Ravin CEO Eliron Ekstein discusses the unique path to developing his entrepreneurial mindset

Welcome to this episode of Founder Focus where we dive into the inside stories behind some of the most impressive entrepreneurial journeys. Today, host and venture capitalist, Steve Greenfield sits down with Eliron Ekstein, co-founder and CEO of Ravin.ai, a platform that inspects vehicle condition using artificial intelligence and off the shelf cameras. Ekstein has been building ventures in the fleet and automotive space for the best part of the last 10 years and before starting at Ravin he was CEO at farepilot.com which helps ride-hailing and taxi drivers find more passengers in their area using a deep learning engine predicting demand for rides.

Video Transcription:

Steve Greenfield:
Welcome Eliron to the show. Eliron, how are you?

Eliron Ekstein:
I’m good. How are you Steve?

Steve Greenfield:
Good. Thanks for joining. Where are you dialing in from today?

Eliron Ekstein:
I’m in Tel Aviv. Israel.

Steve Greenfield:
Oh, good. How are things over there right now?

Eliron Ekstein:
It’s okay, it’s on the up as everyone else.

Steve Greenfield:
Good. Good. Good. Well, thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about Ravin and why you started the company.

Eliron Ekstein:
So, I was actually working for Shell at the time in London and we were sitting there and thinking, “We have half a million petrol stations around the world and about 25 million drivers that come in and out every day and we have to find a way to give them something else rather than fuel and Coke.” So, we started brainstorming ideas and I realized that there were a couple of things we could do around vehicle inspection. But something else that was clear is that the existing solutions were relying on pretty sophisticated hardware, gates and tunnels that were not fit for purpose, that were not scalable for us. So, I decided to see if there was a way to use standard cameras that you can fix yourself like CCTV type cameras or a mobile phone to run inspections. I was introduced to my co-founder today and CTO Roman Sandler. He has a PhD in computer vision and he was 15 when he built a speed detection camera system for the police, which this quite funny. And he’s probably well known as an expert in computer vision, started a few companies and the rest is history.

Steve Greenfield:
That’s great. So how far along are you? Tell us a little bit where the company is right now.

Eliron Ekstein:
So the company raised a couple of funding rounds from institutional investors and it is working with companies across the car rental industry like Avis. In insurance recently we started working for the Belgian company called KBC and also on the OEM side we started working with dealerships and also some captive finance groups in the U.S. And on the auction side as well, a couple of partnerships are building up.

Steve Greenfield:
That’s great. That’s great. Well, great. So let’s focus a little bit on entrepreneurship, that’s why we’re here today. So, there’s a debate around whether entrepreneurs are born or made. You’ve had some great very instrumental experiences in the corporate world but do you feel like you were born an entrepreneur or did that spark hit you sometime later in life?

Eliron Ekstein:
That’s an excellent question and I think I can see that some of us are born entrepreneurs, we consider ourselves entrepreneurs, but to me it’s probably more like there is something in each of us that is more entrepreneurial, some more, some less. Mine took a bit of time to develop. I worked throughout my career in both corporate roles, consulting roles, but at some point it became clear that even within these roles there is a pleasure in starting something new, coming up with an idea and then finding the resources to support it, which is the reverse of what you do when you’re an executive.

Eliron Ekstein:
When you’re an executive you have resources and you need to optimize how to deploy them. The entrepreneur does the opposite, they have an idea, and then they find the resources to make it happen. To me, this is the definition of an entrepreneur and it matters less if you’re in a company or you’re starting your own thing. To me, it’s just a sentiment that kept growing over time. It wasn’t a single point in time where I felt, “Yes, I’m an entrepreneur,” it just felt it was growing. And once you do that a couple of times you can’t really go back. It’s so much fun to do what you like and your mind keeps busy and working at a very high capacity. So to me, it’s just a way of life right now.

Steve Greenfield:
That’s great. That’s great. So, it sounds like you’re mid arc or mid journey right now but as you reflect back on your entrepreneurial journey so far what’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make so far?

Eliron Ekstein:
I think losing people and specifically actually letting a customer go is always difficult. And I remember that we had a project that we had been working on with a client for months and people there were very nice and accommodating but we were not very sure where the value was for the business. So we kept engaging and we tried different things but at some point other customers came on board and we had to make the decision do we keep going with this customer. And there comes a point where you pick up the phone and you talk to this customer and say, “We don’t think it makes sense for you anymore,” and you make the hard call, “Let’s call this off.” Which is always disappointing, never feels very good, but it’s the right decision to make and I don’t regret it. And I think this is something a startup needs to be very careful about. You need to pick your customers properly because that stuff can make or break the company.

Steve Greenfield:
So, in that same theme so small companies typically have a challenge figuring out how to do business development and figure out rules of engagement and how to negotiate and work with large, more traditional corporations. You’ve had great experience on both sides of the fence now, in corporations, consulting for large corporations, and now in your own company here. So, what’s your perspective or advice on the best way to structure the relationship with big companies through partnerships?

Eliron Ekstein:
It’s another thing that can make or break a startup in my mind and having worked in startups that sell B2C versus B2B I can certainly see advantages in working with large corporates. You can look at your customer in the eye, you can define requirements, you can gradually build your product. At the same time, if you pick the wrong customer or you engage in the wrong way, you’re done.

Eliron Ekstein:
So over the years, there’s a few principles that helped me and I think it starts with doing as much research as possible about this corporation. What is top of mind for management and actually for shareholders, is it top-line growth, is it savings? Are they trying to get into new markets? What are they talking about in the boardroom? The second thing is to really build a stakeholder map, make sure you can explain how the different stakeholders behave, how they’re viewing your solution. And then you need to find a way to engage with them whether it’s directly or through your advisors, your investor, somebody you trust.

Eliron Ekstein:
And one last thing I would say is that you need to adapt your tone of voice. Some companies, especially the more established ones, they have their culture, some of them are more direct, some others are a bit more formal and they’re looking for consensus in decision-making and you just need to speak the language and make a bit of effort to engage with them in the right tone. And I think in general that one of the biggest challenges for startups working with large companies comes from the ways of working. Startups tend to be more agile, corporations take time to make decisions. So, you need to make sure not to spend too much of your resources upfront where you bring yourself and time or investments to when you think this is actually happening, there is progress. It’s not just promises it’s actually happening, now is the time to make the effort and build what you need to do to be ready.

Steve Greenfield:
So let’s talk about advice. So I mean, there’ll be a lot of entrepreneurs or maybe want to be entrepreneurs that are listening in today. What piece of advice or what’s the best advice you can give to them?

Eliron Ekstein:
I’m probably not the first one talking about this but a lot of entrepreneurs think about valuations and they think about their share of the pie which sometimes makes you overthink deals, overthink bringing new partners on board. And one of my investors, my earlier investors told me that it’s very clear that when you’re negotiating a deal you’re never getting 100% of what you want. My natural inclination has always been to optimize, try to get that deal done as perfect as possible, but sometimes and especially in a startup the bigger prize is to close the deal, move on, close the deal, move on, bring a partner along, bring that spirit of let’s go on that journey together. And yes, the deals will not be optimal and my suggestion is just to keep in mind the bigger prize.

Steve Greenfield:
So you’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs, you are an entrepreneur now, what would you say are the top traits of successful entrepreneurs?

Eliron Ekstein:
So to connect to the previous point, I think it is about resilience. So, being able to deal with lots of surprises, some good, some are less good and you get punched in the face, you pick yourself up and you keep going. So that is a key trait for me. I think listening is another big thing, listening to customers, listening to your people, your investors. A lot of what we do has been done and people have some good advice to give. So if you just listen, you’re going to be more successful. And lastly, I think which goes against probably the first two is conviction, you do your own thing. Sometimes people will tell you, they’ll give you a lot of advice and they’ll throw you in different directions, you need to have some sort of inner voice that tells you this is the direction to go. You believe in this idea, this is the North star and ultimately you will succeed if you’re consistent.

Steve Greenfield:
So last question and I’ve got to ask because you’re in the automotive field but I have no idea or context if you’re passionate about vehicles or not but if you could own any car in the world what would it be?

Eliron Ekstein:
It’s tricky because I don’t want to get in trouble with any of my customers. From a brand perspective and an experience I really like the Tesla and especially the Model X. I think it’s one of the first times where you get the balance between the fun of driving the autopilots. And I’d like to see more models that follow this path, fully electric but still providing that space and the functionality. And I think the future is bright, we can see more OEMs going in that direction. Electric SUVs I think is pretty cool.

Steve Greenfield:
Well, it’s family-friendly and it’s very tech driven. All right. Thanks for joining us. I know you’re overseas so with time zones and such I really appreciate you making time and it’s been great catching up with you today. So thanks for joining us.

Eliron Ekstein:
Absolutely. Thank you.

Did you enjoy this episode of Founder Focus with Eliron Ekstein? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!


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