Buzzy Rocket: Founder Spotlight Gil Makleff of Sembly AI

Recently updated on April 4th, 2023

We are very happy and proud to share a Buzzy Rocket Founder Spotlight with Gil Makleff, co-founder of Sembly AI. The Founder Spotlight Series focuses on the entrepreneurial journey. 

Learn more about Sembly AI, our team, and how our products can make your life easier. Here are some selected questions from the interview:

What’s your story and how did you get here?

My story is an interesting story in the sense that it’s not so linear. I was brought up by an American mother and an Israeli father. I was in Israel until I finished my mandatory military service. I was in the US before as a child, and then I moved back later in life. I then went to Columbia University and I got my undergraduate degree in computer science. After college I started working for Chase Manhattan Bank. I was in an operations group, and then started my MBA at NYU. After that, I founded a company with someone I met at Chase. We spent many years building the company and then sold it. It turns out the Project Portfolio Management software was then sold to Microsoft and then many years later, Ernst and Young.

Over the years, the one thing that has always been and continues to be important to me is people. The people in the organizations I’ve led and lead mean a lot to me. I think some people treat organizations as a machine. I believe in the merit based approach. I also believe you need to create a team environment that is synergistic. People need to help each other in the organization in order to resolve problems and that is not an easy thing.

What was your inspiration for your current company?

We are part of an industry with large transformations. As a result, we have always spent a lot of time in meetings. It was interesting to observe how well meetings were run, the conversations and whether action items could be accurately tracked.

In 2019 a past coworker and I decided to make a real impact on corporate business meetings. That is why we created Sembly AI. We knew we could apply machine learning to working teams, leaders and managers. We thought it would remove a lot of the mundane activities required (e.g. taking notes, gathering feedback, etc.) so people could focus on the real problems that needed to be solved in the meeting. And when you are in 6-7 meetings a day and then need to reference something that happened in a meeting months ago it can be both difficult and complicated.

For Sembly AI, it was important to design the product from the corporate point of view so we could really make an impact and help working teams. We wanted to help teams from all industries and organizations of all sizes.

What keeps you up at night?

That’s an interesting question. I tend to be overly aware of everything around me, not just my company, but everything. When I start to focus on the rapid change in our world today it becomes consuming and it keeps me up at night. There is change everywhere, literally.

Take our industry, a few months ago Chat GPT was introduced to the world, now the AI industry has been transformed thanks to that introduction. The public’s sudden acceptance and interest in our industry is very interesting. There are so many dimensions – communication, technical, legal, use cases, etc.

The impact of technology on human behavior is really interesting. Chat GPT reminds me of when Alexa/Siri came out and people were blown away by what it could do. Then there was Google Maps. Wait – you can tell me there is traffic on the way to my meeting?

Change is always happening but it is exciting to see it happen so fast. I have this image of waves in the sea rolling in. The waves are innovation. My company is like a surfboard riding the waves, however some are too big, like Chat GPT. Did you know Microsoft invested close to half a billion dollars to build that technology?

Back to the question. What keeps me up at night is change. What is going to be the next big change or wave?

Did you have to pivot?

Yes, we made a lot of mistakes along the way, we even changed the name due to enterprise adoption. We pivoted to a bottom up play in addition to an enterprise play. It ended up being very successful. Along the way we also did a lot of rethinking, redesigning, etc. There is no such thing as a simple path. There are a lot of challenges still, we are still growing and developing. The ability to continuously change is the key to success.

There is no such thing as a simple path. The ability to continuously change is the key to success.
Gil Makleff
CEO and Co-founder at Sembly AI

As a founder, have you made any mistakes?

Yes, I have made many mistakes. One particular one was trying to monetize too early. We tried to build it quickly and then sell it. It didn’t initially work so we had to think about it a little differently and rebuild it. It took us longer to get to our goals but luckily our investors believed in us. That was a big lesson.

What does it take to be a founder?

That is a good question with a long answer. I think having a very clear vision of what you want to achieve is important. However, you also have to have a lot of empathy, sympathy and patience. You have to be willing to wear a lot of hats. Sometimes you are a doer, not a manager or leader, you need to just get things done. That might be paying bills, making coffee, building the product – it is not always about delegation, it is about doing and then shifts over time but you will always be doing something.

I always thought the product was 95% of the startup but it is really only 15%. The rest of the time it’s fundraising, operations, human resources, administration, marketing, sales – you get the idea.

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