“A revolutionary, empathetic artificial intelligence driven by sophisticated, intimate psychology and supercharged with powerful predictive algorithms, creating the artificial ideal version of you,” says the woman.
Dressed in white, sitting on a white chair set against a white background, she promises: “Infi understands and predicts your behavior, processing external traits as well as inner feelings, needs and psychological triggers to know what really matters and what every individual really needs right now. Infi will be an integral part of every aspect of our lives − from health to happiness, finance to fashion, education to entertainment, and beyond,” she promises.
This short video and the enormous claims for its EmpathAI technology appear on the website of Infibond, a mysterious Israeli startup headquartered in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hahayal tech center. Yet in spite of what the video implies, the company is not known to have a working product or to have any customers.
In an advertorial that appears in the Israeli freebie newspaper Israel Hayom, the company says that it “uses technological capabilities to ‘cure’ the shortcomings of technology itself. That ranges from bureaucratic tasks it performs instead of the user, such as paying bills, making calls with insurance agents, to advice on making decisions, interpersonal relationships and overcoming the blindness — technological, physical and emotional — that each of us has.”
In the advertorial and in other marketing, Inifbond offers a link to an app on the Android app store. But as of this writing, the link doesn’t work because the company’s software was removed from the site several months ago.
“Many people who have worked for the company really don’t understand where they are. The company is really unusual,” one former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told TheMarker.
“When I came for a job interview, they told me they were creating a social network in which you upload all your information. The idea is that in the distant future, in another 20 years, based on the information shared in the network, the company will be able to develop virtual personalities (avatars) using AI that act just like you. For example, your children, who may have never met their grandmother, will be able to talk to her Avatar in a natural way,” said the former employee.
Since it was founded six years ago by Yoram Kraus and Yaron Cohen, today CEO and chief technology officer, respectively, the company has maintained a low profile and information about it is scarce and often contradictory. Neither the company nor any of its top executives responded to queries from TheMarker.
On the company’s active Facebook page, videos show spacious, colorful offices decorated with images of superheroes and Star Wars characters. There are pictures of a New Year’s Eve party, a company air hockey tournament, and other luxuries that high-tech companies tend to offer employees.
Infibond doesn’t report how many staff it has, but LinkedIn lists 96 employees. IVC Research, which tracks Israel’s high-tech industry, says it has raised $19 million in two fundraising rounds. The backers are little known investors — with the exception of the company’s chairman, Erez Tsur, who is also chairman of the Israel Advanced Technology Industries trade association.
On the other hand, two other databases — the international Crunchbase website and one operated by Startup Nation Central — report that Infibond has raised $40 million since 2013. In a video that was submitted as evidence in a lawsuit, a company executive is seen boasting that it has raised $350 million of a planned $450 million.
Sources say the company has remade itself several times and changed strategic direction. That is not unusual for a startup navigating rapidly changing markets and technology, but the ex-employee described the work environment as overwhelming and confused.
“They wanted to finish development of a new feature before every weekend; many days I also worked for 12 hours straight. That’s standard when you work at a startup, but in Infibond it was not clear why were in such a hurry. We had no customers, a clear vision or potential investors,” he said,
Infibond managers would decide twice a year to rewrite the app, which is very unusual,” he says. “Writing a program once every five years is reasonable, but twice a year at the startup stage is very strange.”
He likened the company to a startup in the late 1990s dot.com boom, when entrepreneurs could form companies and raise money with nothing more than an idea.
Although the company claims to be developing AI based on psychological principles, the former employee said that while he was employed at Infibond the company did not have anyone on the staff with skills in the field. “I know that when I left in 2016, there was nothing real about AI, not a single line of code,” the worker said.
Today Infibond does employ leading AI experts, like Sarit Kraus, a professor of computer sciences at Bar-Ilan University. It also has a team of psychologists.
Another source, who also asked not to be named, said Infibond started with a plan to build a social network of memorial pages for the deceased, but after it learned that Facebook was doing the same thing, Infibond switched direction and started working in AI and digital currencies.
Unusually, TheMarker has learned that four different lawsuits have been filed against the company all of which make similar claims —namely that Infibond and Kraus renege on the terms of fundraising agreements, such as paying finders’ fees or loan repayments.
In one suit, which is still in court, a fundraising company called TLVC is seeking 18.3 million shekels ($5.1 million) on the grounds that Infibond and Kraus allegedly failed to pay a 5% finder’s fee after they raised $100 million in a round that valued the company at $1.25 billion.
TLVC asserts that the investment was in fact eventually made by Hong Kong’s Pacific Century Group, which is controlled by Richard Li, the son of billionaire Li Ka-Shing.
For its part, Infibond claims that TLVC inflated the size of the investment in hopes of winning a bigger claim in a settlement. “It is clear that even if the claim for mediation fees is justified, at least 85% of the amount of the claim is excessive,” Infibond told the court.
In any case, sources at Infibond claim that Nurit Mor Cohen, vice president for business development, established the connection with Richard Li personally on a trip to Hong Kong with TLVC executives. That resulted in a much more modest $15 million investment in the company by Pacific Century Group.
Another lawsuit shed light on Infibond’s efforts in digital currencies. In that 16.5 million–shekel suit, the company was said to have been planning a virtual assistant called Yoo-Mi at the height of the bitcoin craze in 2017. Yoo-Mi would be accompanied by a virtual currency and incorporate a psychological profile of the user that would help him or her make shopping and other decisions.
According to the suit, Infibond formed a U.K. unit for the new business but was short of cash and took a loan from a group of investors led by businessman Yaniv Levi at a 20% rate of interest. In May 2018, Infibond announced it was cancelling the digital currency project and would repay the principal of the loan without interest.
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