to chief architect. But I didn’t feel that I was living up to my full potential, I wasn’t pushing myself to the limit. So I ended up leaving and founding my first startup called Scientra, where we built the world’s fastest algo-trading platform. It was an amazing adventure that lasted almost four years. There were a lot of ups and downs, but eventually more downs than ups. It was time to move on, and that’s when I met my current co-founder, Amiram Frish.
Tell us a bit about Oriient. What do you do?
At Oriient we introduced a novel solution to a very old problem. The basic problem is that conventional GPS doesn’t work indoors. People who are used to having GPS and the experiential context that it provides outside, wonder why it doesn’t extend indoors. And that problem has existed as long as we’ve had GPS in every pocket: for at least the past decade.
All the other solutions were either very expensive or didn’t work that well. What my partner Amiram came up with is a novel method – it sounds like magic! – of using the earth’s magnetic field and the sensors we already have in our phones to provide a solution accurate to one meter that works everywhere.
So you actually harness the earth’s magnetic field!
Yes. Just this morning I had a conversation with an engineer who was in disbelief. He said “You can’t do that – you must have a transmitter somewhere!” Well, the earth is our transmitter!
How did you meet your co-founder Amiram?
Serendipity. We met for a beer one night, and he told me of his idea. My initial reaction was ‘get out of here, this can’t work,” but I was intrigued, I definitely saw the potential. We started working together in a sort of six month trial period to see if we operate well together and could get this off the ground. We really connected, became friends and knew it was time to jump into the deep end.
The Oriient team has grown quite a bit since your beer with Amiram. How do you find that same “fit” you had with your co-founder with your employees?
We’ve adopted Elon Musk’s “No Asshole” policy in the company. We want to have people that are fun to spend our days with and connect with each other well. We try to be as diverse with the backgrounds, skill sets and the companies we recruit from as possible. I believe that if you take people who are fun to be around and bring diversity to the table, then you are likely to have a very cohesive team that can tackle problems without ego. Diversity provides a complete toolbox to overcoming challenges, and you never really know who’s going to be the person taking the lead or be key to solving a certain problem. And it’s always changing, we do not have a single ‘star’ that dominates. We’re really working together.
We’re also very open about creating an environment where people are allowed to fail. Some of our breakthroughs happened after six months of working with little results – flatlining on performance before that ‘aha’ moment finally arrived. And then when there’s a major breakthrough, it’s all about recognizing and celebrating all the people behind it.
What would you say is one of your biggest challenges as a founder?
The hardest part of building a company is attracting the right people to come work with us. It’s the decisive factor that leads to the success of a company. We believe in leaving room for our amazing team and giving them space to live up to their full potential. It’s one of the principles that guides us.
What advice would you give to first time founders looking for funding?
First off, identify within the first meeting with a potential investor whether you’ve got their attention or not. The investor has to click with the idea immediately, and it has to be very visible. If you didn’t see it, it’s probably not going to happen. The pitch initiates the process, but you have to really see that the investor shares your vision. Within a few minutes into the meeting if they start completing your sentences, you feel that they understand your idea – the problem and solution. If it’s not there within the first few minutes, it’s probably not going to be there. You can’t really force your ideas into someone’s existing perspectives and world view.
Second, fundraising is about momentum. Things need to go right and quickly. You have to keep the momentum up. If things start to drag on then you might be on to a good idea and solution, but the timing may not be right.
What happens if there’s no click?
If you see that things don’t click with the first set of investors you approach, it’s best to pull back. Someone said it before me: “When in doubt, go work on your product.” If the market is not responding the way you expect, customers move slower or you’re a little slower in getting traction, maybe your product is not there.
Go back to your product, it’s the safest bet. I see founders get stuck because they feel like it’s time for fundraising, and they neglect working on the product and improving their market position. It’s the worst thing you can do because you’re wasting opportunities in the meantime. It’s best to test the waters. We’ve done that a couple of times. When the time is right, everything falls into place rapidly. And there’s no use trying to force it. It has to happen naturally, and the way to do so is by ultimately having success in the market.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Or is it something that occurred later on in the army?
Some entrepreneurs say they’ve been an entrepreneur since they were eight, but I wasn’t like that. The army was really transformational for me. I was a project manager, in charge of getting a project off the ground from the very basics, starting from a proof of concept and then reaching those kinds of ‘aha’ moments. That made me realize that I could start something and reach an end goal. That army experience sparked an entrepreneurial spirit within me. I also learned the value of having small dedicated teams that can do real magic.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I guess my advice to my younger self ten to fifteen years ago would be to improve my work life balance. But that is also the advice I’d give my current self. So it’s a work in progress. It’s very difficult, so I’m grateful to my extended family for helping me achieve this.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Our slogan is “Oriient The Indoor GPS Company,” and we want to live up to it. We want to be associated with that magical indoor GPS, that’s all over, that’s ubiquitous and powers all the apps that help you in airports, supermarkets, the museum or in any indoor environment. To me success would be to see this used by the masses and expected by everyone. When we achieve that, that’s when I’ll be able to look back and say I did well by my team, my investors, and my family.
Oriient is a Tel-Aviv based technology company. It is a pioneer of magnetic field-based indoor positioning. Oriient’s service powers location-aware mobile apps in any indoor environment.
Focused on the retail and smart buildings verticals, Oriient helps people find products, places and other people in difficult to navigate indoor environments. Oriient is backed by F2 Capital and the innogy Innovation Hub.