Netanya to New York: How to take Israeli hi-tech global

Employees at Sisense (photo credit: SHIR NEWMAN)
Employees at Sisense
(photo credit: SHIR NEWMAN)
Sitting in his New York office on the corner of West 36th Street and Broadway, Sisense CEO Amir Orad has realized the dreams of thousands of budding Israeli hi-tech entrepreneurs.
Like many young hi-tech innovators in the Israeli market today, he served in the IDF’s elite Intelligence Corps Unit 8200 and co-founded his first start-up – Cyota – soon after being released from the army, together with Michal Tsur and now-Education Minister Naftali Bennett. The company, which later moved to the United States, was acquired by network security giant RSA Security.
Seeking a new business opportunity, Orad’s next stop was at another growing Israeli anti-financial fraud company, Actimize, which had already moved its operations to New York. There, Orad helped business revenue grow tenfold to $200 million annually, while being acquired by publicly-traded Israeli software company NICE.
Four years ago, Orad joined early-stage business analytics software company Sisense and has similarly managed an impressive tenfold expansion of the company as chief executive.
“Sisense is a very typical Israeli company in the way that it started as a technology innovation, an idea created by a bunch of bright folks who met at college,” Orad told The Jerusalem Post. “They didn’t think about the business or market, but they had a damn good technical innovation. Like many Israeli tech companies, it was technology looking where to be applied, how to be efficient. Later, it became a product and a business and then an industry-leader. At the start, those five bright folks managed the business from Netanya.”
Sisense CEO Amir Orad (Credit: Sisense)Sisense CEO Amir Orad (Credit: Sisense)
The lack of an Israeli market for most technological innovations is a positive influence, Orad believes, because it forces innovators to think globally from day one. Most companies then logically gravitate toward the primary areas of demand for their technology, which is usually the US or Western Europe.
While much of the hi-tech opportunity conversation focuses on San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, Orad says New York is the preferable destination for Israeli start-ups expanding on a global scale.
“Time zones really make a difference. In California, you wake up and Israel is already sleep, from here I can reach San Francisco and London at the same time, and it’s a seven-hour flight in both directions. There’s also a very tight-knit Israeli community here,” Orad said.
Today, Sisense names more than 1,000 companies as its clients, including major enterprises such as Oppenheimer Holdings, Nasdaq, General Electric and Philips.
“We have gone through the typical Israeli journey, like every company that started with seed investment from Israeli investors in Tel Aviv. In later stages, we have received investments from very experienced Silicon Valley and US investors,” Orad said.
In September 2018, Sisense secured an $80 million round of investment led by New York-based Insight Venture Partners, bringing total company investment to approximately $200 million to date.
“We’re at a stage now called pre-IPO (initial public offering), but I believe we’re still a start-up because my definition is high growth, opportunities and pain in the process,” said Orad.
Although Sisense is headquartered in New York, Orad believes the culture of the company reflects its heritage and is a healthy mix of both Israeli and New York mentalities. As the company has expanded across the world, so has the geographical location of its leadership teams, while at the same time maintaining a vibrant technological development presence in Tel Aviv.
The key to replicating Oraf’s success or that of other leading Israeli hi-tech entrepreneurs, he says, is not to try to follow their exact footsteps.
“People, technologies and markets are different. The biggest mistake is that people follow templates without thinking. Instead, look at a template, understand it, but then build your own path, taking what’s relevant and pushing back what’s not relevant,” Orad said. “Build a diverse team to make you stronger in tough times and in good times. Diversity in terms of gender, culture and location.”
And while creating a successful business is tough, Orad says it is the most “awesome thing” you can create after building a family.
“It’s bloody difficult building a company,” he said. “You know, being a CEO sucks, growing fast sucks and growing slow sucks, having a lot of people is painful and not hiring and trying only to do it yourself is painful, being only in Israel is painful and being global is also painful! It’s a fun journey, but it’s a tough journey.”
“But I feel proud and honored to have built teams and businesses with friends for life,” Orad said.