CTO Sessions: Ron Kol, Luminati

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? "... more and more we will start seeing them take a major role in the companies that are more traditional and less tech driven. It is inevitable."

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Luminati

Name: Ron Kol

Company: Luminati

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: October 2019

Location: Israel

Ron Kol is a proven expert in developing and implementing data collection technology and Luminati Networks’ CTO. As a result of his years of experience developing data driven products, Kol has industry leading expertise in multiple market verticals, and has built technology to meet all their unique challenges, business goals, and growth targets. Luminati serves more than 10,000 businesses globally, including Fortune 500 firms, major retail players as well as finance organisations, security companies, prominent travel sites, and more.

What was your first job? In 1999 I founded my first startup with some of my friends. It was focused on making automated sales service bots for websites based on neural networks. Unfortunately, it was too early for it and we were too inexperienced to make it work. But just a few years later the technology started becoming popular and today you see it being implemented everywhere.

Did you always want to work in IT? I did not have a clear direction from the start, I just loved programming and technology and wanted to explore it more. Emerging opportunities led me into IT, and I am very happy they did.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied computer science at Beer-Sheba university in Israel and jumped into a startup.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I didn't really take any detours. After one year at a startup, I started as an engineer at a company called Jungo that designed software for home routers. During my time there I became a team leader and eventually R&D manager before it was acquired by NDS (now known as Cisco Videoscape) in 2006. I left a year after to join a new startup as VP R&D. I stayed with them for 2 more years and then assumed the CTO role at Luminati Networks.

What type of CTO are you? I would describe myself as hands on and technical, I love designing new products and features. During my years as a R&D manager, and even as VP R&D, I still coded the core technology myself. Now it is a little more difficult to fit it in, but I try to allocate time for it when possible.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I enjoy following the development of IoT technologies. The fact that the market is being flooded by new IoT products and ideas shows the massive untapped potential of the technology. Watching how an emerging technology evolves, and how excess elements gradually disappear as the industry starts to focus on what really brings value, is always a fascinating process. It will be interesting to follow the progress of IoT and how the market matures over the next few years.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? In general, all emerging technologies are overhyped. It is done on purpose and is not necessarily a bad thing. It creates opportunities and attracts investment into new technologies, which eventually allows them to grow and find their proper place.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? One of the biggest focuses of last year was building a whole new product from scratch – it is always an amazing process watching a vision take form. The idea is to see if we can commoditise data collection.

A few years ago, if you wanted to accept payments on your website you had to take on a hugely complicated and separate integration with Mastercard, Visa and American Express. Today, you can simply register with Stripe and the integration is done in a few quick clicks. This is what we’re turning Data Collection to.

In today's hyper digital sphere, every business requires information to make good profitable decisions that can be critical to their future. Whether it is market analysis, competitive pricing, consumer sentiment trends, advertising campaigns, or brand protection; such information is essential to the success of your business and can make a big difference between winning or losing.  Unfortunately, if you want to collect accurate dependable and fresh public information from websites relevant to your business, you have to do the following: build a server farm, write code that runs browsers to collect the data, connect to a proxy service, and handle website-blocking mechanisms, parsers, markup changes, etc. This is a very hard and complex task and it isn’t even the focus of your business. To simplify your work process, you can now register for the Luminati Data Collector platform and schedule data collection from any site in just a few clicks. Then, sit back and relax while the data is collected for you in a quick and automated process.

I really think the Luminati Data Collector platform will have a significant impact on the data collection ecosystem in the next couple of years.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We are leading a digital transformation with some of our clients who are used to running manual data collection processes. As such, our new products are completely focused on the overall customer experience to help make the transition as easy, intuitive and cost effective as possible.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Our customers are collecting many different types and forms of publicly available online data. The biggest issue they are running into is that some sites are blocking their collection efforts for competitive reasons. We are helping them by adding new products that allow them to bypass these blocks and provide them the web transparency they require to achieve their business needs. This is the same transparency you and I enjoy as consumers. 

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? In the world of web data collection Luminati are technology leaders, so in most cases we are doing things first, such as our introduction of Residential IP Proxy Networks. Either that or we are inventing new types of products or taking a whole new approach to an existing practice.  When you are a market leader in your field you are mostly inventing rather than adapting.

When you adapt an existing technology you already know its value, its application methods, and its likelihood of success - someone else did that work for you. So, if you do a reasonable adaptation you should get the expected result. Inventing new things is very risky, you can invest months of work in something that will eventually not find a place in the market, because nobody needs it or is willing to pay for it.

So even though Luminati is very far from its startup days we treat every new product idea or major internal transformation like its own lean mini startup. We give it the necessary framework of R&D and leadership and force them to work in short incremental success phases just like any lean startup - if it doesn’t meet its burden of proving value at every step it will be scrubbed.

In this way (over simplistic but basically true) you can continue to have a big company which still can develop new products at speed like a lean and fast startup. Not wasting R&D or financial resources beyond what is necessary and keeping technology aligned with business goals.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Our company’s DNA prescribes that any development effort, new technology or product idea should always stem from a very clear need. It can be a market need, a customer issue, internal development problems, performance requirements or more - some type of need must be established before any new effort is invested in anything.

Once the need is clear, finding the best solution or technology becomes trivial and the two strategies remain aligned.

What makes an effective tech strategy? A good tech strategy is built on analysis of the company’s current customer base, identifying their pain points, and designing the next generation of products that can resolve those issues in the simplest and fastest possible way. This could mean shaping and adapting existing emerging technologies into market specific solutions or inventing new technologies. Technology leadership then needs to go back to square one to identify and design the next level of products - and there is always a next level.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? It is not a secret that technology is seeping into every aspect of our lives - are there really shopping carts that follow you around the supermarket? CTOs are obviously a driving force behind every technology company, but more and more we will start seeing them take a major role in the companies that are more traditional and less tech driven. It is inevitable

What has been your greatest career achievement? Writing the core technology and leading the development of three products in two companies that became world class successes in their respective markets. The added fact that two of those were acquired for over $100m adds the stamp of recognition to the amazing technological effort and achievement by both companies. And it was also a lot of fun to do.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? If 15 years ago someone gave me a few good pointers about how to correctly build products in a lean startup environment I could have saved years of mistakes. On the bright side, now I can do it blindfolded.

What are you reading now? Mostly articles on technology that catch my eye from around the web. Books are no longer a viable medium in the information technology business – the industry changes too fast for them to be relevant.

Most people don't know that I… Am a certified diver - unfortunately, I do not get to do it often enough.

In my spare time, I like to…Play basketball, travel, go to concerts (hopefully it will be possible again soon).

Ask me to do anything but… Eat tomatoes.