Out of the many memorable moments, I’ll choose the unforgettable moment when CES 2017 ended. This was just one year after Innoviz was founded, and in some magical way (that involved a lot of sweat and several all-nighters) we managed to come to CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, with a few hand-crafted prototypes of our first lidar product. We were hosted at the booth of our first big business partner, Magna International, where we’ve set up a live demo of these lidars. The demo looked great, arguably the best lidar in the show, which was an outstanding achievement for Innoviz, being at the time a small unknown startup. Anyone who came to our booth during the three days of the show saw a very impressive demo and could chat with any of us founders and the Innoviz business team. What no one knew was that these prototypes suffered from some unexplained malfunction that could cause any one of them to break down unexpectedly at any given moment. We brought several spare units with us, basically everything we managed to build in the short time before the show, but still, we were in constant panic that the lidars might fail mid-show. Every day we showed up at the booth before 6 am, when security opened the doors of the show hall, to check that that the demo units survived the night (some of them didn’t!), spent the couple of hours until the show started fixing and optimizing what we could, then after the show closed we stayed at the booth until 11 pm to replace the broken units, or re-arrange the half-broken ones in a way that would look the least suspicious to visitors of the booth. And of course, during the showtime, we had to put on our happy faces and sell, sell, sell. After three days we were all exhausted, sleep-deprived, nervous, and edgy. But when the show finally ended and the doors closed behind the last visitor, we realized we’ve made it through. Someone put some music on the speakers, and we began to spontaneously dance and grin and hug each other. Somewhere there’s still a video of this moment that someone took on his smartphone. This CES was a watershed moment from Innoviz, after which we were acknowledged as a serious competitor in the lidar industry. But it also defined a big part of our culture, where achievements are made with hard work, deliberation, commitment, and grit.
This has to be “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by legendary entrepreneur and investor, Ben Horowitz of the famous Andreesen-Horowitz VC firm. There are many important lessons to be learned from his depiction of his journey from startup to $1.2bn exit (back in the days when this was a rare event), but the one that resonated with me the most is the concept of “WFIO moment”. WFIO stands or “we’re f***d, it’s over”. This is a moment where you as a startup founder are sure that you’ve hit such a huge insurmountable problem that this has to be the end of the company. It’s a combination of panic, helplessness, and shame, where you feel like the sky is falling down on your head and everything is about to collapse. According to Horowitz, each founding team will typically go through three such moments before the startup “makes it”. It’s almost a fact of nature. While I was reading this book my company was actually going through such a WFIO moment exactly. Seeing that this is a common experience for all startup founders and not a unique screw-up that’s entirely ours, helped me to collect myself and start to work productively towards getting out of this crisis. Needless to say, the company did pull through from this WFIO moment, and sure enough encountered at least two more such crises that we’ve eventually overcome.
Hands down – to start Innoviz together with my co-founders. Six years in, with the company already publicly listed on NASDAQ, many would say we’ve made it. I, as well as the my-founders, know we still have a very long way ahead of us to achieve our mission of enabling the autonomous driving revolution with our technology, and also of building Innoviz into a profitable company with growing sustainable business. Still, even if we hadn’t made it to this point, the ride was amazing. There’s really nothing like starting your own company if you want to learn how to build a business, how to develop technology from strategy to implementation in rapid iterations, how to overcome seemingly impassable obstacles, and how to build and lead a strong team. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I think most of my friends know about my passion for endurance sports like long-distance running, open water swimming, and cycling. But maybe fewer people are familiar with my hobby of trekking and camping. I love the sense of self-reliance, of having everything you need to survive on your back or in the trunk of your SUV. I love the meticulous preparations of the equipment and route or site planning. I love the way to the trailhead or camping site, listening to road-trip music. I love being outdoors, with nothing but nature surrounding you. And I love the night sky, away from the light pollution of the city, where suddenly you can see so many bright points in the sky, planets, stars, satellites and the occasional meteor, and things like the milky way which until the first night away from civilization you only think of as a hypothetical thing and not as a visible, present entity in the night sky. I even love unpacking at home after a long trip outdoors, cleaning the equipment, replacing everything in its right place in storage, and beginning to plan the next trip. All of this has become even more joyful when my wife and then young children became part of this hobby. Few things build character and resilience like long outdoor treks and camping. The kids love nature more than anything else and can keep themselves busy with their own made-up games with the dirt and plants and small animals for durations far exceeding what parents think is possible. And I feel like I experience everything afresh through their eyes. I could also parallel the outdoor experience and building of skills to the journey of the entrepreneur, but let’s keep that for another occasion 😊
The first one would be extreme willingness to help one another. Everyone, especially newcomers, knows that they can approach anyone in the company with any question or request for help, and this person will put aside whatever they were working on and sit down to answer this person’s questions or help them with whatever is needed. This makes everyone more effective, and also helps newcomers to get up to speed in a very short time. I usually meet with new employees one month after they’ve started, and almost always I hear they’re amazed by how quickly they’ve become productive, and that they feel they’ve been at the company for six months already. Time flows differently at Innoviz.
The second habit is company all-hands. We have such a meeting every week on Thursday morning. These are led by Omer the CEO or by me. Every new employee has to introduce himself to the entire company, which is somewhat embarrassing to some but makes everyone feel like they know everyone else at the company. Omer shares news on the company, which can often be very intimate and sensitive. We believe in extreme transparency, and trust our team members to keep this information safe. And I share updates on the progress of our RnD, usually with slides or videos showing recent achievements but also recent problems we’ve run into. These weekly all-hands meetings started out as twenty people standing in the open space, gradually grew to include more than 200 people sitting in the large cafeteria, and during the Covid pandemic, we’ve had to change these weeklies to all-virtual. While this did in a way reduce the intimate feeling of these weekly congregations, it also had an up-side of allowing our international teams in the US, Europe, and Asia to join regularly and feel like an integral part of the team.