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Halio’s Hadar Zeitlin on Building an AI Company from the Ground Up

February 28, 2022

The Crunchbase “Female Leader Series” is comprised of stories, Q&As and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds and are now leading successful companies.


Hadar Zeitlin is co-founder and chief business officer of Hailo, an artificial intelligence chipmaker powering smart devices at the edge and innovating industries including automotive, smart cities, smart homes, smart retail, industry 4.0 and beyond.

Zeitlin brings with her a decade of technology experience from the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) elite technology unit, where she served as chief architect and led the unit’s flagship R&D project, which was ultimately recognized with the General Chief of Staff Award for Technological Excellence. Before founding Halio, she served as the first product manager at Via Transportation—a dominant player in the shared mobility market—where she was responsible for multiple core projects including the overseeing of algorithms and the development of products, both backend and frontend. 

In this Q&A, Zeitlin shares lessons she learned from building her company from the ground up and the role she played in securing the largest funding round in the edge AI chip space to date.


Q: What is your advice for other female founders at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys?

Building a company from the ground up can be daunting. It’s super important to acknowledge that your job will be extremely demanding, keeping you busy both physically and mentally around the clock. To pretend otherwise is only going to guarantee burnout in the long run—and that, in turn, increases the risk that founders will eventually abandon their projects.

That’s why, whenever I  mentor a female founder, I stress the risks of burnout. Finding ways to make other aspects of your life easier when venturing down a challenging road will be crucial. I offer these founders a few tips to make it all more manageable: Delegate everything that can be delegated, do not be afraid to ask for support, and prioritize spending time with your loved ones so you have time to recharge.

 

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as the founder of your own company?

I’ve learned so many valuable lessons serving as a chief business officer at Hailo. And I keep learning new lessons every day. 

A lesson that comes to mind, “always be mindful of when it’s most appropriate to expand your team.” On the one hand, expanding the team too early can be problematic since there might not be enough responsibilities to share with a new hire, it might be too early to determine what role needs to be filled, and you may not be in a financial position to onboard a new hire.

On the other hand, waiting too long results in overloading the current team, leading to the dreaded burnout and employees dropping tasks. This can ultimately delay the company’s progress. I learned how important it is to take a step back to reflect on where the company is in its evolution and what it needs now to succeed.

 

Q: What are the biggest lessons you learned from raising your Series C round of funding?

First off, let me start by saying how proud I am to have played a part in securing the largest funding round in the edge Artificial Intelligence chip space to date. The $136 million we just raised, bringing our total funding to $224 million, will play an instrumental role in meeting the surging demand we are receiving for our AI processor and help us continue to expand into new markets.

As we were raising money for our Series C round, I learned a few lessons that likely apply beyond our domain of edge AI processing. First, the actual availability of the products you’re offering is crucial in raising money in later rounds. Is your product already in use? How is it benefiting enterprises? Another factor that played a key role is customer traction. Being able to tell our investors that we doubled our customer base to more than 100 clients over the last two fiscal quarters of 2021 served as a major differentiator from our competitors.

 

Q: What are you going to use the new funds for?

There is currently a surging global demand for advanced AI processors for smart cities, smart retail, Industry 4.0, automotive and more. With this funding, Hailo will be able to address the need for Edge AI solutions by further producing our highly sought-after AI Processor for Edge Devices, the Hailo-8™, continuing to develop our next-generation products, and expanding into both new and existing global markets. We will use these significant resources to accelerate our goal of making advanced AI edge solutions more accessible to industries across the globe.

 

Q: What qualities do you possess that you think have contributed most to your success?

  1. First, is my desire to learn. As a founder, you will often find yourself thrown into every aspect of the business, including areas where you may or may not be considered an expert. It is important to learn as much as you can in the process and invest even more time understanding the segments of your business that may not be so relevant to your day-to-day responsibilities, but that nevertheless are vital to how the business performs.  When you love to acquire new knowledge, it makes this process that much easier.
  1. Second, you need to be able to think at different levels. As an entrepreneur, you’ll find yourself in situations that require you to switch the way you think and act: In one instance, it’s all about putting on your strategic, long-term cap, while in others, you’ll need to think tactical and short-term. To give you a real-world example, I’m constantly evaluating the status of my company and thinking strategically to plan and navigate the company’s trajectory. At the same time, I stay focused on business processes that are not strategic, but just as important to our performance, such as how to achieve a certain business milestone or how to plan a product launch.
  1. Lastly, determination is a key quality that has contributed to my success. The ability to set a challenging goal, believe that you and your team can achieve it, and work hard to achieve it has gotten me to where I am today. Entrepreneurship is all about overcoming challenges, so it is important to meet obstacles with resolve and continue toward your goal.   
 

Q: What do you find most rewarding about your experience as a founder so far?

I sincerely appreciate the overwhelmingly positive customer feedback we continue to receive. Every time a client tells me how impactful our product has been for their business, it makes all the hard work I’ve put into Hailo worth it. Knowing that I’m playing a part in helping enterprises develop the innovative AI-powered solutions we see coming out today is very rewarding.

 

Q: What inspired you to start your company?

The ongoing AI revolution is truly thrilling, and I was eager to play a part in it. I co-founded Hailo in 2017 to help develop a new deep-learning solution that overcame the shortcomings of current computer architectures, with the goal of enabling smart devices to operate more effectively and efficiently at the edge. Together with my co-founders, we sought to create an AI processor that reimagined traditional computer architecture to solve the challenges faced by a multitude of industries, including automotive, industry 4.0, smart cities, smart homes and retail. Starting my own company allowed me to be on the front lines of identifying the domains that would adopt AI technologies first and offer a revolutionary solution to help with the challenges these domains face.