Uri Adoni | How to Launch an Unstoppable Startup in the Post-COVID Era: Tips from a Top VC in Israel

Uri Adoni is the author of the book, The Unstoppable Startup: Mastering Israel’s Secret Rules of Chutzpah. He has over 20 years of experience in high-tech and over 12 years of being a partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Media Labs, one of Israel’s leading venture capital firms with an impressive track record of IPOs on the NASDAQ and M&As to large leading multinational firms. 

Prior to joining JVP, Uri was the CEO of MSN Israel (Microsoft Networks) and was one of Israel’s new media pioneers. In his military service at the IDF (regular and reserve), he was an officer (major) and served as commander of a combat unit. He has also served on the board of several high-tech companies and in early and late stage companies. 

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran is joined by Uri Adoni, an author and venture capitalist, to talk about how businesses could start and grow in a post-crisis era. Uri also talks about the reason why he decided to write his book, Israel’s unique history and why it has an amazing start-up culture, and he also gives his top advice to companies on how to build unstoppable teams.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Why Uri Adoni decided to write his book, The Unstoppable Startup; Mastering Israel’s Secret Rules of Chutzpah
  • How Israel’s unique history has contributed to the 6 rules that comprise the chutzpah
  • Why Israel has a leading edge in new technology
  • Uri‘s advice to companies on how to build unstoppable teams
  • How Uri‘s portfolio companies have been reacting to the global health pandemic
  • Uri explains what he means by ‘thinking like a camel and not like a unicorn’ when starting and running a business
  • Why businesses should build a strong advisory board and what companies have been doing to get ready for post-crisis growth
  • The people Uri acknowledges for his achievements and success
  • Where to learn more Uri Adoni and his book

Resources Mentioned:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:14  

Welcome to the Revolution, the Smart Business Revolution podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution. John Corcoran.

 

John Corcoran  0:40  

All right. Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of the Smart Business Revolution podcast. And you know, each week I get to talk to really interesting CEOs, founders, investors, entrepreneurs and all kinds of companies from organizations like YPO and EO, to companies like Activision Blizzard, Lending tree, Open Table, x software, and many more. I’m also the co-founder of Rise25 where we help to connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects and quick shout out before I get into today’s guests, first of all my business partner Jeremy Weisz, who he introduced who interviewed him for his podcast Inspired Insider. So go check that out. And then also Sophia Moriarty of Smith Publicity, who first introduced us to Uri, who I’ll introduce in a second and also Kate Lydon of Lydon brands, and Ed Robinson. This is shared out of Maryland who I just interviewed. Coincidentally, yesterday, I will be publishing that episode very soon. So thanks to all of them. 

But you know, I’m really excited today because my guest is Uri Adoni. He’s the author of the book, The Unstoppable Startup; Mastering Israel’s Secret Rules of Chutzpah. Hopefully I’m saying that right, right. And he has over 20 years of experience in high tech and over 12 years of being a partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners Media Labs, which is one of Israel’s leading venture capital firms with an impressive track record. of IPOs on the NASDAQ and M&As to large leading multinationals as well. He’s served on the board of several high tech companies, and early and late stage companies as well. He also prior to that was CEO of MSN Israel from Microsoft. And so we’re going to be talking a lot about the post COVID era. He just authored a book in Harvard business in an article in Harvard Business Review on that topic and how startups can get going in the post COVID era. 

 

So first, before we get into that this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media. Rise25 helps b2b businesses dictate clients referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. So if you’re listening to this podcast and you’re curious about ever starting a podcast, I say yes is one of the best things I’ve done over the last 10 years. And we specialize in helping b2b businesses with a high client lifetime value to create profitable sustainable podcasts. So to learn more, go to rise25media.com or you can also email us at [email protected]

 

Alright, Uri. So I’m excited to have you here, Jeremy raved about his conversation with you and, and your background knowledge of the VC world and startups and that sort of thing. And first of all, you’ve been in VC for a long time, and you decide to write a book. So what was the reason that you decided to pour your effort in and love into putting a book together? And what was the message you’re trying to get out from that book, The unstoppable startup.

 

Uri Adoni  3:27  

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

 

It’s actually kind of a funny story. I was giving this talk in one international high tech conference and at the end of my I was talking about Israel and the high tech ecosystem of Israel and giving all kinds of background stories etc. And then somebody at the end, there was some q&a s and somebody got a raise and said, you know, how can I tweet it? And I said, Would you mean instead, you know, you were talking about Israel and you know, smokiness? You made such a huge impact on technology second to this second number throughout the Silicon Valley, etc. How can I tweet that in, you know, 280 characters, then I kind of You caught me by surprise that I was thinking about it, it was actually a good question. And I told him, you know, what, if you had to tweet something, I would say, you know, it’s all about chutzpah, it’s about this audacity, this, you know, boldness kind of approach, which I think differentiate the Israeli intrapreneur in the Israeli ecosystem from other entrepreneurs. And, and I told them, you know, that’s probably what you should tweet, you know, it’s all about football. And then after the session, I actually thought about it more and thought, yeah, I want to look into that kind of deeper and I started kind of talking to, you know, intrapreneurs friends of mine, people, you know, some of the portfolio companies and they all had that. If you have liked, how much football was part of your success or part of your initial, current journey, and they all had their own kind of full story to say, to tell, so to speak, and no and so I decided to put it into a book. The other thing that there was quite a lot of now much less but there’s a lot of delegations coming to Israel trying to kind of understand the secret sauce, so to speak of Israel’s success. And also I had the chance, the opportunity to give talks to quite a lot of delegations and I thought actually fighting to come with such a book may be interesting for the delegations coming or from people from outside Israel, or either building companies or investing in companies or building these ecosystems around the world. So that’s kind of how it came about.

 

John Corcoran  5:55  

And so you’ve got six rules for what creates prizes in this whisper. But interestingly, you know the rules, at least on their face, don’t really talk about kind of the the history or the uniqueness of the country, at least that at face value they don’t, you know, get deeper. I’m sure that there’s a deeper explanation for that. But, you know, for example, you served, you know, you did military service and in the IDF, you were an officer, a commander of a combat unit. Israel is a relatively young country, surrounded by enemies on many sides. And so how much of the unique history of Israel contributes to that hotel or created it?

 

Uri Adoni  6:45  

I think it’s even. First of all, in terms of the book itself. There is a great book called The startup nation, which gives kind of the whole kind of I think, the background and the history of Israel in terms of the tech ecosystem and how it became I’ve tried to write more of a hands on guidebook for entrepreneurs, that it’s kind of a how to book and less of the history kind of thing. But if you look at the history, I think, actually, spies are much earlier than the state of Israel. You know, you can go all the way to Moses, for that matter, when he argued with Pharaoh and say, you know, he had a suspect to argue with probably the strongest person in the region at the time. So I think it’s kind of maybe it’s in the Jewish culture, it’s probably indigeneity in a way. Yeah, kind of, I guess. Yeah. And, and it’s, by the way, saying that push backs are not only a good thing, it’s only there’re also negative sides to that. You know, you don’t want to be if you’re too if you’re thinking it too much, then you become arrogant you become can it’s not, it’s not the right way to use football, but if you do it the right way or the positive aspects have, you know, a mindset of being bold and willing to kind of challenge reality and status quo, then there’s a very positive thing to it. And in a way, when you come to think of it, Israel as a state is also in a way of Act, an act of chutzpah, you know, coming into this region full of enemies around us, and, you know, saying we’re gonna build a democracy in this area and defend ourselves as well, again. So I think a much deeper thing, obviously, than just tech. But when you take it to the tech, it’s I think there’s a real substance there to explain some of the success of the Israeli tech

 

John Corcoran  8:44  

and as far as the technology goes, I’ve heard it written and said that a lot of the reason why Israel is on such a leading edge when it comes to technology is because of military innovation. Is that why or is it because of higher levels of education or what do you think is the reason why so many amazing technologies have come out of Israel?

 

Uri Adoni  9:08  

Um, I think the military is one part of that, for sure. There’s some very strong technological units like the 200, and others that are, you know, kind of producing talents that are coming out in the market and know this technology. But I don’t think it’s just about technology, I think, I would say for, for most, it’s an entrepreneurial mindset. And this is again, coming back to this football mindset where you can say, I can actually build something that would change the category or I can do something better than, you know, Microsoft or NC or whatever. And then, and then actually execute it. And so this mindset of saying, I can build something, I can invent something new. I can create this technology that nobody has thought Before, and I have the talent to do it obviously with, but I think it’s probably the mindset of, of, you know, go to bold approach, thinking globally from day one, these kinds of things made, I think part of this successful ecosystem. There are other explanations. I think, obviously, education is a strong part of that. The immigration that we had from the former Soviet Union back in the 90s, that brought a lot of kind of talent to the country.

 

And,

 

and maybe in a way, the whole kind of the fact that we’re still in a kind of developing phase of the country. We’re only kind of 72 years old, so it’s not that mature of a country so we’re still kind of figuring out as we go, and so I think that’s also part of this mindset. Okay. We can try things, some will work on will not work, that’s fine. And so we’re kind of in this entrepreneurial mindset in a way is that as a nation or as a country, so I think that also part of that

 

Unknown Speaker  11:13  

interesting.

 

John Corcoran  11:15  

You know, one of your rules in the book is to build an unstoppable team. And I was actually listening to a podcast interview this morning, which had been recorded before the COVID era. And they were talking all about how hard it is to get top quality labor and, when you do get good team members, they might leave quickly for another job opportunity, and you have to pay a lot and that might be a bidding war and that kind of thing. All things that change very rapidly. So what is your advice for companies to build an unstoppable team, it regardless of market, whether it’s an up market and labor is really tight, or whether it’s a market like we have now in July of 2020 when you have a lot of unemployed and so actually there’s a lot of great people out there that are looking for jobs?

 

Unknown Speaker  12:01  

Yeah.

 

Uri Adoni  12:03  

So I would say when you talk about a team, I think there are two kinds of teams to start with. So I think there’s the founding team. And then there’s the team that you hire as you build the company. I think when you talk about this unstoppable theme, it’s actually relevant for both. But to start with, you should start with the founding team. So you should partner probably, I mean, it’s usually better not to start the company alone. It’s better than you have like a partner or even to take resisted numbers to start with the three founding teams. Maybe one is a technologist, one is a business leader, maybe one a visitor or something like that. So there’s kind of different backgrounds. But I think the main thing about it is the point is not as much experience they have, they have four years of experience and three years of experience, that’s fine, but that’s not that’s technical. What I mean by an unstoppable team is that you want to have this mindset of with the people you work with, that they’re not afraid of challenges, that they know that it’s gonna be a roller coaster, there’s gonna be hurdles, and they’re not in it for the money. And that’s the, it’s an important point because you don’t want partners that just think about the exit and how they will, you know, retire on the nice beach, five years from now, that’s not the right team. You want people that really want to change the market, or change the category or build a new category or something that actually revolutionizes the space that they’re thereafter. And so when you look at these, when you actually assemble the scene, you want to make sure that this is the mindset of your team that they are with you in this battle. There’s going to be some rough times ahead and For sure there will be. I don’t think there’s any startup that didn’t have these challenges along the way. And that they’re committed, you know that they won’t just quit on the first challenge they’ll hit but they’re committed, they’re willing to go this journey. And they have the passion, the passion to create this new thing, new reality, challenge the status quo, is that your way that will actually make a difference.

 

John Corcoran  14:27  

Talk about some of your companies that you advise now portfolio companies and how they’re reacting right now or they have been over the last four months to the global pandemic that’s been unfolding. Have you had some companies that have had to wholesale completely reinvent themselves and start over a new category? And how are they doing that if you have companies that are doing that?

 

Uri Adoni  14:50  

Yeah, you know, I won’t say names specifically, but I would say that it really depends. It varies. So it varies. Few things, whether it’s the stage of the company, the how well the company is funded, you know, whether it’s, it’s it has revenues, or no, it’s profitable now, etc. But having said that, I think that everybody understood that now cash is king and it needs to be maintained and managed in such a way that you don’t want to have any fat in the company. You don’t want to have really long term financial commitments because, you know, the future is not that clear yet. And, and whatever you have, you have to try to have a longer runway with whatever you have. Naturally, you know, if you need more funding, you need to go and fundraise and, and it’s not that, you know, there is still funding out there. There is corporate capital out there. There are venture capitalists that need to make investments and want to make investments, seize the opportunities in the long run. valuation during these days. So definitely go and fundraise as well. And some of these companies, that’s what they’re doing. But I think the main thing is, is to kind of First of all, keep your cash, make sure you have a runway, and then there are all sorts of other things that you need to have to look at. And maybe this is in a kind of a deeper level, deeper level, for example, whether your product or your service is still relevant as it used to be like six months ago, some companies you know, they doing whatever enterprise software which is still the same or you know, some solutions for the cloud or cyber security, which maybe didn’t change much. But if you’re, you know, if you’re entering tele healthcare tele, telemedicine or healthcare, that market has changed dramatically if you’re in hospitality This change dramatically. So there’s all sorts of travel tech, these kinds of companies, educational technologies, that kind of shifting, we’re not sure yet. So one of the things companies I think needs to do today and kind of be very honest with you, with themselves, I would say brutally honest with themselves and look very honestly into their business and say, Are we still as relevant as we were before. And if there are changes that need to be done or any adaptations that need to be made, because of COVID, then by all means, you should do it and you should do it fast. Because you don’t want to stick to an AI purpose that is not relevant anymore or less relevant because then there are new needs, consumers behaviors and change. You know, customers, business customers have different priorities. So you need to make shape and make sure that you adjust to the market. This is always Right. But in our case, today, the market has shifted in such a dramatic manner. So you should really, really look deep into what is it that you’re doing? What is the proposition? What is the technology? What is the product, distribution, you know, pricing all these things to be analyzed, and, you know, and kind of look whether they should be changed or tweaked or adjusted to the current market.

 

John Corcoran  18:31  

That’s a great segue to a book, an article that you wrote recently published in Harvard Business Review how to launch a startup in the post COVID era. And the first point you made was to be brutally honest about what makes sense now. A couple of other points understand the mindset of investors you meet and think like a camel, not like a unicorn, I love that. You want to share what you meant by that.

 

Uri Adoni  18:56  

Sure, I think that, you know, the last, you know, whatever decade was, everybody was talking about unicorns and, and the mindset of you, you know, obviously a unicorn is a $1 billion valuation and above. And when you are thinking in the mindset of a unicorn, you need to grow fast, you need to go after market share at a relatively rapid pace, you need to fundraise large, large rounds, etc. which is fine when the market, you know, supports this kind of mindset. But I think that today may be coming from the Middle East, Middle East, camels are a different kind of animal. So, it’s an animal that is built for survival. It can, you know, live for a long time, only on water. But still when it needs to run, it can run, run and fast. So in a way, I think the analogy of a camel is actually relevant to these days rather than a unicorn. And make sure that you know, you survived, you have enough water to survive. If you run fat if you need to run fast, because you have an opportunity or some competition is moving faster, by all means you should run fast. But I think this kind of tactical way of thinking alongside the strategic one, so don’t you know, don’t neglect the long term vision, but make sure that the short term kind of operational plan is in place, and you can actually meet it. And this is kind of more of a camels state of mind than a unicorn state.

 

John Corcoran  20:42  

That’s a very practical perspective. What kind of feedback have you gotten from people when you’ve talked about that? You know, on the one hand, people love to talk about unicorns. On the other hand, the reality is many, much of the world has been sheltering in place for a few months. The world has definitely changed. So what is the feedback then when you’ve used that metaphor to describe people?

 

Uri Adoni  21:06  

Actually people, I think most of the feedback were very positive, they liked the idea because, you know, metaphor is something that helps people kind of grasp an idea. You know, just in brackets at the checkpoint, large Israeli cybersecurity invented the firewall at the time. And that’s a great metaphor for what they do, you know, they kind of self stop viruses from getting so. And they invented a whole category with this simple metaphor. So I think actually metaphor it’s a great, it’s a great way to actually convey the message and the feedback Saigon was actually, you’re right. We’re kind of in the desert. Now. Economically wise. We need to survive. We need to make sure we’re resilient to this crazy weather that surrounds us. And then we need to make sure that we can actually go through it.

 

John Corcoran  22:04  

I think I think that’s a great title for your next book, honestly. But I want to, I want to ask you also about some of your other points here. So you said build a strong advisory board. So talk to listeners who are listening right now or thinking like, Hey, I’m, I’m head down, I’m just trying to survive. You know, how do I attract advisors? or Why should I put my time into building an advisory board when we’re just trying to survive right now?

 

Uri Adoni  22:32  

Right, so first of all, you cannot be in only a survival mode, you should act, you know, obviously operationally in order to survive, but you cannot be in a survival mode 24 seven, you still need to think ahead and what what is the next move and what is the kind of what’s the postcode play would be, but I think the advisory board have a few a few advantages. First of all, If you’re a first time entrepreneur, it’s hard. You know, it’s hard as it is to fundraise. And one of the main concerns that VCs have or investors who say, you know, you don’t have experience, you know, you don’t know how to deal with, you know, situations or you’re not experienced enough, etc. And one of the things that advisory boards helps you with is actually having all this experience around you. So if you want to, you know, consult with somebody, or if you want to have somebody mentoring you, then it actually is kind of mitigating the risk of the inexperienced intrapreneur. So as an investor, I would say, we definitely look at it as kind of First of all, mature intrapreneurs saying, you know, I know that I don’t know enough and I need support and I want these people to help you with that. And so we’ve kind of given more confidence to the investors. The other thing with the advisory board is that they can open doors and if you have a good advisory board, they can open doors to customers, they can open doors to potential investors. Some of them may be investors themselves into companies they could even the team and the and the technology or proposition. So these opening doors can definitely be assisted, you know, it’s a shortcut in order for you to, to get to some of their row Rolodex, so to speak. It can take you months or years. But if you have them as advisors, advisors, this is something that they bring to the table. So in a way I think it’s it gives you experience, it gives you connections, it gives you relationships, it opens doors, and, and you know just I think increases the chance of your success. And in these specific times, I think definitely when you go to investors that also give this angle of confidence within your investors.

 

John Corcoran  25:12  

And the last point he made in the Harvard Business Review article was to be ready for post crisis growth. What are you seeing in terms of companies that are preparing themselves for that?

 

Uri Adoni  25:25  

So again, yeah, we touched, touched upon it, but I think that some companies are doing survival only. And again, you know, you have like a runway for a month. That’s okay. There are companies that don’t have a choice but a lot of companies actually have funding, you know, for the next whatever, 12 months, some of them even more, some made some cuts. So they’ve kind of made the runway longer. And so they these companies that have the funding or even if they are fundraising now They cannot just tell themselves or the investor the story of Yeah, we’re gonna keep our heads upon, you know over the water because that’s not what investors are interested in, in this is not why they invested in, you know, obviously you need to make sure that your head is is that you can breathe and you can run and you can survive, but you must plan for the day after and the day after will come whether it’s in three months, six months, 12 months, it will come back saying whatever the solution would be. And the day after is something that you’re bored of and your investors and definitely management needs to think about, need to plan, maybe the pens will change and maybe it will be after you know eight months in six months or whatever. But you need when you go to investors, you need to show them the potential of the company, how it will happen in a big way. Once the code, we’re after the scoping thing. And so I think that the mindset of being only in the survival mode is not the right one, you should have this mindset. Be very cash sensitive, be very aware that you don’t have any fat cut whatever fat you have, be as lean and mean as you can. But parallel to that, definitely, if you’re the CEO, and definitely the board needs to think, you know, what is the thing that will happen after and that can these plans can, you know, it can be with the distribution system, it can be with different geographies that you want to take on. It can be with as we talked earlier about the product or the proposition that you want to tweak and change and make written make sure you’re ready for that because it may take some time to develop technologically the next kind of all this tweak you want to do in the product or change or even pivot in some cases. So I think that I have a dual mindset today. Very mean, think like a camel and maybe still have this medium term, you must have this medium and even long term thinking that you know what is it that you’re going to do once it’s over, and not just start thinking about it when it’s over. So things have to be there. And once you’re there, you’re ready to go.

 

John Corcoran  28:27  

This has been great there. Thanks so much for coming on here. I want to wrap things up with the question I always ask, which let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys. You’ve been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for everything you’ve done up until this point. And what we all want to know is who do you think and of course, in addition to, you know, friends and family, that sort of thing, but who are the colleagues who are the mentors or the peers or the business partners? Who are who would you acknowledge in your remarks?

 

Uri Adoni  28:52  

Um, so thanks for this opportunity that I actually there’s a lot of acknowledgements at the end of my book, so It’s actually a long list that goes through all of them. But, I think definitely from my family, my wife, kids, my mother, my father, my sister, so the family’s always been a great sport. But from a business perspective, I would say it no more girly is the chairman and founder of jvp through the use of venture partners who, you know, took me on board and a lot of the great venture capitalists I learned a lot from. So I think he’s been a great mentor. Don’t like Parker’s Jerusalem venture Venture Partners Jdp that been, you know, a long journey and a great time with them. There is a nice saying. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room. And I could say that probably throughout my years at jvp, I was never in the wrong room. So so many smart people so it’s been great being there. Another guy I want to mention is an aureus cop who actually founded Microsoft in Israel and and you know, I was part of his management team and later on with Danny needing to go over Microsoft in Israel that was great. And then Holtzman was the chairman of MSN in Israel. And so I think, again, I’m sure I cannot list everybody. I want to acknowledge three other people who are important, important to acknowledge it’s a fun that jvp has been a partner at and I was fortunate enough to be on the board. It’s called tech queen. It’s an impact fund investing in Israeli Arab intrapreneurs. And we’ve done that too. Together with me Paris is actually the founder of pitango venture capital and he met the homies was Israeli Arab and entrepreneur, great person, which I work with and he was running this, this VC this impact plan. So they are also great partners and again, there’s a lot of people I apologize for God have mercy on this, but on the acknowledgement of the brokers along this and I actually took this opportunity to thank a lot of people

 

John Corcoran  31:36  

it’s always a good one when you’re receiving an award just say hey, go check out my acknowledgement phase in my book in case I forgot anyone. The book is The Unstoppable Startup: Mastering Israel’s Secret Rules of Chutzpah and Jerusalem Venture Partners Media Labs, jvpvc.com is the website if you want to go learn more and LinkedIn I assume as well. You are active on LinkedIn.

 

Uri Adoni  32:01  

Yeah, and there’s theunstoppablestartup.com. Excellent.

 

John Corcoran 32:06  

All right, great. Thanks so much. All right. Thank you. It was a pleasure.

 

Outro  32:11  

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution, Revolution Revolution Revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution podcast.