High-Tech Aliya: A start-up immigrant shares secrets to success

In a practical spin on the Rothschild story, Raphael Ouzan is living his dream in Israel as the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of a start-up.

By JOSEPH J SHERMAN
July 30, 2013 13:40
Founders Yaron Samid and Raphael Ouzan

Founders Yaron Samid and Raphael Ouzan. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Business Schools around the world study how the Rothschild family transformed the world of international banking. In a practical spin on the story, today, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, Raphael Ouzan is living his dream in Israel as the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of a start-up that is changing how consumers monitor their credit and debit card spending, and helping us get our money back from unwanted and deceptive charges.

Raphael grew up in a small French city of Reims, the traditional site of the crowning of the kings of France and the heart of the Champagne region. He came to Israel at the age of 16 to be part of Israel's success.

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Raphael explains his early interest in Israel's entrepreneurship and technology. "Israel is actually very similar to an early stage startup – while there are lots of challenges there is also a great sense of teamwork, massive potential and entrepreneurial vision," he says.

"While I really wanted to become a part of Israel, I could barely order a pack of gum at the local store," he explains. "The first months were very difficult, but with relentless work, day after day, I finally reached the stage where I could remember words I'd learnt. This experience provided me with a unique perspective and point of access to everything I do. There is nothing more rewarding than building a place for yourself, today within the creative core of Israel, the Startup Nation."

Technology as a path to peace and security

Raphael came to Israel at the age of sixteen looking to make a difference. "As soon as I arrived in Israel, I realized how much praise and encouragement existed around technology and innovation. I remember my technology lessons in France to be about teaching how to create PowerPoint presentations. At school in Israel, I was building robots and computer models! For the end of year project, I asked myself what would be the most interesting research I could develop? That's when I realized that if I couldn't bring peace at this time, I had to work on security."

Raphael dived deep into the world of anti-terrorism robotics. Using the human brain as a model, he created a robot with laser guided cameras that mimicked human eyes to detect intruders.

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The National Young Scientist competition includes projects from the entire range of science and technology. Raphael could barely explain his project to the judges due to his poor level of Hebrew. He stayed up the night before the competition fixing the robot.

At the final awards ceremony at the President's house, he had trouble staying awake in the audience until someone called his name. He looked up and it took a few seconds to realize that he was actually called to the stage to be awarded with the first prize and named Israeli Young Scientist by the President.

Raphael describes what the award meant to him. "This experience meant everything. Not because of the prize itself, but because I had the proof I was looking for - one could come to Israel with a '16 year delay' and still find a way to become a part of Israel and push forward what is our most strategic asset - innovation. Since then, I've been working everyday on pushing the envelope of what can be done."

Raphael's next step in life was joining the Intelligence Corps of the Israeli Defense Forces. In five years in the army, he learned two main lessons.

"The first," according to him, "is not to be naive and foolish. At the age of 21, I was in charge of ten soldiers."

"Unlike managing people in a company where you're responsible for their time in the office, in the military you're responsible for everything about them," he explains. "Not long ago, as a foreigner, that sounded almost unreal to me but I realized that there are many things that we would never do if we'd ask ourselves another question after asking "why not?" The Israeli army unveils the "I can do it" mentality from the youngest age."

The second piece of learning which is fundamental for any impactful endeavor is the importance of a team," he says. "To me this was the way to understand what a small team of unbelievably smart young people getting together was capable of, when applying audacious and creative ideas to sensitive and sometimes life-critical problems. This time in the army taught me the most fundamental lessons of entrepreneurship - be foolish, dream big and gather around you the best team to solve problems that matter."

From national to financial security

Raphael used his anti-terrorist skills to stop a form of unwanted and deceptive – yet completely legal – credit and debit card charges: what his company has coined grey charges. Nine out of ten people do not check their credit or debit card bills. Merchants take advantage of this to the tune of Fourteen billion Dollars a year worldwide, a recent study released by BillGuard shows.

Raphael explains "It doesn't make sense that I'd have to spend hours checking cryptic names of transactions in my bills in fear that I was deceived into giving the money I've honestly earned. We have a huge responsibility to make things right and with this comes a huge business opportunity."

It is not only direct criminals, but legitimate merchants who sneak deceptive and unwanted charges that most people will miss. Just like Google uses collective power to detect spam, BillGuard provides the first-ever service to identify and resolve those grey charges by harnessing the knowledge of millions of consumers reporting bad charges.

Finding the best people

Raphael went from idea to actualization by focusing on execution.

After coding a few initial iterations of the software behind the program, he has been spending a lot of time every day looking for the best people to create BillGuard's dream team. He brought in a few good friends from the army and looked for other amazing individuals, with unparalleled technical skills in coding with an entrepreneurial, audacious spirit and a core approach of "I can do it."

"Then it's all about putting our heads down, listening, learning, launching and running this cycle again, again and again until we succeed at impacting more people that we can count."

Path to success

Raphael attributes his success to endless curiosity. "I just turned 26 and I still get excited about anything you'd be willing to talk to me about. The constant appeal to learn the most minute technical details and bridge endless data points to new ways of thinking about the big picture truly excites me. The passion for building and leading teams is something I pride myself on day in and day out."

Advice to Next Generation of Innovators

Raphael encourages future innovators to reach beyond our comfort zones. "Change people's lives. Apply the ‘I can do it’ mentality to big problems. The world needs it. Look at almost any existing industry. It is in dire need of disruption. We have such a fantastic culture of innovation but we have to channel this energy towards big problems that touch billions of people."

Advice to olim

Raphael advises olim to disconnect from their friends in their home country. "Take a deep dive into Israel. Learn Hebrew," he says. "For the first few months, it's going to be the most frustrating experience, having to relearn everything and feeling so behind. But one day it will finally click. Then go back to your friends and keep your new Israeli ones. That's a tough formula, but that's the only one that I can say with confidence that works."

To people thinking of aliya with an eye for technology, Raphael suggests looking into Israel Tech Challenge! "This is a non-profit I founded when leaving the army. It's called Israel Tech Challenge and that's the first Israel Tech Bootcamp to enable talented tech minds to come to Israel for 12 days or six months to take a deep dive into Israel's core innovation community."

Joseph J Sherman is a business adviser and professional speaker. He holds degrees from The École Supérieure de Commerce de Marseille Provence and the University of California, San Diego. Contact joseph@josephjsherman.com

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