Founding and then selling one of the most successful start-ups in the world would be enough for most people to retire happily.
But not serial entrepreneur Uri Levine. Co-founder of Waze, the navigation app used by millions of motorists, Levine remains more motivated than ever.
“I never finished,” says Levine, 57. “I want to change the world and make it a better place and solving problems is the way to do that.”
Still going strong: Serial entrepreneur Uri Levine sold Waze in 2013 to Google for $1.15 billion
Known for helping users avoid annoying traffic jams, Waze was born in 2007 to deal with congestion issues in Tel Aviv, Levine’s hometown. It refines traffic routes using real-time information from its 150 million monthly users.
Waze was sold to Google in 2013 for $1.15 billion. Levine left the next day but has since been involved with several other startups, including Moovit, his second unicorn (a company reaching a valuation of over $1 billion).
A sort of Waze for public transport, Moovit was acquired by Intel in 2020 for $1bn (£830m).
Today, Levine has ten active startups, each trying to solve a single problem. And the father of five wants to help others do the same.
He wrote a book – “Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution: A Handbook for Entrepreneurs” – to guide entrepreneurs in building their own high-value businesses.
It includes Levine’s top tips on unicorns, firing, hiring, fundraising, understanding users, going global, and deciding to sell.
Levine founded Waze alongside fellow Israelis Ehud Shabtai and Amir Shinar. It relies on users to act as traffic police, reporting and submitting updates on accidents, roadworks, traffic jams, and more.
Waze aggregates them to calculate the best possible routes. It was launched commercially in 2008 with around 2,500 registered users.
When Google bought Waze in 2013, there were nearly 50 million. There are over 700 million users to date.
Was it the right decision to sell? “When you make a decision, you don’t know what it would be like if you had chosen a different path, so by definition it’s the right one,” Levine says.
“Yes, Waze is worth much more today, but what we don’t know is if Waze would have become what it is today without the decision we made.”
Google has its own navigation service, Google Maps, and last month the company announced it would merge teams working on Waze and Google Maps, but they will continue to operate as standalone apps.
Will the merger of the two applications be the next?
“I left the day after the acquisition, so everything since then has been partial knowledge or guesswork,” he admits.
“The assumption is that if you merge them, what you get will be better, but we don’t know that.” They both built very differentiating features and a lot of people don’t like the change.
Route Finder: Waze was born in 2007 to solve congestion problems in Tel Aviv, Levine’s hometown
The sale freed Levine, who unsurprisingly hates traffic and uses his bike to get around, to focus on other start-ups – some he says will have a bigger impact than Waze.
There is We Ski, an online ski holiday booking platform; Fair Fly, which provides significant airfare savings by tracking price changes; and agritech (agriculture and technology) company See Tree, which helps growers track the health and productivity of their trees.
His entrepreneurial spirit started in childhood. “I was always exploring and questioning things, and coming up with crazy ideas,” he explains. “My dad used to say, ‘Try it. So the idea of trying and failing was with me since I was a kid.
And serving in the Israel Defense Forces prepared him well. “A lot of good things come out of it that will help you later as an entrepreneur — you mature faster, develop leadership skills, and you feel like quitting isn’t an option,” he says.
In 2021, Levine, a ski instructor, suffered a serious skiing accident and was unable to ski for a year. He recently found the tracks. “When people asked me if my skiing hobby was over, I said, ‘Never. Never give up on your passion, and certainly not your start-up,'” he says.
He sometimes admitted that Waze nearly died: “When we were looking to raise our second round of funding in 2010, we didn’t have enough traction outside of Israel and while we were trying to figure things out, we were running out of traction. ‘money. ‘
Waze changed the start-up ecosystem in Israel, which is now home to around 100 unicorns founded in Israel, second only to the United States.
“There are way more unicorns than there were a decade ago and potentially Waze was a beacon for the rest of the industry, with many entrepreneurs telling me they wanted to be bigger than Waze, and I hope that they will,” Levine says.
Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution: A handbook for entrepreneurs’ (published by Watkins) was released on January 17
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