Episode
#19
HEB

How To Listen To Ourselves as Entrepreneurs, and the Decisions We Make Along Our Way

Featuring
Yoav Vilner,
Co-founder & CEO of Walnut

Yoav is a serial entrepreneur, currently serving as CEO & Co-founder of Walnut. Before Walnut, he was the CMO at Zohar Levkovitz’s creation, L1ght, a startup combating cyberbullying, and predatory behaviour against minors. He is also a well-respected opinion leader for media outlets such as Forbes, CNBC, FOX News, Entrepreneur, and more. Oh, and he’s only 32. 

 

At the age of 22, Yoav and his partner, Shahar Shamir, co-founded Ranky, a marketing agency that cracked the code for marketing startups. It was their first time in the entrepreneurial game, and they made every mistake possible. One of the first complex managerial experiences for him was when an entire marketing department, made up entirely of American employees, resigned because they did not get along with their manager. The cultural gaps were too big, which Yoav and Shachar only noticed when it was already late. Ranky was very successful in Israel, and from there, Yoav moved to London and then to New York, where reality hit him like a ton of bricks. He understood that although his marketing agency was good, the Israeli portfolio did not really interest the Americans. Yoav testifies that he came with a ton of confidence, but he did not do enough homework. Meanwhile, Yoav discovered writing and began posting on technology blogs that evolved for writing on Forbes, CNBC and other highly regarded media. Writing is, for him, a passion and something authentic that also allowed him to position himself right.


After New York didn't connect with Ranky, Yoav, aged 28, returned to Israel in love with an idea for a new startup. Soon after his return, he began a process akin to speed-dating to find a CTO - meeting approximately 15 potential entrepreneurs within about half a year. His top priority was to check whether they connect to his idea, and his second priority - to find out what is in their skill basket. Eventually, he'll learn that this was the wrong order, but he was so locked into his idea that he saw no way out. Yoav brings the marketing side, and it was clear to him that he was looking for a complementary partner who was knowledgeable in the technological and product aspects. 

 

If you ask him what his favorite work tool is, it is a table. He goes to sleep with them and gets up with them. The tables accompany him in all significant decision-making junctures in his life. He describes how he color-coded different metrics, such as reasonableness, performance, and completion scores, to find the right partner. There has even been a potential investment from a venture capital fund that only wanted him to bring in the fitting CTO. Then Zohar Levkovitz came into the picture. Zohar wanted to create a startup that would help save children from the dangers of social media - and he wanted Yoav to spearhead its marketing. Yoav had to deal with a dilemma that included 2 critical factors: (1) he wouldn't be the CEO, and (2) it wasn't the idea he fell in love with and returned to Israel with him. He needed to decide between equally good opportunities: find a partner & get an initial seed investment for his idea, or go with Zohar's idea. After consulting with several people he appreciates immensely, it was time to stop thinking and just choose.

 

He chose to go with Zohar. Two years later, Yoav felt that it was time to move on; the desire to be an entrepreneur was burning in him. So he built a table again. This time finding a partner was almost instantaneous. He and partner Danni Friedland talked to many salespeople and saw a reoccurring problem. Consequently, they built a fast MVP and raised $6-million from star investors like Gigi Levy from NFX, football player John Montana, A Capital (Andersen Horowitz's brainchild). How did they do it? Team. Team. Team.

 

In addition to being two strong entrepreneurs, they brought in a developer and a salesman full of experience. Even though it was peak COVID-19 times, firms that knew how to spot the potential quickly got organized and made the relatively quick investment decision possible. Some firms operated differently, those without true investment intent, and encouraging startups to lay off employees - decisions that don't always turn out to be right over time. The seed funding round went well. With 21 employees, the company has grown. Yoav describes how dangers lurk around every corner and how he has to prove himself every day, which is why he surrounds himself with brilliant people.

 

At what cost? Until a late age, Yoav didn't bring anything into his life beyond work. Today he makes room for that. He talks about "entrepreneurship addiction" - and describes himself as a person who must create all the time. During the pandemic, he helped more than 40 people find work with essays and his favorite work tool, tables. He mentions that we all need something from someone; it is important to know how to do it the right way while maintaining modesty, focus, politeness, learning when to let go, and being grateful for the help.


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