Pointers for Starting Your Company

Lessons from Yishai Goldstein — CTO and Co-Founder of AutoLeadStar

Yishai Goldstein is the Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder of AutoLeadStar.

AutoLeadStar is an exciting tech-startup with offices in Jerusalem, Israel and Miami, FL. They develop powerful digital marketing software powered by artificial intelligence. As the name suggests, AutoLeadStar focuses on serving car dealerships with their products.

In the summer after my freshman year of college, I had the privilege of interning at AutoLeadStar. In my time there, Yishai served as my mentor and supervisor.

As the company’s CTO, Yishai oversees the development of their digital marketing software. He also serves as the authority for all technical decisions faced by the company.

Yishai has known for a very long time that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Even before high school, Yishai had clear ambitions for starting his own business. Although he was anxious to begin, Yishai realized he did not have the knowledge to run a company. So, he decided to go study at university and get a proper education first.

After four years of intensive study, Yishai earned a BSc in computer engineering.

Yishai also had to complete Yeshiva, an educational program for observant Jews. He also served in the Israeli Defense Forces, as all Israelis do.

After all this, Yishai still felt unsure of the full scope of what it would take to build a company.

He decided to get some real-world experience before striking out on his own.

He also needed the money to support himself at this stage in life.

To do this, he took a job as a software engineer at Answers.com. In Yishai’s time there, Answers.com grew to over 17 million page views per day. They averaged over 60 million unique visitors to the website per month.

Those stats ranked Answers.com among the top 10 websites globally at the time. Yishai worked in software development at Answers.com for three years.

At that point, Yishai yearned for leadership experience.

Yishai petitioned for re-assignment as a Project Manager. He figured the skill set would help in his not forgotten dream of starting his own company. Around the same time, Answers.com was being bought-out, so Yishai was unable to make the transition.

After the buyout went through, Answers.com’s new management fired 2/3 of the Israeli office. Not long after, they shut down the Israeli branch altogether — leaving Yishai without a job.

Upon reflection, Yishai shared that he learned many valuable skills at Answers.com. His programming improved remarkably after the first year of work. In the following two years, his programming skills continued to improve in leaps and bounds.

At this point, Yishai was ready to go out and do something on his own, and the timing worked out well. Less than one week after losing his job, Yishai received a phone call from his friend Aharon Horowitz.

Aharon had an idea for a startup.

He wanted to know if Yishai knew anybody that would make for a good technical co-founder. Aharon was unaware that Yishai had been recently laid off from Answers.

The day after the phone call, Yishai and Aharon met for coffee. They immediately began working on Aharon’s idea. Soon after, Yishai contacted his friend Eliav Moshe to help build a proof of concept for the idea. Eliav agreed and began helping shortly after Yishai first reached out to him.

Early on, Eliav took to the idea and decided he wanted to become a partner, not an employee in this new venture. Yishai and Aharon agreed and brought him in as the third founder.

Seven years later, the three founders still work together everyday.

In that time, they pivoted their product many times. Together, they learned tremendous lessons about building and running a leading tech company.

The team of three has ballooned into almost fifty. They have a sales team spanning across the United States. They sell three distinct software packages.

At the end of the interview, Yishai imparted a few lessons from his unique experience.

A few pointers for starting a company

Yishai made sure to emphasize the importance of choosing the right founders.

In his opinion, the founders matter more than the idea, especially at the beginning. Yishai and his team changed their idea and plan over three times before they got the ball rolling.

Because of their rock-solid team and cohesion, they were able to pivot until they found a product to dive into.

For deciding who to include on the team, Yishai advised a combination of people with a variety of skills. Hard skills alone aren’t enough. Founders need to be very flexible, focused, and fast learners.

Many teams try to do too much at once, especially at the beginning. This lack of focus can prevent any one idea from gaining traction.

For tech startups, Yishai stressed having a competent programmer on the team. Unless the team is already wealthy, this advice is critical for the company’s future.

Throughout the early years of development, the founders learned a few major lessons.

The first was the importance of getting paying customers.

Yishai argues that its very easy to get carried away perfecting a product or service. While quality is important, the pursuit of perfection can be unproductive without customer validation.

For the company and founders to survive, they needed to be making money from the beginning. Once they start receiving money, it is proof that the company is providing value. People may express interest in what the company does, but Yishai claims they are only being nice.

Instead, the company needs paying customers to objectively gauge value. If the company is providing valuable services and products to the world, people will pay for them.

The second big lesson is on focus and specialization.

The founders switched business ideas a few major times. Each time, they became more niche and specific in their offerings. At the beginning, their mindset was hopeful and far-fetched.

They started out trying to the business to consumer model. They thought they would get millions of downloads upon release of an app for the general public. They were wrong.

Seven years later, they focus on the business to business model. They offer three services to provide digital marketing for car dealerships. With each narrowing down of what they did, they saw more success than the previous attempt.

Once they observed the pattern, they applied this idea to their product and target market. By choosing to only service the auto industry, the business is continuing to grow and improve.

Yishai also gave some advice about hiring.

He cautioned that the process is vastly different based on the context of the company.

Within his niche, Yishai values self-management. I noticed this first hand during my time interning under him. The team at AutoLeadStar knows what to do throughout the day. Everyone budgets their time and attention to fulfill their obligations as needed.

Because AutoLeadStar moves quickly, Yishai looks for employees that take initiative. This is crucial for a team that operates with clear goals without clear instructions.

Last, employees need to be comfortable facing the customer.

AutoLeadStar is very new and focuses on growth. For this reason, employees must think about improving the experience for end users. This is true of all Yishai’s team, even if it doesn’t seem related to their day to day work.

The last subject we touched on was advice for college students.

Yishai explained that one of his biggest priorities is personal health and well-being.

Young entrepreneurs and professionals don’t view life as a marathon instead of a sprint. Fast food, stimulants, sleep deprivation, lethargy, and social isolation are terrible habits.

These poor choices always catch up. They cause larger setbacks than a consistent and balanced approach to life and work.

Yishai has been building AutoLeadStar for seven years. He credits prioritizing health as a main reason for the success of himself and the company today.

His parting message?

Work hard and put a lot of energy in. It will be necessary, but don’t let it come at the expense of critical relationships, health, and happiness.

(This interview was conducted in February, 2019)

Published on Apr 11, 2020

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