Around the world from its main office, still refers to himself as a “hippie Oleh.” But being unconventional is exactly how Levitt became so successful.
From Struggling Artist to Music Entrepreneur
After growing up on a farm in South Africa, Levitt moved to Boston at age 19 to study jazz bass at the Berklee College of Music. Then, with his degree in hand, Levitt did what many aspiring artists do: he relocated to New York to launch his career as a jazz musician.
But making it wasn’t easy, and Levitt soon realized that he needed another job in order to feed himself. For many years, he worked as a busboy, juggling his passion with menial labor that paid the bills.
Levitt couldn’t live that way forever, though. In 2005, after years of trying to make it as an independent artist, he launched a commercial music company, with hopes of composing scores for television and radio shows, in addition to advertisements. To attract customers, Levitt sent previews of his music to local media executives. Very few people even responded.
Until The Oprah Winfrey Show called.
In 2006, the show’s producers commissioned Levitt to score a film set in South Africa because of his own South African roots. They didn’t end up using the score, but they hired him as a composer for the show. Though Levitt had a stable and well-paying job for the first time in years, he was not happy. He still dreamt of becoming a professional jazz musician.
“I was like a gourmet chef working as a caterer,” said Levitt.
Failing and Starting Over
Levitt decided that it was time to take matters into his own hands. If he wanted his music to reach a bigger audience, he needed to create a tool that would make it possible. Though he had no technical skills, Levitt decided to build a web platform that would enable musicians to create virtual press kits and help them promote their own music.
He borrowed $7,000 dollars, hired two famous developers—and failed miserably.
Levitt took the blame for the disaster. “I knew nothing about software development,” he said. “I didn’t know how to express my idea.”
Still, he wasn’t ready to give up. In his second attempt, Levitt created a business plan, raised $100,000, and began building the product from scratch.
Halfway through, he realized that the platform would actually make an excellent email marketing service. Levitt understood the importance of email marketing, because that’s how he had landed the Oprah gig. So he switched gears and began building a platform that was simple and easy to use.
“It was the most basic thing you could imagine,” said Levitt. “A lot of people who used it told us it was exactly what they wanted.”
In April 2008, Levitt launched Mad Mimi. While paying customers trickled in, Levitt focused on building a company that paid close attention to detail, employing a talented staff, and making customer service his number one priority.
Levitt hired his brother, Dean Levitt, to manage the company’s culture and communications. Since then, almost every employee at Mad Mimi, regardless of status, has started out in a customer support position.
The Trip That Changed Everything
In 2009, only a year after Mad Mimi’s founding, Levitt took a month-long trip to Israel with his wife. This was not his first time in Israel. While working as a busboy, Levitt had traveled to Israel with Birthright, which had inspired him to become religious.
This trip to Israel made Levitt realize that Israel was where he needed to be. “New York’s bricks are pretty, but they are not our bricks,” he explained. Four days after returning, he began his Aliyah application with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
During the next three months, Levitt focused on putting together a capable management team, who, together with his brother, would oversee the company’s day-to-day affairs. Once everything was in place, Levitt and his family made Aliyah.
Striking Gold in the City Of Gold
In Jerusalem, Levitt created a life for himself that enabled him to focus on his passions—Torah study, music and philanthropy—while he continued to work on building Mad Mimi’s strategy. Even with the company’s visionary living in a different time zone, Mad Mimi continued to get great customer approval ratings—surpassing those of Amazon and Apple.
GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain registrar, took notice and in late August 2014, acquired Mad Mimi and put Levitt in charge of integrating the product into its catalogue. “It’s my first salaried job since being a busboy,” laughed Levitt.
Levitt, who could never have foreseen the turns his life has taken, believes that living in Israel has helped him get to where he is today. “Israel brings a lot of bracha (blessing). You don’t get stuck in the herd mentality here,” he said. “You need to be resourceful to live here, so you end up thinking freely and outside the box.”
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