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Yaniv Levi

Welcome to another edition of BCL Interviews! Today we are joined by Mr Yaniv Levi all the way from Israel. Mr Yaniv is a financial expert who has nearly 2 decades of experience working with both public and private companies. He has managed assets worth more than $200 million and has helped co-found a global employment platform named Globallys. Thank you Mr Yaniv for speaking with us today, we appreciate that you’ve taken out the time to do so.

If you are ready, we can begin

Israel today has one of the best startup ecosystems found anywhere in the world. The military has had a big part to play in this because it seems to foster a highly competitive and risk-taking environment that goes on to benefit entrepreneurs. Can you shed a little light on how influential the mandatory conscription service is on not only the IT sector but in all professional life in Israel?

Obviously, I think that everybody in the tech industry has heard not only about the Israeli startup’s culture but also about the army influence, meaning the army units that do deal with cyber security and all of the things mentioned in that area. I will say it like this, there is a very strong tech environment in the Israeli army. 

I would start with that, which is developing an ecosystem that feeds itself in Israel but this is one area I would say that leads to Israel being a very strong tech powerhouse. Other than that I would say that the army is contributing to an entrepreneurial mindset, now I don’t know how other armies are handling their own culture but I think that in Israel from a very young age, while you are 18 you find yourself in tough situations where you have to conduct very quickly and think on your feet and this is something that even if you are managing or commanding another group of people or even managing yourself there’s this element of being on your own and finding a solution. 

There is always a solution mindset which is something that in life later on it accompanies you no matter where you go, when you go to university this is the first challenge, that they need to be very tough and to succeed and most of them do due to the determination that the army gives some of the people. Israel also has (before they join the army) they are like mediocre students they still don’t find themselves and after the army you see a total transition and I think this is something that is highly affecting the the the entrepreneurial mindset.

Another important characteristic of Israel is its highly diverse population, consisting of immigrants from all around the world. Research shows that diversity helps breed innovation. Do you feel that Israel has benefited from having such a vibrant cultural mix?

Sure, yes I do think it depends on the company meaning I know that a lot of cyber companies are formed based on the intelligence units from the army so I’m not 100% sure that they are diverse but I know that a lot of immigrants – you know we had a few very big waves of immigration from Russia and Ethiopia and this new blood in the system diversified the system and ultimately led to new ways of thinking. 

I would say I’m 100% supportive of this diversity because I’ve seen it firsthand how different people from different cultures think differently and because they think differently everyone finds their own place meaning some people are way quicker on their feet and way faster in responding and other people from other cultures take their time, they think a little bit slower, they are way more methodical and this blend is the one that ultimately leads to better results. I would say companies that can manage this diversity enjoy the blend. 

Again it all comes down to culture because nothing is gained by just intellectuals. In the end, intelligence is something that either you have it or you don’t or you learned but culture is different. Culture is the thing that definitely brings success due to the fact different people have different methodologies of thinking and this is the thing that sparks solutions which is – in the tech industry – without solutions, I mean you live and you die by solutions.

Israel’s startup success rate is amongst the highest in the world and there are a number of reasons for this (R&D investment, good educational institutes, etc.) What is your view on the success of the country’s IT sector? How would you sum it up?

I think it’s a blend of factors but in the end, I think that the biggest factor is culture and I would say the second biggest one is the economics of Israel and I’ll explain each one of them. Culture meaning there is a very high emphasis on entrepreneurship in Israel, I know that in other countries at least in the past, let’s take Europe for example, being an employee and getting paid with a strong and stable salary was way more important than risking your business and your income and just jumping between ventures until you find yourself and I do believe that the culture in Israel is super-supportive to entrepreneurs, meaning you being an entrepreneur in Israel is held in very high value and it’s been so even before high tech. There is a very strong area of independence and sole traders as I think that you guys call it and that was the case even 30-40 years ago and so one thing is culture meaning this is, I think the biggest contribution to what people want to go to. The second one is economics. Until I think 30 years ago Israel had some exports, mainly agricultural, some industrial, Israel doesn’t have a car industry, they don’t have an airplane industry meaning aviation industry and like the opportunities in Israel until the tech sector was, I won’t say slim but you either work in the government sector or banking sector or other small enterprises and when the tech came and  Israel started to export 100 billion dollars to 120 billion dollars and half of it is high tech, this is all been done in the last few years and it’s not for no reason. The biggest reason is that when you have these few factors such as it being culturally very accepted to be an entrepreneur and to fail and succeed until you succeed and you don’t have any other strong alternatives, you don’t have like the biggest banks in the world, and once like you take all three into the equation you understand that this is the way to go. Obviously when you see the successes of other people want to jump onto their success as well.

So we’ve spoken about the military and we’ve spoken about the culture of Israel and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of that has been influenced by the geographical location of the country itself. Being in a region of the world that can at times be volatile has obviously influenced the way life has been conducted in Israel. You just mentioned that half of the tech sector consists of high-tech products so how important do you think the geographical location of the country has been in the way that things have turned out not just in the IT sector but with life in general?

In Israel, I think it’s influencing again culture and economics. I mean culture wise the narrative in Israel is that we had so many wars with our neighbours and some of which are still there and there are some wars being fought occasionally. It’s a mindset, it makes you understand that life is not perfect and you have to fight to succeed. I think that a lot of people are looking for convenience but being in this mindset doesn’t take you into a numb way of life and this is one thing, and the other thing is economics, meaning being in such geographics that you cannot export by land and exporting by sea is difficult and air is super expensive, it forces you to to find solutions not in exporting goods but exporting services and this is I think where a lot of intelligent young people rush to the tech industry and I think that this is also something that contributes greatly to the fact that why Israel is succeeding.

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