Gil Matzliah Of Novisign On His Israeli CMS Company’s Roots And Growth, And Operating In Wartime
October 19, 2023 by Dave Haynes
I bumped into Gil Matzliah at a conference this summer, and told the software executive we were long overdue to do a podcast about what’s happening with his company, Novisign.
We finally nailed down a date and time, and as it turned out, it was just days after the horrendous violence that broke out in Israel – where Matzliah and his company are based.
We chatted about the situation and the impacts on his company. He’s fine, his family and staff are fine, but everyone is understandably rattled.
We then got into the roots of Novisign does, what’s different about its CMS solution, and what they’re seeing and hearing in the marketplace. Novisign was an early adopter of Android and it remains its primary go-to operating system.
Though Israeli, more than half of its business comes from the US and another quarter from Europe. And now the company is growing business in Japan.
Gil, thank you for joining me. You’re in Israel, where a few days later things went crazy there. I have to ask, how are things going? How are you? And I assume the family’s fine and everything?
Gil Matzliah: Yeah. Thank you for your concern. Yes, me and my family are all good, also the team members that are here in Israel are good. Last Saturday was a very hard day in Israel. It’s something we never expected would happen. But now we are good.
Your offices are pretty close to the West Bank, aren’t they?
Gil Matzliah: Yeah. So, Israel is a small and tiny country. It’s not too big. So everything is close to everything. Our office is close to the West Bank, the conflict and all the issues you hear now in the news have been in the south area of Israel with the border of the Gaza Strip.
I hope everything continues to be fine for you and things settle down there.
Gil Matzliah: Yeah, we also hope so. At the end of the day, we like to work, we like to have peace, everybody wants to build good things together and so do our neighbors. In NoviSign, we have Arab Muslims, Christians from all around the world, Jewish people, we all work happily together and that’s what we hope the world will go for. It’s just this thing with the Gaza Strip that… and there’s an organization called Hamas, who is making the issues and challenges for our regions, which I hope will be better moving forward.
Has staffing been affected at all? Have you had members of your staff be called up to the military?
Gil Matzliah: Yeah, in many countries, they call some of the stuff but you can say it’s less than 10% for a team all the time one or two people in total.
Yeah, it’s just one of those things which you can’t help but be directly affected in some way because of the size of the country and the way things operate, right?
Gil Matzliah: Exactly. Yes.
All right. So enough of that. I don’t want to dwell on it and no doubt by the time that things will have changed and hopefully gotten better.
Just for the benefits of people who maybe don’t know your company, can you run down what you do, how long you’ve been around and how you distinguish yourself in the marketplace as NoviSign.
Gil Matzliah: Perfect. So, we are NoviSign. We do digital signage software. Our company is based in Israel and provides services from all around the world. We have people in the US, Germany and Japan. With a team of more than 200 partners all around the world, we give a global software as a service for digital signage.
I started a company with my colleague, Avi 12 years ago. It was 2011. We established it here in Israel, with the dream to be a great startup, changing the world and leading the digital signage software.
Have you changed the world?
Gil Matzliah: It’s not so easy but we’re sure we’ll do it. We are making changes. We are progressing. Opening a startup 12 years ago, that’s a long journey and like a roller coaster, you go up, you go down, but you keep going forward all the time. And after a few years, we started to see the good results coming and since then we are growing and growing constantly every year.
Good. So if you were lined up against, let’s say, 10 other CMS software companies out there and somebody said, all right, I’ve looked at all these other ones. What is it about you guys that’s distinctive and different and important? What would you say?
Gil Matzliah: Yeah. So, first it’s the team. We came with a lot of experience in software programming. We are technical people. We are software programming people. We have opened the company to lead in the platforms that enable people to do that. So, it’s the team that you work with. It’s the technology behind the servers, the player, the communication, the integration and it’s the offering that we have.
We have a wide offering, which is very reliable and secured and trusted by thousands of customers around the world.
You mentioned security and I know you’re SOC 2 certified. Was that important to do?
I’m hearing more and more from a variety of different companies saying that the security piece of this is really important, maybe much more so than it was even a couple of years ago.
Gil Matzliah: That’s correct. So more and more organizations are looking at security, but also it’s the maturity of the company.
So when NoviSign started with few installations, what you are busy with is just building software that works. And then after it works, you start adding more and more features. And when we started, we were looking at a small and medium businesses. But slowly, as people saw, we have a nice, easy to use platform, then the bigger companies started wanting it. But when you go for a bigger company, and as time changes, all these medium and large companies today want better security, they looki at all these RFPs, abd you really need good security in order to get these customers.
Have you evolved like a lot of companies have, where they started with the small to medium business market and now they’re more focused on enterprise?
Gil Matzliah: We are not focusing on enterprise yet, but this is the growth engine that we have. So if you had asked me like five years ago, we wouldn’t work with banks, insurance companies or bigger Fortune 500 companies. But if you look recently in the last five years, we started to work with a few banks and corporations and insurance companies worldwide and there is the bigger number of bigger business we work with now.
I’m curious when you say five years ago, you wouldn’t have worked with a big bank or somebody like that. Is that because your platform wasn’t ready for it or a very large customer, as I’ve said to some other people in the past, they could be great, but they can kill your company because they just get so involved and they can be so needy?
Gil Matzliah: It’s a good point. So if I look at that, I can tell you an interesting story. Like a year or two after we opened the company and we have the website and we started to do promotions and we started to go to shows and I’m sitting in my home and suddenly I’m getting, today we have people in the US, but back then we were just in Israel, and a call was redirected for me from the US and it was the MTA of the New York transportation company asking about our platforms.
And you’re not really ready for these types of companies when you are less than 10 people, a small company with a new product. But once you are in almost 10 years or so, and you have enough people to support, enough understanding of the security, the features, the integrations, the platforms, then you get ready to serve the bigger companies.
You work with a lot of different platforms and therefore hardware partners. I know you’re on Android, you’re on different SOC platforms for smart displays, all that sort of thing.
Is it a challenge to manage the variety of, they’re all are just similar in certain respects, most of them are Linux in some way or another, but how easy or hard is it to stay on top of all those different ones?
Gil Matzliah: It is a good point. It is a good challenge because looking at that, when you’re a small company and at the beginning we started with Android.
I think we’ve been one of the first, if not the first, to develop an Android based player, an APK back in 2011. There are more and more people on Android, it’s not the most of them. And then we started to add ithers, we added Windows, we added Chrome, we added Linux, now we are adding HTML Player, we are adding Tizen, we are adding WebOS, and we’re adding more and more features. It’s becoming very complex to support them all because once you have a change, you need to see it’s working on all the platforms.
And when you speak about the Android platforms, just the Android platform has so many versions. And we even have, lately, forced all our customers with Android that is less than 6.0 to stop using the system because until half a year ago, there were people that were still using Android 4.4 with us and the difference between Android 4 and Android 12 is huge. So imagine that fixed security support, as you say it’s becoming to be more and more challenging and you need to grow the team and it’s slower for you to add new features because you need to see that it’s working on all the platforms, but we do believe we should be always hardware agnostic because what is differentiating a CMS software from a Samsung LG and all the other display manufacturers that are doing the software is that we work with all the platforms and they work just with their platforms. So we keep it as a focus for us.
Is technology enabling you to go towards being operating system agnostic without having to make compromises in terms of, yes, we can work across all of these different platforms, but we can’t do everything on each of them or whatever, which I’ve heard versus, natively written software that’s native to Tizen, native to WebOS and so on.
Gil Matzliah: Yeah, it’s hard to do 100 percent of your features on all the platforms. Not all the platforms, not all the OS work equally. So our main player from the first day until today is the Android, which we can do 100 percent of our capabilities. When you go to Tizen or WebOS, you are limited in some way, and then you need to give away some features sometimes when you’re developing your platform.
Are you finding that the marketplace end users and your reseller partners are starting to settle in on certain solutions, like they’re settling in on Android or whatever it may be?
Gil Matzliah: I think you probably know better than me the hardware, the platforms, the ways to do digital science is like a big jungle. There are so many things and choices, even the software, you always say that there are many more CMS platforms.
So there are so many varieties there. So I don’t see anybody locking on anything and that’s why we keep the diversity to be able to support the most.
For the technical people at AV companies that are just starting to get into digital signage or the AV IT people for end user customers. Do they look at this space and go, come on guys, can you just establish some standards and continuity and not have all these varieties of options?
Gil Matzliah: They’re asking for that. We are asking for that. I think the world needs that. The one thing, we do see that Android, since we started 12 years ago, and imagine 12 years ago, you didn’t even have a set up box of an Android, or just the first one was just coming in 2012, like the year after we started, or the first year of NoviSign.
And today, most of the world, most of the set up boxes around the world are Android based. So we do see that Android… both the system on chip and both of the players have been the main platforms for digital signage. For us for sure, more than half of our installation and most of our installations are Android based either with a player or with a system of chip. I find it very strange that Samsung and LG are still struggling to stand out technology and not going with the mainstream.
That seems to be changing. Samsung is moving away from its software partners, at least it certainly seems that way and marketing its own platform and LG WebOS now has a standalone player, a WebOS player, as opposed to you having to buy their display so that they’ve got some flexibility there.
So I think the big guys are seeing the need to either adjust or just decide, you know what, yes, we have partners, but we are going to do our own thing as well.
Gil Matzliah: We believe in Android, but we still believe that we would need to be hardware and OS agnostic.
Partner and end user demands, have they changed through the years? Like what they wanted when you got into it or maybe even five years ago, is that different from now?
Gil Matzliah: That’s an interesting question. I don’t notice a big change in the partners. But one thing is for sure, customers, partners, they want everything all the time, so we need to be there to deliver it for them.
The impression I get generally is both for the AV/IT ecosystem and particularly on the end user side, they understand the technology a lot more, they understand the benefits and so on. So you’re no longer having to put stuff up on a website or elsewhere saying what is digital signage and here’s the reasons you want to use it and so on.
They get it, they understand it, perhaps they’ve used it, and now they’re looking for their second generation of software because the first selection did the job, but didn’t really do what they wanted or limited their capabilities. Are you seeing that?
Gil Matzliah: Yes. I think the world is more familiar with digital signage. When we started 12 years ago, not many people would knew what it was, what you do with it, how you install it.
And today, every new project of signage is an integral, internal mass part in all these new setup locations, public places, and when more and more people are dealing with that, then they have more knowledge about it and then they start to learn more, to ask for more and this is something we do see.
Are there particular vertical markets that you’re seeing a lot of growth in and that you guys are focused on?
Gil Matzliah: I can tell you about the geographical region. So most of our business, more than half of our business is coming from the United States, which is the easiest market to work with. The faster trying thing, understanding thing. Then we have the European market with a quarter of our business coming from there and they’re more conservatives, what they’re getting, how they’re getting, planning, trying and so on. And then, we have the rest of the world and we are focusing and growing in the last five years in Japan. We have a local team over there in Japan and in Japan they are testing more, asking more. If you deliver and if you have a lot of patience, then it grows. So these are the regions that we work with.
As for the different sectors, we really don’t have anything which is like more than 20 percent of our business. We do have hospitality, we do have health care, we have the cooperation, we do have retail.
But we started a new initiative, which we spoke about in the past a little bit. We established with some partners a company named which is focusing on the retail industry. So everything which is fanning out from retail. Today, we are moving to this new initiative that we built and generally the sectors.
Are you mainly selling through a “channel” or do you sell direct?
Gil Matzliah: We are acting both direct and on the channels and both of them are significant for us. So, there isn’t one which is more or less significant than the other.
A lot of our partners are white labels. There are so many installations around the world, which are based on the NoviSign signage that you won’t even know.
Which I assume is very important to these partners.
Gil Matzliah: Yes, because for years, these partners have had their their software, their brand and our support behind it and we give them like instances and so on.
We give them confidentiality, of course, if an end user will turn anything upside down and look and research, after some time they’ll find us, but it’s working fine for our partners and for us.
Are your partners layering on managed services so they’re white labeling and then saying, we can run this network for you or at least keep an eye on it?
Gil Matzliah: Yeah. So when we’re working with a local partner, and we have more than 200 of them all around the world. The nice thing is that, if a customer is calling us and say, I want to install this hotel, this hospital, this restaurant, this city hall, we’ll tell him the first thing, we are a software company. We are SaaS, it’s a do it yourself, we can support you over the phone.But if you want installation, if you want hardware, if you want initial setup, if you don’t have the right people in your organization, then we can refer you to one of our partners.
Our partners, they are integrators. They know how to build the right hardware, how to configure our software, and how to set it up for the customers, and they do it because they know it much better than us.
So, if a customer just wants to get the SaaS subscriptions and they’re going to do it themselves, then your partners aren’t going to really see anything out of that anyways. They’re looking for the services and the hardware integration, all that stuff, so they’re not too fussed if you go directly on that but if there’s an opportunity to layer in things, then you throw it to your partners.
Gil Matzliah: Yes, because we are not going to do meetings with our customers. We are not flying to customers. We are not driving to customers. We do everything software, everything from remote. As long as you need a meeting then it’s not going to be sent anywhere.
Are there, “whale accounts”, big reference accounts or they could even be small ones that you, when you get asked about who you’re working with that you’re able to talk about?
Gil Matzliah: One of our biggest accounts is Worten in Portugal, which is like Best Buy, that has more than 10,000 endpoints with us and we do have some other big corporations and hotels with us as well. In Israel, I can tell you some names like Ikea, Coca Cola, most of the hotels that are working with us here and many other big brands.
In that Portuguese big box electronic store, what are they doing in there? Is it strictly just big displays or are they doing interactive?
Gil Matzliah: It’s more like a display of things, but they have a lot of initiative, they’re very innovative and for more than five years, we work with them and they are always one step ahead of the market, whether it’s very nice gates and video walls and presentation layers and everything related to products. In a way, when you go to the Worten store, it will dress the entire store with a special occasion, holiday, festival and the promotion that they do.
I’m curious about how your company is using AI. You come from a part of the world that has, pretty serious number of technical people, and some of the AI companies have come out of Israel. Are you applying it or are you looking at it as something you can use?
Gil Matzliah: We know and believe that AI will be a part of digital signage. We know it’s important. We know it’s just the beginning of it now, so the value you can create with it, it’s not big yet, but we know it’s coming. So, at this phase, we didn’t release anything or expose anything, but our technology team is looking at that and trying to do a few things. We might present something in ISE, which is coming at the beginning of next year.
And would you use it for… I moderated a panel the other night in New York about all this and I said the presentation layer of using AI for generated visuals and so on, is interesting, but to me, the truly interesting stuff is back of house automating routine tasks and creating marketing materials without a whole bunch of work involved, and one of the guys ran a media company was talking about data input and harmonizing data and all that sort of thing. So somebody looking at this from afar, they might think that’s pretty boring, but it can be pretty valuable.
Gil Matzliah: We are less looking on the operation side, as AI will help us see the operation side of the signage. We’re more looking at the content creation for the signage itself, for the inputs.
What about on the technology side? There’s endless buzz about LED displays and new emerging display technologies on the display and the playback hardware side. Are there things emerging that you think are going to be important?
Gil Matzliah: We don’t go into the display technology, the LED technology for us. It’s more agnostic. So as long as it can get a resolution of a screen..
It’s an output.
Gil Matzliah: The one that you get as an input or an output is the way you look at it.
What about on media players and just computing power?
Gil Matzliah: Yeah, the media player is the important stuff And the main question we all the time ask ourselves is, Is the world moving to a system on chip? Would it stay on the media players? Would it be a combination of them? Would the resolutions and the quality grow performance? And this is something we invest a lot of effort, thinking and development, especially working with all these different platforms which is a lot of maintenance to do.
Yeah, I think one of the interesting things and I’m racking my brain trying to remember who, but the idea of system on chip, but with an upgrade pass, so you could pop open a smart display and put in a new SOC three years out that has more graphics processing or some other capability that maybe that didn’t have when you first bought it.
Gil Matzliah: That’s an interesting direction.
Alright. So if people want to know more about your company, where would they find you online?
Gil Matzliah: You can look for NoviSign.com. All the information is there, the phone numbers, they can contact us, and we are looking for new partners all the time, that will work with us, innovate with us and take our software to maximum customers and locations.
And also, if you’re an end customer and you want to learn more, you want us to support you with innovative technology and especially software, we’d be happy to have you visit at NoviSign.com.
Alright, Gil. Thank you. I hope things calm down there and when I see you at ISE in a few weeks or a couple months.
Gil Matzliah: Actually, we’re planning to be in MEDICA in Germany next month and then in Las Vegas and then ISE in Barcelona. So wherever you’re coming, I will always be happy to see you.
Las Vegas and Barcelona, I’ll be there.
Gil Matzliah: Oh yeah. You have a mixer at both places. Me and my colleagues are looking forward to them.
All right. Stay safe and I’ll see you soon.
Gil Matzliah: Thank you very much.