As a marketing consulting and tech events agency, Tech It Forward is always fascinated to hear and share our entrepreneurs’ stories.
We had the pleasure to have a coffee with Amit Kochavi, a 22 years old entrepreneur based in Tel Aviv, and founder and CEO of Circles. This Forbes 30 under 30, shared with us his personal story and path into the entrepreneurs world, how his ‘’baby’’, Circles, was launched and what are his expectations for the future.
Tell us about your background and how you got into the startup scene
I started my way in the startup world when I was 13 years old. My first initiative was Shmoogle-It. I wanted to help my grandmother do basic actions on a computer, so I created a search engine that helps elderly people to be able to use the computer. In 4 months, the platform reached 3 million users. During this time, I was also accepted to a leadership program called LEAD. There, I created an incubator network focused on high school students called Tech-Lounge.
The goal of the program was to help students learn how the entrepreneurial world works through mentors and to provide experience with launching a startup. Two years later, I was drafted into the Israeli Air Force, and the Alumni Association of 8200* took the project and turned it into Tech Lift.
What is Circles about?
Circles is a digital platform that helps large organizations and enterprises empower innovation. We help our clients to be more efficient, to collaborate with employees on their ideas, define challenges they face and solve them together.
When you want to implement an idea, you need to have a pipeline for the managers and for the employees and it’s hard to do it through emails. If an employee publishes an idea on Circles, the manager needs to be able to take that idea and move forward with it from step 1 to step 2. And that’s where Circles fits in, it’s an easy and efficient way to communicate.
Circles is also a centralized database for challenges, and ideas. A company can join Circles and search if their specific challenge or topic that they’re experiencing has already been discussed with potential solutions.
Why did you choose at such a young age to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always considered myself an entrepreneur. For me entrepreneurship is a way of life and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. It’s a very long process. You always need to change directions, and learn and be creative and to re-invent yourself. Everyone has this spirit, it’s just a matter of how much you are willing to dedicate yourself to it. And not everyone makes that decision. It’s a very unique and hard way of life.
How did you get the idea of Circles?
At the beginning I wanted to take Tech-Lounge to a global level. I wanted to create tech accelerators all around the world for high school students. So I thought of creating a social network where students could learn about entrepreneurship. They can join the platform, and have access to a virtual library and schedule meetings with mentors. When I started building partnerships around this initiative, organizations reached out to me and asked for my ideas. I saw there’s a potential and need and that’s how Circles was born.
What were the difficulties you had to face when you started developing your startup?
I got many ‘’nos’’ from both investors and customers. It didn’t mean that in a year from now they won’t show interest, but at that moment they didn’t believe in what I was doing because I was selling them the future. People like to go where it’s not too far from their mindset. And Circles basically innovates a whole new way of thinking. You need to keep pushing all the time and to continue selling your idea and vision.
So far, can you tell us about achievements that you are proud of?
I’m happy with each achievement, but I don’t want to think that I’ve reached the top. There is always more to accomplish.
The thing that I’m most grateful for is the understanding that I’m always able to improve myself. I really love what I’m doing and it allows me to empower and challenge myself. I’m also happy about the way I overcome failures. I sometimes enjoy “the downs”, more than “the ups”, because I know that after I reach a low point, there is always a bigger high reward.
How do you manage your team despite your young age?
I learn from my experiences with others. I have many advisors and mentors. I speak with and consult with founders and CEOs’ of others companies. I also read about entrepreneurship. The people I work with are not much older than me.
How did the Coronavirus affect you your startup’s growth?
Before the Coronavirus we were in the midst of a few projects, which were all interrupted. With the new situation, we decided to shift the platform and become public. All citizens can now upload ideas on how to fight the pandemic. These ideas were then shared and communicated to the government. We actually exploded. We managed in 3 days to gather a team of 40 developers, for 3 months, non stop, and all as volunteers.
Thanks to that we had the opportunity to close our first very big deal with one of the largest Israeli construction companies. We’re also working on 3 other huge deals with a potential of 150,000 users.
In 5 or 10 years from now I want Circles to surpass consulting firms.
Are you interested in taking Circles to an international level?
In the next couple of months my main focus is Israel. After Israel, I will start focusing on the USA. I’m doing what I’m doing because I want to turn Circles into a grand company and support the economy as much as I can. This country is special and I want my startup to have a strong identity that is connected to it. It’s the only thing that pushes me for this 10 years journey.
Is there someone that belongs to the entrepreneurial world and inspires you?
There are many. I read a lot about Mark Zuckerberg. We started at the same age so I learn from his process. At the end of the day I’d like to meet as many entrepreneurs as I can because they all have their own way of thinking.
As a new CEO, do you have any advice to give to someone who wants to launch his own startup like you did?
On a practical level, I’d say, listen to customers. It’s the most important thing. On an emotional level, you need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing because it’s the only way to stay consistent over time. I write every 2 weeks about what I learned, what is in need for improvement and this helps me understand what I am going through.
A startup is like a curve and the hardest point is the point just before it takes off. It’s in this part that most of the startups fail because there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of uncertainty. If you listen to successful entrepreneurs, no one started and immediately made it. You always need to continue and that shows who really believes in what he’s doing. It just takes a lot of patience.
Thanks Amit Kochavi for this interview. We wish you and Circles a lot of luck and growth new offices in the trendy Florentin neighborhood.
*The 8200 Unit is the Military Intelligence Directorate’s main information gathering unit. Soldiers in the unit are in charge of developing and utilizing information gathering tools, analyzing, processing and sharing of the gathered info to relevant officials. (source: https://www.idf.il/en/minisites/military-intelligence-directorate/)
Written by Méryl Assayag.
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