Meet the serial entrepreneur who sold her company to LinkedIn for $100 million - but doesn't want unicorn status At 41, Iris Shoor's record already includes founding three start-ups and making two exits. In an exclusive interview with Globes, just weeks after selling Oribi to LinkedIn for $100 million, she talks about the dangers of growing too fast, the difficulty of firing a third of the company's staff, and why she declined the possibility of heading a unicorn. Shlomit Lan It's early morning in Tel Aviv's Shikun Dan neighborhood, and the Oribi offices are still empty. We are not far from the hustle and bustle of the Ramat Hahayal high-tech park, but all is peaceful and homely here, above the neighborhood drugstore. "Recently, I was chatting with one of the LinkedIn senior executives and I told him that my dog was the main casualty of our deal," says Iris Shoor, founder and CEO of Oribi , who just a few weeks ago sold her company to the social network for an estimated $100 million-plus. "LinkedIn has a 'No Pets' policy and dogs aren't allowed in the office. So I was joking around, and I told him that she was the only one who was fired without severance pay," she smiles. To her surprise, the executive took the matter seriously, and said he would advocate on behalf of the dog.
LinkedIn does not make many acquisitions, and the few companies it does acquire are mostly US-based. Oribi, which deals in digital marketing strategies, is LinkedIn's first Israeli acquisition, and will also serve as the basis for the company's first development center in Israel, which Shoor will head. So, this is definitely an impressive achievement for Shoor, a serial entrepreneur already on her third company and second exit. The slightly less glamorous side of the exit was laying-off about 20 of the company's 60 employees; the marketing and sales staff will have no place at the new center.
Even without the layoffs, this story is far from the type of routine success story that generally accompanies these sorts of exits. Shoor's reason for selling the company instead of continuing to raise funds with aspirations of joining the ranks of the new Israeli unicorns, can also serve as a kind of soul searching for the entire industry.
"Growth at any cost"
The atmosphere in the offices is more reminiscent of a design studio than of a high-tech start-up. Seated with legs crossed on the couch, in a conversation that feels more like a meeting with a friend than an interview, Shoor explains what the past year has been like for her, why she decided to stop raising funds, stop growing - and just sell.
"2021 was a very dramatic year for entrepreneurs," she says, "and I experienced it differently. It would have been very easy to raise money at a very high valuation. It seemed obvious that we too should raise funds, too. But I thought - if I raise $50 million at a $500 million valuation now, what do I do with that afterwards?"
What's wrong with being financed at a high valuation?
"Because it’s a commitment to growth at all costs. As someone who's been in the industry for many years, I felt it could make me do things that were unhealthy for the company. I was torn. There's a kind of trend we're seeing now in Israeli IPOs, and I felt very strongly over the past year and a half that companies were being measured almost completely by growth, and much less by proper business metrics. They're raising lots of money and wasting lots of money.
"There are many companies that grow very fast, but never recoup the money it cost them to gain a customer. They'll spend $30,000 to reach one customer who generates $10,000 revenue. So, they can tell tales about the customer base growing, and later customers being recruited at lower cost, and existing customers upgrading their purchases, which will justify the expense. But that usually doesn't happen."
Oribi, which Shoor founded in 2015, raised about $30 million over the years, from investors such as Ibex Investors, MoreTech Ventures, TLV Partners, S-Capital VC, and Sequoia Capital. "Once you take money from investors," Shoor explains, "your direction is either an exit or an IPO. I couldn't say I'll grow slowly over 15 years and everything will be fine."
At what point did you decide you wanted to sell?
"Last summer I knew I'd have to go for another round of funding within half a year at the latest. I decided to take a few months to examine options for selling the company. If I hadn't gotten a good enough price, and if I hadn't found a buyer I could connect with sufficiently, I wouldn't have done it."
Did you send feelers to different places?
"The conversations were pretty direct. I started talking to some companies that seemed to me to need what we were doing. It was a very intense process, with very interesting conversations. Companies sent over some very senior people to figure out if we were the missing piece of their puzzle. With LinkedIn, we clicked really well from the start."
Did they offer more?
"I can't say who offered how much, but that wasn't at all the consideration. In all the funding rounds I've had, I've never gone with the investor who made the highest offer. We reached very advanced stages of negotiations with some companies but they never asked, what would be important to me and our employees the day after the acquisition. With LinkedIn, we spent 50% of the time talking about our corporate culture and theirs. "
We see many unicorns on the Israeli tech landscape, but almost no unicorns led by women. Other than Einat Guez of Papaya Global, I have a hard time remembering another name. You could have been there - but you didn't do it.
"I'm proud of that because I realized it didn't interest me. I'm not suited to managing thousands of people. I like starting from scratch, managing a small team, being close to my team. It was a decision to go against the flow and I'm happy with that."
It's still a slightly bittersweet exit. You had to say goodbye to a third of your staff; sales people and support.
"It almost always happens in deals like these. When I started talking to companies, I had in mind that if we went with a big company it would definitely happen, and if we went to a smaller company it wouldn't necessarily happen. But during these conversations, I realized that even the small companies would retain these people in less interesting positions. But that really was the only sad part of the acquisition.
"Until the signing itself, it was important for LinkedIn not to talk about the deal at all. Then there was a very short time frame in which both the deal and the layoffs had to be announced. I really felt it was like Memorial Day immediately followed by Independence Day. But we built a longer-term compensation package for them, and we're trying to help them find positions at good companies. Not that it's so necessary at this time, the market is pouncing on them even without our help."
"Like Wix, but with data"
What Oribi does is help companies target their marketing campaigns accurately. "It's the wild west these days," says Shoor, "everyone's doing digital marketing, everyone's targeting potential customers on all channels, everyone has Instagram, everyone's active on social networks, and creating content. And it's very hard to understand, out of all this, what is effective, and the connections between these different activities.
"What's different about us is that we've created a tool that collects data and generates insights automatically. Unlike tools like Google Analytics, for example, where you need programmers in order to use them, Oribi operates in the field of data in a format that's similar to what Wix or Shopify do in web design."
Give me an example of relevant and irrelevant data.
"Looking at an e-commerce store, we can understand automatically who added what to the cart, who completed a purchase, who looked at which category, or signed up for updates, and the connections between these things. We can conclude that people coming from Instagram will look but, in the end, won't buy, or that people coming from another channel like discounts very much. With our help, a company can understand which channels are relevant for it, what types of messages and images work best, and also create linkages. For example, people who read a particular blog tend to subscribe to its newsletter, and if you send them emails with discount coupons, they'll buy a lot."
LinkedIn really is considered to be weakest with the analytics it provide to its customers in this area.
"They started later in marketing and advertising, relative to companies like Google and Facebook. But all the companies have a lot more work to do in analytics. No company can say they've completely solved it."
"In the swing of the start-up thing"
Shoor was born in Ra'anana. She says, "My path to entrepreneurship was completely illogical. I was never overly competitive or outstanding. I was a good student, studies came easily, but they didn't interest me. I was very much in my own inner world."
Her army service in IDF intelligence awakened an interest in technology. After that, she went to study architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design where her competitive streak was fired up. She excelled, "but on the other hand, I didn't so much find myself there. All the talk was so airy-fairy, and I very much wanted to build something practical."
In 2007, with friends from her army unit, Tal Weiss and Jonathan Seroussi, and without knowing much about the world of start-ups, she founded Visual Tao, a platform that allowed engineers and architects to build models and communicate over the Internet. "We literally sat and thought about how long we could manage without a job," she recalls. Raising funds was not easy, and for a year and a half they worked without financing. Ultimately, investors came, as did an exit: in 2009, the company was sold for about $25 million, to US-based Autodesk, which also specializes in software for architects and engineers.
Shoor stayed at Autodesk for two enjoyable years. "From a good product that only a few dozen customers knew about, we jumped to a million users within three months and established the Autodesk development center in Israel."
Nonetheless, she left, "because we were so in the swing of the start-up thing." In 2012, she set up a new company with three partners - Takipi, later renamed OverOps - which helped programmers debug software code easily. After four years she decided to move on, and founded Oribi.
And what now? Do you see yourself over time at a corporation like LinkedIn, or at the end of your commitment will you go set up something new?
"One of the things that appealed to me about LinkedIn is that it's something I personally go into every day, and that everyone uses. If you're asking, is this the most natural place for me, then no. I need to learn how to be there. But there's something very interesting about working in a company with over 800 million users, where every little move can make a very big difference. I also feel as though I've lowered my goals. The stress of the past year has affected me psychologically. Now, I want to get back to basics, to work on the product, and enjoy being creative."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 3, 2022.
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