Conversation with Greg Snipper
Good day, and welcome to edition 98 of our Momenta Digital Leadership Podcast Series, this one titled Connected Mobility.
Today I’m pleased to welcome Greg Snipper, Co-founder and CEO of Continual, a Momenta Ventures Portfolio company, headquartered in Israel. Greg brings over 28 years of international experience in business development and sales, including over 18 years in the mobile optimization market, subscriber experience in subscription behavioral analytics. He has help senior leadership positions in publicly traded companies and startups, in the telecoms and semi-conductor sectors. Greg voluntarily…
Greg voluntarily mentors young startups to help grow their company business. Greg, welcome to the Momenta Digital Leadership podcast series.
Hello, and a good morning to you.
Alright, and to you as well. So, let’s start with your professional journey, we always like to talk about what the experiences are that got you to where you are today. So, tell us a bit about your background, and how it has informed your view of digital industry.
So, I don’t know if want to go really back on the days of me milking cows on the Kibbutz, but actually that was the very first time that I saw in ’82 the computer PCs, and I was extremely fascinated with the technology. Being a farmer and then moving into technology, I think at that time I knew that what I wanted to do in life was technology and people. Looking at my background I always went down those two paths, I was moving from one technology company, mainly in the side of business development, sales, marketing, but all-around people.
Those are two things that I really believe, and what I really liked was to take… or, I would say I saw people take dreams, kick it far away and go and reach out to that. Before I started up Continual, I actually joined those people that had their own dreams, and I joined them in this journey. So, looking backwards I was trying to build up myself to be in a position that I would have enough tools to start up my own company, and by the way this was also a very big question, when are you ready? Is there a certain time when you are ready? Is it when you end up your university? Or you go out after 20 years of experience?
But what I saw eventually, you need to build up, you need to emotionally take out the passion and say, ‘Guys, now…’ or when I say guys, it’s to myself, so now I’m ready, I’ve got good experience and I feel that I’ve found the right technology solution that I’m going to change the world, and make many-many people happy. This needs to come from the real bottom of your hearts.
So, I hope this is answering your question Ken.
It certainly has helped provide some background. I love people who have boot-strapped their way up in starting milking cows! To moving to technology, plus people, to really becoming the point where you’re taking your own advice, not only activating it but mentoring others is quite a calling. So, what was your inspiration for starting Continual, and please tell us a little bit about the company as well.
Sure. I’d been working in telecommunications for over 28 years, but specifically prior to working in Continual for the past 9 years, I’ve been working in the optimization market. I saw the pain of on one hand the mobile operators trying to optimize, really give better experiences of subscribers using tools that I would call it ‘Living in the comfort zone’. Very traditional probes that you install over the network. Together with a colleague of mine who later became my Co-founder, working at a local operator over here in Israel, we got a mission of how to reduce the drive testing cars fleet, and obviously reducing cost. We were trying to use all the main traditional tools, which is probes and different types of analyzers, and we said, ‘No, we need to touch the experience of the subscribers, how are we going to do that?’
It took us around six months to come up with this idea of monitoring, I will just mention a term which is called CDRs, but CDRs in the terms of mobile operators are reflecting the behavior of the subscriber. We started analyzing the behavior of each subscriber, which is emotion, and then translating that into mathematical algorithm and into RF behavior. This today I can see is thinking out of the box because its philosophy together with engineering, and you bring those things together to the traditional engineers, they don’t really know how to digest that, and this is what made us very-very unique. We started developing this idea, and I think after about I would say eight months, we had a code, we did a test, and I said, ‘Okay, why don’t we try and see if we can actually monitor subscriber’s emotion?
Actually, it’s a nice story, but we put in my wife’s mobile device, and my colleague started going red, and I asked him, ‘Why are you blushing?’ and he said, ‘Look, I can see that your wife is right now in the mall’, and it was 11 o’clock in the morning. So, I said ‘Don’t worry, she’s not spending my money, she’s working there’. So, this is how we understood that the technology is working, and this is how we actually started, just to mention it was CellMining, and we pivoted into Continual, and this is how we actually started Continual.
The idea was to reduce the big amounts of cost of probes installed on the network, and actually be very focused on subscriber’s behavior, we called it at that time subscriber behavior, but actually it’s a subscriber experience. We learnt what is the experience of its subscriber and based on this behavior of this experience we translated to radio frequency correction, we optimized the network, improved his experience, and we measure that on a daily basis. So, this is the small story of how I actually started Continual.
A special callout gentleman, Gadi Lenz, Gadi used to be Chief Science Officer at AGT International, and Gadi actually introduced us a while back, so he’s been a good friend for a while, a brilliant-brilliant engineer.
What really appealed to us was this thought that as the industry moves to connected vehicles, and now the next step of autonomous vehicles, there’s an assumption that you will have a certain quality of communications ability, and that is an assumption that I don’t know that you can fully make. And so, the idea of being able to predict what your connectivity will look like over an anticipated journey, is actually a pretty interesting thought, and one that could underly a lot of the move to connected mobility. That was where Gadi had mentioned you guys were effectively solving that and doing so with a relatively light touch approach in that regard.
I know you guys have been growing since 2010, supporting I guess what we call waves of optimization, connectivity over mobile network operators and autonomous vehicles. What have you learned about the connected mobility space in that time?
Starting 2010-2011, our main mission was mainly to reduce the drive testing cost, and fleets which today we see it’s so ineffective. We just completed a very big test over in Germany and they’re using the same method of drive testing, they’re covering 20,000 kms of roads per year, out of 260,000 kms. To cover the whole of Germany it would be so costly, using drive testing cars you drive on the roads, at one spot today, maybe next week, maybe next month: with our system it’s a 24/7 covering the entire roads.
In 2011, connectivity over the roads was okay, I think there was some tolerance on the subscribers if you have these connections, but today it’s not acceptable, not by subscribers that are either doing voice calls, or data calls, for the connective car perspective, for the car manufacturers it’s a must, they need to have 99.9% of connectivity, and today it’s not existing. So, with our system we’re actually looking in between the car manufacturers and the mobile operators, we measure the connectivity over the roads, for them, for the car manufacturers, which are now developing the L3 and L4, I’m not talking about the L5, it’s extremely important to understand when they need to command the driver to take over.
So, on top of that we developed a predictive model that we can predict connectivity two hours ahead on roads, and that will help either car manufacturers develop the whole software for the L3 and L4, and obviously for the mobile operators to prepare the infrastructure two hours ahead, for high connectivity if they see traffic is coming. So, we see a huge difference between what we saw in 2011, what we see today, and where the market is going to go, and where we are a major part in this connectivity, connections between cars and their network infrastructure.
Okay, so that might answer the difference between what we saw in 2011, and what we see today, and where it’s going to go to.
So, your key clients in this case are a combination as you say, of the OEMs, the automobile manufacturers, and the carriers, major Telco operators. How do you work with each of these clients to make your deployment so successful as they’ve been?
Okay, I will divide it into two, and I think this is going back to what is an entrepreneur, and what is a start-up company. So, we’ve been deploying, and now we won a major deal with Vodafone, and we won a major deal with T-Mobile in the US, and I might even hint to the next step, but today the correlation between mobile operators and car manufacturer is a must. Without that, the connected car market will not happen. So, if we look at the OEMs at the car manufacturers, the main challenge, first challenge, was to have autonomous driving on what we call mere line of sight. So, they have the radars, the cameras, and all the sensors, and the car can drive on its own, but if you want to go on a non-line of sight, you want to know what is happen at the next junction, you want to know what is going to happen on the next city, how you’re going to drive there, is there a traffic jam? Is the connectivity okay?
I’m watching now some Netflix, so is the bandwidth enough to have a good quality downstream or video streaming video? All those things are now related to the connectivity between the car and the network, and this is where we come into the picture very strongly. I can just say one point, one very important point over here, we were single bidders in those two, T-Mobile and Vodafone. We see now an advantage, we have a gap maybe of two years, maybe of 2½ years, of technology, very unique technology that doesn’t exist today on the market, so, we want to take a really good advantage of that. But what made us very successful, and I think this is part of us as a startup company, we’re not afraid of working with the big ones, with the big car manufacturers, with the big operators, we like to challenge, and we like to be challenged.
When we came with this unique technology, we took some people, the operator out of their comfort zone, because they are working with the big vendors with the traditional tools, and coming in with a new tool you had to have some innovated engineers over there, to approve it. So, we manage to detect those innovative engineers, and they were a key influencer inside of this operation. On top of that it’s us being together with them, trying to understand the needs, and showing them that we can solve the problems, not to take us as guarantee as a company that will back them up like Nokia, or Ericsson, but we had to prove that our technology is functioning and working correctly. That demand from us to be a lot in the field, and work hand-to-hand together with them, building up a very good relationship and friendship.
First was to prove that we have good technology. Second, that we can back them up. And thirdly, is to bring on almost a quarterly basis innovation, new things that will improve them, because if they’re happy, if their subscribers are happy, we will always be happy.
So, I hope this answers your question.
Yes, it does. Yeah, I loved what you said right at the end, it’s really proving your value initially, ongoing in terms of supporting, and continuing to add value into that relationship, in terms of innovation. That is really relationship management 101, and definitely a key for you and many of our other portfolio companies, in terms of how they help their clients create value.
I’m going to ask you to put on your future’s hat for a moment here; I’d be interested in what you’ve seen in terms of – I’ll call it the post-COVID society if you will, if it’s fair to say that at this point! Probably more importantly, what do you see are the largest challenges for connected mobility over the next five years?
And again, it’s bringing me back to why I enjoy being an entrepreneur. One of the things is taking your dreams, kicking them far, far, far away, and then taking a team together with you, and going to reach them out. This is what we are doing now, this is what I did in the last 9 to 10 years, I took my dream, got a very good team over here, most of them are much-much more cleverer than me which is good. So, I have more time to play around, as you saw, I’m volunteering with mentorship, and we have a good team here that together we take the dream and achieve it.
Now, what are we going to see in the next five years? The main challenge over here will be to get the operators to talk together with the car manufacturers. We’re making a lot of effort now to bring them together onto the same table to discuss connectivity, and why it’s very important to launch out, roll out 5G, and in the future 6G, and for the car manufacturers to roll out L3, L4, and in the future L5, which is full autonomous driving. I saw that it’s not enough, we need another player, because in those two parties the operators, and the car manufacturers there is a lot of ego, there is a lot of suspicions, and we need to bring another company that will be launching a cloud, that on top of that cloud you will be getting data coming from the car manufacturers, data coming from the cars itself, related to telematics, infotainment, and connectivity. So, all around the part of connectivity and also infotainment would be analyzed on the cloud, together with data coming from the operator, connectivity level, quality of video, quality of voice, and so-on and so-on, and use some of our predictive models that will be launched on the cloud.
Now, who can run this cloud? In my opinion very-very few companies in the world, and this is the big challenge, how can we actually move to that direction, it could be companies like Nokia, Ericsson, maybe here, maybe Intel, maybe even Microsoft with Azure or Google, but those companies will eventually if we look to five or ten years ahead, eventually all the data will be on the cloud, analyzed from two directions and making the connected car market happen.
So, this is my vision, it’s not so easy. I see in front of my vision here a huge wall, but as an entrepreneur when we see walls, we get excited. How do we overcome this wall? Who do we need to bring in, in order to overcome this wall? Is it money, maybe it’s not enough? Is it clever people who are thinking out of the box to crack this wall? These are all the challenges that I’ve been facing from the past 9 to 10 years; every year a new wall that we need to break down. So, there’s a huge one now waiting for us in the next 5 to 10 years, and I’m quite sure that we will break that down too.
So, you have the honor of being Momenta Ventures’ first investment in Israel, a country that has quickly become a true startup nation. I’m going to ask you to put your Israel promotion hat on for a minute, because I’m really curious, what makes Israel so successful in this regard?
It’s a good question, and I must say that I’m very happy to take and answer it. Maybe it’s because of the environment where we live over here, so we’re constantly in survival mode. We grew up as children as a survival mode, but we grew up as people that we need to think out of the box if we want to survive. Don’t complain too much, be positive because otherwise in this area if you’re not positive, you’ll not be smiling. And be creative.
Now with those tools we’re actually going to the military, and in the military, you add additional discipline and persistence. Now you take all those tools together and you put in another thing that I believe very strongly, emotions, because if you want to have a startup you need to believe very strongly in the people next to you, in your partners and the technology. You take those two things and you’re going to say, ‘I’m going to be the standard in the world, I’m going to change this part in the world. I’m going to make people happy’, because if you don’t have those things, eventually on the first obstacle you will give up.
I’ve been going through that in the last 9 to 10 years, there are many-many obstacles. Some of them are unbelievable that I never imagined, I fought in the military, I went through physical and mental difficulties. Going through a startup is much larger, and if you don’t believe the first, second, or the third obstacle, you will give up. So, never give up, if you believe in something, do it, and this is how we’ve been educated, this is how I educate my children, take away, believe in it and go and achieve the goal, and I think this is representing many of the Israelis. It’s slightly problematic in a way because in Israel it’s a trend to startup companies, and I’m doing mentorship currently, and I’ll explain in a few words. Currently I’m working with four companies, volunteering once a week, I take a vacation and I go up North and sit together with young guys that want to start up a company.
But because they think it’s a trend, so they can join in and the money is very easy to come, the first obstacle that comes along the way they give up, because either they don’t have a good experience, or they don’t believe, or the technology is not good enough. So, you need to do some good homework beforehand, you need to understand that there is a need, and once you’ve got that it’s okay, and then you need to believe in yourself and in your team and take this dream and just go – go after it. Don’t give up, chase it, make sure that you achieve it, because if you don’t believe it, again the first obstacle – you will give up, and end of startup.
You know, I like the way that you portrayed the value proposition of Israel, so I’ll call it motivation, plus discipline, plus persistence, plus I think what I’d call passion, what you called emotions, and all of those things certainly are the traits of a good startup entrepreneur. I’m impressed that as busy as you are, you take the time to work with these young companies as well.
What startups, I should say beyond Continual, do you see as the ones to watch in the digital industry space?
One of the startups that I’ve been following, is part of the volunteering activity that I’m doing up North in Israel, which by the way I’m doing it to give a chance to young people, to start up a company and they don’t need to come to the Tel Aviv Silicon Valley, and they’ve chosen to live up North where the ecosystem around high-tech doesn’t exist there. In the past four to five years we’ve built up some accelerators over there to give them the chance.
I met this company, it’s called Solveat, they developed a very unique chocolate which reduces the sugar level, it’s for diabetics. I think this is going to be a huge breakthrough in the world. So, going to Solveat, a very interesting company, which is reflecting a contradiction, because if you ask a diabetic person, ‘What is your greed?’ they say, ‘Just give me a chocolate bar. I just want to have a nice bite of a chocolate bar’, but they can’t have it. This is the chocolate that they could have, because it’s not only sweet, it reduces the sugar level in the blood.
So, I would recommend looking at them, I’m looking after them carefully.
And because Momenta is headquartered in Switzerland, and Switzerland is certainly known for its chocolate, I’ve got to figure a way to lift and shift that company into Switzerland!
Absolutely, absolutely. Well no, it’s not only Switzerland, it’s going to be a huge change I think in the world, and this is the beauty of it, this the beauty of taking some dreams and ideas, and storming it into the world.
Final question we always like to ask, what recommendations might you have for books or other resources that inspire you?
Well, since the Corona I’ve not been travelling, but I spend a lot of time while I’m on planes, I like to read books around spies, the Mossad, the FBI, the CIA, all sorts of stories, and why is that? First of all, it’s challenging and interesting, and in a way, I’m coming from some activity around it. But it’s all around people, and I believe that a successful company is based on 80 percent good intelligence, and 20 percent negotiation skills. Even whilst you’re doing negotiation, if you come with zero intelligence you probably will fail.
So, they don’t tell you all the secrets there, but if you can read in between the lines, you can find very interesting things there. One of my previous companies when I was still a VP of Sales, I bought each one of our sales team a book around the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Agency. I told them, ‘Look, you can read the stories, it’s interesting, but try to understand how they work there. What are they doing to get information in order to score? This is exactly how you do business development, how you do sales, and how you do good business, intelligent, intelligent, intelligent’. I enjoy reading it, so I read a book around that at least once a month.
That’s great inspiration. So, this has been Greg Snipper, Co-founder and CEO of Continual, I’ll call him a life-long entrepreneur and connected mobility practitioner. Greg, thank you so much for joining us on the Momenta Podcast Digital Leadership Podcast Series.
Ken, it was a pleasure talking to you, and thank you very much for giving me this opportunity, although it’s in my non-comfort zone, but I hope I manage to pass the message here.
I think you did a great job, and I think you might have found yourself a new career as the spokesmodel for Israeli startup nation!
So, please join us next week for edition 99 of our Momenta Digital Leadership Podcast Series, and we’re coming up to the magical number 100, featuring a very special guest. So, we will look forward to speaking with you all soon. Thank you and take care.