Episode
#97
HEB

Resilience journey: the story of the boy from the Kibbutz who dreamed of becoming a pilot and scientist, founded an empire together with his wife, defeated an American corporation and grew promising startups.

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Featuring
Kobi RIchter
Entrepreneur and Investor, CTO at Medinol

Kobi remembers the Kibbutz where he grew up as an empowering community. 

He shares that the significant knowledge he gained from a very young age, when he worked in the kibbutz as a locksmith, welder and mechanic, shaped who he is today.

Another part of the kibbutz education that shaped him was studying with an exceptional biology and chemistry teacher, who in 10th grade decided that Kobi would no longer do the tests because he already knew he would get an A and the others would copy from him - and instead he decided to let him do a research paper:

"Taking a rot of orange peels and isolate bacteria from it, hybridize them until I reach pure strains, and from that deduce backwards what was the genotype of the bacteria that were there. I started growing hundreds of petri dishes, and suddenly I found the penicillium fungus that kills them and I turned the work into it - this way I learned, created my passion for Life Sciences and brought me to where I am today."

These two together gave him the opportunity at a young age to use his brain and hands in creative ways, and above all the opportunity to dream about an ambitious future.

What is interesting is that as a child, Kobi participated in the research of the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who was interested in the consequences of the Kibbutz education. In his book, "Children of the Dream", Bettelheim concluded that the Kibbutz education has a problem because it is an incubator where the children are only exposed to one truth and not to the outside world.

Here comes the particularly interesting part, about which Kobi shares with a smile:

"The psychologist's example was this boy (Kobi in his own right) who says he wants to be a pilot and a scientist, and doesn't understand that these are two different worlds and they don't go together. After I was a fighter pilot and I was already a Guest Professor at MIT, I wrote him a letter."

It's never too late for a Eureka moment

Towards the age of 40, after many years in academia as a researcher with a PhD in Israel and abroad, alongside managing and commanding in the Israeli Air Force, Kobi found the exact mix for him in his professional way.

Originally, his plan was to become the commander of the Air Force, so he continued to advance in positions while he founded Orbot. He worked on its development at night and on Saturdays for the first few years while serving as the head of the AMLAH unit, and then it hit him -

"The combination of something that is also a conceptual challenge together with daily work, is what suits me. The startup has become the new dream."

The connection of these two sides together - the work with the scientific 'head' and the 'hands' of the worker, gave room to his character and essence in a way that he did not have before.

Work with your spouse

When I asked Kobi about his experience working alongside his wife Yehudit at Madinol, he shared that like everything, it has its pros and cons. The main advantage lies in the fact that they have common goals 24/7 - they look towards the same North star and there are no conflicts in their needs in career versus home, unlike couples who have separate careers.

On the other hand, there is the potential for a lot of tension in a relationship because of the assertive personality of both, and when there are tensions - there is no time to rest and 'cool down' from the other person, because their lives are integrated in every way.

In their case, after 29 years of working together and even sharing the same office, it can be said that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Working together as a couple, especially as entrepreneurs, is a complex thing. Maintaining absolute boundaries between career and personal life at home is an unrealistic goal - always part of the professional dynamic will spill over into the personal and vice versa. If this is our choice in life, it is important that we recognize this complexity, give it space and constantly talk about it.

The key lies in breaking down the inevitable tensions as quickly as possible, before they build up and swell to a monstrous size that we can no longer see beyond, and put a buffer between us. Togetherness is our strength, and it depends on trust and transparency.

This togetherness also includes complementary strengths, as Kobi testifies to himself in front of his wife with a smile:

"I'm a more closed person. Yehudit, who has a PhD in Organizational Psychology, has more of a tendency to talk about things than I do. I neither talk much nor am I really willing to listen much , but we found the way."

For the most part, their dynamic is based on the fact that Kobi raises the risks and chances in the company to the limit, and Yehudit lowers the risks and balances him so that he does not fall from the extreme.

Kobi also shared his business and professional path with his brother Yohai. Many of the dynamics between them are very interesting in the context of co-founder relationships.

The power of choice - trade-offs and gains

Before founding Medinol, Kobi made a complex choice, and left Orbot. In terms of timing, the company was at the peak of its growth, there was a merger with Optrotech that made it the strongest company in the world in the field - so to speak, a perfect situation.

But Kobi shares about a different picture from the inside, and about the prices that came as a result of tensions that prevailed between him and one of the other managers:

"At the time, I was only riding a motorcycle, and compared to that, for three years I had been riding every morning from Ramat Hasharon to Yavne and singing loudly in my helmet - suddenly I noticed that I started cursing in my helmet . Then I said to myself - my life will not be a life of cursing in a helmet."

Every choice we make consists of a mix of profits and prices, and as Kobi asked at the time - is this how I want to spend my life?

For him, the personal costs he had to bear did not outweigh the benefits of being part of a successful startup, so he chose to leave.

He shares -

"I left with the intention of taking a year off, and I quickly got back to work and started to establish Medinol because it became clear to me that the hobbies I said I would do now are tasteless if I do them more than once a week - 'What's the point of returning the tennis ball? It will come back to me again., What reason do I have to turn right with the surfboard? I'll turn left in a moment.' If these moments are not rare, they become boring."

He realized that for him, all the hobbies and little things he enjoys are the spices that enhance the flavor of life for him, but they alone are not enough to satisfy - he was hungry for the great meaning that the work gave him, so he returned with all his might to the next project.

When I asked Kobi to tell about a significant moment, he shared about the exciting time after receiving approval from the FDA for the stent they developed in the company, which, began to be sold at a rate of $1.5m per day -

"Within a week you help the lives of 3,000 people, and more than that - 3,000 families. It's not the money that starts to flow in a larger amount, but the impact - the confirmation that what you did indeed met the need for which you developed it. It's a feeling of satisfaction that I don't remember with such intensity before."

Dealing with crisis situations is the bread and butter of entrepreneurs. Kobi tells about the huge crisis they experienced with their past partners, a small startup versus a huge corporate, who decided to steal their idea, which led to a long legal fight, in the end justice was restored. Today they invest the lawsuit compensation funds in groundbreaking technologies and startups in the fields of Science and Medicine.

When we reached the end, he recalled another milestone from life in the Kibbutz that helped him build his inner center as a child -

"In the Kibbutz there was a boy who was stronger than me and would beat me, there was a boy who was better than me in Physics, there was a boy who swam much faster than me. Because we were in the ‘company of the children’ and not in a protective family, we had to fight to define ourselves and not fall back. This prepares you for dealing with complex things in the future - to call difficulties challenges, instead of obstacles - that's the end of the matter."

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