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MEET ISRAELI ENTREPRENEUR URI LEVINE CO-FOUNDER OF THE WAZE NAVIGATION APP

By: Dave Gordon



“Sechel” is the Hebrew word most often used when people use their wits, strategy, and critical thinking. In English, it’s “smarts,” but it’s much more than that.

It took sechelfor a bunch of guys to come up with the idea that a mapping app on a mobile device could be more practical and efficient than a clunky portable GPS. When that sechelturned into action, and then an actual product, it was not only groundbreaking, but became an immensely popular, much relied-upon app to navigate through roads and traffic.

That app is Waze, and one of the men with sechelwho co-founded it (with two others) was Israeli Uri Levine. A computer programmer, investor, and start-up guru, Levine served as the company president from 2007 to 2013.

The app saves drivers significant amounts of time. Now, Levine is primed to save people significant amounts of money with the apps he has created over the past few years.

Waze’s platform provides drivers anywhere in the world with an opportunity to post real-time alerts about any traffic situation for other drivers. Five years ago, Google bought Waze for a reported $1.3 billion, in what was said to be the largest buyout in the history of Israeli high tech.

“Waze had to be sold,” Levine told Community. “Only Google knew how to monetize it in a gigantic way that we could never be able to do.” Today, over 50 million people use the app.

Levine’s FeeX App
Launched to Save Consumers Money

In 2009, while still working at Waze, Levine launched the app FeeX with a $100,000 investment. The app helps people to save money on financial services and investment funds. The idea came to Levine during the economic downturn, at a time when funds inhis own investment portfolio lost a fifth of their value, and he had been charged what he thought was an unjust bank user fee.

“After I argued with them, they reimbursed me. That’s when I wanted to find ways to expose hidden financial fees,” Levine said. “FeeX examines people’s portfolios and suggests similar investments that have less expensive fees.”

In the United States, Levine said, people pay about $600 billion annually to investment managers for retirement and other funds. Today, there are about 30,000 users of FeeX in America and about 100,000 in Israel.

Levine holds a bachelor’s of economics from Tel Aviv University. His love for programming came even before he started university. In 1981, at age 16, Levine acquired his first computer, a Sinclair ZX. In its day, it was one of the world’s most popular computers, with just two kilobytes of memory. (A one-page Word document would exceed that computer’s entire memory capacity!)

One of Levine’s first jobs was as a software developer in the Israeli army. Later, he became a developer at Comverse, a telecommunications company in Israel. About 20 years ago, Comverse was one of the largest employers of software engineers, and was a high-tech industry success story.

“I would nearly say that the economics degree provided me with a point of view, but the real study was in the army and, later, on the job as a developer,” Levine said.

How to Launch a Start-up

Often asked for his advice on how to launch a start-up, Levine offers a five-step approach:

Step #1First, fall in love with the problem – not the solution.

Step #2Make mistakes fast; the biggest enemy of good enough is perfect.

Step #3Focus – it’s very easy to defocus. You have to say no to everything else which is not solving the problem.

Step #4Half of the startups fail because they realize that the team is not right and they don’t fix it.

Step #5And, finally, understand who your users are, and what their perception of the problem is.

Levine’s ethos for what makes a great app can be summed up in this statement: “Create value for the users, and make it simple to get to the value.”

That’s hard-won sechel, from a man who courted Google, and cashed out a billion dollars.