Good friends around you, a good salary, a good product, and coffee on tap are typically a good enough motive for anyone to be satisfied with their job.
This was certainly the case for me. I loved the company I worked for: I felt respected and well-rewarded, I had made some of my closest friends in recent years in the office, and to top all of that, I also had autonomy in my position to make decisions that ultimately affected the company.
So why step away? Especially at a time of daunting uncertainty? Well, that’s a pretty good question, and I’ve done my best to explain it in this piece. I cover not only what drove me to leave my prior job and start Zoog, but also touch on what I believe it takes to make that perilous jump into the deep end. I hope what I learned on my own personal journey will help you take that first leap of faith, too.
When the pandemic hit us all like a hammer to the head, the world as we knew it changed overnight. Everyone was affected by the changes that COVID presented, though the most immediate effect I felt was not necessarily to me personally, rather how my children were directly impacted by the boundaries and hurdles that the pandemic brought with it.
The first blow was to communication. Suddenly, we were isolated from the world and all communication efforts turned towards video — with Zoom and FaceTime leading the way. I quickly learned that my kids couldn’t stand this. They did whatever possible to avoid video calls with their distant relatives.
Despite my wife and I nagging them to spend a few minutes with their grandparents on a call, they were frustrated, and it didn’t work. I learned that to them, these calls were boring, repetitive, and they simply weren’t interested in small talk.
I looked for alternatives and tried several options — products that claimed to solve the problem, but nothing worked. Every communication product we tried was generic — one size fits all — they were encumbered, unintuitive, and definitely were not built to facilitate communication between children and adults. My kids stood their ground. They simply did not want any part in these calls.
This created a frustrating situation for all parties involved — for my kids who simply wanted me to leave them be, for my parents who were used to seeing their grandchildren and suddenly were not able to, and for us as parents, feeling like we needed to bribe our kids every time we wanted them to spend some time with their grandparents or other distant family members on a call.
Although the pandemic amplified this cross-generational video communication issue, it also presented a unique opportunity. Video communication, for the first time, became the overarching norm in the world — in business, in classrooms, and even in our own homes — everyone got used to the fact that this is the new way to communicate and felt the need to evolve and adapt to it. This presented a special window of opportunity for us to solve a growing problem — and an especially unique opportunity to work on something that we personally needed in our own homes. In addition, we felt that our initial target audience — young grandparents, were ready for and receptive to video products more than ever before.
It was around this time that I met my amazing co-founder, Matan. I always knew that I wanted to “eventually” start my own company, but so many factors come into play when making the move, that it’s one of those things that tend to get put off until the “timing is right” (more about this later). Matan’s problem was more “innate” than mine, as his in-laws live in the States (he lives in Israel), so his son was literally born into this problem.
We found a problem that directly affected not only us personally, but the people who we cared about the most — we found purpose and right then decided to quit our respective jobs, taking the leap of faith together — to build Zoog.
Listen to your Kishka
Full disclosure — there is no such thing as the right timing when it comes to starting your own business, let alone a startup. It goes against a basic human instinct of survival: seeking comfort and certainty. If you look at the success rate of startups (~5%), this decision becomes even crazier. Then throw three kids into the equation, a wild pandemic the likes of which the world hasn’t experienced since the Spanish Flu, and voila! You’ve got a pretty wacko recipe to start 😉 But as I mentioned, there is no such thing as the right time to start a startup, and as the famous saying goes:
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
At the end of the day it comes down to the following:
Is it in your kishka (literally means ‘gut’ in Yiddish)?
Are you passionate about what you are looking to build?
Is the problem you are tackling personal and big enough (meaning, are others — many others — suffering from it as well)?
Do you have the right partner (co-founder) to run with (the journey can be very lonely, so you ought to get yourself one of those!).
Do you have the right support system? (I could not have started the journey without the incredible support of my wife and family)
Do you have some believers in your midst? (Matan and I were so fortunate for the early support, guidance, and eventually financial backing from Remagine Ventures, our first investors)
And finally, do you have the courage to just go for it?
None of these, of course, have anything to do with your chances for success — that’s an entirely different list, and to be honest, it’s above my pay grade at the moment. Creating Zoog was in my kishka and I was fortunate to have the right infrastructure and support to get it going.
Finding the right people to work with — especially your co-founder — is a formidable task. Before meeting Matan, I had spent different periods with different potential co-founders, all very talented and great people, but there are so many variables that go into finding the right co-founder: First there needs to be a complementary skillset — each person needs to bring to the table something that the other does not have. Second, the person needs to have the right professional experience. Third, the timing needs to be right, as starting a startup is probably one of the most difficult decisions anyone can make. And to top all this — and probably the most important thing — there simply needs to be a “click” ; you need to like the person you will be spending most of your time with.
(Interestingly, the person who introduced Matan and me was one of the potential co-founders I was considering).
Matan ticked most boxes, but in the end it came down to his boldness and his ability to leave his job and just be courageous.
What was also helpful was that our future backers who really helped us from the get go-Remagine Ventures-knew both of us well, and helped bring us together.
Matan and I immediately clicked. We simply enjoyed being together and really felt that at our core we shared the same values as well as a complimentary skillset. More importantly, we trusted each other. Matan expressed true grit and after our second meeting said — let’s do this. He quit his job and we started the following day.
During our first week working together, we sat down and had a two-day intense session answering 50 questions for founders — tough and revealing questions. It was like going through basic training, and even though neither one of us could predict it at the time, that was the easy part of the beginning of our journey.
A month after we started working together, my wife gave birth to our third child. Two weeks after that, my wife was rushed back to the hospital with a severe infection. I stayed home with three kids (including a newborn) while she was hospitalized for over two weeks. The day she returned home (and healthy, thank G-d!) was the day that the prime minister announced a nationwide quarantine due to COVID-19. All this, while we were trying to build a startup 🤦♂️
Matan stuck by me the entire time, working around the clock and according to my schedule. I remember telling him:
“This is the beginning of our journey, and I know it’s rough, but if we get past this, we can get past anything.”
Comfort zone? Nah…
If you are the type of person who needs clarity, certainty, and enjoys being in control or at least in your comfort zone, then this journey is probably not for you. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are many benefits to a healthy routine and I’ve developed my own over the years, but routine can not be confused with certainty, and when I fall into a period of too much certainty, especially in my work, I tend to develop an ‘itch’…
This ‘itch’ has followed me throughout most of my life, and has led me to take great leaps of faith. It has pushed me way out of my comfort zone and has induced both significant successes and epic failures (perhaps I’ll write more about these in my next post).
One of the difficulties in founding a startup from scratch is that I am (way) out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. I am learning on the go, improving as we continue to develop our product, and getting better at articulating our message and value to the world. It is equivalent to trying to take a sip of water out of a closed bottle during an 100 meter sprint, all while staying within your lane — a challenging task no doubt, that requires patience, attention to detail, and coordination.
But this craving for getting it right, surviving, and thriving within this daunting task, pushes us to achieve our goal: To become the world’s leading platform for entertaining, educational, & safe user-generated content for children. One that connects generations, that turns everyone (even grandparents) into content creators — that keeps us focused, believing in our mission, and hopefully will lead us to eventual success.
I left my job to start Zoog as I felt that internal (and personal) itch to start a company, but most importantly, because I felt like my immediate circle, and the rest of the world, desperately needs the solution that Zoog is developing and I am eager to make that happen.