March 6, 2023

Uri Levine | Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

Uri Levine | Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

Gain valuable mentorship from one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs and learn how to identify your consumers' biggest problems to build a successful business.

Uri Levine, the co-founder of Waze, shares his formula for building highly valued companies in the tech space. In this episode, Levine emphasizes the importance of falling in love with the problem, not the solution. He offers tips on disrupting broken markets, reaching product-market fit, and making scale-up decisions. Gain valuable mentorship from one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs and learn how to identify your consumers' biggest problems to build a successful business.

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Uri Levine: One of the most important behaviors that he will need to have throughout the journey is to make decisions with conviction. And the reality is that you can rely on your gut feeling if you have a gut feeling, right, and you only have a gut feeling in areas that you have some experience or a lot of experience. And this is really important. We relate to gut feeling as something that is undefined. But let me define that, which makes it way easier. You need to make a decision based on all of the experiences that you have in a very short period of time and in a fraction of a second, right? So I'm gonna ask you yes or no, and you have to say yes or no. And if you have experience in this area, your decision is probably going to be right. If you have no experience in this area, then you have no idea. And so, in that sense, I would say all of my startups are in the technology space because this is what I know. I grew up as a software engineer and I have the experience of a software developer, and I don't create new medicines because I have no clue.

Srini: I'm Srinivas Rao. And this is the Unmistakable Creative podcast.

Uri Levine: Where do you get a

Srini: Windows into the stories and

Uri Levine: Insights

Srini: Of the most innovative and creative minds who have started movements, built thriving businesses, written best-selling books, and created insanely interesting art. For more, check out our 500-episode

Yuri, welcome to Unmistakable Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us. Thank you.

Uri Levine: You're happy to be here.

Srini: Yeah, it is my pleasure to have you here. So you have a new book out called "Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution," which I absolutely love. And you are the co-founder of Ways, which solves a problem that all of us absolutely hate with a passion, which is dealing with traffic.

But before we get into all of that, I wanted to start by asking you, what did your parents do for work and how did that end up shaping what you ended up doing?

Uri Levine: With your life and career? My mom was in the education space. She was actually a professor at Tel Aviv University. And my dad was an entrepreneur, building factories in Israel, multiple factories in the new settlements, and in particular a keyboard factory in Israel in the seventies.

Srini: What was the combination of narratives when you had a father who was an entrepreneur and a mother who was an educator? What were the narrative about education in your household and the narrative about making your way in the world?

Uri Levine: At the end of the day, and this is really important, people mostly know me as the founder of Waze and assume that I have dozens of startups, so obviously I'm an entrepreneur, but I'm also a teacher. And now we are starting to realize where it's coming from. And so I will feel equally rewarded if I build stuff myself or if I will help someone or guide someone to build it. And these two personalities or strong personalities are a pretty unique combination because you usually find that entrepreneurs are not teachers and teachers are not entrepreneurs. And the combination is actually one of the results of this combination is the book.

Srini: The interesting thing is, with an entrepreneur, you're spending half your time being wrong and finding wrong answers. And yet, as educators, people are training us to look for the right answers constantly, like the entire education system, whether it's good for us or not, which, in many cases, it's not, is teaching us how to find the right answer.

So you have this two sort of conflicting narratives of, okay, go out and fail a lot, and then of course, go out and get good grades, which, I'm guessing based on all the Israeli people that I've talked to, is very similar to Indians. It's

Uri Levine: Make sure you do well in school. Actually, in my case, it was very different. If I would come up with a crazy idea for my parents, they would say, in particular, my dad, "Why don't you give it a try?" And if I would come with any grade from school, they would ask me if I'm happy with it. And if I'm not, then they would tell me, "If you're not happy, then do something about it. And if you're happy, then this is fine. So why do you...?"

Srini: I think that narrative of "if you're not happy with it, do something about it" is not more common, particularly when you have an entire generation of helicopter parents where you have kids who apparently now at three years old have to interview to get into a preschool. And also, I know that you're a parent from having read the book, so I wonder how that philosophy, and the way that you were raised, have influenced your own parenting.

Uri Levine: I always encourage them to choose their own path and support them in their own path. And even if I think there might be something better for them, I'm probably wrong and they will have to discover it themselves in order to follow that path. And this is really important because at the end of the day, what we really want for our kids is to be happy, but they need to be happy in their own way. They cannot be happy in our way. And the only way to develop that is to encourage them and support them, particularly, and support them when they fail and encourage them to fail or to experiment. And, at the end of the day, if you're going to try new things, you will fail. As simple as that. Yeah. And then the most important part is that there is no judgment. So if your kids come back from school with a grade that you are displeased with, then you shouldn't punish them for that. The reality is that they will be afraid to fail. And if you grew up afraid to fail, then you won't expand out of your comfort zone. And most likely, you won't be happy. So you might end up looking for perfection. But for a second, I'd say

Srini: With a mother who's an educator and someone who has built multiple companies and who's been at the forefront of the world we live in today, if you were tasked with redesigning our education system, where would you change things? What would you change about the state of education?

Uri Levine: Today?

So at the end of the day, most of the education system is there mainly for the purpose of babysitting, so that parents can go to work. And one of the things that I would say is that the most important thing at school is actually establishing friendships. Friends are the most important, and being able to socially interact is by far more important than studying a specific subject or not.

And then the next thing that I would change is the exploration. We want them to investigate, research, explore, to find out what is it that really matters to them. And we as educators are the ones that need to provide guidance. That's it.

Srini: And so I don't know how old your kids were by the time you ended up selling to Google, but one thing I wonder about, and I remember talking to Jim McKelvey about this, was how do you maintain a sense of humility in your kids and make them aware of the fact that to be raised by somebody like you who has accomplished what you have is actually putting them in an incredibly privileged position that other people are not put in. How do you maintain that awareness with them?

Uri Levine: Your children?

So look, I haven't changed a lot of my lifestyle, so I kept on working. The day after the acquisition, I left and started a new startup, and so in one sense, there is the issue of whether or not you are externalizing I would say the wealth even though people tend to think that is way more than what it actually was.

And the other part is that it serves as a role model for them that success is going to follow your passion and follow hard work. And I kept on encouraging them to find their own, to a certain extent. I would say also they might be privileged, but at the same time, I set a very high mark for them for their accomplishments.

And so maybe I'm also limiting them in that sense. Yeah. Absolutely.

Srini: There's this sort of theme that I keep coming across over and over again, and it's always people who have lots of money telling you it's not gonna make you happy. And it's the people who don't have any who are like, yeah, that's easy for you to say. And I keep seeing this theme over and over again, and in all the books that I'm reading, where it is like no level of accomplishment is going to lead to this eternal happiness that you think it will; then your set point just keeps changing. So when you've accomplished what you have, how do you find a balance between fulfillment and ambition without letting the ambition just lead you astray?

Uri Levine: Look, at the end of the day, and this is my mission, and my destiny, is to create value, right? And make a bigger impact. Yeah. And this is my mission, right? And so as long as the focus of the mission is on the impact, then you will remain always on target, always trying to do more, not achieve more, but create bigger. And in that sense, I will always keep on doing that. Yeah. Wow. Walk me through the

Srini: the trajectory of your career that led to the co-founding of ways into writing this book. Because I think that you and I have one thing in common. I know you mentioned in the book, that you've been fired from every place that you've worked.

And I thought, oh, that's good news. I, if Yuri has been fired from every place he's worked at, there's hope.

Uri Levine: For me, at the end of the day, I would say entrepreneurs are troublemakers. They don't take anything for granted; they will look into different things from different perspectives. They would say, "Wait a minute, what if it's not like that?" And if you work in a corporate, you will end up getting fired because sometimes you're gonna piss someone off and they will fire you. This is part of being an entrepreneur; entrepreneurs don't feed into corporate DNA because of that. To a certain extent, most corporates in general would say, "Okay, we don't want three types of people in the organization: victims, drama queens, and troublemakers." Yeah. Yeah.

Srini: It, there, there's an irony to that, right? The very person who creates trouble in a corporation is the one who's capable of building one.

Uri Levine: Yeah, but we also have to realize that, and this is really important, right? So you think of a corporate and you basically say, "corporate or a startup will become a corporate once they accomplish the three major journeys of the startup, right? So, figuring out product, market fit, figuring out business model, and figuring out growth. And then they are an independent company and they will keep on growing until they become a corporate size, right?"

And the DNA of the company will shift throughout these journeys because, in the beginning, you are looking for a reason to exist. Once you become a corporate, you're looking for a reason to survive. And this is a very different state of mind, right? So, the first one is chasing change, and the second one is looking for no change.

And, in entrepreneurs, by nature, are looking for a change, right? So, in many cases, I would say, "Look, not all the great entrepreneurs that were able to build successful companies are the ones that need to keep them running. Occasionally, they will. But we are looking into perhaps the greatest company of these days, Apple in the high."

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Explore Again, that's Yeah, absolutely. For you, what have been the various sort of, career inflection points that got you here? Because I know that you have worked on a bunch of different startups, so it makes me wonder about how you choose the problems that you want to solve, and what has led you to this point. What has been the backstory that's gotten you here?

Uri Levine: So I think that most entrepreneurs, would start from the personal perspective, right? And I hate traffic jams, like you and everybody else. Yeah. Then occasionally I would run into something that I get frustrated and I will keep on asking myself, why is that? Is there a way that it can be different? And you will see that in many of my startups that was the case, right? Refunded, for example, was built because when you travel to Europe and you buy goods, you're entitled to get the VAT back, the tax-free shopping. But when you try to do that, it simply doesn't work. There are always bad things that happen there. So maybe long lines at customs or the stores don't have the right forms or something goes wrong. What the hell, what if I can change that? And then you basically say, wait a minute, I think I care. Then you start to build your dream and your passion around that and you realize that this is going to be a rollercoaster journey, with ups and downs and ups and downs. And I think that the best description I ever heard was Ben Horowitz from the Andreessen Horowitz venture firm. And he used to be a CEO

Srini: The thing that strikes me is always like something one of my old mentors said about, finding something that you have some sort of natural aptitude for. So I'll give you a ridiculous example then I'll bring back a clip from an episode where he said this.

But, I was in Brazil for the summer and we were going out at night and we kept thinking to ourselves. We're like, the Brazilians like to drink a lot and party a lot, and people wake up hungover and we're like, somebody should have a mobile hangover cure because they have this in Vegas.

I'm like, this would be a lot easier to pull off here in Brazil. The regulatory issues wouldn't be nearly as much of a hurdle. But the truth is I have no knowledge of healthcare in any capacity whatsoever. I'm not a doctor, I've never worked at a pharma company, and I wanna bring back a clip from an old episode with my mentor, Greg Harland.

I'm very curious to hear your take on this. Take a listen. This is another thing that I see a lot in startups. Greg said

Uri Levine: Most new entrepreneurs fail at. They start businesses in which they have zero advantages. That is such a high climb. Start on third base, if you can learn nothing else from Donald Trump, you can learn not to be an asshole. That's rule number one. But the other thing that you can start to learn is to start on third base. Start with $200 million if you want to be a billionaire. And that, of course, is said sarcastically, but I also mean that honestly. If you want to start a tech company, work at Google first. Yeah. Like your odds of success in your own tech company just increase dramatically if you had a job at Google. But what we do is start things with zero.

Srini: Advantages. As somebody who has started multiple companies, what is your take on that? Because obviously there are all sorts of problems that we have.

Like I, I love the idea of not having to wake up with a hangover and being able to call somebody and say, "Do this." But I don't have any advantages to that. So I'm curious—when we think about these problems that we're looking at, what's your take on this? Are people setting themselves up for failure when they try to solve problems where they have no aptitude for them?

Uri Levine: So obviously the likelihood is way lower, right? Because one of the most important behaviors that you will need to have throughout the journey is to make decisions with conviction. And the reality is that you can rely on your gut feeling if you have a gut feeling, and you only have a gut feeling in areas that you have some experience or a lot of experience.

And this is really important, right? We relate to gut feeling as something that is undefined. But let me define that, which makes it way easier. You need to make a decision based on all of the experiences that you have in a very short period of time and a fraction of a second, right?

So I'm gonna ask you yes or no, and you have to say yes or no, and if you have experience in this area, your decision is probably going to be right. If you have no experience in this area, then you have no idea. Yeah. And so in that sense, I would say all of my startups are in, the technology space because this is what I know, I grew up as a software engineer and I have the experience of a software developer, and I don't create new medicines because I have no clue.

Srini: So one of the things that you say in the book is, in thinking of a problem, look at this two-by-two matrix and ask yourself two questions. How big is the addressable market and how many people have this problem? And then you ask yourself the most important question, which is, how painful is it? Pain can be measured by one or both of two factors, amplitude or frequency. And so the example that I was coming back to, I had two in mind that I thought of. One is media companies, right? So for example, we run an online media company, saying that we solve a problem kind of the way Waze doesn't make a lot of sense. Or, my brother-in-law's working on a startup to combat disinformation. Now the thing about that, what we, in my conversation with him, I said, look, clearly this is a problem and it's a big problem, but is it painful enough? Because the truth is, yeah, we all know that we experience disinformation on a daily basis. But the impact of it on our day-to-day lives, the pain is not something that we see for years. For example, disinformation spreads through Facebook and

Uri Levine: Yeah, I agree. It's so, how do you?

Srini: How do you deal with that sort of paradox when you have a delayed pain that is clearly big and a big problem, but people don't care enough about it at the moment?

Uri Levine: The challenge is that if people don't feel connected to the pain, don't feel connected to the problem, don't think that they have it, essentially what you're saying is that most of the people will basically say my perception is that I don't have this problem. And it's gonna be very hard to become successful because you need to do market education first, and you need people to realize that they actually do have a problem. And by the way, it's not the only one that is trying to do that. Yeah. The previous CEO of Ways a Number being started a new social network that's called Past, and this is exactly what they're trying to do, is to create a new flow of information that is valid and not based on interests or misleading information. And so obviously this problem exists and we all realized that, right? Because today you cannot rely on anything that you are seeing on Facebook or on any social network, right? You don't know what is true and what is not. You don't know who is the source and what is the source. You have no idea. And therefore the information there is untrusted. But for most people, this is still trusted. Yeah. And it's just way

Srini: Okay, so let's take something like an online media company, right? Does a news outlet, like Vice News or somebody like me, do we solve a problem in any way?

Because in one way, yes, we're educating people, we're giving them opportunities to talk to people like me, but I don't solve a problem in the way that Waze does, and yet there are media startups. So when you look at something like that, how do you think about this idea of a

Uri Levine: Problem? So we do have to remember that there is a lot of companies or a lot of startups that are creating new opportunity or new space and are not solving a specific problem. My book is about saying that, wait a minute, solving a problem is going to make your life easier because of the North Star, because of the ability to engage users, because it's a simpler path, and for me, it's always and looks the beauty about solving a problem is that if your solution works, it's guaranteed that you're creating value in, in my journey, in my mission, in how I feel about value creation. Yeah. Yeah.

Srini: It makes me think of a friend of mine who started his business way after mine. He's my best friend and he started an Airtable consultancy business. And one of the things he did to help people was to use Airtable automation to automate repetitive tasks. And I realized why he was able to scale that business so quickly.

Uri Levine: Yeah, it's easier, it's a faster journey. Yeah, for sure. Let's

Srini: Talking about metrics in particular, because you mentioned metrics and you talked about retention as being one of the biggest things. You said that if in the consumer service business, retention is the only indicator of product-market fit, if your users aren't coming back, then you can't build a company if your retention sucks. I feel like there is this tendency, particularly with content creators in general, to focus on vanity metrics and ignore retention. Like they're always going after more users and more growth, as opposed to focusing on the people who are already there.

Uri Levine: Already there. You look at marketing departments in nearly all companies and you ask them, so what's your job? And they will say, to bring new users, right? So it seems like marketing by and large is focusing on bringing new users, whereas the product should be focusing on their retention.

And so if you combine them both, it's simply different responsibilities. And, but in general, look, at the end of the day, if users are not coming back, you don't have product market fit. And the first journey of all the startups is about figuring out product market fit. If you will not figure out product market fit, you will die as simple as that.

Yeah. And product market fit is creating value for your customers, to your users, to your customers, or whoever it is, right? If you don't create value, you don't have a reason for your existence, right? And in reality, you never heard of a company that did not figure out product market fit. They simply died. That's it. But if you think of companies that did figure out product market fit, then for just a second, I want you to think of

Srini: I've seen this firsthand. I started a separate project aside from Unmistakable Creative where I have a YouTube channel similar to my friend who did Airtable tutorials with a note-taking app because I had this huge issue of organizing and managing massive amounts of information. And it's amazing how quickly I was able to start selling that course and make money off of it much faster than I was able to monetize this.

Uri Levine: project. You will probably keep on building different projects. Cause at the end of the day, if you would ask any entrepreneur what they're going to do after this startup? They will tell you, to start another one. I'm gonna build another startup. Now, the interesting question is that if you would ask them what this new startup is all about, they actually know. When we launched Waze in 2009, we started the company earlier in 2007, and we only raised capital in 2008. So, formally the company started in 2008. But when we launched the product in Israel in 2009, I already knew what my next startup was going to do. And I only started that in 2012 and left Waze the day after the acquisition so I could be instrumental there because I was too busy, right? But you always know. And when I started that, I already knew what was going to be with the next one, and the next one. And so I still have plenty of problems that I think are worth solving. And some of them I will solve and some of them I want. And I'm still happy. The Financial Times follows the money to find business stories in unexpected places. We found a

Srini: Yeah, speaking of problems to solve, there's my conversation with Jim McCabe based on his book The Innovation Stack. One of the things he talked about was this idea of, what you have are problems that you can solve and, you call the perfect problem a solvable problem--one that isn't already solved. But he actually contradicted my mentor saying, maybe you don't have the natural aptitude for it. For example, he said the Wright brothers didn't have any model for how to do this. But somebody had to start flying planes, so I wonder when you think about that, as you look at, okay, how do you determine if a problem is actually solvable, I guess that is really the question.

Uri Levine: So number one, it's gut feeling, right? If you have a gut feeling that you can solve that, then you probably can. If you don't have a gut feeling then you are not necessarily the right person to solve. Now some of the problems won't be solved. That's it. But in general, I would say look, all the big problems, it's worthwhile to try to solve.

It's really important that someone will try, 'cause the world will become a better place if those are being solved. And as long as we have entrepreneurs that are basically saying yes, I'm gonna change that, I'm gonna solve that, then we are doing absolutely amazing. And some of the problems, you look at them and you look at them from a consumer perspective.

You look at them from the market perspective. I'll give you an example, right? Just imagine that medical services in the US are five times more expensive than they are in Germany. It's not that they're better than Germany, they're simply five times more expensive. And then you say, wait a minute, if there are five times more expensive than Germany, then obviously there is inefficiency in the system.

Srini: So we've been talking largely about the problem and product-market fit. Let's talk about operations in particular, once you get to this point of product-market fit, because you say a startup, in order to be successful, needs to do one and only one thing, right? And to increase the likelihood of doing so, it needs to say no to everything else. Focus is not only about what we're doing, it's about what we're not doing.

These are the hard decisions to make. The main thing is to keep the main thing. And it reminds me of the work that I've been doing with my mentor Julian Smith, who every three or four weeks we have a call. 95% of our conversation is about what I should stop doing.

Uri Levine: And this is absolutely correct because if we, and then, and for a second I will go back to basics right. So startups will have at least three major journeys and occasionally intermediate journeys as well. One of them is about figuring out product market fit. One of them is about figuring out the right business model. And one of them is about figuring out growth. And each one of them is going to be long, it's going to be a rollercoaster and it's going to be a journey of failures, right?

But they have to come in their own time, right? Because if you are trying to figure out product market fit, and you bring sales, then there is no product to be sold. And if you bring good salespeople, then they will sell something and now you need to fulfill that. And so obviously in the phase of product market fit, you want to focus only on building the product and bringing value to the users or to the customers. And that's the only thing that you care about.

You don't care about whether or not you will be able to scale. You don't care about whether or not someone is willing to pay for that because at

Srini: Oh, let's talk about raising money in particular because one of the things that you talk about is the importance of the story. And that is one of the most important parts. You say the story illustrates an important point. If you tell facts, you make your audience think. If you tell stories, you make them imagine and feel. If you want them to invest, they need to imagine and become emotionally engaged. I make a living telling stories, so that's not news to me.

But what is it that makes that important? How do you tell a story that is compelling to

Uri Levine: An investor? So I would start by saying that, wait a minute, raising capital—if we think that building a startup is a rollercoaster journey, then raising capital is a rollercoaster journey in the dark. You don't even know what. But it's way more complex than that because when I spoke with investors—and these are two really important stories—so I met one of the largest VCs in Israel, one of the partners, and this is after the Waze acquisition. And we are sitting in a small meeting room and I asked him, 'How long does it take you to decide if you'd like the entrepreneur or not?'

And so the guy is looking at me and then looking at the door and looking at me again and says, 'Before they sit down'. This seems awkward, right? So this is their magic wand, instant decision, or first impression. And the reality is that we all have first impressions, right? We have first impressions when we go on a date. We have first impressions when we interview new candidates. We have always first impressions. And then in many cases, we allow ourselves a few more minutes to either let that first impression sink in or change that. Now

Srini: Reminds me. So I, Pod Fund, which was Radio Public's venture arm, invested in us. And I remember going in with a pitch deck. I remember I called it "Mentor"--you go to Y Combinator's website, and there's a seven-slide template, fill that out. And we had Sun Gupta here, who read a book called "Backable". I don't know if you've ever read it, but one of the things he talked about was a high level of conviction. And I showed them, these are the things that we want to do with your money and, by the way, here are examples of the fact that we've already done all of these things--you just are gonna enable us to do it at a bigger scale. And so, he said, okay, you just showed your ability to execute there, but also conviction, 'cause you've already done the things you said you were gonna do.

Uri Levine: Exactly right. And so this is the second part. So this is the ability to execute. The first one is to understand does it is even worth solving.

And part of it is to understand the investor side, right? And this is really important. You really would like to understand their business model and the way that they think in order to be able to sell them correctly because otherwise, you don't sell them correctly. And so you will do a lot of mistakes throughout the journey of going to investment.

But at the end of the day, a partner at the venture capital firm is likely to see a hundred companies a year. They're going to invest in one or two, and that's it. So one or 2% hit ratio in that sense. And you need to prepare to hear a lot of no's. And if we mentioned earlier, the journey of failures, look, the number of no's that you are going to hear is going to discourage anyone unless you have the conviction that what you're doing is right, that the mission is right, that it's worth solving this problem that no matter what, you're gonna figure it out. Yeah.

Srini: So there are things that I've talked to several people who are founders. I have David Heiner Hansen here, who talked about the whole idea of saying no to investment. Jeffrey V at Adobe said one thing that stayed with me was what Jeffrey said: "This is a virtually irreversible path once you take somebody else's money. And you actually say that once you get in bed with an investor, it's like a Catholic marriage. There's no way to get rid of the investor. They have all kinds of rights and in most cases, they'll put them in a stronger position than you."

It's okay to think about the dark side and ask yourself, "If things go badly, do I really want this investor to become part of my company?" And I remember the conversation I had with the Pod Fund portfolio team. They asked for references and I asked them for references too. She said, "You're the only person who has actually asked us for references of the people we've invested in."

Uri Levine: And this is really discouraging, right? Because they're doing their due diligence, you have to do yours. Yeah. And at the end of the day, look, there are two things that are really important, right? And we know Costa once said from Costa Ventures that 70 or 80% of the investors are creating more damage than help.

Now, if this is really the case, then give me someone that does not interfere. And this is at least not going to create that. But at the end of the day, if people ask me about investors, what do I think then I would say, look, I can only tell you those that I have experienced firsthand. Because at the end of the day, where it really matters is when there are challenges, major challenges, right?

Whether or not they're going to support the company during these major challenges or not. And their overall behavior in these cases, right? And you need to speak with someone that has experienced that because otherwise, you don't know. Now there are obviously if you go to CEOs whose relationship with the investors ended due to either the company being shut down or a liquidation event then they might be able to share with you their perspective

Srini: In the case you mentioned, a liquidation event or things just not going right. But when you think about cases like Adam Newman at WeWork and Travis at Uber, in those cases, do you think those CEOs deserve to be ousted?

Uri Levine: Those companies? I know Travis I know a little bit more, I have a better perspective because it's in a space that I'm very familiar with, so mobility. But I think that Travis was an absolutely amazing entrepreneur, right? One of the best that we have seen on the planet. And I realized that later on there were different issues and possibly that didn't work out for the different phases of the company. But I think highly of him, I think highly of Elon Musk.

I think that he is maybe second to Steve Jobs in terms of his entrepreneurship ability and ability to change the world and maybe even first, right? So I would look at it and I would say, this is an absolutely amazing person. He has changed the world in so many ways, and I only have respect for him.

And if he's making mistakes, then this is part of the journey. Yeah, absolutely.

Srini: Let's finish by talking about selling a company because I think to your point that you mentioned earlier, I--we look at people like you, we read the stories and our assumption is that you're set for life. He probably has more money than he knows what to do with and probably no problems; he's probably like on cloud nine every day. And having talked to enough people like you, I know that's not true. And at the same time, I'm pretty sure there are a lot of people you know who would happily trade bank accounts with you--myself included. So you actually say, you

Srini: That's true. I would have to do my due diligence. Yeah. But yeah, you actually say, is this a life-changing event? Do you want to keep your company forever? Do you want to deal with the headaches of a public company? Do you have alternatives? Talk to me about the perceptions and the misperceptions people have about something like a billion-dollar Google.

Uri Levine: Might this be a life-changing deal?

Uri Levine: Acquisition.

So the first misperception is that, okay, I'm one of the founders. So we were three founders and, but people see me as the founder of Waze and they assume that, okay, the company was sold for a billion dollars. Then obviously somewhere in my pocket, I have a billion dollars. That's the rationale, right?

But when the company was sold, I had less than 3% of the shares. And then you pay taxes, and then you get divorced and you end up with way less than what people would like to believe. And the reality is that money is not an objective for me; it's a means of fulfilling my destiny.

So for a second, I would say more than half of my money was reinvested in other startups in the 10 different startups that I had. And in the state of mind, and usually, this is what happens is that most people that make a lot of money, switch from a making money state of mind to a preserving money, state of mind.

And I, people looking at my risk profile and they will tell me, they will tell you

Srini: I have two final questions for you. This one is just out of morbid curiosity. So one thing that I noticed about Israel in general was that it just seemed to be a breeding ground for tech startups. Cause I remember when I was in college, the amount of chat software that kept coming out of Israel. Like I remember ICQ, I was like, what the hell is going on here? Like, why are these guys so good at chat software? So what is it about the Israeli ecosystem that leads to all of these startups? Is it mandatory military service? Like, why is it that you guys are this innovative?

Uri Levine: Huh? So part of it has to do with the military in Israel. So, unfortunately, Israel resides in tough neighborhoods, and if you grow up, we cannot afford to give up. So giving up is not an option. And this is one of the things that happen during the military service that you actually learn skills that are really important, right? So giving up is not an option. This is one. Working in teams is a different thing, right? You rely on other people to survive.

Leadership in all of this makes you a more mature person when you go to build your startups. And so if you compare an Israeli with an American at the age of 22, then we will have way more educated college graduates in the US and maybe a way more mature person on the Israeli side.

And so this definitely has an impact, but I think that by and large, when you look at ecosystems of entrepreneurship, then you're looking for four cornerstones, right? So number one, fear of failure. There are countries where the fear of failure is really high. Or if you build a startup and you fail, you are actually liable for the rest of your life.

Srini: Amazing. I have one last question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews at the end. The mistake will create. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?

Uri Levine: You have no idea, but I actually have something more to say. And this is and refers to one of the chapters in the book that is called Firing and Hiring. I spoke with many entrepreneurs whose startups failed and asked them why, and what happened, and about half said the team was not right. I kept on asking, okay, what do you mean the team was not right?

They said we had this guy who was not good enough or this guy who was not good enough. This was one reason that I heard quite often. Another reason that I heard was we had communication issues, something that I actually called ego management issues. Then I asked them the most interesting question, when did you know that the team was not right?

All of them said within the first month. There was one guy that told me before we even started and he said, "Wait a minute, if you knew within the first month that the team was not right and you didn't do anything, the problem was not that the team was not right, the problem was that the CEO did not make hard decisions."

Making hard decisions is hard. Making easy decisions is easy. This

Srini: What is it that makes someone or something unforgettable in your mind?

Srini: What is it that you think makes somebody or something unmistakably unique?

Uri Levine: Sorry, say that again. Yeah.

Uri Levine: Making mistakes as simple as that? I don't think that we need to be infallible. I think that we need to be able to recover fast from the mistakes that we are making, and we need to accept the fact that we are going to make more and more mistakes, right? Even Steph Curry doesn't hit a hundred percent from the free-throw line.

He's really good, but not a hundred percent. Yeah.

Srini: Absolutely. Beautiful. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom, and insights with our listeners. Where can people find out more about you, your work, the book, and everything else you're up to?

Uri Levine: So obviously my website is And then the book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, all the online stores, and on my website. And I think that, look when I wrote this book, for me that was fulfilling my destiny of creating value. And I want to believe, and Steve Wozniak said that he called it the Bible of entrepreneurs. When I spoke with him, he said, I wish I had that when I started. And if he says that, then I want to believe that this could be helpful to anyone that wants to build a startup, but also anyone that is running a business or managing a business or wants to run a business. Because when we speak about firing and hiring, this is not just about startups. This is everywhere. When we speak about understanding users, all the companies in the world have users or customers. And so I want to think that this book is going to create more value than any of my startups. And hopefully, it'll

Srini: Amazing. As I said, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us, and for everybody listening, we'll wrap up the show.

Uri Levine: With that 600,000 work hours and 4 million saved, in

Srini: One year, fifteen times.

Uri Levine: Roy, 60% increased revenue, do all of those results sound impossible? What if I told you those were results from our customers and their common denominator? They all achieved their results using When all of your people and data are connected through one work platform, you can achieve more than you've ever imagined. Go to to start your free trial.

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