Startup Insights from a First-Time Founder

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Erez Dror
Co-founder & CEO of Genda

Breaking the stereotype

"I wasn't born an entrepreneur, I was born a builder, and I think that life has shaped me a little to become what I am today."

Erez started his entrepreneurial journey without any plans to become an entrepreneur. He worked in the construction industry as a construction worker who loved his job very much, and worked his way up the ladder until he became a planning manager at “Tidhar”. Today when he walks in Tel Aviv and looks at projects he took part in planning, he feels like a proud father to his babies.

When I ask him about the difference between his beginnings as a builder and his life today as an entrepreneur, he shares that it doesn't seem strange or surprising from his eyes, because in both he builds - whether it is building a structure or a startup.

This insight fell when he was part of a mentoring program at the “Shaldag” (IDF Elite Unit) alongside a research master's degree he did at the Technion: "I realized that the worlds I study in the academy are very connected to the scratches I scratched on a construction site - being a foreman is one of the hardest jobs there is; Both physically you walk in the sun all day, and also the mentality of contractors and people, it's hard when no one listens to you. When I said it in the program, the mentor told me that it sounded like a startup." And indeed, after six months of thinking and digesting, Erez decided to go for it and start a startup.

One of the things he discovered in the process is what it really means to be an entrepreneur and CEO; he had an image in his head of the stereotype of entrepreneur coming from 8200, and a CEO who is a businessman -

"I hardly understood the human side, which is actually most of what I am doing today. "

Turn the disadvantages into advantages

When Erez and his co-founders raised the seed round after two years of operation, they had already talked to 200 VCs and heard a lot - 'No'. Erez shares that he learned from the long process and the frustration that came with it how important it is to learn to play with your strengths -

"Sometimes you have to use the cards you have in your hand and not go head-to-head. In Israel I felt that they didn't really know how to digest my story - I realized that in Israel I will continue to fight against windmills , so I started trying to raise in the US."

The move paid off and they managed to raise a seed round of $4.5M from two US- based funds.

As entrepreneurs we constantly have moments when we feel like our backs are against the wall, and this can reduce us to tunnel vision in the face of the challenges that frustrate us. Precisely in such situations it is important to open up and see the whole spectrum of possibilities open to us, and to explore how we can turn what we perceive as disadvantages into advantages -

This process of pausing-debriefing-analyzing-getting insights is part of the foundation of the entrepreneurial DNA.

Erez shares that what really helped him expand his range of vision, was our mutual work (myself as his coach) and the external perspectives he got in our conversations at that time. It's hard to do this thought process alone - everyone needs an outside perspective.

Mid-life relocation

Two and a half years into the process, Erez decides to relocate to Austin, Texas, in order to open a market, as a father of three young children and with a spouse with a significant career of her own, leaving family, friends and most of his company in Israel;

"The hardest price  is the distance from the family. We didn't dream of relocation, we were very happy in Israel, but I understood that this was the price I had to pay and everyone around me understood as well."

Much of the courage and strength to take this step came from a life-changing event in his childhood that changed his view on the world. 27 years ago, his eldest sister Hadas was murdered in a terrorist attack when Erez was only 8 years old, and the family's life went through an upheaval.

Erez shares:

"I see it as part of who I am. It obviously scratched me for better and for worse, and if I look at it from the positive side, it's that my family worked hard not to fall apart and continued in life. I think that's why I work well when I'm with my back to the wall, because my life is conducted in a different proportion as someone who has gone through a tragedy."

Whether as entrepreneurs or investors, there are many things that we know in our cognition, but fail to live them in our everyday life. It is difficult to remember the good points in life in the midst of stress, and to let the whole spectrum of emotions exist within us in the same breath - this requires an inner balance. This balance is a large part of the resilience needed to survive and stay sane in this world that is full of challenges and difficulties that need to be overcome. We don't have to go through tragic experiences ourselves to internalize this mindset, but we do need a conscious and concentrated effort to bring it into our reality.

" I think one of the things I manage to do relatively well is live in peace with my different roles in life. Understand that you can't be the best at everything: the perfect entrepreneur, the perfect father, the perfect partner... I work hard to maintain a balance between work and personal life."

One of the things that helps him maintain balance is the understanding that the road is not a sprint. Statistically, most successful companies take at least 8 years to make their way and reach success, although we usually don't hear about these stories. This understanding that there are concessions that need to be made that can hurt the company a little in the short term but prevent it from being eroded in the long term is critical both for the company and for him in his personal life - "in the end everyone benefits". I (Gali) strongly believe in the importance of developing the prioritization muscle - we always need to understand what requires our attention and manage it.

Lessons from the entrepreneurial journey

When I asked Erez about key lessons he learned during Genda's journey, he summarized them in three main things:

1. People are the main thing -

"People are a very, very complex thing but the most important thing, and your role as a manager and CEO is mainly how you convey complex ideas in a simple way and motivate people to action in a harnessing way."

As managers and CEOs, we also need to understand that we don't know everything and know how to consult the right people we can trust to navigate our way through the fog and really listen, as Erez shares:

"90% of the things I know today I didn't know four years ago. Many of them I learned on my own, but with those that I didn't I probably spared myself some pitfalls that I would have fallen into, and this is true not only in the aspect of starting a company, this is the essence of a product company in my eyes - if you don't know how to listen, you won't listen to your customers, your partners, your investors, and your chance of success is lower."

2. The importance of compassion - both towards ourselves and towards others. We will make mistakes many times along the way, there is a price for making quick decisions that we have to pay sometimes, and if we get stuck on these parts we will not be able to move forward. It's important that we know how to forgive ourselves, Erez adds that this is also significant at the company level:

"We don't look for someone to blame in the company. There are many things that don't work - that's the startup life. Who cares who didn't fix the bug? We'll debrief it so it won't happen next time and move forward."

3. The importance of a gut feeling in front of investors -

"When you feel that you are trying to convince - 99% that you will not succeed. After you succeed a few times in conversations with investors - you realize that you feel when you succeed. Whoever wants to be a part of your path, will make sure to be there."

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