Ofer Ben-Noon, the 31-year old CEO of Argus Cyber Security, sold his startup Argus Cyber Security to Germany’ Continental AG, a car manufacturer, reportedly for some $400 million last November. The sale was clinched just three days after his daughter was born. They named the baby Romy, which in Hebrew means “my height.”
Argus, which is already selling its software and services to car manufacturers and suppliers worldwide, helps protect connected cars hackers from taking control remotely of the brakes or steering wheel, turning up the heat or the radio volume to extreme levels, or locking people into their cars.
Ben-Noon founded the firm in 2013 with two friends, Oron Lavi and Yaron Galula, all of them alumni of the IDF’s elite Unit 8200, along with Zohar Zisapel, a co-founder of the RAD Group who is also an investor in the firm. Ben-Noon believes a sale was the best way for the company to achieve its vision of being in every car by 2023.
He spends too little time with his wife and child, he says, and works some 15 hours a day. He gets a “high” when people exceed expectations, but hates it when they are unprofessional and don’t learn from mistakes. He plans to double the company’s workforce this year to 160 workers and loves to fly model planes, but doesn’t have time for his hobby.
Why did you sell rather than grow your company?
It is hard to become a market standard without an extreme amount of capital. When we look at our vision, our vision was to be protecting every new vehicle by 2023. In every single decision we made, we weighed whether it takes us closer to that vision or not. So we pondered if this acquisition offer will bring us closer to or further from our vision. And we understood that with the backing and the financial capability of Continental we will be stronger and more capable of taking over the market and fulfilling the vision.
For me as an entrepreneur and the CEO of the company I thought that is the best for myself, my employees and my shareholders.
Did it hurt to sell?
Our exit was unique in the landscape of Israel, because actually we remained completely independent. My email address is still Argus. We are not integrated into Continental at all. We actually stayed a completely separate company. We became a subsidiary of a subsidiary of Continental. We are also not a cost center, but we have our own profit and loss unit. I am being measured on the profits of Argus, and this is a unique structure. In other acquisitions, the company usually becomes an R&D center only for the larger firm.
We chose this independence mainly because Continental understood that the only way for us to become a market standard is if we are able to sell to all of the market, including the competition. So I’m supposed to get 80 percent of my revenues from selling my products to others, and not just to Continental.
Did you have to let go of people after you sold?
No, not at all. Every single one of the employees and founders stayed. We are four founders.
How did you get into car cybersecurity?
Initially my friends and I set off wanting to provide cybersecurity solutions for smartphones. But when we realized the market was saturated, we decided to pivot and go back to the drawing board.
And then we looked at many different areas but we first defined the criteria for how to evaluate each idea that came up. We set out four criteria: we wanted to do something meaningful that would change the world, something we can be proud of.
The second point was that we wanted the technology to be interesting, so we will have a spark in our eyes, something that is wow while we do it every day. The third point was that we wanted it to be financially viable, so targeting a big market, that could be something huge.
And the fourth point was to make sure we enter a field in which we have an edge over others: I always tell our team, we should think what can we do that the brightest kid that just finished Harvard cannot do. So, if you look at all of these four points, then the only viable option for us was automotive cybersecurity.
Our background is based in about a decade of cybersecurity work, so we knew we had to stay in that field. We all came from the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit. So it was clear to us that we’d remain in cybersecurity. And when we looked at all the areas of cybersecurity, like critical infrastructure, or health care or bitcoin service or smart homes, each one of them did not make as much sense to us as much as automotive cybersecurity.
Are you planning to stay on?
For a long time. I will stay on as much as needed to see that vision come true. To be able to protect every single vehicle.
How many people does the company employ?
The company employs 80 people and by the end of 2018 planning to be 160. Ninety percent are based in Israel.
Do you think you will find enough talented people?
Right now we are relatively lucky that the area in which we are in is exciting and new and affecting people’s lives. Most employees want to know that what they do has a significant positive impact on the world. Most of them are working not only for financial benefits but also to know that they are contributing to the world at the end of the day. Argus is one of the companies that is helping make the world a better place.
How does your day go?
Usually I get to the office around 8-9 a.m. I work 15 hours a day so I need to start early. I work from 8 am till 11 p.m.
I don’t do any sports at all. I roll out of bed, change diapers and then go to work. In general, I’d like to do more sports but I don’t find the time because I work 6.5 days per week. Half of the time I am abroad, meeting with customers in Japan, Germany, France, and the US.
Advice to other startups?
The most important thing we had at Argus was the team – not only the founders, with whom I have been working since 2013 and with whom I was together in the army, but also the employees and colleagues. We couldn’t have achieved all of this without such an amazing team. The most important point is having the right people with you. From the beginning. People who are not only good but committed and sharing a vision. Nothing is more important for me than choosing the right partners.
What was your main concern before the exit and what is your main concern today?
It was the same concern. How do I take over the market? How do I secure every single vehicle until 2023? This has not changed for me at all. For me, the exit wasn’t the end. It is not even the middle. It may be the end of the beginning. And we have a long, long way ahead of us and a lot of new exciting phases and tasks ahead of us. So, for me nothing has changed with the acquisition. Only the ability to grow faster, stronger and better.
What gives you joy at work?
I get joy seeing people working at Argus fulfilling their potential and exceeding not only my expectations, but even their own. This really gives me a high.
What makes you mad?
People who do not act professionally, and who are not holding themselves accountable for the things they do or are responsible for. I’m also mad when I see repeated errors happening time and time again — because it reflects the fact that lessons have not been learned. This can really irritate me.
Do you have any hobbies?
I have a hobby that I love very much just that I don’t have the time to practice too much. I fly aero-models.