Neil Patel

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Jonathan Matus, the founder and CEO of Fairmatic and co-founder of Zendrive, has had a fascinating journey from his birthplace in New York to leading two successful tech-based ventures.

His time in the tech industry, studying at prestigious institutions, and serving in the Israeli military have instilled a unique blend of tenacity, vision, and innovative thinking in him. His venture, Fairmatic, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Foundation Capital, Battery Ventures, Bridge Bank, and Aquiline Technology Growth.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Matus’s journey from Tel Aviv to Boston University and Harvard
  • His early career at Google and Facebook
  • The creation of Zendrive and Fairmatic
  • His global approach to business and team building
  • The future of Fairmatic and its impact on road safety

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About Jonathan Matus:

Jonathan Matus is the founder of Zendrive, a mission-driven company making roads safer with data and AI. Zendrive has the largest driving dataset in the world – more than 180 billion miles of data – and publishes industry-leading research on dangerous driving to raise awareness and improve driving behavior. In addition to measuring driving risk factors like speeding, distracted driving, and stop sign violations, the company partners with leading insurance providers and mobile carriers to provide safer driving solutions that save lives.

No whe is leading the way as the CEO of Fairmatic, which specializes in smartphone-powered driving safety analytics and calculates performance-based commercial auto insurance prices.

Prior to Zendrive, Jonathan spent six years at Facebook and Google, where he worked on mobile and speech recognition projects. As one of Google’s early Android team members, he led the product marketing team in catapulting Android from an industry newcomer to a best-selling mobile platform within 18 months. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University with an Honors thesis on Artificial Intelligence.

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Connect with Jonathan Matus:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmaker show. So today. We have a repeated founder a founder that was you know, raised and grew and and and really learned you know the inside and outside of startups in startup nation from Israel. So we’re going to be. You know, really learning a little bit about building scaling. Financing and all of the good stuff that we like to hear so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guests today janaan mattus welcome to the show so you were born in New York city

Jonathan Matus: Um.

Jonathan Matus: Thank you Soul Muscle Handra pleasure to be here.

Alejandro Cremades: But raised in Tel Avib What a nice combination. You also walked through memory lane. How was life growing up. So.

Jonathan Matus: That’s right I was born New York but grew up in Tel Aviv and was too young to remember when my parents moved Tel Aviv is a very lively and dynamic city even in the 80 s when I was a kid there. It was lovely and now it’s one of the best places in the world. My opinion. It’s also ah you know a tense and a charged place to be and it produces some really interesting entrepreneurs and I think ah a very high ratio of chutzpah to capita. Ah. Per capita for for the world and so that’s why you see a lot of entrepreneurs coming out of it.

Alejandro Cremades: So how tell us about the military service because you know that’s a obviously I’m must there but I’m sure it really gives you a lot of discipline and.

Jonathan Matus: Are.

Alejandro Cremades: And a lot of you know perspective when you are that young and all of a sudden you know like you get to see the um you know, different side of things.

Jonathan Matus: Yeah, well, you know when you’re in it. You don’t appreciate it. But after effect you realize that as a 19 year old. You definitely receive some lessons that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. But for those of you are not familiar with it in Israel you have a threeyear mandatory service and so I was obviously part of that and. The school that I came from which was a boarding school in the middle of the desert in Israel produced a lot of people interested in special forces and being fighter pilots and things of that sort. Um and I was. I was ah a part of that to some degree but ended up in intelligence and had a fascinating 3 years in the military. Um, definitely learned a few lessons about myself probably that I can push out more than I possibly imagine if possible if ah, if only ah, um.

Jonathan Matus: If I was only a little more tenacious and I think that’s a lesson that certainly well as an entrepreneur.

Alejandro Cremades: So in your case, how do you end up coming to the us for your studies and you know more importantly, at Harvard 1 of the best universities in the world.

Jonathan Matus: Um, ah, there’s a lot of ah luck and humility and everything related to my career including this. Um when I was done with my military service just like any other israeli I felt like I needed to go and travel. But being the kind of geeky um kid that I that I was and still end to some degree I wanted to combine studying together with travel and so I picked up my american passport that was sitting in my. Ah, parents cupboard and and said hey can I can I try and do both and they said yes, sure you can, but we can’t possibly afford to spend $50000 a year on on your college education in israel the the cost of education much cheaper. So I had to go and find a place where I can. Get a full scholarship and and basically finance my own education and um I applied to all the all the ivy league schools got into none of them and ended up going to a wonderful program at boston university where I was very fortunate to study under. A gentleman called sheman sheldon clasow professor shelon c glaow who’s a nobel laureate in physics and um, there’s a long story about how we got we got together but cut a long story story story story short. Um, he became my advisor and we became good friends.

Jonathan Matus: And after a couple of years of studying at Boston University where I had a full scholarship the university actually shut down that scholarship program and so I had to go back to my parents and say hey mom pop I’m sorry but I know I promised you I can’t I promise you I’ll I’ll support myself through through college but I actually need. Those $50000 a year and it said sorry youtan we can’t help you with that and and I spoke to my advisor Sheldon and he was again an obel orureate someone who spent a lot of his time at Harvard and he said you know I’m going to write you ah, a recommendation later. Let’s see if we can get you across across the river. And so I I myself at Harvard changed my focus from physics to the newer science and ai when I was there and and the rest of history.

Alejandro Cremades: I mean this is 2004 2006 when you know Ai and all of these crazy hype you know was not there. So what? what caught you really your attention about this. You know why were you so excited about this segment. So.

Jonathan Matus: Are.

Jonathan Matus: Um, you know that’s really interesting, but the story of how I got obsessed with with ai neuroscience actually goes back a few years earlier I was um, right before my military service traveling in Europe with ah a dutch friend of mine and and. We were visiting a friend in Amsterdam and in his library. There was a book by Douglas Saeder um and Roger Roger Penrose a very famous mathematician Douglas Sassetter wrote the godal leiser boss book many people probably read that and the book’s called the mind’s eye and that just completely. Ah, got me obsessed with computer science and ai and philosophy of the mind and um, it’s funny because the things that I read there and then the things that I wrote my honors thesis at at Harvard about started exploding on the internet and on Twitter about a year ago we chat gpt and so the things that at the time were discussed in philosophy books and in math books are now being built and hotly debated online. Um, so it’s a full circle and something that I’m pretty excited about actually.

Alejandro Cremades: That’s incredible. So in your case you know obviously 1 thing led to the next and you find yourself at Google so why Google out of all places.

Jonathan Matus: So before during Google I was sure I’m going to be in academia I spent all of my summers doing research in fmri labs and cognitive neuroscience lab and physics labs but um and the junior year at Harvard I so noticed that some of the smartest hardest. Working people around ended up taking summer internship in actual businesses places like Mckinsey and Bcg um and got me curious and I spent a summer in San Francisco with the Boston Consulting Group and I learned a few things I learned that San Francisco is a very special city and I want to spend some time there. I learned that there are amazingly driven smart talented people outside of academia and I also learned that I’m really not a consultant I don’t like giving advice I like building things and so a year later I decided to postpone my my plans of going into grad school and getting your ph d. And instead ah applied to work at Google which at the time was a very um academic I want to say culture. They had a lot of ph d they looked for people that are fascinated with large problems and are genuinely driven by curiosity and so I really felt at home with the culture there. And again as I mentioned earlier the theme in my career. My life is luck and and fortune and I just stumbled into the Android team which was 25 people at the time and ended up being one of the first members of what later became the most popular mobile operating system in the world.

Alejandro Cremades: And also you did travel quite a little bit with them. You know, um you went to you were in the us then you were in Tokyo I mean that was that sounded quite like the experience too.

Jonathan Matus: Ah.

Jonathan Matus: There was actually so Andy Rubin the founder of of Android and kind of like the Steve Jobs of the Android world loves Japan japanese culture spends a lot of time there his ex-wife with japanese he’s really into that culture and so one of the things that was really important for him. Was to have a relationship with the japanese arena whether it’s the phone makers. The the phone carriers the engineering organizations and so there is a big office for Google in Japan and that’s where we built the headquarters for Android in Asia. And so after three or so years of working at building 44 at Google and helping launch and scale. What was phase one and phase 2 of Android I was sent to Japan to help accelerate adoption in Asia and that was both an amazing cultural experience. Talk is one of my favorite. Places in the world and they made some amazing friends. There. But also there was an interesting opportunity because I spent some time with my future co-founder there. A gentleman called punkarispu who was based in ah in Banga or India as a part of my travels and business development in in Asia.

Alejandro Cremades: So for you I mean it sounds like in Google you were learning quite a bit you were bouncing from 1 place to another why switching to Facebook.

Jonathan Matus: Um, so this was after about a year and a half of work in in Japan where I was cons considering coming back to the headquarters of of Android. And when I came back and visited with with California headquarters I realized that the Android team which when I joined was 25 people was more than 1500 people and you know it had a lot of the dynamics that a fast growing organization had and I had very little. Patience I still have very little patience for for politics and hierarchies and so on I just like getting chiter and I like building and so when I came back and I realized that there’s now 5 people doing the job that I used to do when I was a single person when I was 25 of us I realized I want to go to a younger organization. Um, and somehow the Facebook fault sold Facebook to me as ah as a startup even though it was bigger than the Android team and certainly had a bigger footprint but I was excited about joining them and learning from an organization that put on its on its flag move fast and break stuff obviously. Don’t think or act this way at this point but back then the startup culture and the hacker culture was very central to how Facebook ah community and and and culture and and ah and and the management philosophy was and I wanted to immerse myself in that and they’ve given me.

Jonathan Matus: Tremendous opportunity to help launch the mobile platform for Facebook which ended up being again more lucky than anything the second time that I was able to bring a product to more than 1000000000 people so it was very satisfying from a professional perspective.

Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing now this was the most immediate step towards entering entrepreneurship. So I mean you were for quite a few years you know working for for other folks. So why. Around this time you know it felt like it was the time for you to to go out it on your own. So.

Jonathan Matus: Yeah that’s a great question. So first of all I promised myself and my mom that I will stay at at Facebook at least until the Ipo and so that was kind of a natural time to stop and and take stock and think about what I want to do next and as I took a few days off and and. You know meditated on what’s important for me and what I’ve accomplished so far 1 thing really stood out and that is that you know while I was a part of 2 organizations that brought products to more than 1000000000 people those products specifically the mobile handsets and and popular mobile applications. Created a lot of negative externalities in the world things that weren’t intended to happen and one of the things that was relatively easy to measure but quite devastating emotionally and and upsetting for me was that people were literally dying and you could measure. Number of fatalities and casualties because of smartphones and what I’m talking about is is crashes on the road distracted phone use so every year. There’s many many people hundreds of thousands of people that are dying on the road globally because of distracted phone use something that I couldn’t really be okay with um. And something that I felt quite passionate to go and try and dedicate the next part of my career to solve and the beautiful thing about committing the second part of my career to that mission is that the solution actually required a lot of the skills and all of the understanding of the technology that I was a part of so.

Jonathan Matus: You know the only way to help deal with understanding with with solving distracted phoneias and and and reckless driving is to measure and quantify and then influence driver behavior and the first part of that equation the measure and quantify means that you need sensors. Every vehicle and so historically the approaches for that required putting hardwarering cars literally hard black boxes with sensors and Gps and so on but that doesn’t scale and that’s expensive and that’s cumbersome. Well it turns out that the same thing that I was a part of bringing into every back pocket. The smartphone is. Also full of sensors and it’s a supercomputer that’s always connected to the internet and so the problem is also the solution and that got me inspired um and decided the next week that I’m quitting my job and this was early days airbnb. So I rented the top of my loft and lived in a tiny studio underneath. It. So that I can support myself and started building.

Alejandro Cremades: So in this case for the people that are listening what ended up being the business model of send drive.

Jonathan Matus: Great question so when I got together with pankash my cofounder again a colleague from Google who is absolutely brilliant, but but based in India um, we carried over some of our naive Google approach to building businesses and products. And it’s a little similar to the concept of when you build it they will come in other words, go and solve some difficult technological problem like a deep tech approach and then the monetization will come with usage and with ah with solving something. That’s really meaningful. Now my approach is quite different. Um, but back then that was how we started and the problem that we were set to solve was something that the time seemed very difficult to do which is how can you understand driving behavior based on smartphone sensors every car on the road has at least 1 smartphone can you build something into this ubiquity. Seamlessly without destroying battery without being privacy-intrusive understand driver s behavior and can accurately predict if someone is going to be in a crash that was a following statement that we we we charged on and as we done that we were very fortunate to be backed by some investors that shared our. Examined about the problem space. But we really did not have a strong idea for the monetization or the product and with time we pivoted from something that started very much as a consumer product. So think of it as kind of like a ways plus plus into a b two b enterprise- focused company.

Jonathan Matus: Uses a developer platform to embed technology into many mobile applications and tens of millions of users collect data analyze that data and then offer um, active coaching and active advice and product and solution to. Both and consumers and large enterprises. So this could be insurance companies like progressive. This could be car makers like general moderns could be even telcos like Verizon a variety of very large organizations so it took while but after a few years of of tinkering with it. We actually found something that works really well. And we scale the company off to about a hundred people.

Alejandro Cremades: And also how much capital that did you guys raise for the business.

Jonathan Matus: We raised a little over $50000000 in 2 rounds and you know this was about a decade ago. So fundraising back then was a very different story from what it is now I know that now times are hard but back then it was even harder than it is now.

Alejandro Cremades: How have how have you? How have you seen the ah difference there you know on on fundraising like how was it. You know, backed in you know around that time on 2013 or so where you guys were getting going with the fundraising that you’re seeing now and and also how do you see the current environment. For raising money.

Jonathan Matus: Um, yeah, so 2 great questions. Ah so 2013 I think it was fairly friendly, but ah, but the valuations and the terms were. Definitely more vc- friendly than founder. Friendly. So you know the kind of terms that we got for our seed round or a round are are not comparable at all to what you even see now at the compressed environment that we see know it’s certainly not in 2021 where things were really peaking. Um, the other thing that I think change obviously is that you know I’m now. A you know second time and and a known entity and so I think a lot of investors find it easy to research me or to figure out and have confidence that I can actually go and build things previously I was just an operator from Google and Facebook and so that could also play a little bit of ah, a role in it. But. Ah, generally speaking you know in 2013 the concept of fintech didn’t exist so anyone that was just thinking about building something in short tech. For instance, you know, needed to explain why would there to be interesting or relevant at all to go and do something like that. Um. The the environment in so in terms of talent talent itself was quite um, conservative didn’t want to take risk was very expensive so it was difficult to convince people to join your company I think now after a decade of great successes and Ipos and you know a lot of funding. You only talk to people.

Jonathan Matus: Very talented engineers in large companies and they’re actually keen to join a startup so that was quite different back then as well. Um, in terms of the funding environment now you know it is still very tough. Um I would say probably tougher than it’s been in in the last decade or or so. But um I think that if you know what you’re doing and if you have some traction then you’ll be able to get funding. Um, the pain is primarily concentrated right now. It’s the a b and later stages. But there’s a lot of activity in the seed and preets so we’re seeing a lot of folks starting companies. I think both investors entrepreneurs believing that by the time they’ll need to go and get their next funding and the us and the venture environment will have stabilized and interest rate will go down and and capital will be a little cheaper and so you’re going to build something now and later on we to fund risk for it and I and I subscribe to that I think that’s true. We were very fortunate at fermatic we raised ah almost ninety million dollars in the span of of six months recently we were very fortunate because um, as a part of our spinoff out of zendrive we brought over. Really powerful assets and we were fairly mature as a company you know there’s hundreds of thousands of drivers on the platform you know with double Digit million and revenue it’s it’s a pretty serious business already and so even though it was a young company in terms of chronological age. It was pretty mature and so right after the a we got to.

Jonathan Matus: To do the B which now allows us to go and build without worrying about fundraising ever again.

Alejandro Cremades: So tell us about this spinoff I mean why at what point does the idea of doing this spinoff you know becomes evident and tell us about pulling the trigger because that’s a big deal I mean you were already pushing sendrive for quite some time you had raised a bunch of money.

Jonathan Matus: I.

Alejandro Cremades: So doing a spinoff at this stage is not an easy. He’s not an easy fit.

Jonathan Matus: Yeah, spinoffs are are kind of like similar to acquiring a company and I didn’t know that walking into it and I think our you know our lawyers made a lot of money that’s for sure I’ll tell you that um it’s one of those things just like an acquisition that takes longer than you imagine? um. And could be quite complex but at the end if it works well, it can be really really smart for everyone in hope so the story of the spinoff is the following I want to say five years ago. Its zendrive when as I hinted earlier we were experimenting and tinkering with a variety of different commercialization and solutions. We started working with insurance companies and one of the things that we’ve learned at Zendrive as an enterprise b two b business that helps these insurance companies is that it was quite difficult for them both to implement our technology or in general to implement outside vendor technology. But also they were quite tight-lipped and didn’t want to share back whether something worked or not and if you’re trying to build you know and have two weeks sprints but your customer has a 2 wo-year deployment cycle and then wouldn’t share much feedback. You’re kind of stuck you need you need somehow to get more information right? It’s the basics of building. Good product. And so what we decided to do is something crazy which is build a small insurance company a time insurance company I should say in-house and control it top to bottom so that we can see the impact of our risk models on the financial results on the customer experience and iterate on a two-week cycle rather than a two and a half year cycle.

Jonathan Matus: And so we did that and we kept that tiny organization really started. It was maybe 4 or 5 people for duration of its tenure at andrive. Um, and we’ve learned a lot from that experience. But we’ve never really tried to scale that up as a real business. Was more about understanding. What’s going to be that loss ratio. The financial results of that insurance company even a tiny scale and after doing that for 3 years we had a conversation with our board. We presented the results we were we proud them. We said look we have this great loss ratio and customers are happy and this thing is growing even without us investing in growth and then one of the board members. Who was an early investor in lemonade said well you know if this thing can be actually scaled up. You’ll have a generational scale company because no one else insurance is able to do what you’re doing and that started you know a pause where we asked. Okay, well what should we do with this should we shut it down because it costs money to do this after we prove what we wanted to prove. Should we sell it off should we spin it out. We you know we talk to some investors. We realize that investors don’t want to be on the zendrive cap table doing something new our own investors. You know, looked at their business say oh you have something that’s working why do you dilute it now and invest a lot of money and hire new people and it’s a distraction. So. At the end of day we said. Okay we got to either sell it or spin it out and when it comes to selling insurance companies at the scale that we were. It was really not interesting and so we decided okay, let’s go and spin it out and in the process of spinning that out. Um, it became.

Jonathan Matus: Clear to me that the same mission that sendri has which is making roads safe zendri is doing that by using data and analytics. But the same mission can actually be built with formatic meaning you can go and make roads safe one fleet at a time by versically incentivizing fleet drivers to do the right thing. And given that about half of the miles on the road are driven by commercial activity. You can actually move the needle significantly there and in the environment where you’re building your own technology and your own solution. You can actually implement all the bells and whistles that we dreamt about and have a really big impact in the world. So. Decided to join 4 employees that were shifting with me from zendri to formaticic and my cofounder pankka became the Ceo of zendrive. He’s very very talented guy and so both companies were doing well and I set off to build. Traumatic and raise money for it and that’s where I’ve been the last couple years.

Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Ah now with a fair fermatic. How much capital have you guys raised today you you mentioned this earlier. So.

Jonathan Matus: um yeah um I think ah right about eighty five or eighty eight or something around f.

Alejandro Cremades: And then when it comes to also dealing with different time zones dealing with a with having ah a global, a global company like you guys have here I mean how do you guys think about that because you have teams you know everywhere.

Jonathan Matus: Yeah, so that’s a great question. Um, you know my first company x andrive was global by necessity or or sheer luck and and and the story there is I just really wanted to work with Pankaj and he happened to be in India. And I remember sitting in in Jerry Yang’s office. The Yahoo founder who I was pitching him to invest and he said look I love what you’re doing but you know your co-founder is in India and how does that work. You can only build big companies in Silicon Valley and I told look I’ll work with Pankaj even if he was in Switzerland or Tel Aviv or barce I don’t care if want to work with this guy meetingch they met and Jerry Young ended up investing because pankker is just such an amazing entrepreneur. But um, that time building a team that was um in two hubs. Bangalore and San Francisco felt risky and felt like um, a kind of a structural disadvantage for investors and for for people to join us in the midst of building zendrive it became clear that that’s actually an advantage. So both the cost and the access to talent in India is different from Silicon Valley competition for a plus engineers is not as much as it is here and we were able to build 1 of the best engineering teams in the world in Bangalore and so after observing that and learning the power of that. Um I decided weedformatic as we were building to go and repeat that and build another hub in Bangalore That’s what we’re doing now.

Jonathan Matus: But then also to supplement that with a second hub in Tel Aviv and there’s several reasons for that. But you know, growing up in Israel and seeing as you said startup nation the amazing companies that are built. There are really grown to appreciate the israeli chutzpah and and um lack of respect. For hierarchy and for rules and I think that at the stage of fermatic at the stage of building companies right now just that culture is so powerful and so you combine it with some you know folks that are very experienced in insuretech and in fintech which there’s a lot of in Tel Aviv right now and we were able to bring some of the best people. On the planet into that office and because managing and building product with folks in the west coast in San Francisco where where I was and then in India and Tel Aviv is probably the worst times on setup you can imagine. It’s thirteen and a half hour different time zone with India. Decided that I need to change something about my life and I should thank covid for that as well and moved my family to portugal which is just 2 hours times on difference from Tel Aviv and just four and a half or 5 hours different from bangalo and so I have much more overlap with everyone on the team right now. And in spite of the fact we’re not in the same room I get to spend much more time in them more much more meaningful time.

Alejandro Cremades: So now imagine you go to sleep tonight Jonathan and you wake up in a world where the vision of fairmatic is fully realized what does that world look like.

Jonathan Matus: That’s a great question. So as I mentioned right now about half of the miles driven in the world are driven by fleets of some sort and so in our vision, those fleets will become a catalyst for. Change on the road making them much much safer so insurance will be the financial incentive through which commercial driving will improve and we actually shown that we can do that even though it’s just a few hundred thousand drivers we shown that we can improve driver behavior by 25% during the time that they’re with us and so imagine that instead of hundreds of thousands of drivers. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of drivers that have the right incentives and there’s fewer and fewer fatalities on the road and those commercial businesses often small mum andp shops that are really. Pressured to turn a profit in this tough environment will be able to save some of their money that they’re currently just throwing on insurance and and get that back and grow faster or have ah have a better financial result for themselves. So that’s that’s our vision in terms of impact in the world and in terms of financial impact. The commercial auto insurance space. In the world at about a $60000000000 um opportunity and you know in the us there is a very very large fragmentation within the top 20 insurers. So progressive is the largest player out there with about 12% and so.

Jonathan Matus: My vision would be to be as big or just as big as big as progressive with our impact in the market which will make us you know a multi multibillion dollar company.

Alejandro Cremades: Now imagine if I was to bring you back in time and I bring you back in time to that moment where you were at Facebook wondering you know launching something of your own and you had the opportunity of giving your younger self one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given why you know now. Okay.

Jonathan Matus: Um.

Jonathan Matus: Yeah that’s a great question. Um, as I mentioned earlier when when I came from Facebook and started a company with my cofounder Pankaj we put on the Google hat of go and build something that solves a really difficult engineering problem. And I think that we built a really powerful asset through that. But right now kind of entrepreneur I am focuses much more on end user or business pain and therefore opportunity and so I would flip the script and probably shave 3 to 5 years from the journey. And get to commercialization much faster with something that maybe is 80% as powerful as what we had before but can start bringing customers in bringing revenue in and so on and so I think that’s also an advice that I give and you know first time entrepreneurs coming from large companies where you have endless resources. And that is you have very limited time very limited dollars and very little attention spent from your customers and so all you need to focus on really is find that pain point and solve it and then expand from there and so that’s the advice I would give myself.

Alejandro Cremades: I Love it So janatown for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

Jonathan Matus: Ah sure they can email me at Jonathan Atformatic Dot Com they can also follow me on Twitter um, and yeah I guess these are the 2 best ways to reach me.

Alejandro Cremades: Well hey you he know Johnna time. Thank you so much for being with the deal maker show. It has been an honor to have you with us today.

Jonathan Matus: My pleasure Ajandra Thank you so much for having me.

*****

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