Founder in 5: Edgify CEO on channelling musical theatre to run an AI startup

Edgify founder Ofri Ben Porat

Ofri Ben-Porat is the CEO and co-founder of Edgify, a company that develops artificial intelligence (AI) technology for self-service checkouts.

The retail technology startup’s solutions include product recognition and fraud detection.

Founded in 2015, the London-headquartered startup has raised $6.5m in seed funding.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Ben-Porat talks about being a deeptech founder with “no technical background in AI”, his dislike for the metaverse, and the best early hire he made.

1. What was the most important early hire you made?

OBF: Without a doubt, it is our head of people, Liron Kedem. In the early stages of a company, the biggest asset you have is the people you surround yourself with and when you get hiring right and/or wrong it makes a material difference to the success of your business. Even so, I’ve seen many who don’t consider it enough of a priority.

You hear cliches like ‘hire slow, fire fast’ but when you are not a hiring manager and are desperate for talent you often hire the most available qualified person – often in the image of those you already have. And that’s where Liron has completely changed the game. By integrating a specific process, we are taking away irrational or hurried decisions and making smarter, more diverse hires that we failed to do before we had her.

2. When should a founder CEO pass the baton on to a new chief executive?

OBF: There are always going to be exceptions to this rule but generally I think the skill set for creating a business and then taking it to the next level to reach its potential are two very different things. When the company is operating at say £3m of revenue, you might need to consider as a CEO whether you are the best person to take it to £30m and the answer nine times out of 10 is probably no.

A really good example is that often a founder gets told ‘no’ 30 times before they get a ‘yes’. That’s ok and usually they bounce back because they built something real and tangible from an idea in their head and it might take something extra to convince someone else. However, when you are starting to bring in big revenues and growing at pace, 30 ‘nos’ is no longer acceptable.

A founder packages up the vision and a CEO packages a product.

3. What’s a fact about yourself that people might find surprising?

OBF: I am a co-founder of a deeptech company that always dreamt of performing musical theatre. I even studied musical theatre and dance at university and performed as a dancer in many musical theatres. I have no technical background in AI and sometimes I struggle with technology so easy it would make Gen Z cringe.

There’s a lot I take from my experience in musical theatre that I apply today though. Theatre thrives off being able to keep going. No matter what happens up on stage, the show must go on. And there’s more than an element of that in founding an early-stage startup.

You adapt to the circumstances and the audience.

4. Is there a technology that the world would be better without?

OBF: Honestly, for me it is the metaverse. We have existed in a virtual world for the last few years, attending Zoom calls, doing online quizzes and drinking at home. Continuing to live vicariously online is not something I want to be a part of, especially when we no longer have to.

The way this affected me, my family, and many others globally is not a sensation I wish to experience over and over, and the metaverse appears to be an extension of that. Without human interaction and connections, we are nothing. It might be unpopular but I am an advocate for going into the office and trekking across town for another in-person meeting.

5. Excluding your own, what’s a sector that’s ripe for disruption?

OBF: Travel and tourism! By this, I mean every aspect of travel, the way in which we find and explore new places right up to the way we go through the airport. How are digital passports not a thing? Why haven’t we nailed hyper-tailorisation of holiday packages?

Why hasn’t someone figured out a greener engine? Since when did we accept leg room so small that people can no longer fit in economy class? If we can tell the difference between a gala apple and a pink lady using a USB camera, we can surely figure out a way to remove all the lines in the airport!

Founder in Five, a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative startups, scaleups, unicorns and tech companies, is published every Friday.