Amit Avner likes building things. At 29, he’s built a lot.
Currently, he’s the founder of Taykey, a service that predicts trends online and places advertising based on what people are talking about. Taykey, though, is by no means his first project.
Avner, originally from Israel, learned to code when he was 10 years old. His mother was doing a course in web development from the ministry of education in Israel. She would bring her course materials home and teach her son how to build websites.
From there, Avner started teaching himself by reading as many books as he could, and using the internet as a resource. Within four years, he’d built a meta search engine. A year later, at 15, he was working on a college degree in computer science while finishing high school.
“I can say I always liked to play with Legos, which sounds funny, but just the concept of taking the same bricks and being able to build different stuff with it, I find fascinating,” he said. “I think coding it is the same because it’s the same commands that you just structure differently to get a whole different output.”
He carried his coding skills into his time in the Israeli Army, where Avner did consulting and software development during his mandatory service.
In 2009, he co-founded Taykey, but it started off as an idea separate from advertising. In fact, the idea came from managing online message boards.
“I noticed they’re very inefficient,” he said. “When you go and ask a question, it takes so long to get an answer.” But the kicker is how many people are online at any given moment.
“What I thought would be really cool, is if you could say, ‘Hey, I’m an expert in computers’ and whenever someone asks a question on computers, it pops up to you and asks you ‘Do you want to answer this question?’ If you say ‘yes,’ it opens a chat window with the person who asked the question and you can actually have a live chat to resolve the problem quickly,” he said.
Though he approached the project less like a business, and more like an idea he wanted to see exist, Avner quickly had to answer the question: How are you going to make money?
He designed an algorithm that could forecast trends based on what people were talking about on his site.
“The idea was if I know that all the people are asking about Harry Potter, I can go to Warner Brothers and tell them, you should advertise the Harry Potter movie on my website,” Avner said. He reached the point where he realized forecasting trends interested him most.
“Let’s say you’re Coca Cola and you want to advertise to people who like music, we know what’s trending for them right now. We place the Coca Cola ads right next to it and keep updating it over and over and over again and again based on what’s trending,” he explained.
In the time since, Avner’s expanded Taykay to more than 90 employees, with an eye on adding more in the near future. Headquarters are in New York City, but there are also offices in Israel, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Looking back, he said that even though it sounds corny, he’s come to like the idea that “impossible just takes a little longer.”
“Every time, especially when you’re an entrepreneur you hear ‘It’s impossible, it’s impossible, it can’t be done,’ it’s just a matter of putting enough time into it and enough brain power,” he said.
And part of what goes into that equation of time and brain power, is also having a certain level of gumption.
Early on, Avner and his co-founder were pursuing data from social networks to train the algorithm. One day, he approached Hyves, a social network in the Netherlands.
“I basically cold-called the CEO” Avner said. “I called the office and asked to speak with him, and he took the call and I explained what we’re doing and asked for a meeting.” Within a few short days, they were on a plane, flying to Amsterdam.
“It taught me that it’s never bad to ask. It’s always good to try, and then maybe the thing you want will happen,” he said.
In his own words…
How do you unplug?
“I don’t think there is unplugging. My philosophy is that if you enjoy it, it’s not work, it’s just fun. But I do like to read a lot, I like to watch television a lot. It takes me to my own place when I read. I’m binge reading some different things. I just finished reading the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so Sherlock Holmes. I really enjoyed that. I like whodunit books.”
You mentioned television, what shows do you watch?
“It depends. I like Game of Thrones, there’s a show called Suits I like, White Collar that I like, I like Top Gear, all kinds of different things.”
If you try a different profession, what would it be?
“I really enjoy writing and I used to write a column the adventures of doing a start up and I would love to try and be a journalist.”