Interview with Tal Cohen, Founder and former CEO of Sirin Labs
Tal Cohen was the CEO and founder of mobile-phone company Sirin Labs, which is based in Tel Aviv and creates some the most expensive and least hackable devices in the world, primarily targeting HNWIs. He comes from a prominent Israeli family and, before this, had a career in cyber security.
After leaving Sirin Labs, Cohen relocated to the United States and became involved in crypto currency, where he still does business, while is he also the CMO of Stratsys, a company focused on 3D printing. His other passion, that he does with his family, is real estate investment. All of this varied experience gives him a rounded understanding of certain parts of the economy and how we may see it develop over the coming years.
“This has obviously been a very turbulent year because of the pandemic,” Cohen says. “It started off as a very depressed time with a grim outlook, but now there is confidence in the strength of the economy. However, the pandemic has changed how people live and their values – and this shifts what they consume and how.”
Going into detail about which parts of the express arena were impacted most, Cohen notes how physical retail and travel took the biggest hits, but also that consumers did start to invest more in other areas of their lives.
“Offline shopping has taken a huge blow. Because of travel restrictions, traditional luxury goods are not as present as they once were. Much of Chinese spend has been repatriated and I think there is still a shortfall.
But, we are also seeing people shift a lot of money into their homes – they are moving up scale in certain aspects of their lives.”
According to Cohen, although some of these changes will come and go, there have been two major consequences of the pandemic that will change business forever, and those which must be understood by companies if they want to connect with consumers and indeed employees.
“Two fundamental things have changed as a result of the pandemic. First of all, the world has seen that you can buy a lot more online and I don’t see that reversing. The convenience, the infrastructure and the logistics that have come up have catapulted us years ahead and I don’t see that sliding back. The other thing is work from home, which is a big change that is here to stay, and it will impact the entire work force. Employers who won’t offer some level of flexibility will be less attractive to workers.”
Regarding less permanent changes, Cohen believes however, that consumers will embrace physical retail again and that high-end travel will be back. He also argues that, ultimately, the thinking behind luxury spending has not, and will not, change.
“I think the fundamental reasons for buying luxury have not changed, but there have always been many reasons behind it and you can’t generalise too much. Certain people are still going to go for status symbols that they can show off, while others are focused on the quality of life. But, if you think about it, a blingy person will not change dramatically – although they might tone it down a bit for the moment, it will likely shoot back up again. Ultimately, they will not really change.”
When considering brands that are able to tap into this affluent mindset (whatever the reason behind wanting to buy into luxury), Cohen notes that it is “attention to detail” that sets certain brands apart.
“They stand out head and shoulders above their competitors because of the end product quality look and feel,” he says of real estate company Toll Brothers, which has successfully captured the luxury market in the US. “They are very interested in the customer who has the desire to enjoy the means and to show off the means.”
This is a great example, he says, of a business understanding the needs of the affluent set and delivering on how they wish to express themselves.