Asaf and Omri grew up with a father who was a military man. They moved to many places in Israel and the world, from Kibbutz Oranit and Kibbutz Dan to Singapore, and then back to Rosh Hanikra, Nahariya, and Haifa.
Their childhood taught them not to get deeply attached to anything, but also how to make connections quickly and easily. During this period, Asaf also discovered the world of gaming for the first time: "For me, it was a regular social place. It doesn't really matter where I live - I open the computer, I put on my headphones, and I'm with friends again." Omri, on the other hand, found his release and anchor in the sailing world.
They shared with me how the same abilities they developed as a result of the frequently moving around in their childhood – whether it's warmth, empathy, the ability to read the situation, understand who is against whom, and how to gather and harness people for a common goal– help them become better entrepreneurs and managers 20 years later, as they can harness them in front of new investors and employees.
From the army to the world of startups– "When the market meets the product"
True to his love for the sea and the world of sailing, Omri served in Shayetet 13 (the IDF equivalent to Navy Seals) for 14 years in a variety of positions as a soldier and officer. Omri testifies that serving in the navy was very significant for him and shaped his personality.
When I asked Omri to share a moment or a memory that was very significant for him, he told me about an operation he participated in half a year after he was qualified to be a fighter. It was a special operation that had not been done before and Omri was chosen to be at the center of it, even though he was a relatively young fighter. Contrary to all the success stories of Shayetet, this operation was a total failure and Omri was in the spotlight, or as Asaf calls it - "the market met the product". At this point, Omri understood that the reality is very different from the training; he chose to grow from this negative experience and even wrote a book of procedures for them that they still use today.
"After you fail, you’re at a crossroads: either wallow in the misery of it or get up and say, ‘OK, how do I improve moving forward? How do I learn from this? How can I do better?’ Just like when a product meets the market and we realize that it doesn't work, what do we do at this moment? Either you give up or get better from it."
A few years later, it’s Asaf's turn to serve in the army, and of course, he wants to follow in his brother's footsteps. To his joy, this dream comes true, and he is accepted into the Shayetet, but after a year he was dismissed from the unit. When I asked Asaf why he thought this moment became such a crisis to him, he answered openly: "I think it was mostly the expectations... The thing that is perhaps the most difficult is managing expectations. If I take it for a moment to the startup world, the more you recruit, the thing that rises is what is then expected of you, both from yourself and from others. When you have external expectations, your internal one naturally rises as well. So, in the case of my army path, others expected me to finish the path I started on, which led me to those same expectations, and this was a big weight to carry.”
Asaf chose not to run away from this low point. Within 24 hours, he got back on his feet and decided that "If not Shayetet, then Sayeret Matkal", another top elite unit in the IDF. In the end, he served in Egoz, a different elite commando unit, and even went on to become a commander and officer. After Operation Protective Edge in 2014, he chose to finish his service.
After Asaf was released from the army, he quickly realized that he wanted to do something big on his own and established a youth movement that educates youngsters through sports; in retrospect, he shares that this was the first cornerstone for the startup they manage today.
After 7 years, they were already operating in 60 places in Israel, but then COVID-19 came along. Asaf and Omri chose to, once again, not give up and decide to take their activity into the digital space. They became "the first digital youth movement". They used platforms like Zoom to deliver training to children in the Netherlands, Australia, China, the U.S., Israel and more, and feel that they had a product that could scale. But when they met with the market – in this case, the investors– they received polite refusals. The dreaded “We would love to but…” Then, in one of the meetings with a potential investor, he told them "Listen, I love you guys but it's hard for me to pass it on. I wish my kid had this because it's something amazingly educational, but he's on Fortnite all day." This is where the light bulb went on. From that conversation, moving forward, they decide to combine the activity of their community with games like Fortnite. From there, everything started to unfold.
Not long after, after his long career in the navy, Omri realized he was less interested in military life, and retired to join Asaf.
First Time Founders
Within a year and a half, their startup – Ludeo (formerly Edge Gaming), raised $42 million and recruited over 35 employees. When I asked them how they hold this weight, coming to the startup world with no experience, Omri shared that the best thing they did was understand that they don’t know what they don't know, which led them to surround themselves very quickly with people who had the necessary experience and knowledge.
But convincing people with a lot of experience to come work for entrepreneurs in their first startup is no small task: "We asked ourselves why did they all join us? In my opinion, I think it is because of the vibe we give off– a kind of calmness and confidence, with a very big vision, and understanding our reality; the ability to understand when things don't work, why, and how to change them."
The trick, of course, is not only to bring in the right people but also to make them stay. In order to achieve this, both Asaf and Omri believe that you need to trust whoever you bring in and give them the space to make an impact. Remember, there is a reason you bring people in in the first place. Don't forget that.
Omri and Asaf have a different dynamic than most founders, and when they argue they’re not shy to really go for it. But they both testify that their greatest strength lies in the trust and deep familiarity they share.
Both also bring different abilities to the table. Asaf is the visionary who always looks ahead, while Omri worries about how the here and now will be and how to make the vision a reality. "I always liken Omri's management of all the technology and the product to a person who’s drowning. This is everyday life. The burden of everyday life is as if you’re drowning, and you can’t rise above the water for a moment and see where the land is. I stand on the shoulders of the one who is drowning, and make it a little harder for him, but at least I can see where we need to go, in order for us to be saved."
Even though Omri is the big brother, he feels very comfortable with the fact that Asaf is the CEO, and in general, they view ego as something very obstructive that has no place in the startup world; a place where you need to run fast and the good of the company is always above all.
"I am here thanks to my wife"
When I asked Asaf how he deals with everything in his life – be it a company with crazy growth, needing to relocate, being newly married, a degree, and more– Asaf shared honestly that the answer is always in the people: "I tell my wife that it is thanks to her all of this exists, because she knows how to contain the crazy moments, whether it is me returning home at all hours of the night, or the general uncertainty of it all. It affects her, but she’s very strong. We also can share and vent with one another when need be."
Both Omri and Asaf testify that their drive stems from the fact that they’re never satisfied. Omri paralleled this to the world of sports, where professional athletes know that they always have to prove themselves again and again– even if you win a competition, the next day everything resets, and you have to prove yourself again. Nevertheless, over time they both understand that it’s important to celebrate the successes, especially for their employees.
Finally, when I asked them about tips, they have for entrepreneurs who are siblings, they both ranked the need to be honest and open at the top of the list. Asaf clarified,
"I believe it’s about seeing that we really have shared world values, which means we can trust each other. On the other hand, there’s a strength in being very different in character, because our differences mean we don't step on each other's toes, and this allows us to work very well together."