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Coming to America | Ike Kavas from Ephesoft

Ike Kavas’ story is uniquely American. A Turkish immigrant, he came to this country with no money, no connections, but a lot of skill and determination. He had thirty days to find a job—but no computer.

So he wandered into a local college and used the computers there to send out his resume. On day 27, he found a job. From there, his career is a series of stops and starts that eventually, through careful capitalizing of every opportunity, leads to him becoming the founder and CEO of Ephesoft, a technology startup that automates document processing.

On this edition of Founders Journey, Ike tells the story of how he went from an immigrant with barely a few dollars in his pocket to the leader of a successful company with over 150 employees and offices across the globe.


Ike Kavas is the founder and CEO, with 20 years of content capture, document management, workflow, productivity tools and systems engineer experience. His focus is to guide, innovate and expand the company’s mission of turning the world’s unstructured content into actionable data. 

His previous role was Chief Technology Officer at Ephesoft and he holds patents on supervised machine learning for document classification and extraction. He achieved the CDIA+ certification and has been involved with hundreds of projects using products from EMC-Captiva, Kofax, Readsoft, TIS, OpenText, Microsoft and Xerox.

He is a serial entrepreneur with three ventures and successful exits. He has not only the technical background by implementing several multi-million dollar projects for Fortune 100 companies but also has solid sales/business experience as he has achieved repeated financial and operational goals in his career.

Ike earned his BS degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and studied Computer Architecture at Anatolia University.

Ephesoft provides intelligent document processing solutions with industry-leading technology to help enterprises maximize their productivity. Using AI and patented machine learning technology, Ephesoft’s platform captures data from documents, enriches it with context and amplifies the power of that data, adding intelligence to accelerate any business process and drive successful digital transformation.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Ike Kavas 0:00
They believe that you know, they were everything has been invented already. And there’s nothing we can do. Are you kidding me? That’s not possible. And then you can never stop inventing.

Alexander Ferguson 0:15
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our founders journey series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at Teraleap.io. Today I am joined by my guest, Ike Kavas who’s based in LA area, he’s the CEO and Founder at Ephesoft. Now, this is actually part two of our discussion, go back and listen to part one, we heard lot more about their platform, which is an intelligent document processing solution actually has both an underlying technology as well as custom solutions. They’re working with companies around the world, including the IRS. And this time, though, I want to dig more into your story. Because it’s one of the ones that I love you immigrant coming in $100 in your pocket, right? And you’ve got to figure out what to do. How about that? How do you go from that to now years later running as successful businesses and servicing companies around the world?

Ike Kavas 1:06
That’s a good question. I think if I had to describe that thing, it says there’s the grid. You know, there’s there’s so many ups and downs. You have to be optimistic and methodically hardworking, I think, and if you put that together, stars stars start to align and things start to happen. So

Alexander Ferguson 1:35
the other line great you like I’m just gonna I’m gonna make something happen. What year did you immigrate into the state?

Ike Kavas 1:41
I came two months before the September 11. So 2001

Alexander Ferguson 1:46
Okay. 2001 and then from there that the journey that what was the journey like did you start just working in technology where you’re already interested in at that point or so I

Ike Kavas 1:58
I’m originally from Turkey. And even though I grew up in a in a farm, selling watermelons to make some money I I was lucky enough to go to college in Turkey where I studied electronics and computer architecture and when I so in any did the school was in English, so it was one of those rare cases where professors actually talked education language was in English. So I got to learn that the language as well.

Alexander Ferguson 2:34
Already Yeah,

Ike Kavas 2:36
get that get that and then I started working with tech companies there in Turkey. Then, you know, I spy I tried to start some companies there with with my friends with no money, you know, you go to competition, see if you can win it. I got number two. So that didn’t work out. And then then I Turkey was too small. So wanted to come out and try Germany. And then somebody said, you’re in the computer business, why don’t you go to you know, America, that’s where the future is. said You’re right. So I somehow put together my tickets, I came here with a return ticket in 30 days to expire. So I had 30 days to find a job. And as you can imagine, I didn’t even have a money to buy a computer. So I I went to the college here, they weren’t checking IDs, and I was younger than I look like a student. So I started using their computers to send my resumes and I create a pivot table about my skills and the companies that apply and apply. methodical, but you know, headstrong, on day 27 I found the job. And I was able to, you know, the job that also had to sponsor me for h1 B, if you know what I mean.

Alexander Ferguson 4:07
So that was Mgi said it was

Ike Kavas 4:11
correct in Gi

Alexander Ferguson 4:12
Gi okay. Yeah.

Ike Kavas 4:13
Yeah. So that from there What happened? Yeah, um, um, I worked, it didn’t work out. Therefore as a as a company. And then I find my find my way into kofax. When I was in Turkey, I actually knew their products already. So I got trained on it. And then when I came in, I was the lowest ranking professional services consultant. But But I I’m used to putting 150% so I think I got promoted six times in four and a half years. There. Long story short, I became an architect of the global excellent center. And then when when I realized they, you know, they kind of gave up on on this industry that I grew up in. And then then they they believe that, you know, they were everything has been invented already. And there’s nothing we can do. Are you kidding me? That’s not possible. And then you can never stop inventing. I can never stop innovating. So I left. Start ephesoft. And then I didn’t have a lot of network. I went to some angel investors. Of course, they closed the door on me, is it they said, No. I ended up bootstrapping the company. So build the software by working as a contractor some other places, and then build the software. I sold it, and then hired more engineers, sold more software hired more engineers, more sales people. So the software sales actually built the company to build more software. Its traditional bootstrapping methods were funded.

Alexander Ferguson 6:20
Yeah, just being able to each customer you build the product, and then you take that revenue, keep keep keep growing, you were you naturally just found yourself in the sales role came came easy for you. And you’re like, Alright, I’ll just keep selling, or were you more on the engineering side? Or was it a combination?

Ike Kavas 6:41
Nothing comes naturally. I mean, maybe it’s maybe a little bit but you you have to, you know, deliberately work on it. So to give you an example, I think, before I started at a soft I, I read a lot of sales books, accounting books, right? How to start a business, how to sell a business. And when I was at kofax, I found me a sales leader. I told them, I said, Can you take me as your apprentice, I want to learn sales. So he took me under his wings and start teaching me, you know, he gave me Okay, you need to finish these four documents, and then you have a right to go join to my meetings. And then he taught me how to do sales and sales management. So you may talk to everybody of all the entrepreneurs out there, I think you might, you might be skilled, you might have talent when you born. But if you don’t work on it, you know, that’s not going to take you far. So you have to keep sharpening skills. Yeah.

Alexander Ferguson 7:44
So you jumped ship from cofax, say, I’m going to start a business couldn’t get Angel funding. So you’re like, well, I guess I’ll just start selling because I’ve been practicing that. And you go in, you make a sale, you build the software, get some high end hiring some engineers, then you go build another software for another company. So it’s very service based software building at that point. You bootstrap for seven unit booster for seven years. Is

Unknown Speaker 8:05
that correct?

Ike Kavas 8:06
Yeah. Managing cash. Yes, it you know, um, we had a few near death experiences. But, you know, something always came through. Yeah, I think I, I had no doubt that it was going to be successful. I don’t think everybody around me thought that way. But just, I had absolute conviction that it was it was going to work out. And it always did the last minute, we closed another deal, and pay the salaries of that month. And we never, we never not paid in it salaries. But those near death experiences teaches you a lot. Yeah, by the way, at the same time, even though my mission these days is to tell entrepreneurs, the Silicon Valley way is not the only way, right? You don’t have to go to investors raise money on day one. To build a great company, there’s still, you know, you sell you make money you spend less than you make and the traditional business model, right? The the keep

Alexander Ferguson 9:18
you keep putting back in it that takes the grit, though, the ones that were that you use the very beginning, if you don’t have grit to keep pushing through that you’re not going to make it. That’s right.

Ike Kavas 9:27
Yes. And by the same time, I’m not also saying Silicon Valley investors are bad, right? I’m just saying there are multiple ways to start and grow a business and you just need to decide what is right at the right time. And after seven years, like you said, we were we passed the $10 million at that point, point. And I said, Okay, I’ve never gotten 200 million before, right? So maybe I should bring some people who’s done this several times. And then they can By advisor, so I went and then brought the investors at that point to join the company so that we can actually not focus on day to day cash. But you know, how to build the best software, how to grow the company, how to, you know, nurture the employees to get the next level for them, personally.

Alexander Ferguson 10:20
So that was about 344 years ago, if I got my numbers, right, that you hit the 10 million in revenue market, like, Alright, I’ve never been to 100 million, how do I get there? I need some outside. It’s more than just making money. It’s that that insight and connections? Well, what, what would you say is, when you are when you’re seeking funding seeking that, that investment, what are some common challenges or problems one could make, and need to avoid and look for in that type of funding relationship.

Ike Kavas 10:48
As an entrepreneur, as a founder, you have to set the culture in the company, how, you know, your team is going to work with you, and how you’re going to expand that you have to do that same thing in the board. I think that’s the mistake, or, or missing point sometimes for for entrepreneurs, just jumping to the, to the VC world, you know, before VCs, I had no board, right? Yeah, no board. So the, my, my CEO coach taught me, and board works for the CEO, but board also has the power to fire CEO. Right? So so you have to deliberately design how you want your board to operate. That’s, that’s an extension of your team. So there has to be cultural fit. But also, you have to build in a way that you can actually learn how to build companies that that’s the whole reason, right that I want to get 200 million. And I need to have my board has been there done that before to give me the right feedback, and not just, hey, great job, you know, a real ready, they tell me where I’m making mistakes and where I should go or what I should pay attention. So I am one of those lucky ones that that found a an investor partner, I call them actually my partner. They’ve been such a great partner to me that Mercado partners out of Salt Lake, and then I was able to put together also, board member is awesome people, you know, the you know, one of them was a CEO of a company for $550 million. The other one manages a small business unit, that makes $800 million a year.

Alexander Ferguson 12:40
Right. So they’re, they’re where you’re trying to get to so you’ve built that environment that you’ve got. So when you one thing is, is is funding, but then once you have the funding, it’s allowing you to do a lot more than you could do yourself. So it’s hiring, it’s building the right team, what was one of the most important hires that you did after getting the VC funding and ready to grow?

Ike Kavas 13:05
Now, the first advice I got from the VCs was, I stopped doing everything yourself, hire the executive team, that’s gonna help you take go to the next level. So that’s where I started. And I can’t say I was successful on every hire, you know, what I say you sometimes win, sometimes you learn. And that’s, that’s

Alexander Ferguson 13:30
sometimes you win, sometimes you learn, I like that.

Ike Kavas 13:32
But I started with the executive team. And then my goal was to find the right executives, that understands the stages that we’re going to go through in the next couple of years, and understand what the company needs. And to do that, I look for people who has large scaled company experiences. So they’ve seen the scale borrower already

Alexander Ferguson 13:58
been there. And and that’s an

Ike Kavas 14:00
age of scaling, but also been with the startups so they understand the struggles and then what you know what little resources you may have, because if you’re just exposed to the large company, you have a lot more resources than the dentists that are running. So So I tried to find those executives. And also again, you know, I’m with them every day right in we work long hours. So there also has to be the cultural fit. So you had to look at the skills and the and the people that you want to work with and put that together.

Alexander Ferguson 14:37
You’re you’re at 100 people now around there is that well over 150 Oh, wow. So what would you say of okay first getting the right executives but then building the overall team. How do you keep the the culture and the energy and everything in sync when it goes far beyond you and the team can keeps expanding? Is there any advice that in tactics have worked well for you.

Ike Kavas 15:04
Tactics also changed during the pandemic. So what I relied on was transparency and over communication right then and I have I communicate is it like by email

Alexander Ferguson 15:17
is a video calls like what’s what’s up? What’s the tag to use worked well to communicate,

Ike Kavas 15:22
I try almost everything because I know that everybody receives the information different ways. Some people get received the information by reading some people auditory listening, right? Some some visual some you have to go to lunch with them. Right, so so you I use different techniques, because you have to as a CEO, because you don’t know your audience, everybody in whatever how they learn. But that’s, that’s been the challenging part with with the pandemic, right. But then we were all reduced to all digital only on the digital ones. But, you know, transparency over communicating, I think it’s it’s been my best allies.

Alexander Ferguson 16:10
This last year has been probably defining for a lot of folks of having to readjust and learn. If If you had to go back and tell yourself one thing a year ago, I’m going into this last year, would you would you say anything to yourself? Like, actually, you should probably do it this way or that anything that you’ve learned this past year? That’s a good question.

Ike Kavas 16:35
I don’t think we including me realize the the impact of mental health of the people that we work with now. Some, some of my team members, you know, they’re in their apartments, and they don’t have anybody. They might have only a cat or a dog. Right. Some of them couldn’t send their kids to school to anywhere. And then they’re they’re missing adult conversations. Right. Some of them are so dedicated that, you know, we have, you know, zoom meetings galore. And they work from 7am to 11pm. Right. So, you know, later in the year, we started implementing a few things, right. We have no chat hours, we just get on and adult adult talk No, no business, right. We inserted no meetings on Wednesday afternoons. Right. Or, or forced vacations every couple months, right out of the blue. So I think one thing I will say is I like we probably should have implemented those things in the beginning. Not even halfway, I think that would have that would have helped with more

Alexander Ferguson 18:03
mental health in this past year, I think it was an awakening on multiple levels. Yeah. And I think in some ways, as a business owner, business leader, you may have not had to worry about it, or it may not have been as forth for the front of your mind to have to worry about these types of things in people’s lives, your employees lives. Yes, yeah. for yourself going forward, what do you see as kind of the next big challenge that you need to work on to continue growing?

Ike Kavas 18:30
So as the as the company grows, I, I am less than less involved in the in the hire, right? I used to interview everybody. Now we’re coming to a place where you know, I can’t anymore, so I have to be much more deliberate about our culture, especially my direct reports, and maybe one or two layers more if there’s that first layer. I need to constantly talk about it, and then make sure we’re all on the same page. So that we’re, we’re hiring people that we want to work with that will come in, and then I also realizing that every person that comes in, adds to the culture, right. So I also have to keep up with that. Right? It’s not just them what FSF entrepreneurs started, the founders started. It’s how it’s evolving and so I have to keep up with that as well. I think that’s one of my challenges. I, I really believe in that company needs to serve the customers, employees and investors equally. And that’s, if we if if one of them outweighs the other one, it goes out of balance. So as as I as I bring new investors is I hire more people, right. And as as we are adding a ton of customers, you know, every week, every month, every quarter, I have to make sure that the balance stays the same. So that’s that’s kind of my challenge.

Alexander Ferguson 20:19
Last couple of questions for you IQ, sem, books, podcasts, audio books, anything that you’ve read in the past helped you grow as a leader in business or overall that you would recommend?

Ike Kavas 20:33
There’s a lot, there’s a lot. I’ll tell you one book, I think that will be helpful to this audience that the entrepreneurs wants to start this way, is the infinite game. Simon Sinek. I love that guy. I love that that book. I think it’s the it’s the underlying comment that I that I that I made earlier about the customers, the employees and the investors. It’s about building sustainable businesses. And you know, one of those parties may not be happy. But if you do the right things, everybody will be happy at the end. So that’s what I recommend.

Alexander Ferguson 21:18
I imagine for investors, in some cases, they they’re expecting exponential growth. But it’s the question if you’re in here for the long term to be able to make people happy, and not just a short term game. You got it? Yes, we got for you. As a leader. I’m always curious, what’s your typical day look like when you wake up in the morning? Like, what’s, what’s the one of the first things you do and just like you make sure you do every day.

Ike Kavas 21:42
Um, I have, I have twin girls. So my day kind of starts with them. One of them will want to go to the playground in the morning, or some kind of activity. It starts with them. And then I I checked my schedule, I get ready for my meetings, like like happened today. Right. And I I’d like to be prepared for for the day ahead. So if I don’t have time in the morning, I do that the previous previous day. During the day, I tried to spend my time, it’s hard to do on a weekly basis, a daily basis I did on a weekly basis, some time allocated for my team, sometimes I’ll pay for customers sometimes, for for my investors, I just have to balance that. In the bigger picture. Sometimes database is hard. My day ends with some sci fi movie on Netflix, whatever it is.

Alexander Ferguson 22:43
I love it ending with sci fi. So you’re even technologically futuristic there too, as well.

Ike Kavas 22:50
I’m a techie at heart. That’s never gonna go away.

Alexander Ferguson 22:54
What’s your favorite tech movie? Or show?

Ike Kavas 22:59
How much time do you have? So I’m going to, I’m going to tell that is I have to pick between the dark matter, the expanse, and the Stargate series, I guess I’ll pick the dark matter, because there’s no aliens on there. And that’s the only one without the aliens.

Alexander Ferguson 23:23
Gotcha. I like all three that you choose. Last question for you just overall, in related to your industry, tech predictions, what do you think we’ll see in the in the near term next a year two or a little bit further? Maybe 510 years from now?

Ike Kavas 23:39
Sure. I think it’s just gonna be like the autonomous driving, you know, we were all of a sudden, just like that, we’re gonna start seeing the AI advance so fast, and then sudden, that people are going to start automating their businesses, just like what happened with the, you know, an autonomous driving I think we had a lane assist here and there, you know, we had the buzzing, steering wheels, right? It was coming, and then boom, right now, we’re talking about the autonomous drivers and then people are the kids are being taken to school by autonomous drivers, right. So that same thing is going to happen. And there are a lot of cool technologies and how to make AI even smarter and teach yourself but we’re also part of this year as we talked on the different segment. I think that’s that’s the exciting part it’s coming in people are not going to notice I’m not going to realize how fast that’s going to flip it’s going to switch

Alexander Ferguson 24:47
I love the the future you paint and the analogy of autonomous driving, how that same concept will apply across the different business industries and and your your next job. What that will look like thank you so much for for sharing your story and the journey you’ve been on, for those that want to learn more about their platform and their business definitely listened to part one of our first interview on Uptechreport.com. Or you can also go to Ephesoft.com and be able to see a demo of their platform. Thanks again for your time, Ike. I appreciate it. We’ll see you guys on the next episode of UpTech Report. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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