“I’m interested in where art meets technology.”
As online videos began to flourish, Tal Chalozin was fascinated by how easily he could make things happen with the internet. Without a background in electronics, he shares that he could order parts online and then watch YouTube to learn how to build robots. This creativity and curiosity guided him throughout his time working on software in the Air Force and co-founding GarageGeeks and Innovid, where he is currently CTO. Chalozin says GarageGeeks and Innovid are similar in that they combine art and technology. Innovid started in 2007 with the vision that television would transition to the internet and become more interactive and personalized, he shares. Being passionate about creativity and what’s to come helps fuel Innovid’s continuous innovation, allowing it to stay ahead of larger competitors, says Chalozin. When new customers come in, they say Innovid’s focus on innovation was very appealing.
Who are you Tal? Take me back to your Israeli Air Force days.
Together with Zvika Netter and Zack Zigdon, we launched Innovid about 15 years ago with the vision that television was going to move to the Internet. Television will be more of a two-way communication. And, because it runs on an internet-based platform, you can do a whole lot more, like personalize the message so everyone sees the ad that’s relevant to them. Then marketers don’t need to bombard the market with advertisements because each of them can work much harder. This is a general premise.
But you wanted to start in the Air Force. I was in the Mamram program after graduating from high school and then chose to join the Air Force. I was in the unit that makes most of the operational software for the Air Force. I was a developer, then a team leader. Then I was part of the general Air Force architecture team that was building some of these systems. I ended up staying for about eight years, really enjoying this world. It’s pretty fascinating that you, as a 19-year-old kid, can manage some pretty cool software. You can lead a team and build something very impactful, very complicated and very rigorous and in a very advanced system.
At the end of my service, I was doing a lot of work around video processing. Then I just got curious about the general idea that we can process video and insert things into the video. It was around this time that YouTube started to emerge. It was clear that there was some form of revolution in video creation, and we wanted to be part of it.
You also co-founded GarageGeeks. Tell me about it. I’m curious about the transition from developer team lead to innovator.
It’s more a question of curiosity than anything else. So GarageGeeks is a place that we started because we like to play Xbox and drink beer, and we said, “Maybe there are other people who have the same passion and they don’t have really a place to go. It all started with this idea of all meeting together, playing video games and talking about electronics, robotics and other things, literally out of curiosity. The idea is that if you’re curious about technology, you’re curious about music or other things for real curiosity and your passion to learn, maybe you can meet like-minded people and just geek about it . You can link a lot to Innovid as well as the connection or place where art meets technology. A lot of the things we created were artistic in nature but heavily technology driven.
What got me excited about this was when I found out that you can go on the internet, and I literally didn’t know anything about electronics, but I can order different electronic components on the internet and just watch YouTube videos, then build robots. I was mostly fascinated by how easily you can actually make things happen.
We are in 2006, back a little to Innovid: you realize that we are in full transformation of creators. Do you realize that he will undertake several revolutions?
We came from such a naive approach that we never even tried to predict where the future will be. The only thing we knew was that we all lived in a pre-iPhone and post-iPhone world, a pre-social network and a post-social network, and the same thing about the Internet. We felt that these massive technological inventions changed the world so much that you can’t predict what the world would look like, but you know it will be very different. Media consumption, everyone would still benefit, but everything around it is going to change massively.
We hadn’t even thought to imagine what the future would look like. We thought, “It’s going to change massively. It’s going to be on the internet. It’s going to be powered by software. We want to fit in there. Let’s just start a journey.” We raised our A-round not really knowing what we were going to do. We started on the creative side with “producer power”, allowing YouTubers to create really cool interactive videos and music videos.
Around 2008, we entered into a partnership with a Canadian studio that produced live band shows and streamed them all over the internet. We’ve created things where you can put logos in a really cool way on the stage itself by layering them. That’s what we did at the start.
Then the internet, online video, YouTube started to take off, so we realized maybe we were on to something so we could build other things. Then Innovid as it is today was born with different software platforms for big marketers. If you’re a really big brand, managing when you run your ads on YouTube, Hulu, Disney, and many other places in a hundred countries, you need a centralized system that manages everything. That’s what we’re doing right now.
How do you as a business stay ahead of the game?
Innovid is 600 people at the moment. We made a big acquisition of about 150 people with a company called TVSquared earlier this year. How to stay one step ahead? So we named the company Innovid, which stands for “Innovation and Video” for a reason. Google has a division called DoubleClick, and it’s our biggest competitor. Almost all of our growth comes from customers moving from Google to Innovid.
There’s this VC question for A-round entrepreneurs that asks, “What’s to stop Google from having a hundred of the best engineers in the room and rebuilding what you did?” Our answer is that we will always win on innovation. Because we are passionate about creativity and changes in the industry, we place innovation at the heart of everything we do. We are always trying to guess where the market is going. In 2014, we thought it would be streaming. We had a whiteboard session saying, “Maybe one day people will disconnect their cable and stream TV; let’s start building this right now. We’ll put engineers in there.” We had no idea when he would start making money.
How do you get people in your organization to think like-minded and take risks?
I just want to put it in context, it’s not that we’re constantly navigating around the company doing things that we have no idea if they’ll come to fruition. We took the company public late last year, and we just reported in our last report that General Motors, which is one of Google’s biggest customers, has decided to switch to Innovid. After each victory, we ask a customer: “What made you choose Innovid?” Everyone says it’s this relentless focus on innovation and belief that we want to build a future-proof platform. This is what prompted them to switch to Innovid. We invest, in the grand scheme of things, a small percentage of our R&D and product resources in this, but we take it seriously.
How do you tell people to take those risks? We show that you don’t need to chase exact dollars, but derived dollars actually happen. General Motors chose Innovid. This is a multi-million dollar client. They chose it because of their belief in innovation. Even if they don’t really pay the dollars for it, they end up buying the standard product. But what drove them to Innovid is that innovation is something they want to be associated with.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is a Venture Fellow at Innovation Endeavors as well as a Venture Partner at Secret Chord and J-Ventures. He studied artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction at Stanford University and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias was formerly an officer in Unit 8200. 20MinuteLeaders is a series of tech entrepreneurship interviews featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing Editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan