From Brazil to Israel via Seattle, London and Dubai: meet Beny Rubinstein, a serial intra.entre.preneur
by Méryl Assayag — Tech It Forward.
While maintaining the safe ‘two-meter distance’ and trying to recognize each other with masks on, it was still a fantastic afternoon and a great pleasure to interview Beny Rubinstein! Beny is a Brazilian serial entrepreneur, with over 15 years of experience at Microsoft and now a mentor, advisor and guidance provider for many Israeli startups.
We would love to hear and learn about your background, where do you come from? What do you do?
I was born and raised in Brazil. After my university studies I decided to move and complete my MBA in the US. Upon my graduation, I joined Microsoft and collaborated on several incubation groups as an “intrapreneur”.
When Steve Ballmer, at the time- Microsoft’s CEO, first mentioned the 4 letters acronym SAAS (software as a service), no one understood what he was talking about. This was my team, my project and I was the global product manager of the SaaS offer that Microsoft incubated. We developed what today people know as Microsoft’s Office 365!
WOW! That’s a very cool project to have been part of. How from being part of Microsoft and Office 365 did you find yourself in Israel suddenly?
I have always wanted to come to Israel!
While working as CEO of a startup accelerator and micro-VC which I co-founded in the Latin American Market — Acelera Partners (first partner of Microsoft Ventures in Latin America), I proposed the Board of Directors to invest in a batch of startups being accelerated at a Microsoft Accelerator program in Israel. At the time Israel ranked 6th as the best startup ecosystem in the world (according to Startup Genome Report), while São Paulo — the only Brazilian city on the list — only ranked among the top 20. In order to accelerate the innovation and achieve greater ranking for São Paulo and other Brazilian cities, I had the idea to combine the Brazilian efforts with Israel’s. Once the board approved, I flew to Israel and had 48 hours to prove the opportunity. Within two days we closed 10 startup investments out of the 12 we were interested in. The collaboration generated opportunities for the Brazilian accelerator to work together with the Israeli one. It created jobs and a learning experience.
Upon the success of the project, we continued investing in Israeli startups such as the AgTech company Taranis and more. After 3 years of this operation, I finally had the opportunity to move to Israel and fulfill my dream. The project is still fully running by the team I hired back then to join me and is now called Mindset Ventures.
You are experienced with living in three very colorful and different countries - Brazil, US, and Israel. What would you say are the main differences in terms of the startup ecosystem and culture in these three areas?
Each ecosystem is different.
Brazil is a huge country with a large economy and population. In Brazil most of the startups don’t strategize how to bring their company abroad. There’s no initial focus on international expansion as the domestic market is so vast. I see this as a problem for entrepreneurs as it takes away the entrepreneurial global thinking and growth spirit.
In Israel it’s the opposite. There is practically no domestic market. Entrepreneurs must go global in order to survive.
In the US, the ecosystem and culture is completely different. They have a similar challenge to Brazil in the sense that there is no need to go global, and the market is very competitive. Unlike Israel, the culture in the US, is to plan long term. Here in Israel, given the culture and geopolitical challenges and dynamics, we sometimes don’t see past tomorrow morning!
My personal feeling is that in Israel there are many brilliant people, amazing ideas, but their environment is a little too chaotic and unpredictable at times. The people and culture are great for innovation, but for consistent execution, especially in marketing and sales, this mindset poses significant challenges at times.
What do you love most about Israel?
I love the energy. People are high in energy and motivation and enjoy experiencing different things. You can continuously learn from everyone all the time.
Also as an Oleh in Israel, you have more impact on the society and people around you. Here, I feel there are better opportunities for new immigrants. You can both learn and integrate as well as impact and bring your own culture and experiences to the companies and startups.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the health cloud platform I launched for Microsoft in the UK and Canada. This was a very challenging and rewarding project.
I worked with a team that was mainly technical and did not understand the needs of commercial life. We were a small team, with a tiny budget and the project needed to launch very quickly. There was a 90% chance that we would fail but we succeeded and even got a positive mention from to-be-elected Prime Minister David Cameron! And I got a ‘gold star award’. This award is given annually to 3% of the employees worldwide that excelled that year.
How do you spend your time today?
When I first moved to Israel, I had the opportunity to rejoin Microsoft and design, build and run a new sales organization to deliver on the digital transformation of the company and their customers working across the US, UK and the Middle East & Africa (including UAE, Israel, Egypt, South Africa and more). Last year, after 15 years with the company I’ve decided to resign, as most next steps in my career would require to relocate overseas. I fell in love with Israel and wanted to make it my home.
I then joined a clean tech startup in the Northern part of Israel, to reshape and scale their commercial model. There I revamped and grew their sales teams and closed their stronger quarter in the history of the company.
Now I’m an independent consultant and advisor. I also do a lot of pro-bono work as a mentor for accelerators and startups — including WeWork Labs, MassChallenge Israel & Mexico, Product League, GreenUp City, Gvahim Entrepreneurship Center and many others. 30% of my time goes to advising international foreign organizations on matters surrounding corporate innovation and strategy, and the rest I’m meeting Israeli CEO and funds.
Also, I have finally joined Ulpan! And am happy to finally be improving my Hebrew.
Last, but not least, I’ve joined the Advisory Board of Evolution.Inc which is revolutionizing the world of AI across verticals such as Health and Defense by applying Genetic Algorithms to both increase the accuracy and reduce the cost of AI models — we do “AI for AI”. I am very glad to be working with some of the most renowned AI experts in Israel to build the new wave of transformation through AI for AI! And a lot more is to be announced…stay tuned!
If you want to hear more about it, please check some videos on my website www.benyrubinstein.com.
Good luck! And now for our final question, What in your opinion is the most important part of being an entrepreneur?
Research is essential. People underestimate it. People are creative and energized but they don’t invest enough time to really understand the need and the change people need in their lives. When Microsoft wanted me to start working with Africa to drive digital transformation, I had never been there so I told my boss Let’s go there first, let’s meet the people, understand the culture and realize what the business opportunity is and what it’ll take us to succeed. I think this is the important component different immigrants can bring to Israelis and Israeli startups.
At the end of the day, you are dealing with people and people work differently according to their industry, culture, and country. People tend to focus mostly on sales, but when you really understand your customers you have power, and you can really help them. Empathy is key so that you can deliver on “Chance Management”.
Let’s keep transforming the world — yet to succeed in changing it, you need to first understand it. Curiosity and humility are key traits of a good entrepreneur.
Thank you Beny for this interview. It was a pleasure to meet you and hear about your incredible journey!
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