Brian Krausz, GazeHawk
What happens when two really nerdy, smart computer science students meet and decide to do a startup? Meet Brian Krausz and Joe Gershenson, co-founders of GazeHawk, which uses eye tracking technology to analyze online behavior to help marketers and advertisers understand consumer behavior. Where do web users look on a page? What makes them click or buy?
This post is a continuation of my “Start as a Kid” compilation.
How GazeHawk began. Brian and Joe graduated from Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Department in 2009 and Joe went on to do a masters, finishing in 2010. They had formed GazeHawk to leverage computer vision technology in advertising and other applications and moved from Pittsburgh to Silicon Valley in 2010 to become part of Y Combinator and to drink the Paul Graham Kool-Aid.
The pair launched their product on Joe’s birthday in July, 2010. The first generation product targeted the usability industry. Brian describes it to me, “We are engineers and we built a really cool product.” Since then, they have moved beyond the original product concept. As Brian describes, “I know that there is a ton of value in our technology. We have talked to a lot of folks about how to translate this value into product sales. We know that measuring engagement is very important for brand recognition and, ultimately, sales. This metric tells you more about your ad.” And GazeHawk is gaining traction in the advertising industry which is dominated by the big four holding company giants. GazeHawk has worked with more than one of these firms and has talked to all of them. They are doing a few pre-campaign analyses for companies that come in saying that they want to improve their metrics. As Brian tells it, “We have a ton of inbound activity, and no one has what we have.”
Brian and his team are trying to figure out where they best fit within these organizations, which are running through the trials and due diligence. Somewhat surprisingly, these large companies seem to recognize that innovation comes from startups. They have channels for new stuff to be introduced and GazeHawk is working its way through those channels.
Brian used the example of Mozilla which is a GazeHawk customer: “Mozilla comes in and says that they want to improve awareness on certain pages. We tested three of their landing pages. These are important to them because if you just downloaded the latest version of Mozilla they want you to know about the new features and functionality.”
About Brian. Brian admits that he was a horrible student, but nonetheless, he made it through CMU’s rigorous CS degree (with a minor in software engineering) in three years. He talks about being a nerd as a kid when he developed a passion for software. “I am such an engineer at heart,” he tells me. Brian spent time at TripAdvisor, Yahoo! and Mozilla during his internships and though he values those experiences he wanted to do things on his own, “Since I was 15, I have been all about the web. And since my junior year in high school, I knew every that entrepreneurship would be my path.” He adds, “Except that I didn’t really know what the word meant. I found that out later. Like now,” he concludes.
GazeHawk today. GazeHawk is getting a lot of interest and, while they are still trying to figure it out, Brian and his team are incredibly committed to and confident in their ability to deliver value through their product.
They raised a decent amount (undisclosed) of angel funding post-Y Combinator (including from Dave McClure, founding partner of seed investor and startup accelerator, 500startups.com), so they have some runway left. As to whether they will raise more money and, if so, when, Brian says, “We’re going to wait and see about funding. The Enterprise sale is a long sales cycle and is unpredictable. But if we have revenues then will we raise another round? I don’t know…”
Challenges. Brian and his team at GazeHawk have faced many startup challenges, largely around finding the real market for the technology. They know the technology has value, and they are focused on figuring out how to get the product to scale, including pricing issues. Brian tells me, “Others have similar products but nobody knows how to price or handle the business behind this. There is a market no matter what we do because we really have something that people want.” Brian continues with some product development philosophy, “Most startups have a product that they build and then they have to turn that into a solution that solves a problem that someone has. Twitter didn’t have great technology behind it before they needed to scale. But we have this really great technology that we are pioneering. Meaning that we have done more research into this than anyone. You can take any published paper but we have better technology in eye tracking. Joe heads up the efforts there. He’s a genius. And computer vision is finicky. A lot of people get 90% of the way there but turning it into a robust, replicable product, well that’s a whole other thing. We are now turning our technology into a product. And we’re good at that, and we have lots of feedback about what customers want, but turning that into a product, that’s hard. And we are only six people.”
Finances are never far from any entrepreneur’s thoughts. While everybody in GazeHawk gets paid, Brian and Joe as the chief shareholders and co-founders take only what is necessary to survive, to pay rent and not have to worry. They are trying to extend their runway as long as possible.
Culture is one area where GazeHawk seems to be fine. In terms of how they run their startup, Brian is candid, “We have a Silicon Valley mentality in the office. Everyone in GazeHawk gets to pick their own title. I can call Joe CTO because he is the best in computer vision. And while I am hesitant to put labels on people, I have taken on the business side of things, including customer interaction and sales. I am a really good coder but it is really important in a startup that the founder find out directly from customers what they want.”
The two have a solid co-founder relationship, “Joe and I are different in a lot of ways. He is very down to earth and observes things objectively. I am much more of a schmoozer. Joe figures out the motivations of people. And I think that the most valuable thing in a co-founder is the willingness to disagree with you.” They developed their relationship working on projects at CMU and the trust and mutual respect shows. And Brian loves to use Joe as an excuse to gain time or leverage, “My mom taught me that there is a huge amount of value in placing blame outside of the room. She used to say that if I needed to get out of something that I could blame her. That gave me so much freedom. And I can use that same technique about Joe since he is key in decision making, but he is not in the room with me.”
We expect great things, GazeHawk!