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In a post-Covid world, do entrepreneurs really need to live in their target market?

Why I moved my family to New York to build Daisy

The pandemic is hopefully behind us. Nevertheless, many aspects of our work lives have changed forever. Working from home has become a norm; remote work is mainstream. With all this evolution in the way we work, is there still a need for entrepreneurs to move to their target market?

I did.

And I want to share why I did, along with the benefits — as well as the downsides — I’ve discovered along the way.

Moving to another country is anything but easy in the best of situations. Doing it with four kids during a pandemic makes it even more… interesting. :) It’s an emotional roller coaster for the entire family — on top of the existing roller coaster of building a startup from scratch.

But for me, as a second-time entrepreneur, I understood how crucial it is to be in your target market. From the get-go, I knew that in order to build Daisy, I would have to relocate my family and live in New York.

Learn fast, iterate fast

Together with my co-founder and CTO Nir Hemed, we started off building Daisy — a residential property management platform — in a small office space at Aleph in the center of Tel Aviv. It was there that we brainstormed what running a building in New York City should look like. And that was fine, for about three months, while we built the initial product.

We eventually opened our own office in the Montefiore neighborhood of Tel Aviv and started to build our team. As CEO, I traveled back and forth to the US a few times and worked until late in the evenings to manage calls and meetings from the US. But eventually I realized I needed to get a true sense of my customers and understand nuances that aren’t evident over Zoom.

At Wibbitz, the company I founded previously, I learned that the most meaningful decisions in building a business come from talking to your customers and to other companies operating in your industry. I remember flying from Israel to New York and Paris for just one week to meet our customers and coming back with so many insights that helped to focus our product offering and make impactful decisions.

Entrepreneurs always remember those moments where something just clicked. The reaction from a client or partner, or the customer feedback, that simply made so much sense and changed your approach to everything. When you are living in your market, you see and hear those things every single day. These interactions and conversations are key to accelerating your path to product-market fit and company growth.

Daisy is a digital-first, full-stack, customer-centric residential management company. We replace traditional management companies with an end-to-end innovative operating system that improves building health and residential life. Our company manages people’s homes with a unique combination of the digital and the physical. Digital elements include our Daisy Neighbors App, automation of property management tasks and a decision makers’ dashboard. Physical elements include checking building systems and overseeing the on-site staff and vendors doing renovation projects like installing new cameras or intercom systems.

Neither Nir nor I had a background in real estate, but we saw huge potential to impact the way people live together in these vertical neighborhoods. We also knew that we would need to learn fast as we moved forward. The move to New York was essential for understanding our market and accelerating our growth. Meeting the residents, the building boards and the supers and getting their daily feedback on what’s working and what’s not was the key to fast, focused iteration on our product. Going down to building basements to learn about boilers, or up to the rooftop to learn about water tanks, gave us the hands-on, firsthand knowledge we needed to develop scalable solutions for predictive maintenance.

Build company culture from the inside out

The second vital lesson I had in my pocket as a second-time founder is the significance of building the right kind of company internally: a company culture based on meaningful values and a team that lives those values every day, in everything we do. I am a people person and I need to see and feel people’s energy in order to steer the ship in the right direction. I am also a strong believer in company culture and its impact on the company’s success. Trying to manage culture on Zoom just isn’t the same.

While I was still in Israel, there were many culture blind spots in the New York office that I couldn’t see and remediate. Tasks were not handled correctly; team members were not representing our core values; communication with customers wasn’t with the Daisy voice. Only after my move to New York was I able to restructure the team completely (which, sadly, also meant letting go of a few team members that were not right for our culture) and set the company on track. With a presence on the ground, I was able to facilitate incorporation of the Daisy values and voice into everything we do and everything we say.

My move enabled us to bring the right people on board, build a strong team, fix the culture and bring Daisy values to life. We knew we had succeeded when two recent visitors from the Tel Aviv office remarked, “Wow, people here are so welcoming. We didn’t expect the office here to have the same vibe as the Tel Aviv one!”

It’s important to note that while my move raised the level of the New York office culture, it might not have been worthwhile if it left the Tel Aviv office without a leader. Fortunately for Daisy, I knew I could move to New York to build our operations and business teams while feeling confident that I was leaving our Tel Aviv product development team in good hands. I have known Nir, my cofounder, for over 20 years. The 100% trust we have in each other and the knowledge that he would be a strong leader for our Israeli office was a critical prerequisite to the decision to relocate.

Was it worth it?

The impact of my move to New York was imperative to our success on so many levels:

  • More attention to the product offering and the operational process on the ground. Just as one example, we were able to optimize the way our current on-site building teams operate and how we should connect them to the Daisy OS. This resulted in our ability to be more efficient and provide a better experience to our customers.
  • Rapid partnerships and sales. We were able to pinpoint our target audience and completely change our sales pitch and our website, accelerating our growth in the market.
  • Faster problem solving and iteration. As we got customer feedback firsthand, insights as to what we could, should and would do came fast and furious. Rapid iterations on our product offering and language enabled us to quickly reach product-market fit.
  • Creation of one coherent New York brand. Firsthand review of all communication — up to and including the signage we put in buildings — gave Daisy one, consistent, powerful voice all over New York.

During my time here, we have grown over 300% with the number of buildings that run on Daisy. We tripled the Daisy New York team. And we’ve established amazing infrastructure to accelerate our growth even further in 2022.

Worth it? Yeah, I think so.

Should you make the move? Here’s what to consider:

I know what you’re thinking. There are plenty of Israeli-based companies that succeeded outside of Israel without their founders relocating. Lemonade, Monday and Wix are examples that spring to mind.

I would argue, however, that in those cases either one founder was on the plane most of the time (effectively “relocating” without a formal move), or they had a strong leader in the market in which they operated to take the company forward.

My recommendation to any Israeli entrepreneur targeting a foreign market is to at least consider the possibility and weigh up the impact and outcome of moving versus staying in Israel.

Here are a few things to consider in your decision:

  1. First and foremost: is your family up for the ride?

A move to a foreign country is tough. Ideally, everyone in your family should be on board. In my case, I had my superhero wife, Michal. Without her continuous support and belief, I don’t know how we would have pulled this off.

2. What is your type of business and who are your customers?

If your product is an app and you reach customers through Instagram, the impact of relocation may be minimal. On the other hand, if your product has a very local presence, or is heavy on operations, you should absolutely consider moving.

3. How much time are you currently spending (virtually or in person) in your target locale?

A good metric to measure this is how many late night business calls you have throughout the week. Also, how many times do you need to travel per month/quarter? In the last months before we moved, I had calls at night almost every day and spent more than 150 days in the US.

4. Do you have the funding to do it?

Moving has a lot of hidden costs. Make sure you plan the budget right. It’s wise to talk to other people who have moved to the same area you’re considering.

5. Do you have another founder/founder-like person back in Israel?

You need a strong leader you can trust 100% and you feel represents the company culture to its fullest.

Adventure, resilience and growth

On a personal note, one of the things that amazed me the most during the move was actually the resilience of my kids. They moved away from their home, their friends, their extended family and their language. They were thrown into a foreign country, to a school where they didn’t even know how to ask to go to the bathroom, or how to communicate with other kids. Despite many people assuring me they would adapt easily, this was one of my greatest fears in relocating.

What happened? Well, we’re eight months in. My kids are speaking English fluently, have made friends and are really enjoying life in the US.

But seeing their success is not just a relief for me as a parent; it’s a powerful lesson for me as an entrepreneur. As entrepreneurs, we live with the unknown on a constant basis, not knowing what will happen next week — or even tomorrow. Will we win that crucial deal? Will that person join/leave? We are always living on the edge, operating outside of our comfort zone. We need to constantly evolve and grow ourselves, our company, our team.

Watching my kids overcome so many challenges and succeed in adopting a completely new reality was inspiring for me. It highlighted the growth we can make in life, in our companies, in the role we take as leaders. Even more importantly, it reinforced my belief in the people I am privileged to work with and lead to adapt, grow and thrive as Daisy’s evolution unfolds.

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Aleph is a venture capital fund focused on partnering with great Israeli entrepreneurs to build large, meaningful companies and impactful global brands. It is a partnership of Michael Eisenberg, Eden Shochat, Yael Elad, Aaron Rosenson and Tomer Diari. Visit Jobs.aleph.vc

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