Zvi Frank, a 55-year former pilot and flight school instructor in the Israeli Air Force, says being an entrepreneur is a “disease” he loves. He is today the executive chairman of Zemingo, a Herzliya-based startup whose off-the shelf software allows manufacturers to transform their products into smart devices. A father of five who loves dogs, he strives to sail once a year on his boat called Genesis with his family and without a crew.
Frank is married to Zippi Brand Frank, his second wife, who won an Emmy award in 2011 for her documentary “Google Baby,” which looked at the surrogate mother industry in India. Zvi Frank, who was involved in the project after selling his first company in 2007 to AT&T for $121 million in cash, also won an Emmy for his contribution as executive producer. The winged golden statue is proudly on display on his cluttered desk in his Herzliya office.
Frank swims every morning in a pool in Tel Aviv after he takes his children to school and before he goes to work. Time with the family is precious, he says, and he regrets not spending as much time with his now-23-year-old firstborn daughter, when he ran his first company, as he does with his other four children, aged 12 to 7 (the last two are twins) from his second marriage.
Zemingo employs some 100 workers in Herzliya, where parents are welcome to play virtual reality games with their children to help survive a long hot Israeli summer and dogs comfortably walk in and out of rooms. Frank hopes to take Zamingo public by 2021, albeit as a small cap firm.
He has a BA in Economics and business management from Bar Ilan University in Israel.
How come you didn’t become a pilot after you left the air force?
“I was in the air force until I was 30, and I was fed up with flying. I knew I wanted to be independent, an entrepreneur.”
Frank was the co-founder, chief executive officer and president of Interwise, Inc., a web conferencing company that he set up with a core team of technical professionals with whom he worked closely in the air force. The job forced him to relocate to the US for 12 years. After he sold the company in 2007 to AT&T for about $121 million in cash, he continued to work with the US multinational in New Jersey for 2.5 years.
How was living abroad?
“I’ve lived in New Jersey, Boston and Silicon Valley,” he said. “I’ve done the tour. Now I live in Tel Aviv, which is the better option. Palo Alto is… boring. Boston is cold but interesting. I came back to Tel Aviv 10 years ago.”
A huge poster of his now dead Ridgeback dog, Pono, being cuddled by his daughter hangs on the wall behind his desk. He shot the image. “I’m also in the picture,” he said. “Take a close look at the eye of the dog. I am reflected in his eye, while I take the picture.”
What do you do in your current job?
Frank joined Zemingo five years ago, after he met founder Tziki Naftaly, who set up the company some eight years ago. Zemingo makes software that turns products into connected devices; at a time when more and more devices are getting connected to the internet, it is not a bad space to be in. Zemingo originally specialized in designing and developing apps for companies – as a subcontractor.
“I met Tziki and I realized that I didn’t know anything about apps. He was 15 years younger and believed apps will change our lives.”
But after Frank joined he realized he had to refocus the business on making apps for Internet of Things devices.
“We still provide services for other companies but now we also have our own product we offer.”
According to Statista, by 2025 the number of devices connected to the internet is expected to reach 75 billion, compared to 15 billion in 2015. The overall IoT market is projected to be worth more than $1 billion annually from 2017 onwards.
What does the product do?
Zemingo’s product is a software as a service (SaaS) integrated software platform called Copilot that can be integrated by product manufacturers — from makers of smart vacuum cleaners to smart cars, home security systems, wearable fitness trackers, utility meters and fridges — into the hardware they manufacture in order to make that product smart.
“Consumer IoT is a $60 billion market and the fastest growing segment of Internet of Things market. The industrial IoT market is valued at some $182 billion globally – and is the first and biggest segment on the IoT business. Then you have the connected cars and the utilities – bringing internet to power plant systems, for example. The Consumer IoT segment is the fourth and still underserved segment, hence the big opportunity.”
“Zemingo provides a solution for consumer Internet of Things manufacturers,” he said. “As an entrepreneur you don’t necessarily have to create a wave but you must know how to surf the wave. Many talk about industrial IoT, but the consumer Internet of Things market is a huge and growing market. It is a big wave, a segment of the even bigger IoT wave, and we are surfing it.”
“When you buy a device that is connected to the internet, consumers are able to interact with the device via apps they download onto their mobile phones. This is an opportunity for the supplier of that product to continue its interaction with the customer, and strike a relationship with them. Sales of consumer goods are moving from a one-time transaction, in which users bring their products home and don’t interact with the manufacturers unless they need to use their warranty, to a lifetime model, where the manufacturers can continue to interact with their consumers. This can generate value for both parties.”
“As consumers interact with the app, the suppliers can see for example how many coffee capsules they used every month and will be able to automatically remind them to replenish their supplies.”
Zemingo clients include FLIR Systems, a US-based maker of security cameras for the home, and Fitch, which has developed a fully autonomous drone to help fishermen cast their bait farther and into deeper waters.
The firm rolled out its software platform earlier this year, and now has 10 clients using it; Frank hopes they will have more than 100 in 2019.
Where do you see the company in five years?
“There is a huge opportunity and we can build a billion dollar company here. We want to lead this market space of the consumer IoT. By 2021 I hope we will be public, but I don’t know yet on what market. It would be the first time we’d be raising money, and we are looking to raise some $10-$20 million on a stock market, maybe in Canada or in London’s AIM stock market (for small cap) or via private funding.
What makes you happy:
“Being an entrepreneur. I can’t resist it. When I see an opportunity, I feel I must do something about it. There is a paradigm shift happening. Being an entrepreneur is a disease — when you see an opportunity you find it hard to resist.”
“I love the adrenaline rush, the competitiveness the creativity. We create something that is not out there, we compete to win. I work with highly driven and smart people. Entrepreneurship is a calling and it is beautiful.”
What makes you mad?
“I don’t get mad often. Life is way too short. We run way too fast sometimes. I work long hours and sometimes I sail less. This summer we didn’t go sailing for the first time in many years. The busy schedule my wife and I have makes it very hard to do things as a family. Zippi is running now as a candidate for the municipality in Tel Aviv.”
What challenges are you facing?
“You need to grow fast. you need to go from knocking on doors and making your product known to becoming the obvious option, the go-to option, for users.”
What does your day look like:
“I wake up and take my children to school. I swim every morning at the Gordon Pool in Tel Aviv. I often travel to the US. But when I am in Herzliya I make sure that everyone is on board with our vision. I work long days but once or twice a week I am home early in the afternoon to be with my children. When I ran my first company I saw very little of my eldest daughter. I am spending a lot more time with my younger children. We are a happy bunch.”