This last year has been challenging for everyone, leaving more than a few startups uncertain of their future and unsure how they will survive the changes that COVID has introduced. However, between those who had to put fundraising on hold, abandon offices, or even reduce operations - there were those that successfully conquered these new challenges, as if they were waiting for them all along.

Papaya Global, an Israeli startup that develops a global management payroll system for both contracted and subcontracted employees and suppliers, no matter where they’re located around the world. The Israeli fintech startup gambled strong on the remote work reality, and hit the jackpot. In an exclusive interview, Papaya CEO, Eiant Guez, sheds some light on the past year, as well as the company’s IPO direction.

“Even happy thought can keep you up at night”

Guez tells that during 2020, the company had launched many new features that accompany both the company and employee throughout different organizational phases. This had come in addition to also adding an automated payment management feature to its repertoire. “In the end, the money is transferred to the employees and relevant authorities, without anyone touching it. No mistakes, and no fraud,” she explains. Guez notes that more and more companies are adopting remote work models, and aren’t afraid of hiring from the global talent pool.

“COVID won’t disappear so quickly,” Guez claims. “It arrived in a flash, but the world will take baby steps coming out of it.” Though, what may help Papaya’s business grow is not what Guez wants for her day-to-day. “I hope to return working with the team, and not strictly in a remote setting, where we never really meet.”

The Papaya Glpbal team

Papaya Global closed out a very challenging year with more than a few milestones. Since the start of 2021, the company has increased its roster by 80 employees, with 10 of them hired in Israel. “We’re at the beginning of a tough year,” admits Guez, “even happy thoughts can keep you up at night.” These happy thoughts though came one after another, with the company onboarding 100 new customers from the beginning of the year and acquiring an Israeli HR startup. In addition to announcing a $100 million mega-funding round, and that’s just their Series C, which arrived just 6 months after the last round. To date, the company has raised a total of $190 million and has seen its valuation balloon over the $1 billion benchmark -  meaning that Papaya also joins the respectable club of Israeli Unicorn companies.

In the past, achieving Unicorn status was pretty rare, but now in 2021we report new Unicorns on an almost weekly basis. “It makes me happy,” says Guez. “...For a long time now, the world has perceived Israelis as selling cheap, claiming we don’t know how to build market leaders. A lot of money is being invested here, and many new technologies are coming out of the ecosystem. And that’s amazing!” Nevertheless, she does state that due to Israel’s limited market, the battle for talent is just going to get bigger. “It’s going to get crowded,” according to Guez.

SPAC IPO? “Just like COVID… appeared one day and never left”

Over the past two years, we have started noticing the growing trend of Israeli startups choosing to skip past the quick money options of M&As. Guez confirms that is also the route that Papaya has chosen going forward: “Once you took the massive check, it’s a one-way ticket to IPO. We have raised a lot of money and reached a valuation that allows us some breathing room, meaning that potential suitors significantly reduce interest. You’re not that attractive for other companies’ ecosystems.”

Guez estimates that the company is still two or three years away from going public, and aspires that the company is “built right, to go public.” However, beyond the traditional IPO, this year we’ve seen the SPAC route attract more than a few Israeli entrepreneurs, who claim that it’s an excellent way to raise capital and become a publicly-traded enterprise.

Guez calls it an excellent tool “if you’re ready, and as a shortcut to capital.” She says that the SPACs “came like lighting on a clear day, and haven’t left since then. Kind of like COVID.” Although, with the company not yet ready for the stock market, she can’t really say which route Papaya will choose: “Two or three years down the road? I can’t help you there. We’ll get there and see what’s going on.”

The three Papaya founders

Every female entrepreneur creates a ripple of impact

With Einat Guez talking about “happy thoughts”, I can’t help but think that maybe one of the thoughts was on a personal level. Last month, Guez took home gold as CEO of the Year at the 9th annual GeekAwards - voted by the tech crowd and a team of professional judges. Despite the industry still mostly dominated by men, this year saw the women of tech set the tone, picking up awards in key categories.

“The entrepreneurship is technological, not defined by gender,” states Guez. She explains that in the past women entrepreneurs traditionally focused on female-related products, but now things are different: “Now, it’s totally Deep Tech.” She believes that every female entrepreneur leading or founding a company helps create “a rippling ecosystem of impact, where women feel the possibilities.” Guez also defines the current situation as a beginning of change. “We won’t wake up with 50%, nor 30%, but if we hit 15% and 20%, big things will start to happen.”