It’s been quite a journey, full of failures, huge learnings and plenty of successes.
5 March 2020
You’ve been an advertising executive at companies such as Viacom and a serial entrepreneur. Tell us more about your personal journey.
PAUL: I guess my journey with software and computers started back in 1988 at the age of seven. A friend of mine received a Commodore 64 home computer. We started playing with it, ran very basic games and tried coding. I guess this was the first time my mind opened up to other possibilities. When the ‘world wide web’ became more accessible, I saw an opportunity and decided to transform my love for music into a business. Whilst graduating secondary school I launched Skipworth, a digital record label selling CDs. This was done with the support of a group of friends. A year later I discovered a quicker way to release music to consumers, legally selling MP3s online. A very premature ITunes which received a lot of backlash from the industry who were fighting with Kazaa and Napster by then. In 2004 after six years of operating we decided to close the business down. The same year, I started working for AOL UK and in 2006 I took a position at MTV VIACOM and relocated to Argentina, as the Head of Ad Sales and Ops for LATAM. In 2013, after leaving MTV LATAM, we launched SayYeah, a D2C premium live streaming OTT platform for Millennials. In 2016 this pivoted to Sceenic, a B2B SaaS business providing ‘Watch Together’ software solution for media, broadcasters and OTT platforms. So, I guess you can say it’s been quite a journey, full of failures, huge learnings and plenty of successes.
What was the inspiration behind Sceenic?
PAUL: My dad and I used to watch volleyball games together. When I relocated to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2009, we developed a habit of watching the matches while simultaneously discussing the highlights over the phone. During the FIVB World Championships finals in 2014, we took this a step further and used Skype to communicate while watching the game. It felt as if we were in the same room again, celebrating together. This was the light-bulb moment and the inspiration behind Sceenic Watch Together.
What vision do you have for Sceenic?
PAUL: Our vision has always been to connect friends and family around the content they love and give them a meaningful moment together. This vision is still true today, we call it “Be In The Moment”. Our product vision is that every video, OTT and TV platform in the world, and there are 1,388 of them, will use our Watch Together technology to enable their users to “Be In The Moment”.
How do you drive innovation and new product cycles at Sceenic?
AHARON: Innovation is a tricky subject, but there are guidelines I use to encourage it. First and foremost, innovation is culturally bound. While I was working in the Netherlands I managed a group of diverse people. I then understood the importance of a strong company culture. Innovation stems from a combination of:
- necessity – the things you need to do, such as: deliver a feature, change architecture, start using some unknown new technology.
- and safety – the environment created in the team: can questions be asked, what happens when someone makes a mistake, can various opinions be voiced?
Generally speaking, innovation can be broken into two parts:
- “Normal” innovation – the everyday work that needs to be done. As engineers, we must find the shortest, most robust, most future proof option and to do so we need to “compose” software. The innovation process will be based on trying and matching all kind of existing solutions with custom extensions to produce a good result.
- “Future” innovation – working on future functionalities and products. You are trying to imagine the end game of a product and speculate of how you would build a solution to satisfy the product.
The two innovation types are corelated. When daily practice allow for innovation future products can only benefit from it.
Sceenic is a serial award winner, winning awards such as the BT Infinity Lab. You are also the winner of the EAM Sky UK Tech Innovation for Sports Competition. What’s been your proudest moment, so far?
PAUL: “Keep the awards, reap the rewards” as I often say. Of course, awards are lovely and we are very proud of them because it is the industry and our peers giving us their vote of confidence. The rewards come from our clients or end-user stories. By using our solution, end-users can watch and spend a meaningful moment together regardless of the distance separating them. These are the rewards we love and we are most proud of.
If I had to pick one award though, I would say BT Infinity Lab. They were the first corporate client to back Sceenic and our Watch Together vision.
What personal skills do you attribute to your success?
PAUL: There are three personal skills I have developed which have been of great help. Over the years I learned from my father to look at the world in a completely different way. To notice things others don’t, to feel comfortable with creating something regarded as ‘uncool’. The second skill is resourcefulness. This comes from my childhood. Growing up in communist Poland I’ve learned the valuable skill of problem solving. This is very useful in particular when running a business. Last but most definitely not least, is the ability to network. Meeting people and building relationships is an important factor to growing a valuable team.
What are some of the biggest changes you have implemented which have impacted the way you work?
PAUL: Deleting Whatsapp four years ago had a pivotal effect on the way I work. Disabling data and wifi on my mobile and placing the phone in my bag helps me avoid any forms of distraction. Another thing I’ve implemented is structuring my time in “peak” and “off-peak”. From 8 am to 3 pm during “peak” time I only do tasks associated with business development and sales. During “off-peak”, from 3 pm onwards, I will focus on other tasks that require less concentration. This helped me increase my productivity level.
Is there a piece of advice you would offer to founders starting out in 2020?
PAUL: I’m not going to mention the obvious ones like “get your MVP in real users’ hands asap” or “work hard and fast” as these have already been covered by thousands of founders. What I would like to advise founders, is to build relationships in tech, marketing, business development and funding. A famous billionaire once said, “Your network is your net worth”. Relationships take a long time and my advice to founders would be to nurture and build those relationships early.
What are some of the most exciting innovations you have come across in your space?
PAUL: As much as I disagree with how Facebook treats people’s data, I am really impressed with their Portal TV streaming device launched in November 2019. It is a Chromecast / Apple TV or a Set-Top Box, but in terms of innovation, they have gone where all the other companies were scared to go. They have perfectly nailed the current trend of video calling and consuming content at the same time. I am especially impressed with how they engineered the AI on the box, to pan/zoom when there is more than 1 person in a video call. For me this is an exciting innovation within the media OTT space.
What would be your Technology predictions over the next five years?
AHARON: The following five technology advancements I see happening in the next five years:
- 5G: it is the next step in terms of communication enablement. It will support a much wider bandwidth and enable not only SmartPhone bandwidth-heavy application but also IoT, connected cars and other industries which depend on communication.
- AR: we surely need more layers to our reality, starting from “knowing” who stands in front of you to the Specs of machinery components when you are on the production line.
- Data science will keep pushing forward and will find its way into every industry from HR to Healthcare.
- Healthcare: it is the sector which is waiting for disruption, as it relies on humans to be part of the information data flow and decision making. The big change in this sector will come with the rise of new technologies and data science for starters.
- Production companies will adopt data-oriented and AI-based decision systems.