We had the good fortune of connecting with Tammuz Dubnov and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tammuz, have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to decide whether to give up or keep going? How did you make the choice?
I’ll give my take on how to know whether to keep going or give up based on my background as an entrepreneur, artist and a technologist, but in truth it will vary greatly per person. This is a universal problem that most of us deal with at some point, or many points, throughout our lives. If you’re working on a project that requires your time, your dedication, or your resources, how do you know when to accept the sunk cost invested so far and when to move on to a different effort? Authors invest months or often years into writing books that may or may not become notable, entrepreneurs spend years building businesses that may fail, artists invest years into their craft not knowing if any of their works will ever be appreciated by the masses. When is enough enough? It’s hard to know objectively if you’ve already spent too much time on an endeavours or if you’re stopping too early. Bach, one of the greatest composers in history, was little-known during his lifetime and only became famous in the 19th century (whereas he died in 1750). Van Gogh wasn’t famous during his lifetime. Similarly, Emily Dickson was completely unknown during her life. When thinking through whether those individuals should have given up or kept going, only a truly zoomed out perspective that spans multiple lifespans can give us the answer to the quality of their works; and we can all agree that had any of them given up earlier in their careers it would have been a tragedy. Their focus was mostly internal, working for personal growth, almost irrespective of the world around them. That leads to the idea of whether what you’re doing is fulfilling to you and helping you grow as an individual or not. These people have the personality type that would rather live in extreme modesty, in an effort to work towards something great, than live in mediocrity and complacency of traditional paths. I personally resonate with this sentiment of working outside the traditional 9 to 5 in a pursuit of something greater – it’s a sentiment that drove me towards becoming an entrepreneur. There’s a million reasons why an initiative may fail, it could be lack of luck, poor timing, or anything (often unknown) outside of your control. People generally start their initiatives to gain wealth, acquire fame, or for personal growth – working towards greatness and personal growth is my personal focus. Most of my planning is spent with future me in mind, the person I’d like to be in ten years, and who I want that person to be – in my case a tenacious and achieving entrepreneur. The tenacity and persistence to keep going can sometimes pay off big, but most often may end up with a sunk cost of years of work without something true to show for it. Of the 627,000 new businesses estimated to launch each year, only half will make it to their fifth year. Of those successful enough to raise money from venture capital, 75% of them will still fail. The electric car giant before Tesla, Better Place, raised $850M before ceasing its operations 6 years after founding. Yet some founders’ tenacity, even on the brink of failure where giving up would seem like the logical step, has led to extreme success. Airbnb, for example, was on the brink of maxing out its founders’ credit cards before designing and selling Obama O’s cereal boxes to make a bit of extra cash. Other well-known companies, such as Apple, Netflix, and Tesla, have similar stories – they had to overcome being on the brink of collapse before becoming huge. My personal story focused less on a classic business approach of finding a business need and then building for it. At first, I built Zuzor’s technology for my own personal use as an artist and performer, and then went through the challenging journey of finding a business need for the technology. From there, I had to go through the process of discovering how such a business can be scalable and therefore offer a big enough opportunity to make a significant impact. In regards to knowing when to stop, I defined technology-based milestones for myself. Until we reach these specific features and capabilities, we cannot accurately gauge the true potential success of the company and therefore cannot stop. Whether that’s the right choice or not, only time will tell. Regardless, my path, driven by personal growth, will help me move closer towards the future me I want to become. When the unexpected happens, like say, a global pandemic hits, milestones may need to be readjusted. If ever there were a time to be clever and resourceful, balancing creativity yet remaining realistic, COVID would be it. Whatever you decide, make sure it is a decision that future you will understand and accept.
What should our readers know about your business?
In general this article does a nice job of going over my story — https://www.avnetwork.com/features/the-nine-tammuz-dubnov At Zuzor we offer experiential media technology to help turn environments interactive, or as we describe it “experiential,” by activating digital signage in the space. In a world becoming more and more secluded, even before COVID-19, we are becoming increasingly connected digitally but increasingly disconnected to each other physically and emotionally. That’s why I think it’s becoming more important to create environments and experiences that help people live in the moment and be with each other. I initially built the technology that came to be Zuzor when I was a second year student at UC Berkeley for theoretical mathematics, computer science and dance. I used my technical knowledge and movement background to build an interactive projection space for my work as a choreographer and a dancer. Of course back then the technology was far more limited, you can see what it looked like back then (in 2013 when I was a 17 year old kid) at https://youtu.be/9O8axusrBSM versus what it looks like now (2020) at https://youtu.be/-_sXHmPbRUA. It became much more than a personal project when I started using it as a tool for anyone to engage and interact with. Through my artistic experience I asked myself a lot of questions about what movement-driven personal and social experiences mean, and where can our technology aid. How can you take something personal, an image, a gesture, and make it into something playful and imaginative that you can share with others to make an impact, change people’s emotions, attitudes and better their personal or social life? I think what sets us apart from other solutions is a combination of sensibility and the amount of attention we put into each gesture and its visual rendering, and the ability to make it personal and share it online. The other unique feature is our democratization or “leveling the playing field” by offering our technology and authoring software to allow anyone to become a creator and a sort of audio-visual choreographer. My business journey has been a lot of tenacity and partly fortunate happenstances where each opportunity unfolds another opportunity. We went from uses in experimental dance to doing events, then an individual who saw it at an event reached out to ask about using it at a museum; which required me to learn about the museum world. As nightclubs started inquiring, I wasn’t even old enough to enter the nightclubs. Shortly after becoming old enough to drink, I was invited to speak at the Bar & Nightclub conference in Vegas and learned more about the industry through all the behind the scene tech tours in the massive nightclubs of Vegas. Then as I started being invited to more and more conferences as a speaker, I was exposed to Speaking Bureaus and explored using our tech in presentations. Fortunately, it was a big success and is now a staple of my keynotes with other speakers starting to use it as well. As our work snowballed into more and more opportunities, it was requiring me to be agile and adaptive to make the most of these opportunities. I did a pitch in San Francisco, and after winning as one of the top 3 startups in California we were sent to Guangzhou China among the top startups from 9 major cities around the world. This led to an invitation to speak in Hong Kong about entrepreneurship which in turn led to an invitation to speak in Dublin about the experiential economy and creativity, all at top conferences. Going through the process of exploration and educating our audiences at conferences, a magazine titled me and certified me as a thought leader on the topic and other organizations started to give me awards for our innovations. As the company continues to grow I hope that more and more creators will create joyous moments for you using our technology.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Although I’m 25, I’m not too well-versed in the nightlife scene in San Diego. I am too much of a workaholic to go out except for special occasions. When my friends do come to visit, I would show them the lively nightlife scene in downtown but more likely than not I would bring them with me to Aerial Revolution to train in acrobatics or aerials.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
As is true for most people, a big part of my success are my parents and family for their continued support and guidance. In regards to a book that helped shape my thinking around my business, a lesser known one that helped me build a perspective is Think Bigger by Michale W. Sonnenfeldt. The book covers the stories of numerous entrepreneurs through a high level lens that helped me develop a big picture understanding of how others have taken their business to the next level by thinking bigger and how I can apply that mindset. Other notable people in my life, that helped shape me as a person, are Kathryn Irey from Stage 7, who has been my ballet teacher since I was 12 or so, and Pietro Canestrelli who was my circus master as I trained in aerial acrobatics as a teenager. They both helped shape me as an artists and as a person, building my discipline, focus, and awareness, that has helped me become the person I am today.