January 12, 2021

Meet the Team: Paul-Matthew Zamsky

Professor and writer Shlomo Maital interviews Waycare’s Head of Strategic Partnerships, Paul-Matthew Zamsky. The two discuss Paul’s background in the start-up sector, at New York University (NYU), and in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Paul shares what his role entails at Waycare and why he decided to join the mobility field in the first place. Finally they talk about how Paul works to promote innovation and new technologies in the government sector.

I’m speaking with Paul-Matthew Zamsky. Paul, thank you for taking the time to chat with us in a very busy schedule. We’re going to ask you about yourself and about your role at Waycare. Let’s start with the army. All those of us who have done military service know the army is run not by the generals, it’s run by the sergeants and you were a sergeant in a combat unit of the IDF.  Tell us what your army service has given you in terms of your startup career.

Yeah. I like the way you formulated that there. I think that for me the biggest part — it’s a topic that I’ve heard a lot about, especially the IDF — is the fact that the leaders typically are the first ones to go in. And it is the captains and lieutenants, and you always have to be able to replace whatever role they’re doing.  I think that that for me, was a catalyst for how you should work in your own life, which is, you should expect that you need to be flexible and adapt and be ready to take on that leadership role whenever, God forbid, something bad happens.   

And I think that in the startup world, that really is impactful because we see a lot of times, especially in the early stages, like at Waycare, we are limited in numbers. We have to pivot constantly. We have to explore new areas of interest and places that are out of our comfort zone. People think that the army is one big machine and yes, you are one small little bolt in the machine — but that bolt needs to be able to do a lot of different things.

That’s a great description, Paul. I really like that. So reading your job description, you’re leading partnership efforts at Waycare. Sounds to me that this is a really crucial role — because to implement Waycare’s mobility technology, you have to collaborate with many city and regional authorities —  police, first responders, traffic engineers, city officials, and so on. Tell us a bit about what you do, Paul, on an ordinary workday. And there is no ‘ordinary’ workday.

Yeah, that’s a funny concept. I think that the way I like to look at in general my role is — fostering collaboration relationships both in the private sector and the public sector. And not only just public and private, bringing them together, but also public and public, because a lot of times these governments might not generally work together and cooperate. Waycare as a tool on its own has its benefits for each agency, for what they do, but really the benefit is exponential once you start bringing in additional agencies. 

One thing that we noticed is, in general, there’s so much investment going on by different parts of the government and different entities, but none of it is actually being integrated together in an efficient way a lot of times.  You can have a city, a county, a state, all managing their own specific roads, their own infrastructure, their own investments in that infrastructure and they’re not able to actually share that across the board and suddenly they’re not benefiting from it. So you might have to double-down on the amount that you’re putting in there.

So a big part of what I’m doing here is trying to identify these opportunities for growth, bring in these private-public partners, and really see how we can marry these couples together and get something that is going to be more beneficial for everybody? Because what I think we want to always focus on at Waycare, is not just providing something that we know works in one city and provide it in another. Each city and each agency is different. So we’re constantly trying to identify – how can we adapt what already exists or what we’ve learned, to this new use case? And as part of it is listening to people, to see what their work is and see how their operations are run. Where are the pitfalls? Where are the areas that can really grow? And it’s identifying a place that I see we can have the biggest return, have the biggest impact as quickly as possible, and this is how we help make it happen. So a lot of it is really just analyzing that on a day-to-day basis.”

Got it. So the key here is, of course, finding ways to create value for your clients. But last March, the roof fell in and since then, you really can’t meet face-to-face with your clients. That seems to me to be a big disadvantage for somebody in your position. How are you dealing with that Paul?

“It was hard. It was really hard, I think, not just for me, but for us in general. We kind of lost our footing because so much of it was getting on a plane and traveling and meeting them face-to-face. And as I mentioned, it’s seeing how they run their operations. Because– we’ve had a couple of clients that we had recently just closed with throughout the COVID crisis, and we’ve actually not been onsite at all. And it’s been pretty hard  —  kind of, okay, we have to let you really describe to us what your day-to-day work is. Because we’re not just looking at a software on their end. So, yes, it was really hard, I would say.

The main thing that I’ve learned is, there’s still that need for connection that happens with our partners and clients. And it’s been a great opportunity to actually just get on the phone and speak to people. People want to share, people want to vent, people want to share their frustrations, and it’s been a good opportunity to learn more about everybody on a personal level, to learn about the pitfalls, again in their agencies. But I think the most important thing that we’ve noticed over the last four years is, no one agency is the same. And nobody faces the same challenges – until today. 

And despite how each state responded to COVID – or is responding to COVID – differently, each agency has had that specific impact. And everybody’s kind of running through this at the same time. So it’s been almost a unifying factor and I think that we’re coming out stronger on the other end. We understand the use of cloud technology, we learned more about the life of the people in these agencies and how they’re impacted by all this. Not only safety-wise, health-wise, but also impact on government funding much more. It was a learning curve and I think we’ve adapted and we’re coming out stronger on the other side.”

So Paul, I want to ask you about your background. You have an interesting background. I think everybody at Waycare has an interesting background. You started Treble FM, which is a platform for musicians. You worked for a startup called Powerlinx, where you were head of customer service. Tell us a bit about your journey on the way to Waycare.

“I think that after the military I was kind of like, ‘Where do I want to go? What do I want to do?’ I just never really figured it out. I went to NYU and all my friends were going into finance or consulting, and I’m like, ‘Which one do I want to go to? That’s like the two options.’ And this was still, I think, the early stages of New York and NYU being that startup hub that would  become ‘Silicon Alley’.  But what I found was —  I really loved the creation of something. Really taking something from the start and growing it. And that is where I really got connected to startups from an early stage. I’m not a technical person,  though I do understand a lot of technical concepts —  but I think that that the ability to bring in the products from start to finish and really being able to have that flexibility and go to all the different areas of growth that are necessary — that is something that was really interesting for me.

Throughout the process, I’ve tried many different things. I’ve started things that have been more successful than others. I joined companies at an early stage to growth. And – I want to really provide something that has an inherent value to it and not just create a need. Sometimes a lot of startups create things, ‘Oh, this is a solution for a need that you don’t really need or know that you actually need.’ And I felt a little shallow in that. And I think that when I actually- I met Noam [Waycare CEO], I liked the mobility aspect. ‘I don’t know too much about it, but I really love what Waycare is doing.

And I told him, ‘This is great. I love this concept. I love what we’re here. I see the value. When I was a young child I was in a really bad car crash with my dad and I’ve seen how all these different things are impacting our day-to-day lives.’ And I think that that was a catalyst to just say, Okay, I take what my passion is in the startup world in building companies and building new products and bring it to something that says, how do we really improve life for people? and improve safety and save lives.‘”

So we now have you on record saying that you’re not a technical guy. You studied economics and politics at NYU. NYU is a great school.  But you’re navigating in a really high-tech world with some really advanced technology — machine learning, artificial intelligence. How do you manage that, Paul?

“Well, we have good people on the rest of the company, the smart people – no haha kidding. I would say, first of all, I’m not a technical person but I have a good grasp of technical concepts – My dad’s a physicist and a Russian programmer. So I’ve been around the concepts. I think that it’s just the ability to translate these into a business and bringing the business and communicating it is a really crucial part in this role. We see too many times, we have a lot of people that have incredible technical talent but they can’t really figure a way to make it in the business world without having some other company jump in and make that commercialization.

So it’s a lot of reading, a lot of listening, asking the question that you’re afraid to ask sometimes. I think Waycare has been amazing at surrounding ourselves with some extremely talented people. People that can help us navigate and work together and understand where each one of our talents is, and how one plus one is equal to three and how we can really grow within, as a company, as a whole.

So Paul, you work with governments – city governments. To be honest, governments in general are not known to be the greatest innovators in the world. They’re not that quick to embrace high technology and you are selling them on high technology, even technology that creates value, but still, these are complicated things. How do you get city governments to accept this idea of innovation?

That’s I think the biggest hurdle for startups that get into govtech, because a startup has potentially a year or two years before they run out of funds. There’s this kind of chicken and the egg concept, where you need to deploy something to commercialize, but you need to actually show something before you can deploy it — because they’re not going to just blindly trust a new concept. And what we’ve been able to do is – really rely on the pilot concept and really get out the technology in the hands of the users. Because it’s really important for the end user to see the value of what we’re providing them. We don’t want to just pitch something that is going to be a conceptual product that you’re going to receive in five years time, once you’ve gone through the whole procurement process. We want it in your hands for you today, to be able to reduce crashes, respond faster, and to get that value.  

So the pilot process is a great use-case, and governments must do more of that. It’s a big thing that I’ve personally been trying to foster in general, with every single government I work with – to  try and introduce them to cool new startups, to new technologies, to help find grants and funding for these types of technologies, because that’s the only way that they’re going to get deployed. Because, the procurement process today is not meant for innovative technologies. If you want to purchase some software or hardware today, you have to go through a process. It’s going to take about two, three years until we can actually maybe sign the contract, and then it takes another year until  it is  deployed. So by that time, four years have gone by and four years in the tech world, after four years, it’s obsolete. If you’re buying hardware, that’s it. That’s going to be four years, it’s completely shot.

So it’s really about trying to get, as quickly as possible, quick value, showing it, and more importantly, create something that is replicable. Show the results and replicate it. Because if you can get some benefit, if it’s a reduction, as we did in Vegas, we showed a 17% reduction in crashes and 10% faster response time — you show the value and then you can replicate it. Find the winning combo there.

Right, and of course, city governments talk to one another. So people see Waycare’s results in Las Vegas and they think, “Well, maybe that may make me look good. Why don’t we try that?” The pilot concept makes a lot of sense. ‘Don’t believe me here, give it a try, see how it works.’ So that makes a lot of sense.   Very interesting talking to you, Paul. I wish you a lot of success.

I appreciate it, thank you very much for your time, and appreciate the thorough questions.

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