Yotam and his Zell Program team, which consisted of Zohar Dayan, Adi Retman and Shmulik Rubashkin, were searching for a concept to develop during the program. Yotam recalls brainstorming around 70 ideas with this team, ultimately settling on the concept of improving the way content was consumed through a smartphone. It was 2011, and the iPhone had only been on the market for four years.2 The ability to have so much information readily available through a smart device was still fairly new. While they recognized how revolutionary smart devices were at that time, they also couldn’t shake off how difficult it was to consume content from such small screens. With an interest in piggybacking on the iPhone frenzy, while also seeing a clear user experience issue, Yotam and his partners set off to create a technology that would turn text into video, so that users would be able to digest content more easily on a small screen. “We always described Wibbitz’s vision as the ‘play button for the web’, and it’s pretty amazing how we stuck to that vision over the course of our journey. We changed a lot throughout the years, but that was definitely something that we kept as our vision to disrupt an industry,” said Yotam.
After graduating, the team split and Yotam and Zohar went on to raise three funding rounds totaling $30.8 million dollars, pivot from a business-to-consumer (B2C) to a business-to-business (B2B) model, and hire over 80 employees, ultimately growing Wibbitz into a successful technology company. Throughout those nine years, Yotam gained invaluable lessons about company culture that he used to start his new company, Daisy.
The right team will make or break a company, especially in the early stages. The natural step for any company after fundraising is to go on a hiring spree in order to gather the talent needed to execute the business’s goals. For Yotam, this process went deeper than just hiring individuals with the necessary trade skills. If you wanted to work at Wibbitz, you had to be thirsty to learn and love what you do. He looked for people with a spark in their eyes when they were discussing a given role. For Yotam, that was key, especially because startups are very time demanding and the team members’ excitement over their work is often their guiding force day in and day out.
Outside of passion, he sought individuals who were comfortable taking on tasks that were outside of their comfort zone because in startups, things change quickly. One way that Yotam tested if applicants were expanding their skill set was by asking them what book they last read related to their field of interest. This gave some indication on whether they loved to learn and how they developed themselves. It also confirmed whether they would do the necessary research to solve an unplanned task, perhaps one that required learning new information or practices in order to execute properly. “Every day, there was something new you needed to do that nobody knew how to do in a team,” said Yotam. Changes happened several times at Wibbitz, and people needed to adapt.
Some of those changes were major turning points for the company. After raising $2.3 million dollars in a first round of funding,3 Wibbitz built out the technology to convert text into sound, while simultaneously building a consumer app enabling users to watch any content on the go as vertical videos. After launching, the app received many prizes for innovation,4, 5 but it fell short of attracting enough audience. Not able to find their product-market fit, Wibbitz killed the app in 2013 to focus their resources on building the solution for publishers, which represented a completely new focus. Their second round of funding, for $8 million dollars, came with the company’s conversion into a B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.6
Wibbitz was able to pull off such a dramatic pivot because its 15-person team knew how to adapt to change, and was flexible enough to learn how to solve problems outside of their skill set. “In startup companies, the employees are the actual asset that you have,” said Yotam. “I think that if you have great people in the company, then you can really make a lot of impact on the success of the company, especially in the early stages .”
It was at this stage that Yotam brought in Liron Aramczuk, Wibbitz’s first HR manager. She came in with a lot of experience and helped build the evolving culture at the growing company. She was the first dedicated resource that consciously thought about growing the Wibbitz team around its values. For Yotam, this was the right time to bring in an expert who would not only look for the right talent, but also provide support for the current team to avoid high turnover rates. “I think that around 10-15 employees is the right time to bring someone to lead that. In the end, you want to have someone with the goal of making sure that people are succeeding in the way they're supposed to and that they're happy,” said Yotam.
Liron created new and lasting systems that improved the company culture all around. The onboarding process for new employees was carefully defined, making sure to explain the company focus, method of work, and employee expectations in order to easily integrate into the company’s day-to-day. This gave new employees a clear and strong starting point. On the opposing side, for candidates who were not asked to join the company, Liron’s team sent out surveys to gather feedback on their hiring processes. With 40 percent of all rejected candidates having submitted the surveys and having shared their experience, Wibbitz had a wealth of information they used to improve their interview processes.
Yotam and Liron also devised more original ways to keep a healthy culture as Wibbitz scaled. They chose team members from mid-level leadership who were particularly friendly and generally influential within the company to act as a type of culture ambassador. Yotam would meet with this chosen bunch once a month to stay informed on what was or wasn’t working across every team in the organization. These culture leaders were also responsible for introducing changes within the company, securing a smooth implementation of new work methodologies and foci.
Yotam also carried out smaller initiatives. Once a month, he would invite five employees from across the company out for lunch. He brought a notebook and a pen, and spent most of the hour listening. He asked questions about their time and progress at Wibbitz, took notes on their concerns, and made a point to act on them to improve their experience working at the company. “They were really happy about it and they shared a lot of things, and for me, this was the best way to understand the pulse and what was going on in order to be able to actually execute and make sure that the culture was right,” said Yotam. “Some of them were people who had just joined, some of them were people who had spent years at the company. It was a really interesting mix of individuals to learn from.”
Firing is tough business. It’s dramatic in its essence because it has the power to set expectations for those still working at the company. With that said, negative behavior that’s easily forgiven could have just the same effect. That’s why for Yotam, knowing when and how to let go of employees was just as important to him as was hiring and onboarding well. Good leadership was instrumental for any and all team members at Wibbitz, so much so that good behavior and attitude always trumped capacity and accomplishments.
Yotam valued transparency, and always pushed for employees to feel safe to give honest feedback in a respectful manner. He also talks about having empowered his team members, giving them room to make important decisions and avoiding micromanaging. With that came the requirement that every employee takes responsibility for his or her actions, whether he or she moved the company forward or sent it a few steps back. “The culture was very focused around not assigning blame. People knew they couldn’t blame other people around me because I didn’t want to hear it. We all make mistakes, so let's figure out what we need in order to solve the mistakes and move on from there,” said Yotam. Altogether, these principles created a productive and healthy environment at Wibbitz.
This balance was carefully observed by Yotam. Sometimes in order to keep such a balance, he had to fire people who were recognized by the company as rockstars in their craft. He recalls letting go of an incredible developer, one who could deliver tasks in two hours that would take other members of the development team as long as two days. He was smart and efficient but behaved aggressively with his team. Yotam worked with him for three months to try and help him solve his aggressive reactions, but the consultations fell on deaf ears. When Yotam returned from a business trip abroad and learned that this developer was particularly unkind to another employee, without a moment's doubt, Yotam fired him. Yotam then went on to explain to the whole company why he had fired this developer in order to set what should be the right culture, i.e. aggression, no matter if coming from the most talented person in the room, had no place at Wibbitz. “I really believe that culture is not managed on its own. You should define what's important to you, and then make sure you actually act upon it on a day- to-day basis,” said Yotam. “If someone crosses the red line in something that’s important to you and you don't do anything, it's basically saying that it's not really that important to me.”
How Yotam let go of someone was also well thought out. He believed in a two-sided process, where terminating a person’s contract didn’t have to mean a harsh exile. Yotam was determined to let go of people in a human way. At Wibbitz, the employees who were let go were offered a company-wide goodbye toast, and were invited to the company holiday parties with the interest of keeping in contact with them. Yotam also worked with team leaders on how to notify their teams that they were leaving the company. Collectively, this created a warmer and more transparent culture.
Culture is a top-down effect according to Yotam; it requires thought and active planning. Eight years after starting the company and 80 employees later, Yotam left Wibbitz. As he started Daisy in 2020, he and
his partner defined their values and began hiring with them in mind. While Yotam has already drafted an initial document, he has left room for those values to change. Once he finishes recruiting his core team, he plans to have a company-wide discussion on the company’s values, in the interest that they define the culture together. “I want people to feel that it's their culture as well, and that we might change these values if they think we should,” said Yotam. When Yotam summed up his overarching thoughts on company culture, he shared two main principles:
1. Culture should not be a by-product of unconscious leadership decisions, and be left to grow carelessly on its own. Culture should be managed. There is power in a strong culture, and it affects the success of any company.
2. Culture is in the day-to-day. It's about the little things that happen every day rather than a major decision made in an occasional quarter. Every day, something new and unanticipated can, and likely will, happen. It’s best to pause and think about such decisions, so that they set a coherent standard.
In the end, a culture will form in any company no matter what. Yet a company leader, whether it’s a manager or a founder, has the chance to leverage success by way of consciously creating a healthy company culture. For Yotam, this is an opportunity cost not worth risking.
1. What was Yotam’s interview strategy and tactics? What are the pros and cons of this approach?
2. When did Wibbitz decide to bring in Liron? Do you think it was the right time for Wibbitz to bring in an HR manager? What did she bring to the table?
3. What were some unique aspects about Wibbitz’s company culture?
4.Why was the employee terminated by Yotam? What was unique about Wibbitz’s method of terminating employees and how they were treated after the fact?
5. In the case of Wibbitz, did the culture pick the employees or did the employees pick the culture?