Yuval Brisker is back.
After selling TOA Technologies in 2014 to Oracle in one of the biggest VC-backed deals for an Ohio tech company, Brisker has just raised $10 million to build Mezu, a mobile payment app that seeks to mimic the transactional ease of cash.
Working with some familiar faces from his TOA days, Brisker self-funded the project until this month, when Mezu announced it had received funding from Draper Triangle Ventures, JumpStart Inc., Draper Associates, Ohio Innovation Fund and North Coast Angel Fund.
Draper Triangle was a recurrent investor in TOA, contributing from the Series A round through the Series E round. Brisker turned to the Pittsburgh-based VC firm for his new venture largely because of trust and familiarity.
“I didn't have to think twice,” Brisker says. “The first call I made was to them. I know them. They’re amazing investors. They’re huge supporters of entrepreneurs.”
In our Deal of the Week, we look at how Brisker leveraged his success and relationships at TOA to get Mezu up and running.
Building off success
Draper Triangle Managing Partner Mike Stubler has known Brisker since 2004. Stubler invested in TOA in 2005 and was on TOA’s board for nine years until its sale to Oracle. He says the decision to invest in Mezu is driven by the idea, the opportunity and his faith in Brisker.
“We really liked Yuval and his co-founder, Irad Carmi, in that we thought they had identified a big market opportunity, but also the fact that they were global in their thinking right out of the box,” Stubler says. “For us, it makes the investment decision the second time around much easier because we know him so well and we know what he’s capable of and we know how passionate he is — that he’ll run through walls to get things done to make it work.”
TOA was, by all accounts, a big success. The field service management software that scheduled “time of arrival” for work in the field grew to nearly 600 employees with customers in 30 countries. It raised $100 millionover 10 years before being acquired for an undisclosed amount.
Brisker acknowledges that coming into the market having a big success behind him helps.
“People are more inclined to say, ‘Well I guess he knows a little of what he’s doing,’" he says. "I think that when people look at somebody who has shown they have the wherewithal and energy and the initiative and the ability to cobble things together in such a way that it becomes a big success, then it’s easier to make a bet. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it definitely makes it easier for investors to look at it and back you.”
Still, as with TOA, Brisker will need to raise a lot of money if Mezu is to succeed.
“Ultimately, software is an incredibly profitable business, but along the way, it loses a lot of money and it ultimately makes a lot of money for people,” he says.
Stubler sees the person-to-person digital payment space as relatively nascent, with lots of people still having yet to adopt payment technologies. He says Mezu’s focus on anonymity and its eventual capability to transfer payments between currency types gives it an edge among its competition.
“It’s a huge market opportunity that’s still pretty much in its infancy, we believe,” he says.
Staying in Cleveland
Mezu might be thinking about raising money, but it’s not worried about generating revenue, which Brisker expects will happen in part through partnerships with businesses and nonprofits, as well as from credit card fees. Instead, the focus is on drawing in users from across the globe with a strong product and great customer experience.
It’s also looking to grow in Cleveland. Brisker says Ohio City, where he lives and hopes to base Mezu, has the potential to become a tech hub.
“We are Clevelanders and we see as part of our mission not just to build a business for our own benefit, but to also build it for Cleveland’s benefit,” Brisker says. “It’s not that we’re purely altruistic, but it’s not that we’re purely opportunistic or capitalistic in that respect. You have to focus obviously on building a successful entity, but you have to do it within a community that you hope it will help enrich, and I don’t mean just financially, but multiple facets of enrichment.”
Joining him from TOA to ramp-up the venture are:
- Pedro Silva, who was a solutions architect for TOA and also led its expansion into Latin America, is Mezu's co-founder and serves as COO and president;
- Brian Cook, CFO at TOA, now an executive officer for Mezu; and
- Irad Carmi, TOA's co-founder, now sits on Mezu's board.
Of the current 27-person crew, he says other familiar names have carried over to the new venture.
With the pieces falling into place, Brisker says he’s hoping to create a success story in Cleveland. And he’ll draw from the many lessons he learned at TOA to do so.
Put people first.“I think the first and most important thing is people,” Brisker says. “Everybody will tell you that people are the key ingredient, but they really are. You have to find great people you have a good relationship with, feel comfortable having good days and bad days with, that are fundamentally like-minded and want the same basic things as you and can have a deep and reflective and strategic and also very aggressive dialogue about winning. That’s foundational.”
Take risks.“Nothing comes your way if you’re not willing to do risky stuff,” Brisker says. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing something that seems to other people as crazy. You have to believe in it and you have to be willing to take those risks, because without taking those risks there’s really no reward. There’s no status quo and then great achievement — it just doesn’t go together.”
Never give up.“You can have the great people and be willing to take risks, but you also have to know that you’re going to have ups and downs,” he says, “There’s going to be days when you think you want to throw in the towel, and there are going to be other days when you’re elated, and neither of those represent the true reality, which is you need to focus and constantly be willing to do the other two things — take risks and bring on great people and listen to those people.”
How to reach: Mezu, www.mezu.com