Edgify CEO on channeling musical theater to lead an AI startup

Ofri Ben-Porat is CEO and co-founder of Edgify, a company developing artificial intelligence (AI) technology for self-checkouts.

The retail tech startup’s solutions include product recognition and fraud detection.

Founded in 2015, the London-based startup has raised $6.5 million in seed funding.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Ben-Porat talks about being a deeptech founder with “no technical background in AI,” his dislike of the metaverse, and the best first hire he’s had.

1. What was the most important first hire you made?

FOB: Without a doubt, it is our leader of the people, Liron Kedem. In the early stages of a business, the greatest asset you have is the people you surround yourself with and when you hire well and/or poorly, it makes a material difference to the success of your business. Even so, I’ve seen many who don’t see it as a high enough priority.

You hear clichés like “hire slow, fire fast,” but when you’re not a hiring manager and you’re desperate for talent, you often hire the most qualified person available—often just like the ones you you have already. And this is where Liron completely changed the situation. By integrating a specific process, we eliminate irrational or hasty decisions and make smarter and more diverse recruitments than we had failed to do before having it.

2. When should a founding CEO hand over to a new CEO?

FOB: There will always be exceptions to this rule, but in general I think the skills needed to start a business and then take it to the next level to reach its potential are two very different things. When the business is operating at, say, £3m in revenue, you may have to ask yourself as CEO if you’re the best person to take it to £30m and the The answer nine times out of 10 is probably no.

A very good example is that often a founder is told “no” 30 times before receiving a “yes”. It’s okay and usually they bounce back because they’ve built something real and tangible from an idea in their head and it may take something more to convince someone else. However, when you start making big money and grow at a steady pace, 30 no’s are no longer acceptable.

A founder packages the vision and a CEO packages a product.

3. What is one fact about yourself that might surprise people?

FOB: I’m the co-founder of a deeptech company that always dreamed of making musical theatre. I even studied musical theater and dance at university and performed as a dancer in many musical theatres. I have no technical background in AI and sometimes I struggle with technology so easy it would make Gen Z cringe.

There are many things that I draw from my experience in musical theater that I apply today. The theater thrives on being able to continue. No matter what happens on stage, the show must go on. And there’s more than one element of that in building an early-stage startup.

You adapt to the circumstances and the public.

4. Is there a technology without which the world would be a better place?

FOB: Honestly, for me, it’s the metaverse. We’ve existed in a virtual world for a few years, attending Zoom calls, doing online quizzes and drinking at home. Continuing to live online vicariously is not something I want to be a part of, especially when we no longer have to.

The way it affected me, my family, and many others around the world is not a feeling I want to feel over and over again, and the metaverse feels like an extension of that. Without human interaction and connections, we are nothing. It may be unpopular, but I’m all for going to the office and driving across town for another in-person meeting.

5. With the exception of yours, what is the sector that is ready to be disrupted?

FOB: Travel and tourism! By this I mean all aspects of travel, from how we find and explore new places to how we navigate the airport. How are digital passports not a thing? Why haven’t we nailed the hyper-personalization of vacation packages?

Why has no one found a greener engine? Since when do we accept such small legroom that people can’t fit in economy class anymore? If we can tell the difference between a gala apple and a pink lady using a USB camera, surely we can find a way to eliminate all the queues in the airport!

Founder in Five, a UKTN Q&A series featuring the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative startups, scale-ups, unicorns and tech companies, is published every Friday.