Going against the Israeli brain drain grain

"From a work standpoint, I had read something about innovation being the leading export of the country, and it was something I wanted to learn more about," Crofts told The Jerusalem Post.

Pendo chief product officer Brian Crofts  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Pendo chief product officer Brian Crofts
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Figures published by the Central Bureau of Statistics in late 2018 revealed the extent to which Israel is currently suffering from a serious bout of “brain drain,” or human capital flight.
According to the bureau, 33,000 recipients, or 5.8% of those who were awarded degrees in Israel between the academic years 1980-81 through 2010-11 spent at least three years living abroad by 2017, with highly trained individuals primarily emigrating to the United States and Europe.
This figure was almost double among doctoral graduates, with 11% of Israeli PhD holders taking their knowledge abroad for at least three years. The phenomenon even led the government to launch a five-year initiative in 2010 to bring Israeli expertise back to the domestic market so it might benefit domestically from Israeli know-how.
While Israelis are often attracted by the bright lights of New York City, the innovation of Silicon Valley or the vibes of Berlin, some non-Israelis are equally tempted by the hi-tech story of Tel Aviv and the golden stone of Jerusalem.
After US-based software company Pendo acquired Tel Aviv-based mobile engagement start-up Insert Mobile Technologies in 2017, and established a research and development center in Herzliya, Seattle-born chief product officer Brian Crofts jumped at the opportunity to relocate to the “Start-Up Nation.”
“From a work standpoint, I had read something about innovation being the leading export of the country, and it was something I wanted to learn more about,” Crofts told The Jerusalem Post.
“I wanted to see first-hand what that sort of country would look like. I’ve worked with companies and start-ups all over the world seeking innovation, and here is this country that has more start-ups per capita that, until recently, has discovered no natural resources.”
Founded in 2013, Pendo offers a product experience platform that provides user insight, guidance and communication to digital product teams.
Enthused by the success of its entry into the Israeli market, the company currently plans to triple its R&D workforce in the country. Headquartered in North Carolina, a location not necessarily known for its innovation ecosystem, Pendo is currently growing at the rate of any Silicon Valley start-up.
Pendo’s Israel office is primarily made of up mobile developers, product managers and designers, as well as recruiting and administrative staff.
“I’ve learned first-hand that constraints, whether resources or time, do bring out innovation. I’ve always heard about it, but I’ve seen it first-hand here,” said Crofts.
“I would teach it whenever we were brainstorming on a particular topic. How do use all the constraints to eke out something more innovative? We can use our chutzpa, brains and resilience to create an amazing culture of innovation.”
Crofts also arrived in the country with his wife and four children.
“As a father, I want to expose my children to the world, so they see that the world is a much smaller place than they think, and the United States isn’t the center of it all. I want them to see that the world is small and they’re capable of doing anything,” Crofts said.
“We’re Christian, so there’s also the religious standpoint, going to the Galilee, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Capernaum. All the Scriptures and stories have come alive.”
Having worked remotely outside of company headquarters, in New York, London and Tel Aviv, Crofts has emerged as a strong advocate for taking into account the different needs of teams operating in distant locations.
“It’s hard to build trust and empathy when you are 10,000 miles away. We’re a technology company, but we’re always talking about spending time with the teams in person to help morale, understand and connect,” said Crofts.
“Despite all the technology, we go to every site to physically connect, hold dinners, one-on-ones and anything we can do to create those relationships. So when we return to video calls, there is that trust and empathy.”