Assaf Gedalia and WalkOut team is using technology to transform the customers’ shopping experience, making it far more intuitive
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Assaf Gedalia: We’re doing well, thanks. In Israel, the country has almost completely opened up, and so life is starting to feel normal again. During the peak of the pandemic, it was relatively calm for us at home, and we were both able to work normally throughout.
The huge difference for me was that I usually fly a lot for work, but it was nice staying home because it allowed my wife and I to spend a lot of quality time together.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded WalkOut.
Assaf Gedalia: Hi, I’m 37 years old, and I’m a computer and electrical engineer.
I studied Computer Engineering and Applied Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the highest-ranked University in Israel. That’s actually where I met both of my co-founders, and we’ve been friends ever since. Hebrew U is also where the seed was planted that grew the idea for WalkOut. The head of our Bachelor’s program spoke of how technology will shape our future, stating, “everything you throw in your shopping cart will be automatically identified using RFID chips.” But we were inspired to take it one step further and create a more practical solution.
Before starting WalkOut, I worked at a startup that designs chips for computer vision, where I lead teams in Israel, India, and Italy.
My Co-Founders and I started working on the idea for WalkOut 3 years ago with the goal of solving the daily frustrations of grocery shopping. The biggest customer pain point is the lengthy and tedious process of checking out, waiting in line, and scanning every item, which even leads shoppers to abandon their shopping carts. This issue has been the same in my lifetime and even in my parents’ lifetime, with little to no advancement in solutions. It was our goal to bring our vast knowledge and expertise in machine learning and computer vision to create a solution that will innovate a more traditional industry.
How does WalkOut innovate?
Assaf Gedalia: We’re solving a very difficult problem — being able to identify 15,000 different products with varying packaging and sizes in real-time requires complex technology. Also, being able to track items as they are being moved and replaced within a cart with above 99 percent accuracy is a very difficult computer vision challenge. But our exceptional engineers are tackling this challenge by producing the most innovative computer vision and machine learning technology.
Together, we create an innovative digitized shopping experience, enabling a two-way communication platform between the retailer and the shopper. Our technology transforms the shopping experience, making it far more intuitive by tailoring suggestions and promotions to every customer.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Assaf Gedalia: In the beginning, there was a lot of fear about its effects on the industry. But we were actually surprised to discover that grocery retail truly flourished during the pandemic, which had a very positive impact on our company’s growth. Also, during a time when people are looking for less interaction and more social distancing, frictionless payment, and checkout solutions are booming. We even signed most of our customers during the pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Assaf Gedalia: No, we were very fortunate because our industry actually grew during the pandemic. In the beginning, we slowed down a little to see where things were going, but we ended up doubling our employees in the past year.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Assaf Gedalia: We do mostly direct sales, and in the past, we would go to the largest retail conferences in the world and demo the solution live to executives and decision-makers. Sometimes potential customers would also fly in to see live demos of our product in the offices. So we definitely had to adapt during the pandemic and do our demos over Zoom. This was a little bit of a hurdle because the impact is totally different when customers can’t see or touch the product in person, so we have had to adjust our strategy and use a little more convincing. That being said, people are way more available over Zoom, so it has its advantages as well.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Assaf Gedalia: As mentioned earlier, grocery retail actually flourished during the pandemic, so luckily, WalkOut didn’t need any government grants.
That being said, before the pandemic, early on, we were supported by the Israel Innovation Authority, an arm of the government that fosters the development of industrial R&D within the state. Their committee of very experienced people from hi-tech chooses the most innovative companies they want to support and grow.
Your final thoughts?
Assaf Gedalia: I realize we have been very lucky to be part of an industry that has grown in a time that has been very trying for so many businesses. That being said, I feel this is a significant moment in history during which technology and innovation have an opportunity to create solutions to problems and improve people’s lives in small and big ways. And at WalkOut, we want to be a part of those solutions.