Gilad Meiri is the co-founder and CEO of Neura, which provides user aware insights through its artificial intelligence engine. Prior to Neura, Gilad co-founded and headed Spicebox Labs, which creates connected and smart consumer devices. His previous experience includes working as a management consultant with TASC Strategic Consulting and as an infantry officer in the Israeli Defense Forces. He holds an MBA from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan where he co-founded the Social Venture Fund and has a dual B.A degree in Economics and Education from Tel-Aviv University. Outside of his professional experience, Gilad is also the author of three outdoors cookbooks.
How did you get into the industry?
While the online world received a lot of attention and the data it generated was thoroughly utilized, products and services had no visibility to the ‘offline’ world. It’s not due to lack of interest but rather the belief that what we humans do in the offline world could not be identified, translated and communicated in ways that could impact the user experience.
That is until the emergence of the smartphone. The smartphone is an extremely powerful computer that acts in an analogous manner to any other computer with dedicated software, communication and storage. However, it holds one characteristic that provides it with abilities far beyond any computer we’ve had before – it is with us and turned on almost 24/7. If there is any sensor pack that can be a true proxy for human life – it is the smartphone.
This almost requires a different philosophical state of mind – the phone can serve us in unprecedented ways because it can understand us. Translating this immense potential to ‘understand human behavior’ into practice is a major challenge. However, the ramifications for health, safety, productivity and others is so lucrative, me and my other co-founders at Neura decided to dedicate the next years of our lives to fulfilling that goal.
Any emerging industry trends?
The sensory world around us is only becoming more packed, with sensors around us in consumer electronics, street corners, cars, businesses and more. These sensors can both communicate to and from our phones. As a result, the world is starting to become reactive to our behavior - and, not only that - it is becoming more personal. While this phenomenon is still in its infancy, it is happening.
When people use a smart car, it may react to them being tired or hot, when people use a smart glucometer, it will try to consider when the user is sleeping or entering a fast food restaurant. I believe this trend will only grow stronger, as it did with the internet. When we go on Amazon, each of us sees a different homepage, and when we plug a word into Google Search, we may see different search results because the internet tries to adapt itself to us. The next emerging trend is for the ‘outernet’ - the IoT world and devices and other applications - to do the same.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
One of the key challenges is the different skill set required to transform the world into one that will adapt to our lives. With the internet it was ‘easy’ – the companies who led the ‘dynamic internet’ were data companies – they were experts in taking massive amounts of data and pragmatically translating it to a personalized experience. The ‘outernet’ companies – the Samsungs, Verizons, Mazdas and the like are good at creating products. They are sometimes good at creating software or a mobile experience, but lack the skill set to translate big data into action. This represents a market opportunity – a new player can mitigate between the abundance of data and the need to make it actionable. This is precisely what Neura fulfills.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Our CTO, Triinu Magi, was misdiagnosed with the wrong type of diabetes and as a result received the wrong treatment. This naturally resulted in her body reacting very badly to the treatment, and so she did what every bright data scientist does – she gathered data around her life in an attempt to understand what impacts what. She was trying to understand how her sleep, activity, commute and other factors correlated with the state of her health. She was instrumental in helping doctors recognize that she actually has a rare type of diabetes, and in adjusting her treatment accordingly.
Throughout this process she learned there was no one solution that saw her completely. There was a solution that understood her steps but not her commute. Another solution that understood where she was but not how much time she spent at work and other places. We realized that creating a ‘brain’ that understands human behavior can completely radicalize how technology can serve humans. We are complex beings and viewing us in a single sensory manner leaves a lot out. This is how we realized that by letting a medication reminder solution know you are about to go to sleep, or letting your door lock know you are currently on vacation, you can augment device behavior to serve you much better.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Our go-to-market strategy focused on helping digital health solutions increase compliance (i.e. remind the user to measure blood glucose when he or she is about to go running), provide personalized insights (such as intelligent insight for the bad sleeper or the bad exerciser) and more. Next, we are taking these intelligent capabilities into the smart home arena, specifically security and safety applications, as well as automotive.
We want to replicate the success the internet experienced when making websites responsive, and translate that into the outernet. By empowering devices and mobile solutions about their users’ moments and activities, they can deliver a better product and, as a result, see increased engagement and retention which naturally translates to revenues and value creation.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
One of our key challenges is to make what we do simple enough for a customer to both understand and integrate seamlessly. To do that, we’ve created a set of evaluation tools that allow customers to invest two hours of work and see what type of impact Neura’s artificial intelligence can bring to the product. By simplifying the on-boarding and integration mechanisms we allow customers to see what AI can do with literally zero cost, and by repeatedly showing a significant engagement boost Neura becomes a ‘no brainer.’ Applying this product approach was an amazing strategic decision that benefitted the company greatly.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
If I put it in only three words – Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. We invested three years building a technology before we packaged it into a product. When we were ready to sell our product, we realized we created a huge engine with amazing capabilities. In addition, companies we worked with were extremely excited by the prospect of making their offerings at better times and more personalized to the user. However, we were offering companies almost a hundred different ways of doing it and, as sophisticated as our technology was, it manifested itself in a very complicated manner. It took us a while to understand how to highlight the most important things and reduce integration time to one hour.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
I’d start by saying we have an amazing team so whoever is engaging with our people will truly appreciate working with incredibly passionate and bright people. I am extremely humbled to be working with this crowd!
In addition to our team, leveraging Neura’s AI engine to deliver a better timed and more personalized experience will bring about exactly what you would expect. Users always react favorably to a tailored experience and this reaction may manifest itself in different manners. Some companies utilize our technology to increase user engagement (sometimes north of 80%), reduce churn or gain a competitive edge and increase user acquisition. It is extremely important to us that our customers succeed and we invest a lot of time making sure they do so.
How do you motivate others?
Thankfully, this has not been a challenge with Neura. Team members, customers, investors and even media are very excited to learn how artificial intelligence can add to their lives. The potential is so vast, and to my knowledge there isn’t any other company that delivers the same type of outcome as we do. I find that if we can show that health outcomes get better, that houses are becoming safer and that our devices are engaging with us when it matters, these are good motivators to make me sleep an hour less at night and work harder. A genuine desire to make a real and lasting impact is a core part of Neura’s culture.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Be pragmatic. There is so much buzz in the IoT and AI spaces. This buzz fuels interest from all stakeholders but it also creates an overhyped set of expectations. There are many stakeholders who have an incentive to maintain this hype as it brings easier access to capital and media interest. However, without proof of value creation this hype is a double-edged sword. Therefore, whatever change you are trying to fuel, make sure you are doing it in a company and a role that can make a real impact. An impact that can be measured, validated and felt. I also find that people who are in it for the hype don’t stick around for long. If you are truly passionate about the potential AI can deliver, be knowledgeable and opinionated about the ways it can make an impact.