Combining her business interests with raising two young children is all in a day’s work for Mia Urman, a Canadian immigrant with a penchant for start-ups.
As a founding member of the Ihud Olam synagogue in Tel Aviv, Urman is religious. With a modern Orthodox father and a less religious mother, she and her two sisters had an upbringing that combined attendance at a Conservative day school with after-school involvement in the Bnei Akiva movement.ARRIVAL
Urman made “unofficial” aliya in December 1998, coming as a working tourist. “I wanted to check Israel out,” she explains, “and I also didn’t want my rights to kick in as I knew I wouldn’t be able to use them immediately.” She officially made aliya in May 2000.HEBREW
Fortunately, she came with a working knowledge of Hebrew, which she learned at Herzliya High School in Montreal and from her year abroad at Hebrew University. That didn’t stop her from making mistakes, however, though one particular error proved to be especially serendipitous. As a database specialist, Urman came with the plan of working for an American company.
“I went to a manpower company and told them that I wanted to work with Oracle [a database system]. I made a mistake and ended up telling them that I wanted to work at Oracle [a US-based company with a branch in Israel]. I couldn’t understand why they told me that it would limit my opportunities. Even so, they called Oracle and told them there was this crazy girl who only wanted to work with them, and I ended up there for six years.”
Today Urman says her spoken Hebrew is fluent, which she managed to achieve through working in an Israeli office “and by constantly embarrassing myself,” though she admits her written Hebrew is still not great.FAMILY
Her Hebrew has been greatly helped by marrying an Israeli. “If you want to improve your Hebrew,” says Urman, “date an Israeli.” She and her husband, Oren Tsur, were married in 2005 and have two children, Noam, two, and Ari, nine months. While Urman talks to the children in English, Tsur talks to them in Hebrew. The couple, says Urman, talk to each other in Hebrew, but have their fights in English. “I want to make sure I get my point across, and he wants to make sure I understand him.”
The couple met at Urman’s cousin’s birthday party, which he threw in the desert on Yom Ha’atzmaut in 2004. “I was really not looking forward to the party,” she says. “I had this idea that I was going to meet my husband on Yom Ha’atzmaut, but how could I do that if I was in the middle of the desert?”
Once she got to the party, however, she saw Tsur and says she knew that he was the one. “That night I called my sister [Marni, a doctor in Jerusalem] and said I know you are going to laugh, but I just met the guy. He’s cute, but arrogant. I know I’m going to marry him, and I just wanted to be able to say that I told you so the night I met him.” Ironically, Urman had seen Tsur a few months before the party and asked a friend to introduce him. Her request was turned down because the friend thought they had nothing in common, a fact she admits is true. “Oren could not have been more different from what I thought I wanted. It just shows that you have to be open to everything.”THE DAY JOB
After six years of working at Oracle, Urman decided she was burned out
from the corporate American office environment. She quit and went
traveling in New Zealand and Australia. While she was away, however,
the dot.com crash took place, which meant that when she started looking
for jobs on her return, she discovered that they were only offering
around a third of her salary before her time out. It was at this point
she decided to branch out on her own.
At Oracle, she had acted as a consultant to a number of companies,
which is why it was no surprise when the Bank of Israel called her up
and offered her a consultancy gig. This initial contact prompted her to
set up her company, Qesem Consulting. Since then, she has consulted for
a range of companies including Bank Discount, Yad Sarah, Teva and the
Water Commission. She still maintains a very close working relationship
with Oracle.THE HUMONGOUS NEED
As well as working as a consultant, Urman is the cofounder, along with
her close friend, lawyer Yedidia Wolfe, of Hope I Get, a gift registry
company. Both got married around the same time and both found it a
frustrating experience in terms of receiving and transporting the
generous gifts from family and friends abroad.
“I essentially got married three times,” says Urman. “We had a party in
New Jersey [where her parents live], in Israel and also in Montreal.”
Five years after the wedding, many of the gift items are still in the
US or Canada. “For a while, every time someone came over to visit, we
asked them to bring an item with them, but either their luggage ended
up being overweight or the items arrived broken.” There was, she
realized, a “humongous need” for an American-style gift registry
However, not everyone was so enthusiastic and despite receiving advice
from Israeli business consultants that such a service would never work
here, Urman and Wolfe decided to go ahead with their idea. The site
launched with five brides and five vendors in March 2008. Since then,
the service has grown from just a wedding registry to incorporate other
important life milestones, such as baby gifts, aliya gifts and kitting
out students for their year abroad.
For the overseas program, students can pre-order everything they will
need for their stay – from sheets and towels to an electric kettle –
and their items will be delivered on the day they arrive. The same
service can also be used by people who are waiting for their container
to arrive from abroad.
Despite not having done a mass-market campaign, the company has grown
beyond all expectation. “We decided that instead of paying for
advertising, we would rely on word of mouth and give some of the money
that we would be paying for marketing to charity,” Urman says. This
year, the company is supporting the Leket charity. It encourages the
couples to give any leftover food from the wedding to Leket, and also
to donate any small amounts of cash they have left on their registry to
the charity. In addition, if a couple registers and says they heard of
the site through Leket, Hope I Get donates 30 percent of the profits
from the registry to the charity.
So far, the grassroots marketing approach seems to be working. “We have
already had people who used our bridal registry using the baby
registry. In fact, some people have actually cashed in the gifts they
received for their wedding to use towards buying things for their baby.
“We are providing a valuable service to people living in Israel who
have friends and family abroad, which means they can really be a part
of the process. It’s a service by olim, for olim,” says Urman, who is
keeping her future entrepreneurial ideas under wraps – for now.