Joel Bar-El, Co-Founder of Trax Retail and Tel Aviv University alumnus, talks about the company’s expansion in the global market, how TAU helped shape his personality and the fruitful collaboration that continues to this day.
“During my studies, we were already thinking about the future, even though we only realized it later. At the time, I didn’t realize it,” recalls Joel Bar-El, Tel Aviv University alumnus and one of the founders of Trax, the Israeli company that manages retail shelf-level data.
Bar-El was the CEO of Trax until a year and a half ago, and today he is the chairman of its board of directors. Trax is a global high-tech company, a unicorn, that uses image processing technology that helps manufacturers and retailers get real-time information about what’s happening on store shelves. The company was founded by Bar-El and Dror Feldheim. Trax today has hundreds of employees in twenty offices, and their products are deployed in more than 70 countries around the world. Trax enables major players in the consumer goods sector, such as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Unilever and others, to know what is happening in the stores where their products are sold at any given moment and in wide distribution.
“We developed an app called Trax, which installs on mobile phones. The field representatives go to the stores and take pictures of the shelf areas. We know how to translate the images in real-time, present a simulation of all the products on the shelf and provide insights such as statistics, analysis and recommendations about the position of their products on the shelf, and the state of their competitors. “It took a while for this technology to break through,” Bar-El recalls. “The company has been in existence for 12 years, and the technology we developed has assumed a leading role in this industry. Today, almost every international manufacturer uses our products. We are leaders in the global market, working in every corner of the globe, with the primary area being the United States. Every year, we have increased our product line and expanded.”
Bar-El graduated from Tel Aviv University in 1996. “I wasn’t a bad high school student,” he recalls, “I finished with a full matriculation certificate (bagrut), but I wasn’t one of the top achievers. I majored in the sciences, and I was always interested in astrophysics. It was also one of the classes in which the grade requirement for entry into the program was not high. I started at the Faculty of Physics for Exact Sciences at Tel Aviv University, but after the first year, I realized it was not for me. The studies were difficult. I went to the dean, and I told him I was really interested in astrophysics, but it was only available as a master’s degree program. We came to an understanding that I could take master’s degree courses, even though I was studying for an undergraduate degree. Over the next three years, I studied subjects that interested me.”
He recalls that the school experience also shaped his business sense, not just his social one. “Like many other students, I had to support myself during my studies. I lived with my partner, who later became my wife, and we had to pay for rent, food and more. I was involved in all types of initiatives. For example, we imported toys from Czechoslovakia and sold them in stores in Tel Aviv. Even then, we had a very successful brand, and everyone was after us to buy these toys. “It was a learning experience,” he adds. “I wasn’t an average or regular student because I worked in many different areas. I worked a lot of jobs to support myself. The field I studied is also different. There were trips to Mitzpe Ramon in the curriculum, geological tours, and a stay at an observatory.”
One of the things that Bar-El remembers from his time at the university is his participation in the Perach program, the largest mentoring program in Israel, with students providing educational and emotional help to children and students from around the country in exchange for a scholarship. “You work with underprivileged populations or with children who need help with their studies, or social help, and half of your tuition fees are paid. For me, it was a very significant experience. I grew up in Tel Aviv, my father was a lifeguard, and I spent my childhood near the sea. Getting to know and being exposed to more disadvantaged populations was a kind of cultural marketplace for me, and I was happy to have the privilege of reaching out to these children who needed a lot of warmth and love. In this situation, you are also exposed to ethical and moral problems, angles that you did not think about as a child, about how a society should function – about socialism, capitalism and more. It was an experience that affected me for life.”
Bar-El, who is a member of the Tel Aviv University Alumni Organization, has remained in contact with the university since they approached him a few years ago to give a lecture for graduate students at the Faculty of Business Administration. “There is fruitful cooperation, whether it involves donations or assistance and accompaniment through lectures and meetings, and I am always happy to contribute and help. It’s an institution that contributed to me personally, and helped me out. I think of Tel Aviv University as a positive place that contributed to my development as a human being and taught me how to relate to others.”
About the Tel Aviv University Alumni Organization
Tel Aviv University has over 200,000 alumni, many of whom are top players and leaders in all sectors of Israel’s economy and society, holding key positions in law, high-tech, hospitals, media, education, and of course, academia. TAU Alumni Organization’s goal is to leverage the influence of TAU alumni as a force contributing to Israeli society and to strengthen TAU’s global reputation. It strives to serve TAU Alumni by sharing knowledge, promoting professional networking, and creating inspiring, valuable opportunities. The mission of the Tel Aviv University Alumni Organization is to form and cultivate a world-changing community.
Translated by Alan Rosenbaum
Written in cooperation with Tel Aviv University.