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How my martial arts coach prepared me for life as a CEO

My Colu journey: from VP of Product to CEO

In my early days as the Colu CEO — soon after I’d transitioned from VP of Product — Aleph Partner Michael Eisenberg and I were discussing Colu’s future, and he asked me, “What could go right?” I was so surprised that I responded, “What could go right?!?!” I’d been expecting the opposite question: “What could go wrong?”

I think Michael’s question encapsulates the most significant shift I experienced when I took on the role of CEO: the rebalancing away from execution towards vision and perception. The other shift was the level of personal resilience required. In my transition to leadership of the company, I found these two major shifts to be challenging, exciting, rewarding — and somewhat intriguing.

From Executing Ideas to Inspiring with Ideals

For the first 20 years of my tech career, I lived and breathed products. I excel at execution — I can take an idea and turn it into reality. In 2019 I joined Colu as VP of Product to lead the team’s work on the city coins that were already expanding in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Liverpool, London and Belfast.

For those new to the concept, city-branded digital coins, accessible through an app, enable citizens to strengthen the local economy by ensuring money spent locally stays local. Using city coins, residents contribute to the sustainable development of their local community and its services.

A year after joining Colu, I was especially excited when our team’s new local government offering proved a success. This product, a white label app to run a local city coin, had been my ‘baby.’ At this point, when then-CEO Amos Meiri decided to move on to the investor and board seat, my transition to CEO seemed like a natural next step.

I knew to expect substantial changes. Yet the magnitude of the role rebalancing — towards a focus on company vision — took me slightly by surprise. I quickly found that one of the most critical components of my role was to think long and hard about how to communicate our company vision: to potential investors, collaborative partners, customers and employees who can always use a little more motivation. (Don’t get me wrong — I’m not downplaying execution. Turning an ingenious idea into a great product is still vital, but there are other — exceptionally talented — people on Colu’s team, helping me to do this.)

Public Perception of a Vision for the Public

So what is Colu’s vision? In simple terms, we want to make cities a better place to live and we believe city coins are a great tool to drive economic and social prosperity. We want every city and urban community to tap into the power of local coins, using them to become more vibrant, connected and inclusive places. We want residents to feel more engaged in their home communities, taking action to encourage local shopping, support diversity and promote sustainability and healthy living.

The idea of local currencies has been under discussion for a while, and various projects have been trialed, but the concept remains opaque for much of the general public. (For example, when you ask someone if they know the benefits of using city coins; it’s unlikely they’ll have the answer. Now ask a question about the benefits of a general-use payment product such as a mobile payment app; the difference in response and understanding is clear.)

Accordingly, to ensure the public appreciates the city coins concept, it’s even more crucial for me, as the leadership of our company and ambassador of the concept, to rebalance my role towards vision and affecting public perception.

As I learned from Aleph Partner Eden Shochat, public perception is incredibly powerful. It informs the way people understand Colu’s mission, how they feel about it and how they respond to it.

While I could appreciate the importance of shaping public perception, shifting my focus so significantly to the vision originally felt counterintuitive to me as a product and execution person. When it came to product execution challenges, the appropriate strategy was to look them straight in the eye, drill down into their details and tackle them. Not so when it comes to challenges in shaping public perception, in communicating a vision. Here, you need to take a step back and widen your lens. You need to grasp the big picture and stake your ground as a visionary. You need to make a purpose and an ideal come to life in a way that is so vivid and compelling that the outside world falls in love with it.

Strengthening this perception within myself has been a challenge and slightly unnatural — and at the same time, it has been a journey of personal growth and expansion.

Leaning on… Myself

The other transitional change I experienced was the need to dig deep into my own reserves of emotional strength and resolution. To make the right decisions from what can, at times, feel like a rather lonely outpost. To look after your employees and management team, to absorb the rejection by potential investors, and all the while to keep your inner motivation humming along so that you can make the company vision a reality. After all, your personal resilience is reflected in the company’s resilience — and its ability to succeed.

This aspect of the CEO role felt fairly instinctive to me. When I was a kid, I was the only girl doing Krav Maga and martial arts among a team of boys. When I broke my finger during an encounter, the coach told me to keep going because I have nine more. I didn’t argue!

On a less combative note, I began my BA with the Open University when I was 14. It took a big dose of resilience to study linear algebra when I had never even learned the basics of sine formula. Still, I graduated at age 19 — perhaps fired up by the challenge of facing down the odds.

Rolling with the Punches — and the Insights

Resilience isn’t just a feature of my personal story. Resilience has always been central to Colu’s story. We’ve overcome many obstacles to bring our vision to life.

Colu began with an app for local currencies — successful in Tel Aviv, Liverpool and elsewhere — but then hit an obstacle: we realized the currency lacked the stability for daily use at local businesses. Local economy stimulation was (and remains) central to our vision, so we re-engineered the app to function without the blockchain.

Progress… but then we hit another obstacle: we realized that communities needed autonomy over their local coins (instead of operational oversight by Colu). In response, we embarked on a new journey using a SaaS product that enabled municipalities to implement their own city currencies. This product was a hit — we rolled it out to 10 US cities during its first year — and its market is still growing. Encouraged by its continuing success, our latest venture is a return to our roots. We’re contributing to a new, refined blockchain protocol for decentralized urban coins — called Urban Change — that utilizes stable currencies to advance our goal of offering local currencies to global cities and communities.

As a company, Colu learns from experience, adapts and pursues its vision. For Colu, resilience is key.

Eyes on the Goal

Over the course of my career, I’ve often concluded my roadmap presentations with a Henry Ford quote that neatly combines purpose and resilience. I use it to remind everyone that our vision should always guide us to overcome daily challenges.

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

Today, I want to share Colu’s vision as widely as possible. My mission is to make sure that urban communities worldwide feel our sense of purpose and our products’ potential to make their communities stronger.

So, what could go right, you ask?

Colu’s vision could be brought to fruition, strengthening, connecting and actualizing the potential of communities and their residents in cities all over the world.

That’s what could go right.

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