The Future Is Now: Gil Rabbi Of Storycards On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Do not rush to do what others tell you. It’s important to listen to everyone, but they do not always know better than you. What’s more, in order to lead and produce things that don’t already exist, you will usually find yourself against the current. You need to keep going your way. Get feedback along the way, but do not stop because some people have given you their opinions about what you’re doing.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gil Rabbi.
Gil Rabbi is one of Israel’s digital pioneers, founder & CEO of Storycards, the first no-code platform for engagement products, and founder of Rabbi Interactive. He was chosen among the most influential people in the Israeli “40 under Forty list for 2018”, and for one of the 100 most influential people in the digital fields in 2016. His focus over the past decade has been developing interactive technologies that make users stay longer on sites and apps. Each month, Rabbi products are used by over 5 million people, including products that accompanied the Eurovision and the Rising Star TV format that enabled millions of viewers to vote in real-time from their homes around the world. He’s been featured in International Business Times, Entrepreneur, Israel National News, and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started writing code as early as the age of 8 when my father brought home an IBM computer. At the time, most people had no idea what it was. Creation for me was a kind of escape from the everyday life, as I didn’t like school. I think technology and code helped me deal with my stress and thoughts, and still does today. I learn everything on my own, and even now, after all this time, I still have the passion to be a pioneer revealing new technologies.
Later, I joined the Israeli army like all teenagers in Israel. As a part of my military service, I presided over the planning and development of the digital platform for my base’s enlistment process. I think it was the first time I discovered that my code could help not only me, but also others. It swept me away when I realized the power I had to make others’ lives simpler or better using technology.
In 2005 I founded a technology agency that focused on engagement and interactive products. After a few years, the agency became one of the top 5 technology agencies in Israel. It went on to become a groundbreaking firm known for its innovation.
In recent years I have tried to streamline our working methods, I decided to develop an internal platform that could help us create our products faster. We worked on this platform for 3 years and then began testing it with our existing customers.
It was successful and the products we formerly developed from scratch for each of our customers were now being created without any code. Our clients didn’t notice a difference in quality and it changed the way we were able to work.
After seeing how much it helped us, I realized I must share it with the world and developed Storycards as a SaaS product. This allowed anyone without any technical knowledge to set up exactly the same products I have been developing for years.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Honestly, it’s hard for me to pick just one, but I’ll choose the last one that touched me.
In preparation for the European Eurovision Song Contest, I was invited to serve as a mentor at Hackathon where startups offer ideas for technologies that can enhance Eurovision broadcasting and the experience for viewers. There I met two 17-year-old teenagers, talked to them and felt like I was talking to myself at the age of 17.
I connect with people who are engaged in something out of love and passion and who are not motivated only by money or a career. These are the same people who will not leave the chair until they can create the product they dream of.
And in many cases, these people are children just like I was, who have found a place to relieve the tensions and pressures of everyday reality.
Luckily, these 17 year-olds did not win the hackathon, which meant I was able to offer them the opportunity to do a startup with me. After a year of working together, we were the first in the world to establish a technology and algorithm that enables communication between mobile devices using only sound waves — and independent of cellular reception or internet connection.
From this innovation, we were able to transmit information to about 600K people’s telephones in the largest festival in Israel. After the media coverage we received in Israel, I felt that if there was someone who believed in me at the age of 17 the way I believed in these children, maybe I would have gotten to a better place. I remembered how at that time, no one gave me a chance. In the end, what humans need, especially at young ages, is someone who believes in them and gives them confidence.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Storycards allows anyone to produce digital products that creates engagement with its users, without any coding. We’ve taken all the knowledge that we have accumulated over the years in our technology agency and put it into creating this platform.
I’ve seen several startups that have tried to create similar products, but they’ve all stuck with fixed templates, which prevents brands and big sites from using these platforms and forces companies to spend a lot of money to develop engagement products every year. Our concept is the opposite, you can create whatever you want, with any visual quality you choose. At the end of the day, Storycards will look like an integral part of your website, as though it was custom developed for you.
So, what makes Storycards unique is that we let the editor create any design they want, but in addition we also have a nascent technology of artificial intelligence. The platform provides feedback on how to improve itself as well as how to increase the level of engagement with the site users. Storycards assigns a score for each product created on the platform, which shows the website or app owner what users are doing with it and what should be improved, in real-time.
How do you think this might change the world?
For a long time now, the web is not only where we passively read content, but where we take an active role, finding ourselves involved and influencing a great many things. If WIX or WEBFLOW revolutionized the website building industry, we’re already doing it in the world of engagement.
Digital agencies and development companies will be able to make a hundred times more profit once they use our product. They will be able to create the same products they currently produce for their clients quickly and without the need for developers. These same clients will also be able to decide against using development companies, and to instead manufacture the products themselves using Storycards.
We are basically making a technological solution for customer engagement accessible to everyone. The only thing clients who use our software will need to do is create content that will be attractive and interesting enough to their users.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Luckily, I know the realities of our world even before technology has changed our daily routines. In the early years I was so amazed at how the things I created helped people. It instilled a lot of motivation in me to keep going when I saw how my products positively impacted others. I like to do good for the people around me and I put these beliefs in the products I make as well. So, at every stage, I always think about what could happen, and check all possible uses of our product to ensure they cannot be misused.
We have developed Storycards closely with security experts and performed full penetration tests. The data of our users is kept in a secure and encrypted manner even beyond the accepted standards for today. Our platform allows content creators or publishers to create digital products for themselves, but in the end, the responsibility for the products they produce is theirs. However, we go over every product created on our platform to ensure it cannot even accidentally hurt someone. And fortunately, we have the knowledge and ability–using technology and artificial intelligence–to keep doing so even once we have hundreds of thousands of customers on the platform.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
In 2014 I got a call from the manager of the biggest broadcaster TV channel in Israel. He told me that they sold the main commercial of the “Big Brother” finale to Orange’s 4th generation technology, and we had only a few days to create something that would engage people watching the commercial in live time.
I answered quickly that I was going for it, and that we knew how to produce it, even though I had no idea what my plan was.
We worked sleeplessly for 3 days and developed a unique mobile game. The game launch was synchronized with the commercial, so people at home needed to wait for the live commercial of “Orange” to play.
This was the first time we created a synchronized product for live TV; we didn’t have enough time to create a scalable server environment and also the technologies at that time didn’t contain smart solutions to create scalable products. So, we found ourselves opening hundreds of servers in AWS to handle the amount of users.
A few things happened in this broadcast that led to our future. The amount of people who played from home–hundreds of thousands– was unimaginable, even in terms of prime-time TV ratings. Everyone in the industry talked about this interactive commercial and wanted to know who the company was that created this experience.
On the other hand, a few minutes after this live commercial break, I got a call from the AWS team. They wanted to check who the crazy person was that opened hundreds of servers for a few minutes. I realized very quickly that we had produced an excellent result in an unorthodox way.
Everyone was talking about us, but I knew we had a lot to learn. From there and within a year, we became a world leader in creating engagement products that supported millions of concurrent users.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Our product is already successful in my country, with satisfied customers and users who are creating high level products with the help of our platform. All we need is exposure on a larger scale.
Storycards is such a quality and unique product that it has been really easy for us to bring in new customers. But as everyone knows, exposure costs money and money is always limited. So, we need to set up a smart marketing department that will know how to target and reach customers who can produce the most successful products using our technology. One of our advantages is that we’ve supported every language and every territory from day one.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
I believe that being unique and having a good product gives you leads. In that case, you don’t need gimmicks or complex programs to advertise it because you and your product are what’s special, not your campaign.
Our advantage at Storycards is that customers who use our product for the first time are so happy with the results that they talk about us right away. Designers are happy that they can build the product on their own at a pixel-perfect level and don’t need the help of the developers. Content editors are amazed at how easy it is for them to create impressive products without the need for any technological knowledge, and lastly, financiers are happy because they didn’t realize how much money they were spending on development before they adopted Storycards.
Besides, I’ll tell you a secret, I’m not a proponent of fast marketing. Our way, although slower, allows us to refine our product, better understand our customers, and learn and improve. Once we decide it’s time for a quick distribution, we’ll know how to do it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There were many who helped me along the way and who played a significant role in my path, but I prefer to talk about those who did not help, for me, they were actually more significant.
These are the same people I approached who screened my calls, tried to stop me, or even deceive me. It was precisely thanks to them that I learned more. I had to face the question of how to better engage other people, how to encourage people to respond to my requests. They helped me in business, but also in the products I released — there is a lot of psychology in the products I produce, and to encourage users to participate and be involved in the product, you must incorporate a lot of psychology.
It took me many years to realize how people react ultimately depends on my actions, too, and I have tremendous control over that. This is a very good place to be, because then any fear you may have becomes insignificant and it’s easier to take risks.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m still working on it. I regularly deal with this question: am I doing enough to help others? I try to get to as many meetings and Hackathons as possible with teens to guide them, give them confidence, and share with them that when I was a teenager, no one believed I would become anything. Luckily my parents supported me, but I sometimes meet kids that don’t have that support either.
In addition, I try every year to use our technology to allow charities to raise money for people in need, but it never feels like enough to me. Talking to the guard at the entrance of the parking lot feels no less important to me than other things. Hundreds of vehicles pass by him every morning, and no one bothers to open the window and ask how he is doing. These little things grab my attention more than the big titles of bringing good into the world. One word can improve a person’s mood for an entire day.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Do not rush to do what others tell you
It’s important to listen to everyone, but they do not always know better than you. What’s more, in order to lead and produce things that don’t already exist, you will usually find yourself against the current. You need to keep going your way. Get feedback along the way, but do not stop because some people have given you their opinions about what you’re doing.
- If you fail and fail again, you will learn on your own after some time, and you’ll at least know that you have tried. It is not bad to fail and learn from the path. It’s worse to stop doing something because someone threw you a comment. All the good things I created came after someone told me to stop. On the other hand, whenever I stopped because of someone else’s opinion, I’d later feel remorse when I saw others with similar ideas succeed.
- You have to study certain subjects even if they do not interest you
Although I was told this all the time as a child, I kept doing and learning only what really interested me. I understand today that diversity in knowledge allows for a larger scope of action and topics of conversation with people.
- Do not try to be someone else.
Every person has weaknesses and strengths. In the first years as a professional, I would come to meetings shy, scared, and insecure. I kept trying to fight it until I realized that it is precisely these qualities that give me success in meetings, because when I say something, everyone is more apt to listen. They appreciate more of what I said, and for some reason, they believe in me more than others in the meeting. It is important to accept your flaws and also know how to use them as an advantage.
- “In the end you will be sorry you did not experience more “
While my friends went out to have fun, I did not leave the computer and I continued to create things; I was not interested in anything else. Today I realize I missed one of the most beautiful periods a person has in their life, and I now find myself trying to force these missed experiences into my current years. Life is short, and what is left for us are the experiences. It is necessary and important to create more of them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I wish for there to be more jobs and employment opportunities for older people. I see people who have led companies to success, who are very talented, who do not even need money, but at a certain age they have become irrelevant to companies. Employers do not give them a chance and they find themselves at a late age with nothing to do.
When a person has no daily responsibilities, they may actually lose their purpose to get up in the morning. They feel they are no longer relevant in this world. When this happens to people who have been so busy and successful, it is even harder.
Appreciation for these people and understanding that we, too, will eventually experience this, should change the thinking of society. After all, most of them do not need a lot of money at this age, just the feeling of belonging and that someone needs them. Even once or twice a week.
Until that happens, I ask everyone to go visit the older people who are important to them. Sometimes, a few minutes of conversation can give a person a lot of strength to keep going.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Something To Do, Someone To Love, Something To Look Forward To,” Alexander Chalmers/Elvis Presley.
When I have something to do and I’m busy, my head is not free to think and worry. This is one of the reasons why I work so many hours. Every time I take a vacation that is a little too long, thoughts of what I have done to date, how much good I’ve done for the world, and many other worries fill my head.
Love, every person needs it.
And something to look forward to is the reason to get up in the morning, or even go to sleep. I had a few moments in my life where I finished or sold a product, and then when I got up in the morning I wondered, what now? I had no purpose. So, I always think of new things I’d like to have happen in the future, plans for products, or things I want to achieve. It helps me fall asleep when I plan way ahead, and also gives me motivation to wake up with energy.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I don’t really need 60 seconds for that. A quick look at my successful technology agency and you’ll see that since we launched Storycards, 77% of the projects we previously developed for our clients are now being produced by the clients themselves–all through the Storycards platform, without the need for developers or resources, and with huge financial savings.
There are hundreds of thousands of development companies still working hard to set up these products and hundreds of thousands paying millions of dollars to develop and create these products. With Storycards they can create better products that communicate with users more successfully, with minimum resources and at the same time save a massive amount of money. In the end, I founded Storycards from our need as a technology company to save money and time in creating our products, with an emphasis on improving our capabilities within the company.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Thank you for having me, it was a pleasure.