Be a Rebel – Say Yes – Investigate The Problem You Want To Solve – And The Value You Bring – Failure VS Optimism – Vision – Skills – Enjoyment – Focus - Trust Yourself; Here are all my insights about entrepreneurship after speaking at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in South Africa on March 2017.
The Crazy Rebel
If I die tomorrow what will I leave in this world? In comparison with the time that the world exists, I have so little time on earth, what will I do with this gift of life? How will I contribute to the lives of millions in need? Did I have an opinion, did I say it out loud?
The first step is to stop being cynical and afraid to say you want to change the world. We live in a prosperous society, and as we watch the wealth around us, while so many people are starving, we need to be responsible and brave enough to stand up for them, for us. We are obligated to make it better, but not only that: We need to find the crazy rebel within us and give it a voice.
In my 37 years of life, I never met something as powerful and encouraging as being the voice of millions; knowing that I am one of a few people who are considering people with disabilities living in the rural areas of developing countries. Visiting those areas, talking to the therapists and teachers there, I was astonished to see how many shortages exist in the parts of the world where 80% of people with disabilities live. If you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to make a difference, you have to listen to yourself, listen to your calling, find that source of endless power, something you deeply care about – and go for it with everything that you have.
Three weeks ago I returned from the GEC.co, which is the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. I was participating the panel about innovation for the developing world, and I had 5 minutes to talk about my company, Cassit Orthopedics. I was informed I had the opportunity to participate in GEC 10 days before I got there. Ten days before, my friend and colleague Daniel Ben Yehuda introduced me to Ayla Matalon, who is a lecturer and the chairperson in the Global Entrepreneurship Network. She is also the Executive director at the MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel. She offered me to join and I had a few hours' window to decide if I should go or not. It wasn’t a convenient time, nor I had the funds for it, but when opportunity comes to an entrepreneur, when the bells are ringing and you feel it's something you shouldn't miss, you should definitely go for it. So I did, in that meeting, I didn’t take the few hours to decide, I said "Yes".
There is this sentence that says "Check if there is water in the pool before you jump", and I am a very responsible person. I have a methodology that I work with, I make decisions after I conduct research, not from the top of my head. However, when talking about entrepreneurship, you must be ready and willing to jump into whatever is there, if you have a strong hunch it is worthwhile, and of you believe you will be able to face whatever is coming. You must be ready to be hit or to dive in. In that point, all your previous experiences should sum up to one question: Once you find water in that pool, do you know how swim? Be prepared.
Right after I said yes I started researching and working on my time there. What is expected from me? How much time do I have? Who will be there? Who will I meet? How can I maximize it? My assistant prepared at my request a list of 172 speakers + their pictures, and another list of 38 sponsors, so I could search for key words and remember the faces of who got my attention. In parallel, I prepared new business cards, new flyers, a new video, samples, an elevator pitch, a 5-minute presentation text, and I scheduled a meeting with my Rotary club fellows to guide me and give me their advice. I met my advisors, I changed the text a million times, and I finishes the final presentation on the flight to South Africa. I was too tired to search for a paper, so I wrote the final presentation text on a white vomiting bag. It was a night flight, and I skipped sleeping.
I landed and reached the hotel by 14:15, hungry and tried as hell, with 45 minutes to prepare for a meeting I knew almost nothing about; We had to leave to talk at a panel by 15:00. I got into the room and met Meirav Harel, a FinTech expert who immediately became my friend. We ordered food, took a shower and consulted one another what to wear and how to talk in the coming event.
We were picked up in a white van and traveled to Pretoria University. In the van were Ayla, who collected all of us entrepreneurs: Assaf Kindler – the founder of Snapp Mobile, Nitzan Solan - the co-founder and CEO of Living Box, Meirav and me. After a short introduction, I sat by myself in the back seat of the van quietly, I was so tired. I apologized for being so quiet and for an hour drive I just "disconnected myself" and saved my energy for later. It's just a funny but essential skill that I have, to disconnect the plug in the brain and empty my thoughts, I call it "sleep with your eyes open". Only your body is there, with a minimal access to your mind, and just a careful attention to key words that obligates you to respond… only someone who knows me well might recognize that my brain is on leave behind the polite smile on my face.
We reached the university to meet Ayelet from Israel's embassy in SA, who organized this event, with entrepreneurship students and their enthusiastic lecturer. At the doorstep the lecturer asked us to talk about our path and about entrepreneurship. My pitch wasn't suitable, so I reorganized it in my head. I deciding to show the short video that demonstrates what we do and give a short speech about the company, followed by 3 pieces of advice that I always follow:
I had 5 minutes. After the 70 second video, I told them in 30 seconds how I reached to where I am, and gave them those 3 pieces of advice:
1 – Identify what is the value that you are selling. I am a product designer and I have a line of 26 products, but I am not selling products, I sell a value, you always sell a value, more than just a product. My value is joy, that is also what motivates me. Joy - is what I want to bring to this world. It took me a long time and work to understand and define it. What is YOUR value?
2 – The number one mistake is to find the solution before understanding the problem. It happens all the time to the best entrepreneurs. They fall in love with a solution or with a technology they want to use and they forget to investigate what is the need? Understand the problem, talk with the people who live with this problem, talk with professionals who know this problem or its current solutions, try to do whatever you are trying to solve. Read about it – talk about it, research about the problem until you know it deeply – only then start thinking about different solutions.
3 – What is innovation? Two years ago I designed and printed a 3D prosthetic arm. Is that innovation? I think not. Innovation is not about using the newest technologies, innovation is about breaking the rules, it's about changing the game, it's about changing your reality with your intentions. Choose the problem that you want to solve, you can be innovative in the way you are solving it, you can be innovative with the way you use technology, but try to choose the most suitable technology for your invention. Open your mind, inspire yourself, be courageous.
Q&A Following that intro from each one of us, I answered a few questions from the students.
Pretoria University Entrepreneurial program and us
Q: When and how do you raise funds? A: - We are actually raising funds right now, in many cases, a startup is raising funds all the time, not only when you don't have money. - Instead of meeting 100 investors, invest your time in finding one who is searching for your product/ for a solution to the problem you are solving. Maybe your customers can be your investors? Maybe someone is searching exactly for your invention? - Consult experts to understand what is the difference between money that comes from different types of investors: angels, VC's, governments, NGO's, international organizations. You can choose an investor who might bring you value and not only money. When you need money you sometimes forget that you are actually choosing the investor and not only him choosing you – maybe you want an investor that can open doors for you? Solve problems you don't know how to solve? - Practice a lot before you go to meet that investor--you want, be prepared for questions. Be confident because no one knows your product better then you. Be sure you know what you want to give in return for the money you raise. Talk to the investor, not only present. He/she is your partner.
Q: What do you go on when someone says no? How do you face failure? A: In Israel, we say: "When someone closes the door, you climb through the window." Failure is only when you stop. Persistence will give you results. You lose some, but you keep going, even crawling, but go forward. Don’t give up. You will not hear me say, "don't do" about a lot of things, but if you can't be positive about your business, don't do it. You need to find that thing that makes you stay positive, you need to believe it. You need to visualize your success. If you hit a wall it's just another obstacle on your path. Don't sink into it, move forward, stay positive.
"You create the reality with your intention" Gary Zukav.
The event was successful and very inspiring for all of us. We returned to Johannesburg and had a good dinner. After returning to the hote,l I had to work an additional hour to prepare a request and submit it to a university in the US, it was the last day to send it. I showered and at 1:00 AM I finally went for an 8 hour sleep.
The next morning after breakfast I entered the GEC building and met Artur Lenk – Ambassador at the Embassy of Israel in SA; Itai Melchior, Israel's commercial attache in SA; Ayellet Black from the SA embassy DCM, who arranged the meeting in Pretoria and Sweto for us; and Carl Meyer – co-founder of Shift IT and one of the speakers at our session: "BASE OF THE PYRAMID TECHNOLOGIES: BETTER HEALTH, GROWTH AND NEW OPPORTUNITIES." I went to check if my presentation is working. I was excited and nervous about the amazing opportunity to stand and talk at this huge event where so many successful and inspiring professionals are taking part, but I did it and it was good. In fact, I think I did great.
One question I remember being asked in the following panel was by the Minister, and it was: "What was the best moment you have had in your career?" I remembered how a few very exciting moments went through my head in a split second. I wondered if it was the moment I realized what I want to do in my life? Or if it was the first time I saw Mike, after CVA, with the first splint I ever designed, able to hold a vegetable and cut it? Was it Liron who returned playing the guitar with my guitar splints, 7 years after his sport accident? Was it 10 year old Guy playing for me with his new pick holder? Was 11 year old Junior's face, in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, finding out he is able to use his right hand? Was it the expression of happiness and relief on the faces of the therapists a few month ago in Kenya, when I introduced my products to them? Was it Osnat using her new cutting board to prepare food for her children? Was it being invited to teach in HIT? To talk in the GEC? Was it my team members saying how much they believed in me every time we faced a big challenge? But as they all appeared so strongly in my head I immediately knew I couldn't choose one, so I just replied:
"Well, there is not one moment. In my kind of work, I get excited all the time".
From left to right: Carl Meyer, Assaf Kindler, Ayellet Black, Ambassador Artur Lenk, me, Ayla Matalon, Mirav Harel and Nitzan Solan.
The next day we went to Sweto Innovation Hub at eKasi Lab Soweto.
Two of the questions I answered were:
Q: Hi Tamar, you said you are working with an amazing plastics engineer, one of the best in the field. How did you convince him to work with you? A: It's a great question because as an industrial designer you need to know to collect around you all the skills that you don't have, and you want to work with experienced people that are very professional and have the ability and the patience to guide you--you want to work with the best people. The truth is I didn't have to convince him, nor the other professionals who work with me. You know, there are only 3 words in Hebrew in my business plan: "Veahavta Lereaacha Kamocha", it means you should love your neighbor like you love yourself. This is my vision. People ask me why I go to Africa, I go there because I believe that the human race is a family: there is no woman or man, black or white, no religion, no nationality, we are one family, and for that reason you help the one who needs help in your family, and not the one with the money. I want to change the world for people with disabilities that live in the rural areas of Africa, I want to make their world better. The professionals who work with me share that vision, they all are the best in their fields, and they all believe in mutual responsibility. When they meet you and hear about that vision, and when they see the fire in your eyes and that nothing will stop you, they just join you.
One last question touched me the most. A young entrepreneur asked bravely about depression. She said it’s a long road and she sometimes feels discouraged, when she doesn’t see the results. Assaf and I replied with a lot of empathy. I told her:
"This is a long path to walk in, and most of the time you will be walking that road. It's very important to know where you are going but it is also important to remember that most of the time you are walking that road, so try to enjoy it. Reaching your goal is great, but 99% of your time you are trying to get there, so be patient, allow yourself to be excited from the small victories that you find, allow yourself to see the path that you are walking in and appreciate what you are doing. Surround yourself with people who encourage you and support you. However, you are the source of what you are doing and not the outcome, many times you will need to encourage yourself and others and hide your discouragement. You need to know that you can do it, that what you are doing is important to you. Sometimes with all the support and love you might receive, the only one who will know how to solve it will be you. It is a very courageous question that we all struggle with. Enjoy your path, most of our lives we are searching, not reaching - Find a way to enjoy it. Don’t be depressed by mistakes because it’s the best way to learn. Don’t be afraid to succeed either. When it's hard, take one step at a time and, most importantly, trust yourself. You are stronger then you think, have faith in your vision, in force majeure and in yourself."
"Who doesn’t believe in himself, it will be very difficult for others to believe in him." Lao Tzu
Sometimes you don’t even know how to define it, but you feel it, and you know that you know something. Find what it is, focus on this thing, become the best in this field, believe in it, set a goal for it, be patient, trust yourself that you will get there--even if you have to sleep just a few hours a night and even when not everybody understands what you are doing. Know where you are going, take everything that you have and everything that you are and go for it.