The engine behind Josephmark ventures

An Interview with JM Technical Director, Uzi Bar-On

Uzi mapping out a system on a whiteboard with pens and stickynotes. Visible words include “Public vs Private Workspace” and “Permissions Heirarchy”.

At Josephmark, we’ve built brands, strategies, and products across everything from artificial intelligence and mixed realities, through to crypto and robotics. As a venture studio with nearly two decades of work to our name – including Clipchamp, recently acquired by Microsoft – our ventures span fintech, agtech, sextech and beyond. Understanding the unique offerings and advantages of these different technologies is core to our creations, and that’s exactly where our brainy, secret-sauce Technical Director Uzi Bar-on fits in.

Sitting humbly behind the curtain of these inventions, Uzi is a self-taught software solutions architect with wide and varying experience spanning over 30 years. At just eight years old, his research journey began when his father introduced him to a Dragon 32 computer (1984), and at 14 years, he helped develop automated manufacturing robotic cells for ISCAR. Uzi hasn’t stopped “playing with computers” since.

We caught a brief window of Uzi’s time — in between playing a game of chess with his child prodigy son — to get to know the technical engine that makes JM’s ventures hum. 💻 💤

Hey, Uzi! Your job at JM covers so many things — could you give us the elevator-conversation version?

Sure. My job title is Technical Director for the JM group. That means I oversee technologies and approaches agency-side, but also validate the ventures in our pipeline to make sure the technology is feasible. I spend my days ensuring that ventures make sense and are achievable technically, and that we can launch them successfully to JM ventures.

What are the biggest technology trends that have informed your perspective and practices?

Artificial Intelligence and Mixed Reality. I’m very excited by everything in mixed reality and the whole XR space at the moment. For the last ten years I’ve watched it, and it’s not going to slow down anytime soon. Why? One word: accessibility. Even five years ago, it was much more complicated to access, whereas now, this technology is in the hands of everyone. The path to impact humanity with XR is huge, and we’ve already seen it working in mental health (and health in general). These are the kind of ventures that really talk to me.

I was a medic in the army where I’m from, so ventures that are in health and helping humans first are a personal favourite to work on — followed by ventures that improve the world at large. I’m fascinated with agtech, taking robotics and technology into agriculture like Farmbot. Our world’s losing food, so applying artificial intelligence and mixed reality to this domain is very important to humanity.

I’m obsessed with AI at the moment. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s here, and I can’t ignore that. You know, we can go really crazy today with technology that will improve our lives in many ways.

I’m passionate about selecting ventures that we don’t just make as part of the hype — something novel that will be trendy for a few years and then die. I believe there should be a reason for what we’re doing, and that it should be sustainable and impactful.

Three work in progress images of the Queensland Ballet dancing with motion sensors placed all over their bodies. Jess and baby Flo are standing in one image. In another, one of the dancers is behind the camera watching her friends in action.
Behind the scenes of a VR experience for The Queensland Ballet

So, why are you creating this impact at JM?

I’ve been working in technology for so many years now (it’s been over 30 years). Through that I’ve observed different tech trends in each generation. I’ve seen the way that three different generations have experienced technology, including my sons’ generation who are using technology that I didn’t have at their age. It just makes me so aware of why technology design is so important.

It’s not so obvious out in the world — especially in large enterprise and traditional businesses where designers don’t get a lot of say about the impact of what their technology can influence — but at JM we are really focused on empowering our teams, and hearing their voice. I sit in an amazing team, in an amazing company, where all of us do have this voice. We’re very much about sustainability, inclusivity and diversity in every respect, and that’s evidenced by the ventures that we include in our portfolio.

So, that’s the most important thing to me really: the positive impact, and how fortunate we are to be part of a technology revolution that can make real change.

A dual-monitor desk setup lit only by the screens. An Oculus VR headset sits in the foregrounds, and the screens show multiple fidelities of prototype.
Haven Mixed Reality Prototyping

There’s a lot to be grateful for. On the flipside, when it comes to tech-backed ventures and products, what are the common pitfalls that plague founders?

As a prior serial-entrepreneur myself, the common pitfall in tech-backed ventures is to think that you can do it by yourself.

If you look at statistics, in the first year most startups fail: but then in the second year, a few less. On the third year, even fewer . If you survive 6 years, I think you’re almost safe! If you have a great team, it doesn’t really matter what product you make, as long as everybody has the same culture and vision for the impact or value they want to achieve.

Pivoting is the most extreme measure for business survival, but if you have a great team it’s not an issue (“Let’s build a chair! Let’s build augmented reality! Let’s build a drone!”) . If you have a great tech team behind you, you can create anything, really. It’s all about the persistence to keep trying until you find the right solution.

Another common pitfall is to have a great idea and give up on it. You should never give up. I truly believe that. If you experience failures, you just need to learn from them, and move forward continuing to believe in your vision. Eventually, persistence will get you there. You can learn from your mistakes, get new insights, and build more and more tools in your arsenal to try again and succeed.

What distinguishes your approach to developing products at JM to other places?

Well to begin with, it’s not just about serving up a product. We build businesses. We literally build businesses from 0–1 and 1–scale. Joining JM allowed me to do that at scale, and we’re building between 6–12 ventures every year, which is massive for anyone.

It’s a good challenge, I love the challenge. I feed from it. We really do have a passion for startups, and a very unique approach to this process of creating them. The first pillar for myself is to always ask “Is this the right thing to do?”, “Is it the right thing to do now, in these times of technology?”, and “What will be the impact for my kids?”. That’s the first step with any venture that I begin looking at.

I then ask “Is it feasible to do it within six months?” and “Can we run straight at it?”. Or, is it that we’re in for a research and development exercise that will take years and at the end, resulting in a multitude of opticals but not a product? I’ve done that before with different ventures, but it doesn’t allow for it to scale, or even validate. I’m looking to validate great ideas fast that will have outcomes that will be deeply impactful for what we need now as humans.

The third phase is in identifying the team: “Can we deal with the technical requirements with the team we currently have?” and “Do we have the skillsets, or do we need to connect external groups?”. This stage is simply about figuring out how to make this realistic within or outside of our venture studio (or both).

What are the benefits of building products through a venture studio?

The cost, the speed and the teams. The cost of developing an MVP (Minimum Viable Product, a.k.a the earliest possible version for the purpose of proving your concept) with a venture studio is much lower than if you did it yourself.

At the beginning, a lot of founders think “I’ll just throw in $4,000 to develop an app cheaply overseas. It’ll be fine. I’ll manage it from my kitchen with my kid here. Everything’s going to be fine.” Then $50,000 later, it comes back and the product still doesn’t work well. Instead of one person working in customer support, there’s seven. You’re running it with your family, and it doesn’t make you a single dollar. This common pitfall is a known trope in startups — but if you don’t work with expert venture designers it’s the reality.

On the other hand, when you work with a venture studio, the process of everything has been done before, so many times — it’s prescriptive, proven to have worked, and it will work again after the market adoption. Market adoption is really the only thing in this formula that we can’t control. We can only understand it. But when you work with a venture team, if the market fit isn’t great right now, you can shelve it and bring it out again in a few years when the time is right for the product.

That’s something you don’t get if you go it alone. You invest almost $50K, you go to VCs, you build teams, you build companies… and nine months into the project, BOOM! The project explodes, your team goes away, and the IP disappears.

With a venture studio, we’re retaining the same team in the same place, so all of the learnings and IP remains protected within the studio, ready to be extracted when necessary. The breadth and knowledge across the varying ventures we work on is the exact reason why we can ignite ventures in months, not years.

The speed in delivery happens because the team has so much compounded experience across different domains. There’s so much lived experience that any similar approach can become a complete prescription so you can focus on what’s new. This is how you do it. You want to get to 10 million users? You can. It happens step by step: just follow the venture studio yellow brick road. We did it before, and can do it again. That’s the main benefit.

Another benefit is that Josephmark is also involved in building your product’s long-term tech team (remember we’re building your business, not just your product) to take that business forward and execute it and scale it. That’s a benefit you don’t get on your own either. In our case, when we help you create your team, what we’re really creating together is your culture. We’re trying to replicate everything great about our shared mindset to the internal teams of those products.

…and a sprinkling of the Josephmark culture too, ’cause it’s not so bad either.

It can often feel like there’s never a true typical engagement when it comes to technology and ventures. Are there processes and practices that you do apply to every single engagement?

One thing that happens every time is that our technical team comes in at the very, very beginning. I would usually jump in with the designer and the product manager right at the recon stage (that’s JM slang for reconnaissance a.k.a preliminary surveying and research). That’s when I’m assessing feasibility: what the chances of this working in the market are, understanding the competitors, audience analysis, and creating the design of the product at those early stages. Sometimes, we come in even earlier: when we initially meet the founders. That’s part of the first stage of due diligence to see if we can work together, and to assess the different levels of chemistry we might have with the founders.

After that, we need to move fast! So, we’ll usually use the approach that fits for that specific domain or venture that we’re trying to solve . If we have it already in the venture studio, great. If not we’ll call in partners in certain areas to scope it out. It could be a pure hardware exercise, or it could be something like agtech where crossover expertise is required in fields that aren’t necessarily digital technology.

Ultimately, I’m trying to see how fast we can deliver an MVP. We want to validate our assumptions first at the lowest cost possible to make the most efficient process for the venture.

In your own words: Who is Josephmark?

The right team.

In all of my experience — my years and years and years of working in this space — I’ve never experienced a team quite like this. One where the mindset itself is always: “How can we innovate? How can we create new things? How might we venture together inside and outside of work?”. It’s a very beautiful culture to be in. To me, it just feels like the best team in the world.

If you’d like to find out more about the technical engine of Josephmark ventures, reach out to our tech team for a feasibility chat, find out more about our venturing capabilities, or book in a premium chess game with our master Uzi , we’re just an email away.

Design is our language. Venture is our mindset. We are Josephmark.