How the Chairman of Rackspace, Some Navy SEALs, and a Few Israeli Innovators Came Together and Discovered the Heart of Entrepreneurship
IT WAS A WARM OCTOBER DAY in Tel Aviv in 2011. Graham Weston and I were sitting in a coffee shop, being entertained by Yossi Vardi, one of the fathers of the entrepreneurial miracle in this tiny country that likes to call itself “Start-Up Nation.” 1 Among dozens of tech companies he has seeded, Vardi may be best known for funding ICQ, as in “I Seek You,” the Internet instant messaging program developed by his son, who hadn’t gone to college, and two others. ICQ had 12 million users by the time AOL bought it in 1998 for $407 million dollars. If you remember, 12 million users was a lot back in 1998.
Graham and I were ’t getting a word in edgewise in the conversation, but we didn’t care—we were listening to a guy who ’d done more successful start-ups than most first-world countries, waxing poetic with statements like “Business plans and sausages are alike— only people who don’t know how they are made will eat them.” And “God created the world in six days because he didn’t have a customer base” (a back-handed reference to the barriers to innovation that big companies face). As Vardi expounded on the biggest obstacle to entrepreneurship—a syndrome he dubbed “middle manager disease”—he called on the young man who was mopping the floor by our table to illustrate a couple of points.
“The founders at the top of the company still believe in the mission— it ’s their baby. So do the people down on the floor.” (Vardi pointed to the floor mopper.) “They take personal pride in the job and the work they do. By the way, this whole country is on an entrepreneurial mission— even that kid with the mop will be working on one. Watch.” Yossi called over the 21-year-old floor mopper, then the 22-year-old waitress. He asked them whether, besides this job, they were working with their friends to start a company. Both instantly smiled and nodded— and the floor mopper promptly launched into his investor pitch! What struck us at that moment was a really simple idea. These kids believed, “My ideas can matter. I can dream and I can are. It’s possible for me .”
At all levels of society, in schools and even the army, a national culture was teaching them to go ahead and try—and, if they failed, to try again better the next time.
When people feel this way, a kind of switch goes off inside them. They ’re suddenly inclined to put themselves into motion, to leave the safety of the comfort zone and go for whatever they want to accomplish in life, especially a goal like entrepreneurship. When you get this kind of belief, it makes you UnStoppable.
How you get it is the central theme of this book. It ’s why we begin our story about American entrepreneurship here at this café in the heart of Israel, talking with a guy whose investment strategy is simply to find and bet on inspired people — regardless of what their business plans look like…