Taykey co-founder Amit Avner had just moved into his new offices off Madison Square Park a couple weeks ago. His desk was bare save for a Mac laptop and a Samsung Galaxy S2 phone, which started playing the first few chords of Darth Vader’s Imperial March theme song.
Hmm-hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm-hmm.
“Oh, that’s our chairman of the board. Let me just tell him I’ll call him back,” Mr. Avner said. After a few words in Hebrew, he hung up. “It’s like 11 p.m.” in Tel Aviv, Mr. Avner noted. “He must be really bored.”
Mr. Avner, who moved to New York from Israel 10 months ago, has curly, blond hair, full lips, and blue eyes the exact color of the inside of a Hpnotiq bottle. “I’m 25 now. On Friday, I’m 26. I’m still like … ignoring it,” he said, laughing at himself. “When I was 14, I built a search engine.”
After getting a B.A. in computer science (age 15) and selling his search engine (age 17), in 2008 Mr. Avner launched Taykey, an advertising platform that helps clients like Pepsi use real-time algorithms to determine consumer interest. Both of his co-founders were fellow engineers he met while serving as a software architect developing cryptography and network security for the R.&D. unit of Israel’s Ministry of Defense.
Asked what sorts of projects he worked on, Mr. Avner sputtered something about “encrypting stuff” and “making things work together.”
For decades, the elite programming units of the Israeli Defense Forces, which include 8200 and Mamram, have functioned like the ultimate feeder school for Silicon Wadi, as the software hub clustered around Tel Aviv was dubbed in the ’90s (wadi is Arabic for “valley”). But these days, the start-ups coming out of Israel have put aside mature sectors like security, microchips and network communications for something more Americanized.