Yotam Orem spent his entire career around big data, but when he looks back, it’s all about the people—the friends, the family, and when it comes to his startup, Mona Labs, the team. In fact, it was the opportunity to build a great team that most attracted Yotam to founding a technology startup.
It began with a phone call from a friend to help solve an embarrassing problem at Google—one of their predictive models had gone from triumph to faceplant. Yotam realized you still need human hands to make AI smart.
On this edition of UpTech Report, Yotam talks about the path that led him to start his own company, and shares his own philosophy on how he brought that great team together.
More information: https://www.monalabs.io/
Yotam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Mona, an SaaS startup empowering data scientists. Yotam is a tech executive, with a 15+ years experience in bringing data-driven products to the enterprise software market.
Before Mona, Yotam held multiple roles at ADP, most recently as VP Operations and Growth of ADP’s cloud payroll software. Prior to ADP, Yotam was an Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, a business development associate at Google, and a software engineer at Telmap Ltd (acquired by Intel in 2011).
Yotam holds a B.Sc (Magna Cum Laude) in Bioinformatics from Ben Gurion University in Israel, and an MBA (with distinction) from the University of Michigan.
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!
Yotam Oren 0:00
We wanted to from day one to have an environment where kind of everyone has a voice and not just has a voice but is obligated to use it.
Alexander Ferguson 0:14
Welcome, everyone to UpTech Report. This is our Founders Journey series. I’m excited to be joined by Yotam Oren, who’s based in Atlanta, Georgia, co founder and CEO of Mona labs. This is the second part of our interview, definitely check out the first part, we hear a bit more about their product and how it provides production monitoring for AI. This series Oh, this this discussion, I’d love to hear a bit more about your story. How did you come to to found Mona labs? And where you are today? Feel free to start before two years ago? Like your whole story?
Yotam Oren 0:49
Of course, yes. Well, so a few things to know about me, maybe, you know, I’m, I’m an Israeli, who’ve been in the US now 12 years. So I actually an Israeli American, a father of three, software engineer by education, who had come here, originally in 2008, to get an MBA to kind of move to learn about business from Americans. And it’s worked quite well since then. And I spent, I spend my entire career in around big data, I was a data engineer. And was was later in the data space, as even as a business development guy. And, but I was I had a corporate career. I was, you know, I didn’t think about entrepreneurship until later in life. And we’ve, you know, it’s, it’s, this is my first startup, and I think journey, right, I came to America, I came to get sober. And we love the phrase, then then, you know, then I would have had safe, I came straight, went to start something straight out of college. My, my college roommate, and I been really good friends since college have have talked about doing something together. For a long time. I mean, pretty much since we graduated. And we’ve had a lot of conversations like this over the years. But in 2018, when he called me it just something was different. It just felt more right. I think part of it, probably we’re in in a good place, personally, and felt ready to take a risk. But also, the idea seemed so much bigger than anything we’ve ever talked about before.
Alexander Ferguson 2:35
The timing, everything was aligning you you knew you wanted to eventually do this, but it just, it felt good at this point. Oh, for
Yotam Oren 2:43
sure. I mean, I, you know, I knew I wanted to do this, because I think it sounded really exciting. I love building things from scratch. And I wanted to, you know, I wanted to I love building teams, this is interesting, because it’s quite unrelated to the field I get went into, right. But I have always enjoyed, you know, building teams, like, you know, recruiting people rallying them around, you know, a common cause, helping them grow professionally. And a because I feel like I grow that way, too. And so I know, it’s and it sounds a little cliche, but I think that was part of our motivation was we wanted to establish a culture, like when we said, we, you know, how a team should should work together. And let’s, let’s try to do this.
Alexander Ferguson 3:29
In a started, what I don’t think a lot of founders set out to say, let’s, let’s build a startup company, because I want to grow a team. So that’s the one of the essential components of it. I think it’s a powerful already a built in passion for you, in order for growth. So that’s kind of interesting. Now, before you can build the team, what are the pieces, of course is funding to I’m curious, just on for you guys have any lessons learned, or maybe one of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen out there when it comes to getting funding?
Yotam Oren 4:06
Well, so, you know, this is certainly especially for the CEO on the founding team, you know, getting funding deciding on the funding strategy, you know, moving through the process to get funding. It’s just, it’s one of the biggest points of focus. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s difficult, it’s an unknown for a lot of us, especially if you don’t come from that field if you’re not necessarily investment professional yourself. And so it’s really easy to get lost. I think, you know, one of the things that I, you know, learned early on is that you know, it’s it’s kind of never too early to get funding, you know, this, but but but the earlier you go the different kinds of funding that you know, you can you can get. So,
Alexander Ferguson 4:54
there’s a cause to the the option
Yotam Oren 4:59
itself. early and I think and I think it’s I think I kind of we, you know, you have to pretty early on decide whether the kind of business you’re building is the one that will have to scale really fast. And in that case venture is the right for you, or whether it’s going to be more of a slow building kind of focused on on profitability type business, which, which in that case, you probably don’t need, you know, to go venture the venture route.
Alexander Ferguson 5:29
So that helps you can make that decision, if you do go the route a VC, any thoughts on on preparing your pitch, just helping figure out your story in order to be able to get the right investment?
Yotam Oren 5:41
Yeah, there are a lot of so first of all, talk to as many other founders as possible, right, that’s, that’s kind of what I’ve really learned. You know, and certainly don’t take the advice of just one and kind of follow some sort of, you know, dogmatic like framework, because there isn’t one way, right to do it. But talk to as many people as you can, and, and then, you know, really focus on on on their strength, right. So on the strength of your story, you have to decide whether it’s the team and its profiles in the early goings, or whether it’s the novelty of your insight, right of the idea, this is something that nobody else could conceivably think of, or whether it’s, you know, it’s the it’s the market, right, is that is this like, incredibly, you know, fast paced, you know, attractive market that, you know, pretty much anyone with with funding can go and succeed. Now that the other two, I mean, the team is the one we found was easiest for us to go with, in the beginning, we felt very strongly about our idea and the market, of course, but But you know, the anchor, right, is this idea, like, who we are, and why are we the right people to go after this opportunity. So focus on your strengths, and, you know, highlight them, you know, is something that’s really worked for us. The other thing that I think now that people realize is that VCs operate in the dark, just like, just like you, especially in a new market. And so what they do is they try to manage their risks. And they are kind of a checklist, really, of the kinds of risks they’re trying to eliminate, right from the process, and the different stages of adventure of a company, they try to look at different kinds of risks. And so you, you can almost build your pitch around, reassuring them around the risk, they have a risk about the team, are these the right people to start a company or pursue this product, they have a technology risk and what they’re trying to build? Is it possible to build it? Is it going to build fast? Is it going to scale? And the third thing is about the market is are people interested in what they’re building? Are people going to buy it in mass? Is there going to be an economic, you know, business model there. And so you can kind of build your pitch around addressing these things, without necessarily naming them but you could also name them, right. And if you if you follow that, you know if there’s a lot of literature on this. And of course, we talked to other founders, you’ll hear, but if you follow that, you know that track, pitch could go pretty well.
Alexander Ferguson 8:18
I love that your recipe for success is just address the pain points that others have. And that actually, that probably translates nicely to customers and clients for your own product as well. It’s like if you could address the pain points and build a story around it. It allows you to to connect now, one of the pain points you mentioned his team, having the right team and you’ve already mentioned that’s a passion of yours as well. So I’m curious what kind of common mistakes you’ve seen when it comes to hiring and building a team.
Yotam Oren 8:51
For startups, I find, you know, I’ve personally found that potential, all around skills and cultural fit are more important than resume. And, and one of the common pitfalls is to hire someone, first and foremost, based on their credentials. So for instance, if they work for the right companies, or they have experience in the field, you’re you’re going after versus actually talking to them and see if they are, you know, hustlers and highly motivated with a you are on the same wavelength with them. Are they willing to learn new things? Are they opinionated? And are they going to challenge you? We want it to work in an environment where and again not to sound too cliche, right but we want it to work environment it’s kind of bottom up, where ideas are just trickled down. Startups tend to be very, you know, focused on the founders like the founders came with this idea they they know all the decisions goes through them, including everything right if we every expense we have every bit Alright, in older product decisions and all the sales decisions and we wanted to, from day one does have an environment where kind of everyone has a voice and not just has a voice, but is obligated to use it right and speak up. And so we were really focused on that. So that’s what I mean by cultural fit is to hire people who can adapt. You know, it’s not necessarily just what they have on paper, but what they are willing to learn and how much they’re willing to speak up and challenge the founders.
Alexander Ferguson 10:32
That’s a that is a great way to to look at it and then retreat, how that that rolls out internally. I imagine as you grow and build the team, things change, and you have to adapt and figure out the culture. How big is the team right now?
Yotam Oren 10:47
Alexander Ferguson 10:49
10 people, and I know you’re you’re also distributed that you’re, you’re in Atlanta, but everyone else is in Tel Aviv.
Yotam Oren 10:54
That’s right, we so we are. So we are, you know, we are in in Atlanta, and in Tel Aviv, where we have our kind of engineering and r&d Center. And we’re actually hiring in Silicon Valley right now, too. So, you know, so by the time this is live, we’ll probably will be in three offices. And because we’re still hiring,
Alexander Ferguson 11:14
that’s awesome. And there’s unique challenges across the board, when when building a team, both location diverse and time distinct difference diverse. And everyone now though, is because of COVID. Having to to think working remote and hybrid, any lessons learned there that you can share what works.
Yotam Oren 11:36
So one thing that we had going for us is because the founders were in two countries, from day one, we kind of had to have remote work routines from the get go. And, and we, you know, we so we were used to zoom and Google Hangouts and, and video conferencing. When we’re in a when that pandemic had, and we started all of us kind of working remote, even within a city, we started adopting a few more tools, and routines, right, so you know, more, you know, heavier usage of slack and these kinds of things. I think, you know, a few things that, you know, that that work for us really well, you know, lessons that we’ve learned about making remote work work, right? Is Number one is you still have to stick to work hours, right? You know, there’s the tendency would remark work remote work to assume that everyone is always available. And we had to kind of make sure people saw but boundaries. But the same time when you are across continents, you do have to kind of have built into your schedule, some flexible hours, right? For because you um, you know, from the US to Israel, we don’t have a conference call once in a while, right. And there’s a seven hour time difference, right? So, you know, you sort of plan ahead, the more you put them on the calendar calls that maybe aren’t, you know, off hours, one location, but you rotate, right, you don’t necessarily put all the burden on one side. But we had to, you know, we had to use, you know, you make heavy use of a few of your tools, establish those, you know, balances and routines have more flexible hours. I’d say. Honestly, we’re pretty fortunate Right? in the software industry. We look we love being in the office, I think it helps brainstorming, I think it helps with team bonding. But this is the type of company that could work remote, right, what we do, so
Alexander Ferguson 13:37
I it, it’s unique channels, everyone’s having to learn through it and continue to grow. And I think there’s no one size fits all, but I appreciate that. What you’ve already learned so far.
Yotam Oren 13:48
That’s right. Yeah. We are, by the way, I just want kind of one thing is that we you know, of course, there’s the challenge, right to be remote into being across continents. But we also tried to get the best of it. In Israel, Israel’s a mecca mecca for AI and enterprise software talent. So we get incredible access to great engineering there and great minds on that front. And same time, you know, the vast majority of the target market we’re going after is in the US. And so of course we try leverage our network and our experience here to make sure that we’re not too removed from that either, right? So that does the advantage of the multinational.
Alexander Ferguson 14:25
It is definitely there. And I feel like there’s only going to grow the number of companies that are that kind of mindset. And it’s a global workforce because there is no barriers due to technology. Now one thing is building the right team, the other is being able to market and actually get the customers and clients that will pay you to have the team any insights you can share of tactics that have worked when you are scaling and growing company and where you guys are today.
Yotam Oren 14:57
Yeah, so number one is, in the early days, don’t turn away from any conversation and adopted this position of learning and getting feedback, especially in our space where we’re selling to the technical staff to data scientists, engineers. We, and I say we, because I used to be in that in that shoes, right, don’t want to be sold to, right and you know, don’t react necessarily know that positively to, you know, a sales, a sales pitch. But we are happy to engage in conversation, we love to discover new products, we love to get feedback, we love to learn about new ways to do things. And and this is this is the so adopting that mindset is building mindset. Right? The mindset of just asking for advice, of asking for feedback of listening of focusing on the of the customers have sort of the users, your world, their set of problems, and not about on our solution, right, that’s that that has really helped with early conversations. And frankly, it wasn’t just a tactic, it was actually because we needed to learn a lot. And we still do, right, we really needed to learn a lot about what people need and what the second thing is to not try to be, you know, not try to do too much in terms of go to market. So, you know, they’re very different methodologies and approaches, they’re needed to solve to sell large deals to large enterprises, versus to sell, you know, to have fast paced digital sales to small businesses, there are different channels to get to them different, you know, different, you know, expectations to, to the length of sales cycle, different materials needed different messaging,
Alexander Ferguson 16:49
which one, are you guys going for enterprise or for small biz? Or what’s your,
Yotam Oren 16:53
we are, you know, interestingly, we’re in the mid market today, right? Mostly, because you can’t be small, right? This is thinking about, you have to have enough money to invest in AI, and to actually deploy it at scale to be there. But we really work with kind of the the leaders in the space, right, so we work mostly with AI first companies, companies that, you know, that have not necessarily our AI companies per se, but companies that use AI natively that are the grew up in this digital age and, and are already avid users of suffering and big data, the company and the intersection of the two. And so we’re going after them. And we said initially, okay, that let’s let’s we’re gonna tail we’re gonna try to get to these people where they are. But we do have to, it’s not like you can’t have all the answers from the get go. This is the other thing is that you do have to try multiple things and see what sticks, but you have to expect that you’re going to invest more in the channels that don’t work more, whether it’s, you know, whether it’s, you know, trying to generate demand through content and kind of thought leadership versus, you know, cold campaigns and sales, right.
Alexander Ferguson 17:57
In today’s environment of a very noisy digital world, everyone’s doing digital, because there’s no in person events or things going on, how do you get people’s attention? How have you found what have you found that works? To get someone’s attention?
Yotam Oren 18:14
Um, you know, so number one is listen to them, give them a stage, right. So you know, acknowledge what the work that they do, and engage with the work that they do, because a lot of people, you know, and engineers do too. And data scientists, right, they post about the work that they do, and about their questions and about their things. So engage with them and participate in the community. That’s, that’s one thing, and then add something add value to the community. Right. So a lot of people start with open source projects, I mean, for us, a lot of it has been around, you’re trying to add value through, you know, learning, right, we work with a lot of companies we interview, and, and, you know, we also talk to a lot of companies we don’t work with, and we gather a lot of insight and learning about the problem we’re trying to solve. And so we try to share that with the world create content, that isn’t again, sales pitches, and in marketing, often it’s about here’s what we’ve learned from working with a dozen companies or more. And, and this is maybe it’ll help you right and where you are your use case.
Alexander Ferguson 19:16
Going forward into the next year. What challenges do you see you’re going to need to overcome in order to keep growing in today’s environment?
Yotam Oren 19:27
Yeah, I mean, so, as a founder of a young startup with you know, where you you assume a lot of the, you know, a lot of the functions yourself, I think one of the challenges is how to advance on a lot of fronts in parallel. You know, we you know, how to continue to build you know, how to continue to build the sales pipeline, the you know, the in parallel and address the needs of the existing customers and With a fairly small engineering and product team, you know how to get not to get drawn into too many directions and, and continue to really like rapidly advanced technology. So I think that these are, these are the main things we are, you know, as a company and company like us, we are in the kinda like what we call prescale stage, right. So a lot of it is about also preparing for scale, so that when the hyper growth stage begins, you know, we have the right infrastructure in place for it, whether it’s, we have we are, we have a hiring machine where we know, we can continue to hire without, you know, diminishing our values of what kind of, you know, team member, we want to add to our team and, and the experience we give them when we bring them onto the team. And at same time, we’re also scaling, you know, the product still performs as well as it should, and, you know, all the existing customers have the right experience. So preparing for scale is another really a, you know, important focus in the next year.
Alexander Ferguson 21:00
I appreciate the the all three of those things you just said, but definitely the the focus, as the founder or leader, you have to be able to lead the team keep growing and you have multiple things happening at the same time. And to be able to not lose traction and focus on it. That is, it’s attached to itself. Sure. Speaking of growing yourself and being able to grow as a leader is there any books, audio books, podcasts that you’ve read, listen to and enjoy and would recommend.
Yotam Oren 21:33
I’ll give you, I’ll give you one that I’ve really enjoyed. And and I find it really difficult to continue to listen to for. So it’s called below the line with JF Mushara. He’s, you know, is an entrepreneur and investor in Silicon Valley. And one of the concepts and it’s not just another podcast for for founders or entrepreneurs. What’s really unique and I love about this is, you know, this new endeavor is that he started talking below the line, right, he’s talking, it’s trying to talk about the difficulties of being a founder, not just about best practices and tips on you know, how to launch a company and how to succeed and how to raise money and all that, but actually, just the tougher conversations about how hard the day to day is, and the highs and lows, and that personal note, the mental health expert, you know, aspect of it. It’s a very honest podcast, and, and, and I really enjoy the conversations that he’s had. The, the one, the reason, I said, I’m having a hard time to listen to is because the conversation is less structured, and it takes a long time. So, you know, it’s often like an hour and a half or two hours of, you know, per episode. And as a father of three and an entrepreneur, I usually, you know, have like, you know, maybe I’m taking my kids to school, so I have 20 minutes to listen, and I you know, like to listen, one, you know, in one city, right to an episode, so, but this is definitely one of my favorite recent, you know, things that are out there.
Alexander Ferguson 23:08
I love it. I love the real, I think we all crave authentic, real content, not just what’s all shiny and wonderful.
Yotam Oren 23:18
And I share I you know, I’ve, you know, I think I enjoyed those conversations too, because you often you can only have them with other founders, right? Because it’s hard to understand, you know, you have to, you know, you always feel like you have to put a facade out there, everything is terrific, right? We, you know, we are the next big thing and, you know, ever you know, and you know, and of course, that’s sad, you want to you know, you will have for customers, for investors, etc. And for the industry, as you know, because you while you are trying to be the leader in this industry for some time, who are you having the honest conversation of how hard it is to start from from scratch, right, and to build a team and to build a product and to convince the world that this product is useful? And there are a lot of challenges in that. And so, the having those
Alexander Ferguson 24:11
Well, I appreciate that. You feel it. And I’ve gotten glimpses of it over the innards of the interviews that we’ve done. Your time. One last question I have for you is more looking forward grand scheme of things. What kind of tech innovations do you predict we’ll see in the near term next year, so and long term 510 years from now.
Yotam Oren 24:37
So I think we’re going to continue to see, you know, the kind of the mobilization of things, right that, you know, the the a lot of the technologies we have today are going to be more accessible on the go. And I think there’ll be a lot more artificial intelligence in, you know, in devices And it, you know, accessible to anyone anywhere. And and I think that that’s I think that’s one really big trend. You know, in terms of spaces where we’ll see, you know, major, major movement, I really do hope and energy. Because I think, you know, I think that and of course in climate response and all that I think there’ll be breakthroughs there that are not out yet. And yeah, that’s these are kind of two. I think these are two big things that I see happening.
Alexander Ferguson 25:35
Well, I’m both excited to see with you as well. And it’s interesting to see us as they come along. Well, your time I really appreciate the insights and the lessons learned that you’ve had over these years. And it’s exciting to see where you are heading next off to check back in like a year or two from now, as if anything AI machine learning is only going to explode so I know you the need for your type of service is is there for those that want to to learn more definitely go to Monalabs.io to be able to explore their product and offering or definitely listen to our first part of our interview, where he dives deeper into their product and what they’re doing. Thanks again for your for your time, Yotam. It’s good to have you on.
Yotam Oren 26:14
Thank you for having me really enjoyed the conversation.
Alexander Ferguson 26:17
Thanks again, everyone for joining us on UpTech Report. This is our founders journey. Today’s episode is sponsored by TeraLeap. If your company wants to learn how to better leverage the power of video to drive sales and marketing, head over to TeraLeap.io and learn about the new product customer stories. We’ll see you all guys next time. 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.