Sukkot, known in English as Tabernacles, is a holiday in which Jews are commanded to build an improvised dwelling, representing the time in which the Israelites were living in the wilderness after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. And just as the sukkah is a flexible structure, we must understand that the high-tech ecosystem is one as well– there are so many opportunities in so many areas within the ecosystem, as well as for those coming from the outside. Many people find their way working in high-tech even though they did not intend to do so. We caught up with some of them to hear how their flexible career journeys led them to the Startup Nation.
Vic Levitin, CEO, and founder of Diptera
Diptera is an Israeli biological solution for mosquito eradication. Vic Levitin told us about her journey.
“I started my first business during my 1st year of university. I became fascinated with eCommerce, and to make a long story short – I built a $4M/ year business with a subsidiary in London, selling filming equipment and electronics, mainly in Western Europe and Scandinavia. Next, knowing the pains of running an eCommerce business firsthand, we built software (SAAS) for eCommerce businesses.
“But when my first child was born, suffered from postpartum depression, which led me to ask questions like - What am I doing with my life? Is my work meaningful to me? And the answer was - no. And so, I began searching for what would be next for me– a process that took about a year until I stumbled upon this crazy story about a technology to fight mosquitoes with mosquitoes. It was like falling in love. I knew right then that I was happy to devote a good number of years to solve this problem.
“I’ve learned that my superpower is being naively passionate about my work.
When doing my due diligence on the mosquito control space before joining the team – everybody told me there was no money in this space and that I’d better stay away from it. But I was naive and passionate enough to believe that I would find a way.”
Ifty Kerzner – Co-founder & president at Kissterra
From TV to a successful insure-tech Startup. In his youth, Ifty was a singer and host. He never planned to be a host of Arutz HaYeladim, Israel's children's channel. In his early 20s, he had some very successful musical songs. His success came from one core value: "I think I'm onto something, and I'm willing to put myself on the line to test it. That's the truth in starting something. It doesn't matter if it's a company, a TV show, or as a musician. It means putting yourself out there to be judged by other people.''
When he was 24, he realized that he would not be able to make a living from his music, so he volunteered and took a break from music and focused on his role as an entrepreneur. It led him to where he is today: owning a company that helps U.S. Insurance businesses improve their marketing and distribution.
Bar Veinstein, CEO at Taranis
“I started my professional career back in 1998 in NICE Systems and held various marketing and product positions through a 12-years tenure. My first pivotal move was in 2010, as I took an executive product role at Ex Libris, a global EdTech (education technology) company. I managed the cloud business unit, leading the transition from a portfolio of on-premises solutions to a unified cloud-based SaaS solution. I was later appointed as the CEO of Ex Libris.
The second pivotal career move was in 2021, as I took the CEO role of Taranis. This leading Israeli Agri-tech company is driving digital transformation in the agricultural industry”. He added, “My key insights when transitioning to a new leadership role are assemble the right leadership team, people you trust and trust you; bring people that enjoy working together, it will set the tone for everyone in the company; create strong teams through a combination of SMEs from within the industry along with tech experts from other sectors.
“If and when you decide to make a change - see that you truly connect to the new domain and believe in it – there are always surprises along the way, so if you aren’t passionate about the new direction, it might not be the right one. Assess the opportunity and do your due diligence – do you see yourself staying in that company for the next five years? Finally, don’t be mesmerized by promises of quick exits. People tend to over-sell the opportunity, be ready for surprises as you step into the new role.
“Other challenges that you need to prepare yourself for – transitioning to a new leadership role often means going from a large (and established) company to a smaller company. Can you cope with working in a company that is 1/10 of the size? Moving from leading an established company to a VC-backed company is a significant change in many aspects. Be prepared to work with a larger, more decentralized board of directors. Finally, moving to a small organization often means you’ll need to ‘get your hands dirty again’…. it's part of the joy of creating something new, but make sure you’re up for the challenge!”
Avi Jacoby, CEO of Fabric
Avi Jacoby (Jack), CEO at Fabric, an Israeli robotics retail logistics platform developer, explains his career path: “My career began in the Israeli Air Force in 1979 and lasted 32 years as I served as a fighter pilot, commander, and then senior commander in the Air Force and the General Staff. I retired as a brigadier general of the Special Affairs of General Staff in 2011. I always thought that the day I could no longer fly as a fighter pilot, I would feel like I lost a part of my body. But I realized I was wrong. I just needed to find something I am passionate about that’s challenging, interesting, and impactful. I was sure I would not join the defence industry and wouldn’t be a pilot of an airline company. I wanted to reinvent myself.
I wanted to work at a place where I had influence and to be part of something that would change the world. I felt like I needed to understand the civilian and business world better, so I started to connect with contacts I knew from the army to gain experience and knowledge. One of them was Moshe Kaplinsky from Better Place, whom I worked with. After Better Place, I worked for three more startup companies that involved 3D printing and water management tech that significantly impacted the industry. Today I’m CEO of Fabric, aiming to change the e-commerce market and the way supply chains work.”
He explained the differences between the two careers: "Commanding soldiers is very different from managing civilians. But my army career shaped my ability to confront complex and difficult challenges while remaining calm. I don't get stressed very easily. The situations I face today are not less complicated and complex than those I met as a squadron or base commander. For example, Fabric had and still must overcome many challenges while reshaping the way retail supply chains operate. This is a massive challenge for me.
A few more things I took with me: maturity. My experience helps me approach questions and complex challenges more maturely. Perhaps the most important thing that I learned with time is to build a team of people who are each better than me in what they do. I remember the exact time when I realized that my success was very much dependent on the success of my people. It happened to me when I became a squadron commander. Inexperienced managers are not always able to do this – they are sometimes afraid of people who are better than them. But I am thrilled I have managers who are much better than me. I need people to educate and challenge me. I can't do it alone. I'm not competing with my people; they help me be a better manager.”
“My advice to all managers is: don't be afraid to give people independence and ownership. When they are much better than me at what they do, I provide them with freedom in everything; I ask questions to understand and learn why and how they do things, and as a manager, I mostly see the broader picture and how to connect the dots. But I’m not there to hold the hand of my lieutenants.
“Don't look back. What's interesting is the future and how you influence it going forward. I don't live in my past; I don't miss what I did in the Air Force. I also don’t talk about my past Air Force experience in the management roles I do today. It’s just not relevant or indicative of my current abilities.”
When we asked him about regrets, he said, “I have no regrets. At age 54, I felt that as an F-16 pilot, I wasn't as sharp as I was at age 35, so I realized I needed to stop flying. On the day of my last flight, in the farewell speech, I made my farewell speech a funny and happy speech. I chose to laugh at it and laugh at myself. It had to happen at some point; that's the biology of things. And all is well.”
Fiona Beonouaiche, CFO at Bees Tel Aviv
“After finishing my master’s degree in finance in France, I started to work in a consulting company in valuation and business modelling. I was passionate about valuation because of its complexity and the versatility of the industries you evaluate. One day I was considering a huge cement producer, and the next, a small gaming startup. I would see a lot of different industries and did not at all specialize in high tech. After working for around five years, I decided to move to Israel in 2016 and started an international MBA. My switch to high-tech was random. I was looking for a student position while studying for my MBA. I bumped into an offer on Facebook for a data management position at a high-tech company called Weissbeerger. They needed French speakers to reach customers in Canada and work night shifts.
“I went for an interview and fell in love with their cool tech vibe. About a year later, I graduated and informed the CEO that I would probably leave to pursue a VC or family office career. He then offered me a position under the CFO in the finance department.
When we asked Beonouaiche what she learned from this, she explained: “From my consulting career, I learned the adaptability and versatility of businesses. I was not solely focused on one industry. I learned to understand the business models of big industrial companies and biotech companies, for example. The most important trait is curiosity and eagerness to learn and develop new skills. My biggest challenge was understanding the product's technicalities, what it takes to make one from scratch, and all the dependencies between departments and professions.
“Tech is such a fast-going and creative world. It is a great professional world to evolve in that constantly intellectually challenges you. Personally, it allowed me to develop my creativity and new skills in other domains that I was not initially familiar with, such as fintech product development. That is fantastic about working in tech; many opportunities may arise if you work hard and don’t set boundaries.”
Maja Ferber, Head of Global Support at Riverside
“I was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt is a great city to live in. It is not a tech hub, and I have no tech background. I am a political scientist and was in academia until I moved to Israel. I had worked in several companies in Frankfurt, and I could not find myself in the workplace culture; I couldn't find a place that excited me, where I felt I could be myself and make a difference. On a visit to Israel, I connected with an agency connecting internationals with high-tech companies. When I entered the headquarters of my first tech company for the first time, I had no idea what high-tech or start-ups were. I was initially unsure if Support and Knowledge Management would be for me. I decided to try it, flew back home, packed my whole life in boxes, and moved to Israel within two weeks.”
“Then, I fell in love with Support, Knowledge Management, and Localization. I discovered my passion for building things from scratch, excitement for scaling, and love for Israel's start-up ecosystem. That was the beginning of my journey. I started as a Support Agent in the German team and progressed to be Head of the Languages Group in Support.
“When the opportunity at Riverside presented itself, it was the perfect match. We started building a global team with a group of super-talented and kind people. From a small team, we grew into a worldwide department providing 24/7 support to our user base. Where others try to hide access points to support, we do the exact opposite: We want our users to find us and help, and I am so proud of this approach. It says a lot about the management and the people here at Riverside! Today we are 40 in the global Support department. I am most proud that everyone genuinely cares for each other and our users. This care reflects how we provide support and constantly challenge ourselves to learn, grow, and improve. I am humbled to work with such a group of kind and intelligent humans, and that is true for everyone at Riverside.
“Social science graduates are not precisely the main target of recruiters in tech. Yet, many of the skills I had learned before helped me find my many roles much more quickly. I learned to work independently, question everything, and motivate myself; I learned to initiate and manage projects, manage time planning, communicate with other stakeholders, and push through difficulties.
“My main tips are to be open, trust your skills and creativity to use them in various scenarios, and try new things. Don't give up because you don't fit the requirements list 100% - send your CV anyway! You might be excited by something you didn't expect, and you might use your skills from the past to master the challenges you will face. Things you might never have thought of as a skill are precious in a different place: like your native language. One thing's for sure, moving to Israel and joining the start-up ecosystem was the best decision for me.”
Shahar Sorek, Chief Marketing Officer at Overwolf
“I started my career path as an actor. My childhood was shaped by four core forces: computer games, films, martial arts, and above all - my joyful grandmother who was an actress and singer during the holocaust. It was her entertaining abilities that saved her life many times throughout that period.”
Sorek explains his career pivot to us: “It was always my childhood dream to develop my own game. Years later, while spending a few months on a movie set, I was deep into an MMO strategy game when I realized ‘Hey, I can do it better’. That was when I decided to design my own game and founded 7 Elements Studio in LA, a game studio specializing in MMO strategy games. My rabbit hole philosophy is to find the core passion/calling for what you do and who you are, get crystal clear on the essential drivers and your passion, and dive in as deep as possible.” Shahar shared his advice for others and concluded, “Be consumed by your new path; give yourself at least 18 months in which you do not allow outside noise to affect your decisions. If you wholeheartedly give it all you got and invest your all - you will find your way.”