Interview with Zenner Co-Founder and CEO Elad Schaffer

Elad is the Cofounder and CEO of Zenner an AI-powered travel assistant that keeps travelers safe, productive and Zen. He previously co-founded Wikistrat, a real-time collaboration platform for experts, supporting governments of fortune 500 clients around the world. Elad led Wikistrat as its COO and later CEO, built a community of 5,000 world-renowned experts and drove $MM sales, turning the business from bootstrapping all the way to profitability. Elad previously served for six years as an officer in an elite Israeli intelligence unit, winning the country’s highest award of innovation for his service. He holds a law degree (LLB) and MBA with distinction from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

1. What is Zenner?

Zenner is a start-up company with the mission to make every traveler’s journey more delightful, smooth and Zen. To that end, we are building an AI-powered travel assistant that looks after travelers when they are on the road. Our goal is to 10x the travel experience and enable self-service, digital and proactive traveler-care.

For the traveler, it is a conversational chatbot that monitors every part of their travels, anticipates and resolves problems, feeding the right information and advice at the right time to make for a stress-free journey.  On the back-end, it is powered by a travel intelligence and assistance platform, tracking and fusing data from up-in-the-skies and down to the tarmac. 

You can think of it like Waze, but for air travel – from predictions on flight delays and cancellations, expected ETA, useful information about the airport, health and safety information, alerts to lengthy queues and through to responding to common travel questions.

2. How did you come up with the idea for Zenner?

Zenner is my second startup with Daniel Green, my co-founder of the last ten years. We always had a passion for predictions and data, and we combine it with our love for travel. As “road-warriors” flying once a week in our previous startup, we have a good share of stressful, sometimes disastrous flight stories, negatively affecting our businesses and people. We felt it, our families felt it, and our employees felt it.

We also know that travel can be stress-free and exciting. Traveling with Daniel, for example, is quite an experience – I would enter “auto-pilot mode”, simply following Daniel through all the airport shortcuts, knowing he has everything under control and he’d solve any issue instantly, always making sure there’s a pleasant little surprise just before we take off. In a way, we are turning flying with Daniel into a product.

3. How did you get to where you are today with your company?

In a short period of time, we were able to release a product, test it with travelers,  serve dozens of corporate customers and start pilots in support of travel agencies. We are also in discussions with airlines and other travel providers such as insurers and credit card providers, who recognize the need to create meaningful engagement with their travelers, looking after and improving their traveler experience during these times of uncertainty and stress.

We were fortunate to win a grant from Ycombinator’s startup school a few weeks into starting Zenner. YC gave us a big push to launch quickly and test the customers’ reaction and appetite for our product. We could rapidly test, refute or validate our hypothesis, and use this feedback to iterate and improve. It pushed us to get off the ground, spend valuable time in Silicon Valley, onboard our first customers as well as onboard our first investors.

Shortly after securing our first enterprise client, COVID-19 hit the travel markets, impacting everything we thought we knew. While a shock to everyone at first, we also recognized it as an opportunity. The stress and uncertainty of the traveler are now bigger than ever and it all calls for industry transformation through self-service, digitization and data-driven decision making. We believe Zenner can be a catalyst and leader of that change.

Elad Schaffer

4. What is the startup scene in Israel and how has that helped your company?

Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, is a unique place to build a company, attract technology talent and benefit from a culture of innovation. Israel has a deep culture of entrepreneurship, of a “yes-we-can” state of mind and “against all odds” mentality. Travel is very much in the DNA here too, as it’s common for people to take a year off to travel after they finish their military service and before they start college, and Israel’s small size usually means people would go for vacations internationally. While the world is certainly going remote in many ways, where you start your company still matters, and Israel is probably the best place in the world after Silicon Valley to do it.

5. What is the future of Zenner?

Our goal is to build a product that is so simple yet so genius that – just like Waze – you would not want to travel without. Zenner will be that thing you must have on your journey on top of your passport and ticket. Zenner will be every travelers’ super app, agnostic to who they book or travel with, but connected to every travel and hospitality provider along the value chain. Zenner will enable travelers to make self-service changes and upgrades to their tickets, quick rebooking in case of flight disruptions, order pre-booked airport pickups, arrange in-airport escorts and lounge access, effectively offering digital concierge solutions.

6. What advice would you give to young budding entrepreneurs?

It’s important to walk into any entrepreneurial adventure ready for a long ride. Startups are an emotional rollercoaster, so you must be able to deal – and ideally enjoy and learn from – both the highs and the lows.

We would like to thank Elad for speaking with us.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s