We spoke with Asaf Ben-Nathan about being Digital Cabinet’s CTO, what it means to be a CTO, how he got started, his passion for chess, and more.
Balance is crucial in all measures of life and business. From the time we take our first steps, to our first day at school, graduation and work, finding balance is crucial to navigating life, its challenges and its rewards.
For Digital Cabinet’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Asaf Ben-Nathan, balance and the pursuit of it is a big part of his life both professionally and personally. Finding the right measures of new technologies, existing architecture, ideas and personnel is crucial for a business to keep growing, but most importantly, developing.
To find out more, we asked Asaf a few questions about his role at Digital Cabinet, his vision for its future, to reflect on the lessons he’s learned on the journey, and if he has any advice for those wanting to found their own IT business.
Talking to Asaf Ben-Nathan…
What does being a CTO mean to you?
My role in Digital Cabinet is a little more complicated because, in addition to the more technical role of being the CTO, I’m a co-founder as well, so I have to take into account a lot of the business requirements of Digital Cabinet.
At a high-level [being a CTO] addresses the technology needs of the company and is about making decisions that will benefit the company in the short, medium and long term. That can entail getting down-and-dirty and getting involved in implementing technical systems or technologies, but it’s also more an oversight role.
As a co-founder, I’m involved in managing the business and hiring process as well; I have to consider what skills are in the market: who knows what in terms of the technologies we have and in terms of new technologies. Good developers are always looking for companies that are using new technologies because they want to be learning and getting experience with them.
Why do you love your job?
I’ve always worked in technology and in [software] development, but Digital Cabinet has given me a far broader platform because of the need for my involvement in the business and in the mechanics of building a startup from the ground up. It’s really forced me to push myself in terms of the kinds of things that I learn—they can’t just be purely technical anymore, they have to be a lot more business-focused, a lot more people-focused, like how to manage teams, how to manage people, how to solve business problems.
From the outset, it’s just a very different set of challenges to the kinds of challenges that I faced when I was a hired developer and just had technical problems to solve. As we grow, those needs and challenges change and that always keeps me interested, keeps me involved and learning different things. That’s what I enjoy.
What technological developments inspire you?
There have been massive leaps and strides in technology, specifically around things like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Big Data, and so on. People have only recently started to speculate about what the benefits could be, and only now are we starting to see the beginnings of those benefits. Just in terms of the applications, I think we’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this kind of data processing will be able to do for us in the real world and the way in which it will change various industries.
Cryptocurrency and blockchain [are] a potential new area that could benefit [Digital Cabinet] because, when it comes to compliance, auditing and document storage side of our business, the blockchain is actually a very good fit for us going forward. When it comes to our business-automation tools, we want to be using automatic AI machine learning to recognize and build templates. That’s kind of the direction the world is going technologically and there’s a lot of new technology that we can integrate to make that possible.
Where do you see Digital Cabinet in the next 5 years?
In the past year, Digital Cabinet has undergone a massive re-strategizing where we decided that we needed to be a lot more focused in our approach. For us, technologically and strategically, we decided to go towards the business-process management and workflow vertices because we saw that there is a huge gap for that kind of product. We’re pushing towards the automation of those processes instead of having a lot of manual processes.
Over the next few years, what I expect will happen is that we’ll devote a lot of our resources to the building of our automated platform which will include automated form tools, automated workflow builders, automated image processing and image recognition tools. The document management will never go away, we will always continue to improve it—it remains the backbone of our system—however, from a product perspective, we’re focusing more on being a business-processes automation provider than a document management provider.
I think that within 5 years [Digital Cabinet] will look like a very different company with a different business composition to what we are today, but I think that’s a good thing.
What first got you interested in computers?
My first experience with a computer was with a friend of mine whose father worked for IBM. He was one of the early adopters and had a computer at home. That was the first time I ever saw a computer, I was maybe 7 or 8. It fascinated me from the beginning, and we used to play around with it, playing whatever games we had at the time.
When I was around 10, I got my first computer as a birthday present and from then on I was just constantly tinkering with computers, both hardware and software, playing games, fiddling around, putting things in and taking things out. I was always just involved and interested with computers.
What advice would you give aspiring developers and founders?
My advice would be that it’s really all about the people, the mentors, the connections. If you’re someone that’s worked for a few years and now wants to start a company, go out and find someone that’s started a company. Go out and find somebody who’s got the kind of connections that would benefit you—and I’m not just talking financially, I’m talking technologically. I’m talking about the kind of person who’s actually run a business and understands the challenges of a business.
It’s really easy to get sidetracked when you’re starting a company and to spread your resources too thin and in too many areas. So, focus and find good mentors and good partners and good people. Those are the most important things because the technology and the product can change way more easily than people can change. Ideas can come and go, but good partners and people stay every step of the way.
Any advice for what not to do?
To me, if you’re a budding entrepreneur—someone that doesn’t have three previous startups under their belt—if you have a fantastic idea, but no experience, you’re going to take a million dollars and do what you think you should do with it. The problem is that you don’t really know what you should be doing with it and you don’t know where you should be spending it. You could very easily blow it.
So, what not to do: rush. In tech, you can always pivot and change direction. Give a lot of thought to what you’re doing before you even start and don’t give up too much equity in advance. In the beginning, you don’t know what your company is worth—it’s very easy to give up half your company before you’ve even blinked, and then you will regret it. Again, that requires experience and help and the right mentorship, to judge what your idea is worth before you even have any software.
Do you have a personal philosophy?
The answer to this question will pretty much change roughly every few years. The answer is informed by where you are in your life, both professionally and personally.
As I get older, I realize that business is only one aspect of my life and I’m trying to find a better work-home balance. I think that’s a natural progression. So, if you ask me about life, I’ll say, find balance—that’s what gives me the greatest fulfilment.
That’s what my philosophy is: find your fulfilment, find your balance, find your happiness. And do it now, don’t wait, because life’s too short.
What’s one thing about you that most people don’t know?
There’s probably a lot of things about me that people don’t know… But seriously, I play chess—I’m not the best chess player myself, but I do enjoy it—and even watched the World Chess Championships via live stream. You don’t necessarily sit and watch the players themselves, you just watch the board and there are various channels where chess Grandmasters are commenting on what the two players are thinking and their potential moves, and they are also using computers to analyze the states of the games because computers are way better at playing chess than humans these days.
Even when it comes to chess, balance is key. One must weigh up the situation of the board, the pieces, and all the possible moves carefully before making your move. One must find a stable mixture between offence and defence, thinking carefully every step of the way.
While life and business are not necessarily a game, it is certainly beneficial to adopt a contemplative stance before making any moves. Both are in a constant state of flux and it’s always wise to remember that balance
is not permanent: adjusting to new circumstances and visions
are impossible to avoid.
But, with every unbalancing force stability will always return—perhaps just not in the same place as it was once before:
As the balance of life shifts, so too does the fulcrum.
Thank you to Asaf for taking the time to talk to us. Next time, we’ll be talking to Orri Ben-Nathan, Digital Cabinet’s VP Marketing.
Also, if you liked this, be sure to check out our interview with Daniel Kritzas, Digital Cabinet’s CEO.
Until then, however, we hope that you find your balance.
You can find out more about Digital Cabinet at www.digitalcabinet.co.za