“8 Questions with Playfair” ft. Yarden Gross @ Orca.ai
This is the eleventh in our “8 Questions” series — in which we sit down with founders in the Playfair portfolio who share their entrepreneurial journey.
We first invested in Orca.ai, a computer vision startup improving cargo ship navigation and collision avoidance, in 2019. Yarden Gross had just left his first company Engie and Dor Raviv had moved on from technical roles at Cortica and the Israeli Navy. Driven by their vision of revolutionising shipping, Yarden and Dor built a combined-AI, deep learning and hardware solution which they have since sold to the likes of Shell, Kirby and Liberty Maritime. Orca.ai has subsequently raised $13M in 2021, a round led by OCV Partners with participation from Mizmaa Ventures and Playfair Capital.
Today, we sit down with co-founder and CEO, Yarden Gross, to hear his story from the beginnings of Orca.ai. We hope this can help other founders and aspirational entrepreneurs in their own ventures.
1. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
I was urged to take an idea that was not realistic and make it a reality; a solution that creates impact designed by a group of people that are collectively working towards a goal. Eventually, you begin to see the value that you create in a company and the environment. The maritime industry is everywhere; everything that was ever manufactured went through this industry and this is what drives me every morning.
2. Can you take us back to the beginnings of Orca?
The founders all met in the Israeli navy and thereafter, at my brother’s restaurant which was our first office. We saw a conservative industry changing and the opportunity for impact. In the beginning, it was very rough and then, we took the idea and crystallised it. This all happened in my brother’s restaurant; we used to come in in the morning, be there all day and have a drink in the evening. We did all our interviews there until we raised a round of funding and got a proper office!
3. What is the hardest lesson learned since day 1?
Hiring was hard; it took time and money. At the start, we were not asking the right questions and we did not have the right processes in place. Once you have the right processes, you know which person to interview and the type of questions to ask. It’s also trial and error. We made mistakes and we learnt from them. A startup will make mistakes — it’s part of the deal — but you need to anticipate things to reduce the number of mistakes you make. Learning and creating a process prevented us from making the same mistakes again.
4. What has been your strangest day as a founder?
We flew to Hong Kong to meet a shipping company to validate the solution. The shipping industry there is very formal whereas, in Israel, it is very casual. One of my co-founders didn’t have a suit, so he brought his wedding suit which was eight years old. He had unfortunately gained some weight in the last eight years, so the suit was three sizes too small for him. Everyone else was dressed very fine but it became a good icebreaker. For the second meeting we had with a shipping company, we sent him to a store to buy a good suit!
5. What have you learned from your investors since you first fundraised?
Everyone wants to help but you need to understand what each investors’ strength/weakness is, where they can contribute most value and how you can best work with them. It is then easier to understand how to build a Board and what type of people you want. You will experience a variety of investors — from financial to strategic — and learn how to work with each and how each can help.
6. As a founder, what is your proudest achievement to date?
My proudest moments are when I sit in a room with the team, have a conversation/meeting about something and feel that the people in the room are much smarter on this specific situation and they’re fighting about their opinion (in a good way) because they care. When you have very smart people who are in love with the mission, it will increase your probability of success; it’s a gamechanger.
7. Crystal Ball: What are your plans for the future?
We want to build a business that has a lot of impact. The shipping industry is a major part of the logistics chain. Once Orca.ai are able to penetrate and be a standard on every ship, we can take control of the voyage in a good way. We will be the one who decides how to navigate the ship, enhance safety, and create impact in the shipping space.
8. #1 piece of advice to an aspirational founder?
Be persistent. One day is amazing and the other day is terrible. You need to be confident and persistent.