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Making the Web Accessible for Everyone (Episode 33)

Shir Ekerling is the CEO and co-founder of accessiBe, a platform that makes it easy for people with disabilities to access the web. Over 65,000 websites are using accessiBe and more than 600,000 people are using websites optimized with its AI-powered platform. 

Shir is a tech entrepreneur and software engineer with a vast history of establishing and scaling SaaS companies and web agencies as a CEO and CTO.

In February 2020, accessiBe secured $12 million in funding from K1, a leading investment firm that focuses on global high-growth enterprise software companies. accessiBe is the only company that produces an AI-powered accessibility platform that’s capable of meeting and exceeding requirements for access to the web for people with disabilities.

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What you will learn

  • The worldwide movement to provide access to websites for people with disabilities
  • How to unlock the genius of 1 billion people
  • The importance of acting on your passion
  • The 3 success steps that work in life and for entrepreneurs
  • Why creating is essential for entrepreneurs and humanity
  • The value of sharing your creation with the world
  • The right funding strategy
  • How often to share your business reports with investors
  • The value of partnering with your investors to gather insights and learn fast
  • Why startups need to build technology and grow marketing as fast as possible to garner global domination.

Transcript

Jeff Bullas: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Jeff Bullas show. Today I have with me Shir Ekerling who's from Tel Aviv in Israel. Now Shir is a very interesting self-taught software developer whose passion has become business. Now isn't that the most awesome place to play, where passion and business and your life intersect and play out to be the place where you create and share with the world.

Jeff Bullas: Now Shir started a range of companies but the recent one he's just launched which has raised over 12 million from one of the top capital firms in the world is with a company called accessiBe. Now accessiBe is a site that helps people with disabilities to access the web and according to CDC, about 25% of people have issues that actually stop them enjoying the web with all the information that it provides. So, we've had this on our site for quite a few weeks now and it's such a pleasure to have you on the show and hear about what inspired you to be a software developer, to start businesses and to play in this great big world and share your skills and passions with the world.

Jeff Bullas: So welcome to the show, Shir.

Shir Ekerling: Thank you, Jeff. Thanks for having me. Absolutely, great to be here.

Jeff Bullas: So let's go a little bit back to when Shir was a young boy. What were you passionate about? What were the things you loved to do?

Shir Ekerling: Well, right from childhood, I built my own computers and took them apart and then rebuilt them, playing with hardware and then getting into software. I really loved computer gaming, different game. Theses included Counterstrike and Unreal Tournament.

There were some games I liked always to go and change how things work under the hood, providing some mods for different games. So throughout my childhood, I basically really loved to do something very similar to what I'm doing today and I think that when you start something that you really, really love right from childhood and just it grows with you and you become better at that and then you can also produce things that people actually use throughout skills that you've acquired in your general life, right, in gaming, stuff like that, it's really amazing. It's really cool.

Jeff Bullas: So you obviously enjoyed gaming as you mentioned, and a lot of people do gaming and they just lock the door, close the blinds, and disappear in their cave, eat chips, ice cream, Coca-cola but you obviously didn't do that. You went, "Okay, I love gaming, I love computers, I pull them apart, I put them back together," so what was you first entrepreneurial experience? What inspired you to start your first business and what was it?

Shir Ekerling: Yeah, so my first business was an agency, web development agency, software agency. Basically, I wanted to go and try design as well as development. I wanted to become the developer that can also design, so I took some courses and started designing my own websites and things like that and found out that I'm pretty good at designing stuff, so I created an agency. So back then, I thought, maybe I should even focus on design, right? So I created an agency to start designing things for clients. Turned out that I couldn't leave the software world behind me, so I just designed my own things and then build them.

Shir Ekerling: And then most of my entrepreneurial experience was... and it's really amazing... I mean you design your own software, you design your own interface, UI/UX experience, you build the entire thing. You figure out how you want people to use it. You figure out the best features, how to make it better than other things, even for clients, not even for just myself. Most of my days, I provided services for clients as an agency, and then to also build that. So you get the entire route, from designing the thing and then making it actually work and have real people using it, that's really cool.

Jeff Bullas: So you really were the entire journey, it was design, build, code, and attract an audience.

Shir Ekerling: Something like that, correct.

Jeff Bullas: And you never went to university to do coding, you just learnt it because you're just so passionate about it and just learnt by doing, was that correct?

Shir Ekerling: Yes, I mean, most of the things you learn in university is theory and I mean if you put a lot of time... and it's not like it's easy, right? I mean I work 20 hours a day, for the past 10 years, literally, so I think that if you are willing to put a lot of time into practice while also learning the theory online, which you have so many places to do that, then you're on the right path. At least for me, that's how I have done or achieved what I've achieved.

Jeff Bullas: So how old were you when you started your first business?

Shir Ekerling: 22, right after the army in Israel. At 22, I was released from the army and a few months later, started my first software agency.

Jeff Bullas: It’s compulsory to do the army, isn't it, in Israel?

Shir Ekerling: Yes, correct.

Jeff Bullas: Right, so how long do you have to do that gig?

Shir Ekerling: What the army?

Jeff Bullas: Yeah, how long was it? Two years?

Shir Ekerling: No, three years.

Jeff Bullas: Three years?

Shir Ekerling: I think today, today it's a little less than that. I think that today it's like two and a half years or 2.7 years, something like that. My time was three years.

Jeff Bullas: So you went pretty well straight from high school to the army.

Shir Ekerling: To the army, yeah.

Jeff Bullas: And then you got out and said, "I want to start a business designing websites, user interface, UX..." Is that right or...

Shir Ekerling: Look, in the last year in the army, the last year, I just, everything that I've done, I had a notebook and I listed all the things that I want to do, all the applications that I want to build on a website that I want to build, the software that I want to learn, everything. I started building my start ups in the army, mentally, right, in the last year, so when I got out eventually, I just exploded. I just wanted to do things. So it really started before. I mean, in my head.

Jeff Bullas: So you've felt this real call to go and do this.

Shir Ekerling: Yeah.

Jeff Bullas: Like you were so passionate, it was like writing notes every day, you were in the army but when you came out, you're like a... Almost like, I don't know, compared to the Blues Brothers movie. Have you heard of the Blues Brothers?

Shir Ekerling: No, actually.

Jeff Bullas: Okay, so the Blues Brothers sort of went out and tried to help save some nuns from losing their convent, I think it was, so... and they were on a mission from God. It's almost like you're on a mission, wasn't it? I can just sort of detect this energy that's going, "I've just got to do this. It doesn't matter how I do it, when I get out of the army," and you're taking notes and you are on a mission. Is that how it felt?

Shir Ekerling: Yeah, I mean, I really love what I'm doing, right? As I've said before, designing things and then making them a reality, making them an actual product that people use, those things, when I see that, I mean that's the driver. That is what drives me, that’s what I wake up in the morning for, building things and making people use them, getting feedback from people, seeing people use my things. I don't know why it's like that or how it got to be like that, and in the army when I was thinking about the next thing that I've got to build when I'm released and stuff, it wasn't that that drove me, because I have yet to build something that is very major so other people use.

Shir Ekerling: It was just the creation but then after that, when people use what you build, it's really amazing, it's really cool and I really love the feeling. And it's like there were so many things that I knew that I could bring to the table that are different than what the web environment had to offer back then, for clients, for myself, for different companies, different products, different ideas that I've had. I had so many ideas for different companies, products, some came into fruition, some it turned out really bad. So, yeah, I don't know... it's not like somebody sent me on a mission, right? It just internally.

Jeff Bullas: No, it certainly sounds like it came from within. What I love about what you're telling me and sharing is that there's three parts to the equation as I understand it. And I totally get it because it's been the same for me, in that, you are passionate about something, then you created or create around it or create code, design... It really doesn't matter what you create. It could be a photography, it could be a movie. It could be a user interface or website. So number one you have this passionate purpose and calling that no one's calling you to. It's sort of just rises out of who you are and what you're meant to be.

Jeff Bullas: Number two, you then create something around that and then I think the really, the other powerful part of these three steps is that then you share it with the world and then you are validated. So what you've just told me is that it's not just the creation that's important, it's that people use it as well.

Shir Ekerling: They have to use it. I have to have people that use it.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah, exactly. So you are creating products that people use. Some people create content that people read and view, whether it's a movie producer, a blogger, a podcast, it really doesn't matter. But I think you've just shared the secret of what drives a lot of us and it's innately part of what we are as human beings. Number one, that passionate purpose that you discover, and some people never discover it. They go through life, just go through life dreaming but don't do anything, don't create anything, might even don't know why they're on the planet. The other part then is that creation and then it's this incredibly powerful validation when people use what you've created and I think that's where it gets really, really exciting. And the thing I talk about regularly is that when you share your creation with the world, you change the world and the world then changes you.

Shir Ekerling: I mean that's exactly what happened with accessiBe, by the way. I mean, it started off, so I had my software agency and we had clients that... Israel was one of the first countries to legislate the specific regulation for disability. Back in 2016, our clients asked us to start exploring solutions for that upcoming regulation for them. Okay that's when we got into that world, so long story short, after the development of the product and making it go live and seeing people using, people with disabilities, people that couldn't use the internet before at all, like blind people who now can buy online in an e-commerce website or read somebody's blog or hire a service.

Shir Ekerling: When you see that, that's even bigger, much bigger than just building a cool interface of some to do list or whatever, a website, an e-commerce platform that people buy from, that's much larger than that. I didn't start accessiBe because I wanted to change the world, to build something that has a major effect and I wanted to solve accessibility for my ecosystem, for my client. There was a regulation and I wanted to solve that for my clients, especially small businesses who couldn't pay $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $100,000 for accessibility compliance. Just wanted to solve it for them.

Shir Ekerling: But the more that I got into it, the more people with disabilities I worked with, still am working with, from blind people to people with epilepsy and motor impaired people, the bigger the effect, as you said, the world had on me and the world has changed me. And it really intertwined because I love creating and I love building and love seeing people using what I build and then you get people who couldn't do whatever that is before at all or almost at all, now they can because they use something that you have created from scratch. It's like your baby and it changes everything. It just changes everything because it's much more powerful than a standard application or standard website, and then you're changed.

Shir Ekerling: And then you take that to the next step and then the next step and then the next step and then you build a big company that all that it's doing is this. I mean that's how it ended up with me, so I really relate to what you've said. "You do something, you change the world, but the world’s feedback changes you back."

Jeff Bullas: Absolutely. What attracted me to the internet, especially social media back in 2009 was that it was a two way conversation. The analog world was always a one way conversation. You created a printed book, you put it out there, and you didn't know what was going on apart from you sold books or people saw a movie. Today we have a two way conversation and that's what you're experiencing. And I really think that's where the magic happens is where you share your creation with the world, the world speaks back to you and the world changes you and takes you to a whole new level because it's saying what you're doing is working. And it happens, not in lag, it happens real time.

Shir Ekerling: Yeah, do you know how that feels when we get an email from a blind person, for the first time managed to buy something that you really, really wanted to buy for long time. We get that almost daily. We have clients, we have partners that are disabled from the neck down. They can't move an inch in their body but they are really successful people. They have their own agencies, their own companies, their own businesses, and they partnered up with accessiBe because they really, really liked the solution and used it on their own website and with their own clients, so they resell accessiBe. They want to be a part of that. When you see things like that, it's incredible, it's just, it's so powerful.

Jeff Bullas: I totally get it, because that's what excited me 12 years ago, two way conversation that allowed you to make a difference in the world one piece of code at a time or one piece of content at a time. So that is so [crosstalk 00:18:01]... Yeah.

Jeff Bullas: So your clients are telling you that... Well, legislation came in, you're building websites for people and you obviously were solving a problem, so that was the inspiration, is that you were listening to your marketplace and so when'd accessiBe become accessiBe? Like you had the agency, you are listening to your customers and going, "I think there's an opportunity to solve this problem." So when did that happen?

Shir Ekerling: We started the development back in 2016. It was almost three years of strict development with people with disabilities all along the way. In the beginning of 2018, we've released the first version and the regulation was just in Israel back then. We didn't have something globally. So we released the first version in Israel in 2018 and it was called a name in [Hebrew back then, which translates to “Accessible to Many”, So accessiBe is some kind of a translation of the Hebrew.

Shir Ekerling: So overall 2018, we've worked just in Israel and we saw the demand that the market had for something like this and the demand that people with disabilities had for being able to go online. So that's like the beginning of the beginning. That was the first year, the first clients, starting to run a lot of processes and improving the AI, feeding off the data of real live websites, not just artificial data through development but actual websites, get actual feedback from a lot of people. It was public, right, so throughout development, it was from internal testers and internal employees and people that we've worked with, several dozens of people, but not the top.

Shir Ekerling: When it went live, it became something that is used on thousands of websites by tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people every single month. So we started to get feedback from the ground, we started to change, improve on things from actual feedback and then by the end of 2018 with DOJ, the Department of Justice in the US released some kind of an affirmation that websites should be accessible according to the ADA. And that's essentially when we started testing the grounds in the US to see if there really is an opportunity and we found that, yes, there is absolutely a major opportunity and that's when accessiBe came to be accessiBe. That's when we changed the name from the Hebrew name to accessiBe when we changed the language from Hebrew to English, when we had Hebrew buttons on our website up until, I think, October 2019. Like a year ago we still had like Hebrew buttons that we forgot in some pages.

Shir Ekerling: We got emails every couple of days or every couple of weeks we got an email, "My bar mitzvah was 20 years ago, I don't know what that button means.", stuff like that, it was really funny. But, yeah, that's like the beginning of accessiBe and today, we're a year a half as accessiBe. Almost two years, if you consider the testing phase that we've ran, in February, we'll have like actual two years.

Jeff Bullas: So what were some of the big challenges that you struck along the way? So obviously, people telling you that a button is not in English, it's in Hebrew. So what-

Shir Ekerling: That's tiny.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah, that's tiny, I know. So what were a few of the big challenges as you grew the company?

Shir Ekerling: Wow, there were so many. We've started the company completely bootstrapped. We've invested everything from our own pockets, including the development process. Over a year and a half of strict development and then a year plus, something in the market, completely bootstrapped.

Shir Ekerling: So we're three founders, right, and we sold all other businesses that we had. My agency, I sold it. I had another startup that I sold. I had a startup that failed but tried to scrape whatever I could and my partners also, they had a marketing agency that they sold. They had a bar that they sold. We sold just everything so we can fund accessiBe for a three and something years. We got to a position when we loaned money to each other, like we took loans from the bank and then loaned it to each other so we can get by and that was tough, that was really tough, but we really wanted to do that on our own and not raise funds in the beginning, because then you lose a big chunk of your company and that's ours. That's our baby, I mean, we can't give it away.

Shir Ekerling: We can when you're much bigger and chunks that you need to give are much smaller, you don't lose half your company or something like that, 10% or 20% of the company. So that was a major challenge, but that challenge drove tons of other challenges. We couldn't hire at the beginning at least, the best people in Israel, at least not a lot of them. So we had to hire just a small number of people, instead of having a company of 20 or 30 people in the beginning, we had to have five people company or seven people company. You know that each employee is amazing but we needed 30 amazing people, not just five or seven amazing people. So we ended up having people who aren't experts in something but have to do that something anyway, expert or not expert because... and you have to go by and we have to improve and you have to become bigger and you have to become better and you have to listen to feedback from the ground, and you have to deploy changes.

Shir Ekerling: So it was really tough, but now I can say that I'm a marketer, a sales person, a back end engineer, a front end engineer, UI designer... I am everything and each of us is everything. I mean my partner, Dekel, for example, is the COO, CFO, Chief Legal Officer, at least back then, right? So we had to just... and my other partner Gal is Chief Sales, Chief Marketing, Strategy, everything. You just do everything. So you have to hire people that can grow with you and with the company because when you're starting something and you want to make it really big and really impactful in not 20 years, in two years, you have to have people who are versatile.

Shir Ekerling: Even if they are not experts in something right now or in day, if they do that and they go and read online and put their minds into it, they can do that. They can do anything. So when you have people like that, it's much, much easier. I mean, that's I think the only way to really succeed at the beginning if you're not hugely funded. So that was the major challenge, find people like that, getting by with not a lot of resources. We've had a lot of instances when we're really scared for the survival of the company. I mean, even though we grew, we didn't take any salary for years. I took my first salary in the beginning of 2020, January and February 2020 were my first salary after we got funded, $12 million funded.

Shir Ekerling: We've waited until we have $12 million to take salaries. Now things are blowing up because of all the infrastructure work that we have laid. So things are just blowing up when I'm trying to analyze backward everything that we've done. I think that we've gone on a really, really good road. I mean, I don't see us doing that any other way.

Jeff Bullas: So what you just told me leads to the next question, which is you've self-funded it, you bootstrapped, you've borrowed money. You borrowed money between each other. You've done what it takes, personally. So what was the defining moment that said, "Okay, we need to go and get some external funds now?" What was that defining moment and when did that happen?

Shir Ekerling: So we were in a position when we already had tens of thousands of clients. I think we had like 15,000 in the beginning of the year when we, just when we went on the funding round, we had like 15,000. We already were the market leader in the US, the disability market leader and we had an opportunity to blow up. We had an opportunity to really quickly and really efficiently become the accessibility provider but to do that, you can't keep on scrapping by. You have to strategize every move and you have to get out of survival mode and switch to growth mode. And you can't do that if you don't raise funds, and you can't do that also if you raise two million, three million, five million. You have to raise a lot if you are to strategize, if you are to work with an actual plan and if you are to also be able to modify that plan as things go.

Shir Ekerling: That was the reason why we went on a funding round. We wanted to do as much as we can without that, on our own, but it becomes or there becomes a time when that's a part of your strategy. You have to have that as part of your strategy if you are to go to the next phase, if you are to go to the next step and that was that. That was the time.

Jeff Bullas: So in terms of how you went about raising money, other words going to market to raise capital, so how'd you go about raising capital? What were some of the major steps in that process? Can you take us through that?

Shir Ekerling: Yeah, so sometimes you see companies and entrepreneurs and investors, they tell you, "Raise when you can, not necessarily when you need." Right?

Jeff Bullas: Yes.

Shir Ekerling: I don't feel like that. I personally and for my company, I don't feel that that's the right way to go. I think raise what you need, when you need it for a reason, right? Build a plan, know where you want to go, where you want to be in a year, in two years, don't think too far ahead. Two years is plenty for a young start up, but do that, do that plan. Analyze the risks, analyze competition, analyze everything that there is to analyze, and think of the real, actual number that you're going to put to work, if you are also to be efficient. I mean, there are methods, right? There is the method of burn as much as possible to grow as much as possible and there is the other doctrine, the capital efficient. I'm more of a capital efficient guy, even though we are growing super quickly, I also think that it's very healthy as a business to not just burn everything that you have in order to grow quickly and then raises them again and run through different funding round.

Shir Ekerling: So the process is first and foremost, understand that this is what you really need in order to grow, but really for real, not just because that's what start ups usually do. The business is not raising money, startups are not in the business of raising money. Start ups are in the business of building business, not raising money, and sometimes, it's hard to remember that. So that's the first step, right? That's the first step, understand that that's what you really, really, really need according to your very in depth plan. When you have that, then everything becomes much easier, because you have reasons for everything, you have answers for everything. You understand your business and your market and your competition and everything, all throughout.

Shir Ekerling: And when you speak with investors and you know everything that there is to know, the goods and the bads, it just becomes much easier because you do that for a reason. You don't do that because you can, you don't do that because other people do that. You do that because that's what the business needs and venture funds, these investors, they're smart, they can analyze a business. They can see what you see, right? So if you're aligned, and that's what happened with us, it becomes much easier.

Jeff Bullas: And that raises the next question which you just mentioned then, which your investors are smart, they see what you need. And how often do you share your, I suppose, status, in other words provide reporting to your investors? Is it weekly? Is it monthly? Do you sit down, send out a report? So you make sure that you're matching, the investors are saying what you need and you've got this matching of values, and you're reporting to make sure that you're moving together at the same time. So how often do you report to your investors to make sure that you're working together?

Shir Ekerling: In terms of "what we have to," in double quotes, according to the contract, it's once a quarter or something. Once a month and then once a quarter, depending on the type of reporting, but we usually meet at least twice a week to talk about everything. So I have a weekly meeting with the partner at K1, our investors, for analyzing the business, talking about, talking through things that we've gone through the last week and updates and things like that and to bounce ideas, and also have the financial meeting every single week to make sure that we're tracking the right things, that we don't have surprises along the way.

Shir Ekerling: Those things, those reportings often, you often look at it and you think that it's something that can bother, right, or be a waste of time, but when you work with smart people, it's never a waste of time, because you gain tons of insights from those meetings, from data, and I think that... so it's more than reporting, not just reporting. It's reporting for the sake of improvement. It's not just, "Here are the numbers. You put your money, now you need to know what we've done with it or how much we still have." It's not just that. It's gaining insight and that also depends on the investor. Not all investors are like that. We are fortunate to have investors that you gain insights from almost every single conversation that you have with them. It doesn't matter who you're speaking with in K1. You gain insights from that conversation. So it's a bit more than just reporting.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah, so the reporting is learning from each other, then contributing to the journey. The other thing I'm detecting, too, is that there's a continual building of trust and transparency.

Shir Ekerling: Yes.

Jeff Bullas: How important do you think that is?

Shir Ekerling: Oh, it's super important. I mean, especially if that's your... not even, not your only, but first big investor. I mean we went with K1 specifically, because of several reasons. But one of the reasons is because they're big. They're like a $3 billion fund. They can help us along the way. It's not like we raise a small seed or a small series A with them and then series B or series C or series D. We'll have to go and look for others... Even though we might do that for strategic reasons, we don't have to. We have really amazing investors to work with as of today and you want to build a relationship for the long term, because we're here for the next 15 years. We aren't going to leave in two years or three years or even five years, we're here for the long term, and we're going to work together for a long time and we want to be able to make strategic decisions that are based on what the company needs, and not anybody else.

Shir Ekerling: A 100% of the decisions must be aligned as much as possible. Sometimes you have different opinions, but the idea is even when you have that, you find the middle ground, not in terms of compromising, but in terms of trying to convince the other end on what you think and hearing their counters and their arguments and then come up with a plan that just... It's not a compromise. It's a plan that has the minds of all sides and the insights of all sides. And we've done that a lot of times. We had many times that we thought, "That's what we need to do, a 100%. Let's just roll with it, let's just move forward and rush through this plan," and then we had some feedback from K1 or other investors or advisers. And we had to break the plan, add their insights, rebuild it, and make it much better.

Shir Ekerling: And you have to do that with full transparency that each and every one that contributes to that plan, the only thing that they have in mind is the success of accessiBe and not their success or their reasons behind the scenes or anything like that. It's just the success of accessiBe and it takes some time but you eventually get there when all the conversations and all the interactions take you through this path. You see in every single conversation, in every single decision, in every single argument, you see that. You see the success of accessiBe. You see often things that you may think, "Well, it's not the best thing for K1, why did they suggest that," or "It's not the best thing for investor X from before or advisor X from before," even thought they suggest that.

Shir Ekerling: Then you see, you understand their mind, their point of view, how they look at things, and you understand if you are completely doing better, completely. And then you're in a really good situation. You're in a really good place to build something for the long run, for the next 15 years.

Jeff Bullas: So what you've just said is essentially, it's a real synergy and collaboration between all the partners, the creators, you guys in accessiBe, and the investors and all the intelligence and consciousness they bring to the table. And you're just trying to distill that into the best solution possible to make accessiBe, to make that difference in the world, to provide access to the 25% of people that have struggles to access the internet, read a website, or buy something online.

Jeff Bullas: Now there must be real tension, too, because you've got global competitors, I'm sure. Because essentially, as people watch what you're doing, they're going, "We can copy what you're doing," and this goes on all the time. So it turns into a bit of an arms race, doesn't it? So from my observation, I've been involved with startups, been on the board of them, invested in them, swept for equity deals as well with them. And essentially, in softwares and service type companies, not dissimilar to yours, but there's two components I see that're really important.

Number one, as a technology arms race, in other words you've got to have a team of really smart developers building the best tool possible.

Number two, there's a marketing arms race, you've got to get out to the world and tell your story before you competitors tell a better story. Tell me about that and how you see that.

Shir Ekerling: Yeah, so in terms of competition, that's correct. There is an arm race towards making a software that can just solve accessibility. We are there for three years now or two years now that our software does it. What we're seeing today is mostly the other, the second part, the telling the story, because we still don't have competition in technology. We're still the only ones that can do that, fully automatically. You just install our single line of code, that's it, it just makes your site accessible. And we're still the only ones that can do that automatically, but we're seeing so many other services, hybrid type solutions, one that provide only like an accessibility interface. It solves like 10% or 20% maximum of compliance requirements and things like that, but they just, they take... that's really funny... they take a snapshot of our site and our marketing and our messages, and they just copied, they just...

Shir Ekerling: It's really crazy to see that. You see our headline, today, like four different websites. Literally, our headline in four different websites.

Jeff Bullas: Right.

Shir Ekerling: Not even with a variation. It's just in four different websites, I mean, look. So you have that but we are living that story. You can't replicate our moves. You can replicate the title that we come up with. You can replicate the design that we come up with. You can replicate the productions, right? But you can't replicate everything that we've gone through. You can't replicate what we felt from the ground. You can't replicate the feedback that we got from people. You can't replicate that and those are just the things that drove that story. Those are the things that drove that design. Those are the things that drove that messaging.

Shir Ekerling: So you can replicate the end message but the message changes all the time, all the time, and if you don't find your own thing, your own experience and you just copy that, you may do fine but you will never become the leader, never. And so I'm looking at that and I'm flattered because I see like four of my competitors are copying, pasting my title. It's crazy, but I'm not worried. I'm not worried, because we lived that, literally lived that and the messaging is changing all the time and we're just about to change, just about in like few weeks, were about to upload a new website with different messaging and a lot of different things, and like two of the competitors just released their copied messaging like in the last month, one month. So it's like, I mean by the time we change that, you take that. So I'm not worried about that.

Shir Ekerling: I'm also not worried in terms of the technology arm race, because I really, really, really want to have competition in technology, because it will, one, drive us to be better and, two, it will drive the entire industry. But the end of the day, the industry or the potential, the market is insanely huge. If we talk, if you take just the United States, you have 31 million businesses that manage 350 million websites and all of them must be accessible. You have room for 30 companies that all of them are huge.

Shir Ekerling: Obviously you won't have 30 companies, you will eventually have three, four, and one big leader, maybe two big leaders, and additional three that are smaller. But the more companies that you have that can really solve what you do, the more companies that can market and the more companies that can raise awareness, and the more companies that put the problem out there and make people see that they also need to become accessible, so it just opens the market. As long as it's a really big market, it's not a problem, quite the opposite and so I'm not worried about that. But I do want to see competitors finding their own stories with their own experiences.

Jeff Bullas: So it's interesting to hear that your biggest challenge is not the technology arms race, but the marketing arms race to win hearts and minds. So I'd like to get you to tell us a little bit about how easy it is to... Because I got one of my team to implement accessiBe on our site. Now I didn't do it, but one of my team did, and it looked really easy. So can you tell us how easy it is to implement accessiBe and make sure that people with disabilities can start using people's websites.

Shir Ekerling: Yeah, it's really easy. The implementation is just a single line of code that you copy from our site and you paste it in your site. If you have WordPress or Joomla or one of the most popular CMS's, Big Commerce, even, then we have also plug-ins, just install it for you. The plug in will install the installation code for you so we can even handle complex things like that. But the installation is just like you install a Facebook Pixel or online chat solutions or things like that. We also use Google Tag Manager. Just paste the code there and publish. So it's really easy.

Shir Ekerling: In terms of what you need to do in order to ensure that people with disabilities can use your website, nothing. accessiBe just does that for you, so that's the whole point of accessiBe. We know how important accessibility is. It's one of the most pressing topics and I'll tell you what, how I look at it is a bit different than most people. It's not just reaching equal access and providing opportunities for people with disabilities. It's not just that as a reason. It's a much more selfish reason. Society, society's "selfishness." When 20% of the population isn't able to get the resources online that, I, for example got and I'm self-taught. Everything that I know, I've learned online, on my own.

Shir Ekerling: When 20%, a huge number, more than a billion people, aren't able to access that information, they can't go through the same route that I did, and many other entrepreneurs and many other people, and when you're excluding that big number... I mean, not by anybody's fault, right? It's not like somebody is excluding anybody purposefully, but when that happens, and you have amongst those billion people, billion plus people, who have super bright minds that are as driven as you and I, as smart as you and I, some much, much more, some less, fine, like every society, in every group. But when you have such a big number of people who are super driven, who are super smart, but can't contribute to society as much as you can, because they don't have access to resources, then society itself is losing a lot.

Shir Ekerling: Because amongst those people, there can easily be the people who can build the next big innovation, the next big startup, the cure for something... I don't know... COVID, whatever, and by not having them, we all lose. And I'll give you an example. Among the people that we're working with, there are a lot of blind people. Some of them are, you see that and your perception changes completely. Blind programmers that write code...

Jeff Bullas: Wow.

Shir Ekerling: You know, blind typing? They don't see the keyboard so they call it blind typing.

Jeff Bullas: Yup.

Shir Ekerling: The screen reader, reads out the code back to them that they just wrote, on 300% speed, like the speed of speaking, so multiplied by 300%, like three times, that's the speed that they have to understand what they wrote, find out if they had bugs or typos or things like that, while listening to music. And you see that, you see complete programs that they write like that, you see entrepreneurs that built amazing products. I have one guy, super young, 20 something guy that works with me, here in Israel, he's like that. He's an entrepreneur. He built some kind of a laptop braille device hybrid. It's like a laptop hardware with braille output that takes out those tiny spikes, tiny dots that comprise the braille language.

Shir Ekerling: And it just, you put it, as a blind person, it's called L-braille. You put it in a bag and then it becomes your mobile device. There isn't a screen, they don't need a screen. They don't see it anyway. They just use a screen reader, right? And you see people like that and you understand even with all the challenges, they have reached that level, which is much higher than mine with all... if we had a lot of people that we could have given access to, the resources that we had, I had. Again, more than a billion people, probably the world would have looked differently and that's why I want to achieve. I want to make sure that all of them have access to all those resources for selfish reasons, just to help society grow for completely selfish reasons, to help the world itself, not them.

Shir Ekerling: That's how I look at it and that's what you said. The world changes you, right, in the beginning. The world changes you. I had no idea. I never even. Before I entered the web accessibility stakes, I never even imagined a blind person could use a computer. It's just unimaginable. How is it even possible? There's a screen, there's a mouse, there's a keyboard, they can't see them. It's not even possible, right? But then you get inside and you see how different reality is from your perception and how things can really dramatically change if you are able to give them just access to those resources. Because they are driven enough, they can just find their own way once you just give them the opportunity to get the resources, to read blogs and tutorials online that weren't accessible before but now are accessible. To just have those resources, that's my point of view.

Jeff Bullas: I can hear and I can feel your passion and I‘ll sum it up this way, after listening to you. You're unlocking the genius of one billion people that normally wouldn't have had the resources or access to do that. Is that correct?

Shir Ekerling: Yeah, that's what I'm trying to do.

Jeff Bullas: Right. Well, I am so glad to have this conversation with you because you're on a mission and the mission is to unlock the genius of one billion people that previously didn't have the means and resources to do it. And I look forward to hearing more about the journey, Shir, and it's been such a joy to hear your passion just shining through and thank you for your time. How can people find you and how can they find accessiBe?

Shir Ekerling: accessiBe.com. It's like accessible but without the l, .com.

Jeff Bullas: Okay, spell it out for me.

Shir Ekerling: A-C-C-E-S-S-I-B-E.com.

Jeff Bullas: Right. Thank you very much, Shir, for sharing your passion and I look forward to seeing you continuing to change the world and giving people access to helping them change the world. Thank you very much.

Shir Ekerling: Thank you for having me, Jeff. It was great.

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