Asaf and Omri grew up with a father who was a military man. They moved to many places in Israel and in the world, from Kibbutz Oranit and Kibbutz Dan, to Singapore, and then back to Rosh Hanikra, Nahariya, and Haifa.
Their childhood taught them on the one hand not to get deeply attached to anything, and on the other hand how to make connections quickly and easily. During this period Asaf also discovered the world of gaming for the first time -
"For me it was the regular social place. It doesn't really matter where I live - I open the computer, I put on my headphones and I'm with friends again."
Omri, on the other hand, found his release and anchor in the sailing world.
They both share how those same abilities they developed as a result of the frequent moving in their childhood - whether it's warmth, empathy, the ability to read the situation, understand who’s against whom, and how to gather and harness people for a common goal, meet them today, 20 years later, in front of new investors and employees, and help them become better entrepreneurs and managers.
From the army to the world of startups or "when the market meets the product"
True to his love for the sea and the world of sailing, Omri served in Shayetet 13 for 14 years in a variety of positions as a soldier and as an officer. Omri testifies that serving in the navy was very significant for him and shaped his personality.
When I asked Omri to share about a moment or a memory that was very significant for him, he explained about an operation he participated in half a year after he was qualified as a fighter. It was a special operation that had not been done before and Omri was chosen to be at the center of it, even though he was a relatively young fighter. Contrary to all the success stories of the Shayetet, this operation was a total failure and Omri was in the spotlight, or as Asaf calls it - "the market met the product". At this point, Omri realizes that the reality or the real thing is very different from the training, and chooses to grow from this negative experience and even write a new book of procedures that they still work according to today.
"After you fail, you’re at a crossroads - either wallow in all the depression and misery of it, or get up and say - OK, how do I improve from this? How do I learn from this or do something better? Just like when a product meets the market and we realize that it doesn't work, what do we do from this moment? Either they give up or really get better from it."
A few years later, it’s Asaf's turn to serve in the army, and of course he wants to follow in his brother's footsteps. To his joy, this dream comes true and he is accepted into the Shayetet, but after a year comes a very big crisis point when he’s dismissed from the unit. When I asked Asaf what he thought played a bigger role in this crisis, he answered openly:
"I think it's mostly the expectations... The thing that is perhaps the most difficult is managing the expectations. If I take it for a moment to the startups world, the more you recruit, the thing that rises exponentially the most is the level of expectations from everyone, including mine from myself. And when I had those expectations from the environment, then I also expected myself to finish it. This is the biggest weight to carry."
Asaf chooses not to run away from this low point - to look the crisis in the eyes. Within 24 hours, he got back on his feet and decided that -
"If not the Shayetet, then Sayeret Matkal."
In the end, he served in the Egoz unit and even went on a commander’s and military officer’s courses. After the Tzuk Eitan battle he chose to end his service.
After Asaf is released from his military service, he quickly realizes that he wants to do something big of his own and establishes a youth movement that educates through sports, and in retrospect, he shares that this was the first cornerstone for the startup they manage today.
After 7 years they’re already operating in 60 places in Israel, the Corona Virus lands from nowhere. Asaf and Amri choose, once again, not to give up and decide to take their activity into the digital space and become "the first digital youth movement". They use platforms like Zoom to deliver training to children in the Netherlands, Australia, China, the USA, Israel and more, and feel that there’s a product here that can be scaled. But when they meet with the market - in this case the investors, they receive polite refusals and sentences like - "We love you but...”.
Then, in one of the meetings with a potential investor, he told them
"Listen, I love you guys very much but it's hard for me to pass it on. I wish my kid had this, because it's something amazingly educational, but he's on Fortnite all day"
- This is where the light bulb goes on in their minds, and following this conversation they decide to combine their activity in the association together with games like Fortnite. From there, everything started to unfold.
Not long after, after his long period in the navy, Omri realizes he’s not interested in a military career and retires to join Asaf.
First Time Founders
Within a year and a half, their startup - Ludeo (formerly Edge Gaming), raised 42 million dollars and recruited over 35 employees. When I asked them how they hold this weight when they come without experience, Omri shared that the best thing they did was understanding that they don’t know what they don't know, which led them to surround themselves very quickly with people who have the experience and knowledge.
But convincing people with a lot of experience to come work for entrepreneurs that this is their first startup is no small thing -
"We asked ourselves a lot - why did they come? I think the reason is in the end a feeling we give off - Some kind of calmness and confidence in a very big vision on the one hand, and on the other hand also in our ability to come and be open to understanding when things don't work and from that knowing how to change."
The trick, of course, is not only to bring in the right people, but also to make them stay. In order to achieve this, both Asaf and Omri believe that you need to trust whoever you bring in and give them the space to make an impact - this is the reason why they brought them in in the first place.
Omri and Asaf have a different dynamic than most founders, and when they argue they’re not shy to sting each other. But they both testify that their greatest strength lies in the trust and deep familiarity between them.
Both also bring different abilities to the table. Asaf is the visionary who always looks ahead, while Omri worries that the here and now will be good and how to make the vision a reality.
"I always liken Omri's management of all the technology and the product to a person who’s drowning. This is everyday life. The burden of everyday life is as if you’re drowning, and you can’t rise above the water for a moment and see where the land is. I stand on the shoulders of the one who is drowning, and make it a little harder for him, but at least I look, I have a good vision now - I see where to go."
Even though Omri is the big brother, he feels very comfortable with the fact that Asaf is the CEO, and in general, they view ego as something very obstructive that has no place in the startup world, where you need to run fast and the good of the company is always above all.
I am here thanks to my wife
When I asked Asaf how one deals with everything - a company with crazy growth, a relocation that’s about to happen soon, being newly married, a degree, and more, Asaf shared honestly that the answer is always in the people -
"I tell my wife that thanks to her all of this exists, because she knows how to contain the the crazy moments, the returning home at odd hours and the uncertainty, and it affects her, but she’s very strong. It's also the ability to share and vent when needed..."
Both Omri and Asaf testify that their drive stems from the fact that they’re never satisfied. Omri paralleled this to the world of sports where professional athletes know that they always have to prove themselves again - even if they won some kind of competition, the next day everything resets. Nevertheless, over time they both understand that it’s also important to celebrate the successes, especially for their employees.
Finally, when I asked them about tips they have for entrepreneurs who are siblings, they both ranked the need to be honest and open at the top of the list, and Asaf clarifies -
"I believe it’s about seeing that we really have a shared world of values, which means we can trust each other. On the other hand, there’s a strength in being very different in character, because our difference means we don't step on each other's toes, and this allows us to work very, very well together."