Today on Business as Usual, we are talking to the founder of one of Pittsburgh's most exciting tech startups -- Avi Geller, CEO of Maven Machines.
A Palo Alto native with an advanced engineering degree from MIT, Avi chose to found the company in Pittsburgh due to the opportunities, talent and community provided by Innovation Works, as well as Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh universities.
Avi will explain how Maven Machines was founded to unlock new opportunities and value for the transportation industry. With Maven Machines, transportation owner-operators and fleets leverage cloud and IoT technology to improve safety and day-to-day operations.
This includes ELD compliance, driver safety, delivery time, revenues, profits and customer satisfaction. Because of the platform and apps, transportation providers can be reassured the solutions will adapt to current and future operational and regulatory requirements.
Everyone, this is Audrey Russo and welcome to business as usual thrilled to be here. And I think Jonathan kersting is with us today. He's all things media and marketing Vice President at the Tech Council, and he's been with the Tech Council for 23 years. And there's no stopping him. He joins us today to make sure that everything in the chat is monitored and all systems work are go. So thank you, Jonathan, for joining us. I also want to give a shout out to Huntington bank for the for the support that they've given us through the many years and in particular, through this period of COVID. They have been very, very active in supporting their customers through the pandemic, and just our tremendous friend of this community as well as the tech Council. So if you don't know Huntington, get to know them. So here we are today, this is our hundred and 33rd session of business as usual, we thought we'd only do two weeks of this. And little Do we know we've moved into sort of a new world, which is a little bit surreal. But important in our job is to make sure that you understand who joined us today to understand what's happening right here in our region, who the leaders are who's working on tough problems, who are building companies, as I like to say against all odds, and to have conversations around what it means to be a part of this community. We've muted your microphones. And just so that we can hopefully not hear some noise and give some respect to our guests. And then we also have a chat. So on that note, I'm just going to jump right in, and I'm going to say welcome to Avi Geller. He's the CEO of Maven. And you know, welcome Avi, thank you so much for taking the time. I know you're actually pretty busy. And times are really interesting and prosperous for you. So I think I am just going to pass the baton and say, okay, who's Avi who's Avi, the man who's Avi, the person who how he started this journey, and then we'll get into Maven machine. So welcome. And thank you so much for taking the time with us today. avi.
Audrey, thank you very much. It's great to be here today. I appreciate the opportunity.
Um, should I just jump in and kind of get my
jump in? Let's just talk about Avi. Let's talk about give us a little bit about your background. Bobby, what's it you know? You don't have to start like when you were five, but you can you can talk about Avi, you know, where you went to school? You know, why Pittsburgh? Any places that you've had
a different show for obvious five, right?
Yeah, I'll be fine. Isn't isn't gloss over that one. But I did grow up in Northern California in Palo Alto. And I fell in love with software at a very young age, as it was still young, young industry, but immediately fell in love with it all through my primary school education, and was fortunate enough to have a chance to go to MIT for computer science. So I made the journey across the country to Cambridge mass and studied computer science there. And then following that I have a fair amount of family in in Israel, and Wanted an Adventure. So I went over to Israel, following my undergraduate and worked at SAP. They had, we're in the process of acquiring an Israeli startup company that became SAP Israel while I was there. So I joined them and chance to want to be a part of their growth from about 100 people to 900 people, and learned all about enterprise software, spent seven years at SAP travelled a lot to Germany and headquarters and all over the world, various offices, worked with some of the leading fortune 100 companies that run business software on SAP companies like shell and Bank of America and American Airlines. And learn about that whole concept of business software enterprise software, did an MBA from Kellogg and your National Executive program. When I was based in Tel Aviv, and knew that one day I wanted to start my own company, and but also felt that it would behoove me to get some more experience in startup land before I venture out on my own. I joined an Israeli based startup called conterra. That was an internet advertising technology company, amazing technology, backed by Sequoia ventures. I ran a product management team there. And we just did incredible work for some of the internet advertising technologies that we kind of take for granted today. But this is before AWS or as AWS kind of kicked in and everything was done kind of in house without some of the modern tools. That was a great experience. That company exited successfully had a stint at another company another very small Israeli company that was doing big data analytics was one of the initial people there and had a chance to to learn how to raise money. We raised from the largest Israeli based venture capital firm Jerusalem Venture Partners, got the first million plus in sales, were selling to telecommunications companies got to travel all over Southeast Asia where our main customer base was, and do deals in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines. incredible experience of getting a company kind of off the ground along the way, moved back to Pittsburgh, or sorry, to the US initially to Boston. So I moved back to Boston. There a lot of international travel and realize that or thought that now is the time to start my own company. And everything that I done until that point is enterprise software. It's what I know well, helping businesses run better various kinds of businesses in different ways, and set out to start my own company. And as I was kind of researching and exploring and thinking about the various opportunities and what exactly this company will do, I was also looking for the location to start the company, I definitely wanted a an accelerator and incubator type program, whether it's a Y Combinator or TechStars, or any other programming as I was doing my kind of due diligence and research. I was looking at programs in of course, the major cities, San Francisco and Seattle in New York and, and also some really high quality programs in cities like Denver, Austin, and Pittsburgh, cross my, my desk, somebody recommended Pittsburgh, and this program called alpha lab.
yeah, I see Jonathan's shirt there proudly, and attaches alpha lab gear here, right, that was gear. So because we're, you know, the, the what I wanted to do generally, conceptually, was kind of an IoT type use case is help businesses run better in their actual field operations. So you're dealing with the real world and some components of hardware and software. So I reached out and I met Ilana, and the great folks at IW, rich Luna and, and Jen, Jen from alpha lab at the time. And got to know some of the alpha lab here had finished their first cycle. So I saw some of the companies that went through that cycle. And I was blown away by everything from the program. You know, from alpha lab gear, I w. Those companies and the city of Pittsburgh, which I knew nothing about before I first started looking into it. Other than Carnegie Mellon being here. And as I kind of looked into it, more and more, I realized, wow, this is an incredible opera, this is the best place to get a company off the ground, especially what I wanted to do. And that's what led me to, to actually move to Pittsburgh and start a company from scratch within alpha lab gear, and that was six years ago. I came. Here we are today.
Here you are today. And you have kids now, right?
Yeah, I have a five year old son. So he was actually born in Boston. And when he was a month old, came to Pittsburgh, so he's, you know, everything Pittsburgh being raised here, just started kindergarten. It's no wonder wonderful.
Wow, I remember when he was born, I can't believe that. So let's, let's talk about the real origin of Maven, and the market that you serve.
Okay. Yeah. So, um, you know, as I kind of briefly mentioned, it's, you can call it an IoT type use case. And it's, it's a, it's a real time, SAS, you know, Software as a Service Cloud based platform to help transportation companies run better, run more efficiently, more productively, and ultimately, more profitably. And that means we are a mission critical, large solution that encompasses virtually the entire lifecycle of transportation. There's really nothing like it out in the market, similar to what we have been taking on and are successfully delivering. To go back to the origins of it, you know, you go back six years, there was, you know, what I realized or even seven years ago is I was you know, kind of laying the foundation for the company. Things like Amazon web services were new or cloud computing services in general. The cellular network was still you know, kind of nascent it, the coverage was not perfect, but getting better rapidly. mobile devices, you know phones and tablets, you know, Android devices, iOS devices, the iPhone was still relatively new, only a few years old. Android was brand new. But I could see where it was going as these devices were going to get more powerful and more cost efficient. Machine learning was moving from super advanced labs with dozens of PhDs to libraries and tools that you can buy off the shelf and implement for great value. So the idea was to bring together all of these enabling technologies into a solution that can help industrial businesses run their real world operations better. That concept is how I started the company and, and then in searching for an industry that we would first really work in and devote our attention to, as I was looking at multiple opportunities, of which there are many for this kind of platform, transportation, and trucking specifically initially caught my caught my eye. And I met some some really great people in trucking pretty early on. And as I got into it, looked into it more realized. One, it's a gigantic industry, to it's extremely important, and is going to it will be important forever, as COVID is actually proven. And three, it can really benefit from a new generation of technology. It's been running, you know, really antiquated technology for a very long time. And between regulations and real world business needs. There is a very large opportunity here that we could we could work on.
So you know, it's interesting, Jonathan, let's just ask Emily's question. While we're just talking about him personally,
absolute from Emily mercuria. Good to hear from her a long time since I've seen Emily, what kinds of personal growth did you experience when you went from being an employee? to being a founder and a CEO? That's going to be a big mindset change?
That is such a good question. It's a huge mindset. And it's a continually evolving mindset change. As you know, the early days, you you make a business card, you incorporate a company, you join an accelerator program, and now you're the CEO of a, at the time a one person company, and you kind of come to terms with that, that there is no framework behind you, there's no salary, there's no HR department, there's no boss, there's no review period, you're just trying to build a business. And then you kind of look ahead and you realize, there are many steps you're going to go through if all of this works out, in the very unlikely scenario, that everything works out perfectly or for the long term. But there's the first few steps you need to take, you know, and hire your key team and your product market fit. And those first angel investors and first key, you know, customers that believe in you and putting that all together and your advisors that you bring on. And it kind of changes you, as you as you take all of this on. It's a level of, you know, kind of responsibility. You You really focus a lot on how you work with people. And there's so many different kinds of people that you work with, for different purposes at different times, customers, employees, investors, advisors. And, and then there's this company, which is like its own being that you're trying to nurture and develop, and the products you're making the services you provide. It really, you know, it changes you whether actually, whether you succeed or not, it's a it's a hugely positive experience. I recommend it if if somebody is on for the task, it's not for everybody. But if it's something that that kind of, you know, excites you win or lose. It's an incredible experience. And then now, you know, we're over 100 people, we've gone through a lot over the last six years, multiple fundraising rounds, you know, bringing on customers building products. It's a I'm still learning, I mean, a lot, day by day, I'm learning as much today, if not more than I did. On day one. The lights just turned off
to some to steal. But, uh, yeah, it's
with all that we've gone through in the last six years, I still feel like I'm just on the first steps of the journey. And learning how to run a one person company, a 10 person company, a 30 person company, a 60 person, company, 100 person company and, and hopefully, will continue from here.
Thank you. Thank you for your for your candor on that. Really appreciate that. People need to hear that all of us need to hear that over and over again. So tell us, you know, trucking was not a market sector that you had particular expertise in, does that correct?
I had never been inside of a truck in my life. I knew Initially, I knew nothing about the industry. today. I'm a trucking guy, Martin. But yeah, I know I need to get dressed accordingly. But yeah, I I just started learning and the more I learned both on the on the market analysis side of things, the opportunity, the value proposition, the pain points, you know, as well as kind of how the industry runs, how you run a trucking company, and the people involved with various stakeholders and everything around it, it's, it was exciting. It's an incredible industry, and it's been fun to, to be a part of it.
So it's interesting, because very often people say, build on your expertise, if you're going to start, you know, something that you're passionate about, and your expertise wasn't necessarily the market sector. Instead, it was actually the process, the software and the interoperability, and the IoT stuff. So you're probably right.
Yeah, and you know, you can kind of, let's say, to end up where we're at today, you can either come from the industry, you ran a trucking company for 20 years, and you see the need, and you're gonna make the solutions, more my background, I know, enterprise software, and I know how software can help businesses run better. And that's what I know. And, you know, I feel like that's, that's actually the right, it, there's, there's more than one path to success. But that's a good path to success, where I've learned the industry, but I knew the value of the technology to help the industry already.
That's, that's great. And it's good for people to hear, and to share. And so you understood efficiency, and optimization.
And yeah, and I understood the challenges, you know, we've all heard of those eirp installations that take two years, and it was supposed to take two years, and it took five years, and it was supposed to be a million dollars, and it was $5 million. And, and by the time it's deployed, it's it's already outdated and inadequate. And I've seen that. And as I talked to customers, that a lot of them have been bitten by things like that. And I could see how they, what they were using today for technology, how they are running, and what they were looking for, or envisioning or wishing they could get in realizing that, you know, I could build an organization that could do this. And that was the initial
So that's so so now, you know, you mentioned Pittsburgh, and you stayed here. So you didn't have to stay here after that. But you felt that this was a good place for you to cultivate your business. You didn't, you didn't really have changed here. But now that, you know, have you found that the assets in this region, in terms of logistics have been Paramount, in terms of you building it, so that, you know, it was sort of right at your footsteps.
It was incorrect was more than I hoped for. And I had pretty high expectations or hopes coming into it. Everything you know, initially was alpha lab gear was incredible. You know, as a nine month program, on day one, it was easy to find a law firm to work with and get incorporated, you're given an office space access to advisors, early investors, you know, panels, and you meet everybody, I met trucking because of alpha lab within two weeks, because of the various events and demos and things coming together. So that Carnegie Mellon being here, obviously, the Pittsburgh tech Council, as you know, got to know, as I kind of got established, and the events that you guys put on the attention that you you bring, you know, it's it's paramount. And, you know, I've seen the the development, it's one of the reasons I moved here was I was also investing in Pittsburgh, was hoping that we are going to ride the wave, ideally, we're going to lead the wave. And, you know, we're, we're doing some of that. But there is a bigger movement here, you know, much bigger than Maven that I want to be, I felt like we can be a part of both to help and to benefit from. And all of the various pieces that I just touched on is paid out even above expectations.
And so but we have strength in logistics here and the region does even outside of outside of Pittsburgh, we actually have have those assets. So that had to be incredibly helpful to you as you built your customer relationships.
You got it and one of the reasons one of the factors in choosing Pittsburgh was proximity to the market. And it's not just proximity to the existing market. It's also the historical culture and foundation of the city. You know, this is this is an industrial city, you know, blue collar, if you will, by its you know, for many generations and that is really important for what we're trying to build here. So that there's kind of the culture and the foundation that we wanted to be a part of. But also the proximity of the market, there's a lot of transportation that happens in western pa or in western pa and in Ohio and neighboring states. And yeah, we have a lot of customers in this in this region. Interestingly, you know, we are nationwide. In fact, across North America, we have customers in Canada, our biggest market is actually Texas, in terms of just quantity of business. California is a very large market for us. But, you know, we kind of sowed our seeds here in Pittsburgh, we have great key stakeholder customers. And as we've developed our products and solutions and services and learn, you know, kind of built an operation, you know, it's important to realize what we do is truly mission critical. Like these companies run their operate, these companies have hundreds of millions of dollars, sometimes billions of dollars in revenue, and they run their operations on us, every driver has a mobile device. And everything that driver does is in our software, about knowing where to go and what to pick up and what to drop off and what to do, you know, inserting information, receiving information while they're dropping off and picking up driver safety, compliance with federal regulations, everything that driver does is in our software, and in the office dispatching driver management, safety management, compliance management, route planning, all of that is done in our software. So it's completely mission critical. And we've you know, in to be the company that can provide that is a big undertaking. If we have a glitch or a problem or a missing, you know, we missed a feature or something like that. It's some serious consequences. So we've been fortunate to work with some great customers, many of which are local, as we've kind of developed this, you know, it's really important and large solution over the years.
So, you know, one of the questions I was going to ask, and maybe it ties into Lenore like so that she has, because shortly before the pandemic, you closed, a significant round of funding. Yeah. And, you know, can you talk about your experience, like raising funds here in Pittsburgh? And you know, what you plan to achieve with the proceeds of that round?
Sure. Yeah, we were I mean, the timing was, I suppose, fortunate, we closed it in January. So timing wise, that worked out really well, we raised it's a series A is a $7 million round. It's exactly what we need. And it's allowed us to really scale up and achieve some great successes in the market. The fundraising process was, was interesting. We had a lot of help, from innovation works, who's constantly kind of bringing in investors from around the country, sometimes around the world. And kind of matchmaking the right company opportunities to the right investors, the Pittsburgh tech Council and other kind of venture capital events attract a lot of attention around the country. So you know, in what was interesting is kind of going through the process of, you know, pitching a lot of VCs all over the country, spent a lot of time in the valley, and other in New York and other other cities, was, you know, when I first talked to more seed stage VCs A few years ago, and I'd mentioned Pittsburgh, they would say, what's that? And, you know, I've heard and it's, you know, I have a cousin that likes the Steelers, you know, but it's kind of far away. And now, as I was going through it, it was more like, oh, Pittsburgh, good. There's a lot going on there. We're interested in, in, you know, investing in that region, and a lot of actually inbound investors coming from various cities that are their profile, or what they're specifically targeting Pittsburgh based companies they want to invest in, you know, in their portfolio to have a Pittsburgh based company. So that's, that was really positive. And ultimately, we found some great investors. One in Cincinnati, one in New York, as well as you know, Riverfront, great firm here locally. So we just we ended up with a perfect kind of trifecta, I guess, of investors, leading and participating in our round.
So I think that answers lindores question that you don't have to go leave, you can stay.
Absolutely. It's now a benefit to being especially even more so as COVID being here is a benefit for many reasons.
So let's talk about your team real quick. You have almost 100 people, and what kinds of roles to they predominantly have and are you doing any hiring?
Yeah, so first of all, we are definitely hiring. We're 100 And 10 people in total 65 of which are in Pittsburgh. And we are hiring, we have rolls across the board. from, you know, the RND, the engineering side product management, product design, we do a lot of design work. From software design perspective, sales, marketing, HR operations, which means a few different things here account management, customer success, we've grown all that this year, we nearly tripled the size of the company. So it's really, you know, we we are positioned as the premier software platform for transportation. And that comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of things to kind of take care of, and we're hiring across the board.
So when you say transportation on the wall right now, you're talking about trucking, but you think of transcends trucking, right?
Am I Oh, yeah. And already does? Yeah. Yeah, we have customers that use us for passenger shuttles. We have customers that do distribution and delivering goods to it's still somewhat trucking convenience stores. We, you know, we have we're kind of municipalities that are that are interested in that managing the vehicles that municipality has. It's really kind of any mobile workforce, in a sense, that, that we're empowering to be more effective.
So how have you what when you look ahead, and you think about COVID, and some of the changes, you mentioned that you have at least 65 people in Pittsburgh, so I assume you have people from around the nation as well, that are working remotely? What's your strategy? In terms of that?
Yeah. So there's a couple different factors to that question. There's the COVID, you know, situation, and then there's just building a business, you know, we were ultimately going to be an international company, in certain markets around the world. So there's a more medium to longer term vision of that first international office, where is that going to be? Which market? Are we going to grow into? And how are we going to do that, and around the country, we've had employees that work here, and then for personal reasons, move to other cities, and we'll even before COVID, you know, we, you know, we allow that, or support that enable that. So we have employees around the country to work remotely. From from that point of view. And then also just expanding into various, you know, we're looking to open offices and various markets that we serve. Well, I mentioned, Texas, and California are two key opportunities. Canada, we're expanding into Canada. And I've been talking to the economic development people in Montreal about, they would really like us to open off office there. And that might make sense. So there's, you know, there's things that we need to do to really enable us to serve the markets that we want to serve Well, from, from a sales and count management standpoint, as well, as you know, you can take advantage of from an r&d aspect, various, various places that you open offices in.
Well, listen, those of us who have watched you are very proud to know you and to see what you've built. And really, when people build things out of nothing, it's pretty incredible. And thank you for the candor that you have. I and for the growth and the commitment. And it seems like your love for Pittsburgh. So you wrap that up in that, that that sort of magic, but what I would like to say how does how does hobby take care of themselves through all of this? How's Avi holding up?
I mean, this situation, sometimes you just have to look at it from the outside. Wow, what are we all going through? You know, you and I were talking previously Adria, our kids and grandkids are gonna study 2020 in school, as they get as they get older. So sometimes you have to kind of, you know, look at it from the outside, so you don't get too stressed out about all of it. But you know, frankly, I love what I do. I love the city. I'm so happy to be here. I love what we do. I love the people that I work with, inside the company and customers, investors and other people that we engage with. It's just a lot of fun. And you have to that helps a lot that makes it a lot easier to truly enjoy and appreciate, you know, everything that you're doing. So how
do you take care of yourself?
Um, yeah, I try to exercise try to eat well.
Try to get out, you know, as much as you can nowadays.
You know, it's a
well, you have a lot resting on your shoulders. So we just I asked that because I think it's important for everyone to figure out ways to take care of themselves. So Jonathan has a serious Is cyclists and if he needs to take off, he just takes off and says I got a ride.
So I By the way, exercise is extremely important. It helps with everything you know from sleep to obviously other health benefits decompressing, you have to get away from it. So I like running. I go for jobs. And that's the main thing I do nowadays.
All right, well, we had a chance to just have a little bit of a dive in with, with Avi, the founder and creator of Maven. And we are going to stay close in touch with you. If people want to know more obviously, there's opportunities, you can go to the website. And if you want to know more, I'm sure there's an easy way to get ahold of Avi, but he is pretty busy. I gotta warn you. He is pretty busy. So even our email got lost in his shuffle. But we are your big cheerleaders and fans, thanks to alpha lab gear, thanks to innovation works and all those that have supported you and continue to support you. So obviously, stay safe, stay healthy. And we will look to regularly check in with you.
Awesome, thank you so much for having me on the show.
Absolutely. Thanks, Jonathan for being here. And we'll see everyone tomorrow. Jonathan, who's on tomorrow.
Oh, it's a big day. Audrey. We have the fount co founder and CEO of Aurora stopping by so Oh, good night. That's exciting. Another great conference was stay on the call right now. So they're in line early for tomorrow's call, so to say.
Okay, everyone, stay safe. Have a great day. Bye bye.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai