Eran Shir has raised substantial amounts of capital, launched at least three startups, and has been pioneering the edges of big data and deep machine learning.
During our interview on the DealMakers podcast, Eran Shir shared his journey into science and building businesses. Plus, operating in moments of crises, insights on mapping epidemics, selling your company to Yahoo!, and the future of cars.
Born in Startup Nation
Eran Shir was born and raised in the Startup Nation (Israel). He admits to living a pretty geeky early life. In the fourth grade, he discovered a book in the library about the Manhattan Project which lit a real passion for physics which he still has today.
He says he spent most of his school years studying, reading, playing music, and doing physics.
After college, he served Israel’s mandatory military service. He describes it as his first startup experience. He was tasked with launching a new unit in the army. They were creating the world’s first ballistic missile defense system. With a small group, Eran was building up the operations.
Where he really learned a lot that he still carries with him was when it came to missile testing. It’s a space where you have to take on uncertainty, where there is a significant investment on the line, you can have a really big impact, and you are managing a lot of people.
Perhaps most important was how critical the little details can be. Soldering just two wires incorrectly out millions of circuits can really blow things up. Not something you want to happen with the top brass standing next to you after two years of development and a lot of money.
He says anytime you are working on something really big or important, it’s not just about a vision. It is about the sequence of tiny little tasks and details.
The Right Number Of Founders For A Startup
After the military, Eran completed his Master’s in physics. Then pursuing his interest in machine learning and genetic algorithms he launched his first startup, Cogniview Systems.
They began with this idea that a search engine should be able to deliver personalized results. Like one user may want more deep academic search results. Another may want more basic information. There wasn’t a lot of action for that in the consumer space in 2001. They pivoted to enterprise customers.
He wasn’t that passionate about enterprise at the time. Still, this chapter provided even more learnings he would carry with him. One of these was the ideal size of a founding team. He says that the number is two co-founders. One isn’t usually enough. More than three becomes extra challenging.
He also learned that challenging economic times can also be some of the best times to launch startups. He points to the major juggernauts launched in the early 2000s and 2008 as examples of this.
Eran went back to school. He saw working on a Ph.D. in engineering and physics as another startup opportunity. He even got funding from the European Union for a lab and built a crowdsourced project that mapped the entire internet, including every router and ISP on earth.
No small feat. One that required thousands of contributors to do the mapping, build the software, and distribute it.
Selling Your Company To Yahoo!
Eran Shir’s next startup was Dapper. Another big moon shot idea where they provided construction material and supplies for residential and commercial builders.
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