I recently had dinner in Berlin with Alex and Suzi Zache, founders of Auctionata, an online auction house that has scaled to over $150 million in revenue. You can refresh that story here. Here’s another online auction story that is scaling nicely as well, specifically in diamond auctions. The company is at over $50 million in revenue.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Benny De-Kalo: I was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. I moved to New York after the military service, which is mandatory in Israel. I went to school in New York and got my first degree from NYU and my MBA from Columbia. I worked on Wall Street. I also founded my own investment bank where I focused on investing in early-stage technology companies. We had some great successes doing that. Then a few years ago, I decided to change my career from just helping build technology companies to actually founding one.
Sramana Mitra: When you say you were helping technology companies, can you elaborate on what form that took?
Benny De-Kalo: Initially, we look at entrepreneurs. In many cases, these were young entrepreneurs with limited experience. When we saw great entrepreneurs, we sat with them and helped them focus on converting their raw idea into a product.
Sramana Mitra: Were you investing?
Benny De-Kalo: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: It sounds like you were involved in very early-stage companies.
Benny De-Kalo: That’s correct. We’re taking about the 90’s when we started doing it. We had to just make sure that they go in the right direction. We were hands-on. We were really involved until they took off.
Sramana Mitra: From that time period, what were some of your most important successes? The subtext of that question is, I’m trying to understand how your own understanding of technology and technology businesses develop through the kinds of companies that you invested in.
Benny De-Kalo: We focused on Internet companies.
Sramana Mitra: E-commerce.
Benny De-Kalo: Yes. Back in the 90’s, we had to make a decision if we were going into hardware of software. We focused on Internet companies. Later on, we got into e-commerce. When you start a company, you take one direction, but almost in all cases, you need to pivot. Where you end up is a totally different place from where you started. If you have a very strong team that can work together, then you can actually make it happen. If an entrepreneur is not that good, it doesn’t turn out to be very successful. Our main decision for investing in a company was whether the entrepreneurs are strong enough. Can they go through this journey?