From the Duvdevan Unit to Real Estate Revolution – Meet Maor Cohen, Founder of Pickspace

Maor Cohen - PickSpace

Maor Cohen is a young entrepreneur, he has set up a large number of projects that are active to this day and is currently the owner and CEO of Pickspace – a growing company operating in New York. If you see it on the stock exchange in an IPO that will make headlines in the future, do not be surprised. In fact, I would be surprised if that did not happen. Maor managed at an early stage to receive a takeover bid from a very well-known businessman, an investment from the Shark Investor Dovi Frances, an investment from one of the leading funds in Israel (Sarona) and also a huge local company in New York managed to join the huge success. How did it all begin? What happened along the way? And most importantly – what are the important messages for young entrepreneurs reading the article?

The following interview is particularly interesting. I had a lot to write about Maor Cohen, his way, his insights, and of course his tips. This interview is recommended for any entrepreneur because there is a lot to learn from him.

Maor Cohen grew up in Hashmonaim settlement near Modi’in. He served in the Duvdevan unit as a combat soldier. After the army, he worked for 3 years in the Jewish community and at the Israeli embassy in Berlin as an assistant to the IDF attaché. There, in fact, the world of start-ups and entrepreneurship was illuminated for him thanks to conferences and special events. It was love at first sight and it happened in 2011.

Maor, tell me a little more about how the world of entrepreneurship started for you?

I became really interested and came to Pitch evenings as part of my job as an assistant IDF attaché at the Israeli embassy in Berlin. I started seeing people taking their ideas and making big businesses out of them and it got me very excited.

I hooked up with some friends who would go to networking events. And there I met Misha who had a venture that I really connected with – task management software and I started helping her market it. Just like a VP of sales, going through one by one and closing meetings, investors, and prospects and I felt it was really cool.

At the same time, I also received a FIDF scholarship (a body on behalf of the state that grants scholarships to veterans of combat units). I decided to give up the cheap Milky of Berlin and return to the delicious Milky in Israel and then I started a bachelor’s degree in law alongside a bachelor’s degree in marketing, management, and communications in the College of Management’s academic track. Very quickly I applied to the External Relations Department to lead things. I said I want management experience and really wanted to work on standing in front of an audience! Something I had always feared.

מאור כהן בברלין במסגרת תפקידו כנספח צהMaor Cohen in Berlin as part of his role as assistant to the IDF attaché at the Israeli embassy.

Why did you want to learn to conduct yourself in front of an audience?

At the College of Management, I was exposed to very high-quality lecturers who take over a class of 100 people and I think that was magical. How the whole class is captivated by the charms of a person who “only” conveys a message. In the end, it can be said that even then I realized that an entrepreneur must stand in front of an audience. I turned to the best lecturer I had seen in college and asked with utmost confidence “How can I stand in front of an audience?” He gave me the worst and best tip that could be. He told me, “If you do not have it, you do not have it! It‘s better you don‘t try.”

I was shocked by his answer. This actually ignited in me the reverse reaction which drove me to try and prove I had it in me! I also wanted to eventually reach a level of confidence and skill good enough to present myself in primetime in front the entire country. That’s also why I went to the Israeli Shark Tank program and raised funds for my business. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of standing on every stage and saying what I believed in – even if it was in prime time in front of the whole country.

But initially I did not have the confidence to present anything to an audience – it was a fear that took me a while to overcome. After I received the scholarship, I had to choose a 120-day volunteer program. And I was actually looking for a volunteer program that would force me to deal with this fear and I chose to volunteer for the the Or Yarok for Safe Driving association as a lecturer. I gained many hours of experience there with students all over the country. At first, I was shaking and stuttering in all the first lectures I gave, but in the third or fourth session I was giving lectures with more confidence and I realised it all comes down to practice and experience.

You made an interesting point and it’s important for me to ask, an entrepreneur who does not want to be the front and “who does not have it in them” as the lecturer then told you, can not be an entrepreneur?

There is no such thing as ’cannot do it‘ or ’doesn‘t have it in them‘! There are many challenges you will face as an entrepreneur, and you must internalize that a challenge is something that you need to face with all the fear it embodies. If there is a challenge or something difficult, just do it over and over until you succeed. This is exactly how I was educated and experienced these mental challenges as early as in my military service in the Duvdevan unit. I grew up in this world where everything is in the head and anything is possible if you will it – I am a very big believer in having strong traits of “perseverance” and commitment. If you think about it in depth then you understand that whoever perseveres never fails – he just has not yet succeeded and if he continues to persevere then he will always succeed in the end!

For example, for my on-stage anxiety – I did the lectures and stood in front of a simple audience over and over again. I eventually got to a point I received letters of recommendation from people who attended my lectures. I felt I had beaten myself big time. Everything is possible.

I then took courses at the College of Management with a degree in Communication Management and Marketing, Rhetoric and Public Speaking, How to Express Yourself, Body Language, and How to Understand People More. Courses in ’manners‘ mainly related to how to conduct yourself in Germany and the USA, things that interested me then and help me a lot in business today.

In addition, as a business owner, you come to understand that what you do every day is to explain what you do – and in order to explain your business well, you need to know how to tell it in an compelling way so that the other party will want to listen and will remember what you told them.

I realized unequivocally that at the end of the day everything is language. As a business leader, you must know how to explain your business or intentions in the simplest way. As Einstein said – “no matter how complicated the idea is, if you do not know how to explain it as if to a 10-year-old child – they will not understand the idea properly”.

You co-founded the Entrepreneurship Center at the College of Management, right?

Yes, that‘s correct. This is an interesting story. Because as a sophomore studying for two undergraduate degrees, it bothered me that our college did not have a platform dedicated to helping students fulfil their desire to create and initiate practical things that are non-academic. And I came to the president of our college and said that I have a vision to establish a program for students who will have broad tools to help advance their ideas, meet with experts, recruit investors, and to meet with major institutions in Israel and around the world such as MIT, NYU, and other leading institutions. The president of the college interrupted me and said to me “Wait a minute, you realize you are here in Rishon Lezion, talking to me about your aspirations to reach New York leading institutions and investors? What makes you so sure they would be interested in engaging with us at all?!”

I replied confidently, “I have a plan and I’ll be happy to present it to you in an orderly fashion tomorrow.”

Of course I still did not have a plan. So that night I stayed up all night and built a thorough budget plan and returned to him the next day. I presented my vision to him for establishing an entrepreneurship program for students and he approved it for me. This is actually the first money I raised. The president of the college allowed us to set up an entrepreneurship program for students in the amount of NIS 250,000. As a student, this was my first fundraise.

Within a month the program was on the air, I recruited good and experienced people to the program: Donna Griffith, Professor Daphne Karib, and many different experts who took part in delivering content to the entrepreneurial students. The delegation reached the largest institutions in the world and collaborated with, MIT, NYU, COLOMBIA, Princeton, the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Stony Broock University, and more and more.

10 of 100 student applicants were accepted into the program, most of them currently running successful businesses and startups around the world.

This was my first big venture. I realized that I was an entrepreneur and had to start my own big startup. I graduated, I also completed a master’s degree in law and finance, qualification exams, and later worked in a law firm. There I started to fall in love with real estate when I accompanied a very large family in Israel of Eyal Real Estate in some of their huge projects.

מאור בשירות הצבאי, כבר אז כיוון למטרותMaor in military service, even then aiming for targets.

And how did you start PickSpace?

It happened a day after the law qualification exams. I knew in every organ in my body that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and to set up a technology company. I sat at home and said to myself “you do not leave the room until you have the idea that you will run with for a few years”. I sat and thought it through for a month!

All I did was sit down with a huge notebook and ideas. I went into Google and researched every idea I had in-depth for a few days. This is my essential message to young entrepreneurs: You can not do anything business-wise without researching your idea. This is about business and responsibility. Not about theories and pure speculations.

As an entrepreneur, you cannot afford to waste time. Time is your most precious resource and you must act smart and fast. The entrepreneurship programs I built at the university gave me great tools on how to research as well. I tell every start-up entrepreneur that he needs as a threshold three main things:

  • At least 100,000 cash and liquidity as equity.
  • Dedicate at least a year of life to it 24/7.
  • Insane energy and a strong desire to succeed against all odds.

You made a very interesting point and from my experience, I relate to you very much. I myself also remember the equity required to get into the venture and of course the first year of operation which was very critical for my startup. But today there are entrepreneurs who believe that you can start a startup at the same time as being an employee, how much do you believe in it?

I hear about more and more people trying to set up a startup as a hobby and in the evenings. A startup is not a drawing class – it is a very, very hard job that if you are not fully dedicated to it then it is very difficult to make things happen, especially to entrepreneurs in their first venture. If you have already done and raised one or two companies, things come more easily to you because you have experience then maybe it is possible. But its still tough out there – and whoever wants to succeed I recommend them to devote the appropriate time and effort to make it happen because it is difficult enough being a full time entrepreneur. So my recommendation – Don’t work two ventures at simultaneously .

I took the experience I gained in talking to people, how to refine an idea, how to do storytelling, and concentrated on a project that I connect to and love – PickSpace. It is very important to do and create something that you connect to and that you love to do.

The first thing I did after formulating the idea for the venture was finding a partner. This is the most essential and important thing. To find a partner who would be the CTO. I did a lot of research online, I got up in the morning, and went to bed every day with the thought of how to find the CTO. I remember myself falling asleep with the words – tomorrow I find the CTO, tomorrow I find the CTO. I heard lectures on how to find partners, I talked to people in the sector who would help me, we interviewed many people and I checked who connects to the idea of the venture.

After countless interviews, I found a partner and we decided to run together. We started implementing the idea and building the technology. We did market research in London and visited prospects all in order to create a meticulous technological characterization.

I traveled to London to meet face-to-face with our prospects. I met with workspace managers all to understand from them whether they would even pay for a product I want to develop and if so then what are the important things for them that will be included in this service.

After all this research I remember we made an unequivocal decision – we go for it!

Why?

  • It was a very new field (I had to explain to people what a workspace complex is in general)
  • I became very connected to the field of real estate
  • I became very connected to the field of technology marketing and its connection to real estate

In fact, my urge was to promote a venture that touched my heart and I knew I would be able to do it the best way possible.

And how did it go in the beginning?

After half a year of work, thousands of workspaces joined us and we started making quite a bit of money. Mostly commissions on clients looking for co-working spaces.

How did you do that? Thanks to your abilities as an entrepreneur?

I think the preparation, the experience, the desire to learn anything new you come across and you need it for product improvement or business management is critical. Also the ability to move fast is very important and influential! In addition, there is personal, mental, and financial preparation. Which is important for any entrepreneur. At the beginning of the venture, I funded everything. The trips abroad and the employee, the payments to the office, for coffee, for milk, for travel, the companies, and the initial technology, and more. All this with the understanding that I also do not have a year of salary, it is part of the price of starting a startup or business. This preparation made me focus on the goals I set for myself, which also came after insights, research, questioning, and conclusions.

There is no way I would love my house to the office without having a mission to fulfil by the end of the day, this week, this month. Of course, you do not hit every time you aim, but if you try again and again in the end you will hit, it is teeth grinding and challenging but it makes the difference between success and failure – perseverance and consistency.

At what point did you actually start raising capital? And how did you do that?

At what point did you actually start raising capital? And how did you do that?

סגירת העסקה בין מאור לדובי בתכנית הכרישים על עסקה של 1 מיליון שClosing of the deal between Maor and Dovi in the Israeli Sharks Tank program. The deal sum was NIS 1 million.

After the program and Dovi’s entry, additional investors entered with him, who together completed a $ 1 million round of funding. Among them is a company for workspace complexes in New York (a strategic investor). Their entry caused the phenomenal success of PickSpace. The Sarona Ventures Fund also invested, and it should be said to their credit that they are helping me promote our company a lot. Especially Philip Buaziz and Tut Shani. To my delight, I was able to help them and many other Israeli start-ups, I also helped them establish Sarona Ventures New York and connected them to a large New York based investor that would take part in their activity. In the last two years, we have helped 60 Israeli companies penetrate the North American market.

Finding the right investor is absolutely crucial to the success of the company!

מאור כהן יחד עם מר פיליפ בואזיז בעלים קרן Maor Cohen together with Mr. Philip Buaziz, owner of the “Sarona Ventures” fund

I agree, but there are entrepreneurs who have a very hard time finding these smart investors, what advice do you have for them? Have you taken any particular strategic actions that you feel has caused you to achieve these results?

Of course, I did and of course, it’s hard. God forbid that he hears even for a moment that the process is easy. You need a lot of perseverance and mental resilience and of course proper work. I physically flew to the US and did not wait in the country for an investor in New York to fall out of nowhere and put his money in my bank. An entrepreneur must internalize that in order to achieve results he must invest! Whether it is in technology or in footwork.

I have listed above the 3 things that an entrepreneur must do to get started and get going.

That’s exactly what I did. The initial equity in part was as an investment to get to New York to get a bigger investment. I just told myself I would not go return from New York without an investor, and so it happened! It’s a matter of decision. I went to related events, meetups, I checked where the potential customers were that they could be investors, I offered them to be both investors and customers. The visa allowed me to be there for three months and I took advantage of every minute there. I was not in Israel using ZOOM. I went physically to see and breathe investors. I left them good things and of course I acted in the right and acceptable ways of doing business, with a clear strategy in mind.

This trip led me to Maurice Levy – owner of a New York Workplaces Company. I remember him telling me at the end of the meeting that the very fact that I presented him with added value to his business, a profitable and good business and that I had reached the other half of the world physically, testifies a lot to my personality. So he went ahead with me to invest in the company. For me, this was a breakthrough to bring in an investor like him.

מאור ומר מוריס לוי במסגרת פגישה עסקיתMaor and Mr. Maurice Levy in a business meeting

Let’s talk a little about the CEO stage, after all, not every entrepreneur with an idea is also the best CEO for his company, especially when it‘s growing? How did you deal with it?

What does it take to be a startup CEO? If I try to give you the entire manual on one foot it would be knowing how to recruit people, money, and time. After you have everything  you need to know how to manage them! It is no less difficult than getting them!  

One of the first things I ask any of our manager is – how do you know that what you told the employees was done? If he answers that he knows because he told him to do it then I understand he does not comprehend how to manage employees yet. The answer is to validate execution of a task. Managing is knowing how to set vision, goals, and objectives, distilling them into day-to-day tasks, and knowing how to deliver tasks to employees in a way that everyone understands what they need to do, and then measure and verify performance. Any of these parts can go wrong so management is a complicated task that requires you to drill down to the details.

For example, in our company‘s task management, we have annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily management tasks – all goals and tasks lead up to what every employee needs to do now in order for the annual goal to be achieved. And we keep track of performance on a daily and weekly level and each employee presents in a weekly meeting what he worked on this week and how it promoted the company to achieve its goals.

It is very important to build a plan that says where we want to go and how we will get there. A good manager should be close to his employees and know the tasks firsthand at a level that should know how to fulfil them as well. Before I would submit tasks, I would do them myself to check what was required for it to be completed. I would then pass them on to the employee. I strongly believe in close management. Recruit good people and give tasks and set goals together.

For example, if I want my employee to come every week with 10 new prospects, I will sit down with him to understand first that it is at his ability level and then I will build his goals and plans in his presence.

My recommendation to the CEO is planning, construction, management and supervision. The planning and construction phase I usually do with the employees.

Thank you very much Maor. I really hope that a lot of young entrepreneurs have learned from you, and I am personally sure that you will reach an impressive IPO.

fundraising campaign on PeopleBiz and was able to raise over NIS 3.5 million!! 🚀😇🙏🏻 The round is open to anyone.

Maor adds, “A round of fundraising on a crowdfunding platform is a very interesting device and very good in my eyes! It allows you to harness a lot of people to get to know the company, the product, the service and the people – our best employees are people who have invested in the company! “

Maor adds that he would love to share tips and experiences from a crowdfunding process – and there are many.

In the meantime: Feel free to log in and follow or invest in this link – Maor believes they will finish soon and the investment will close for investment: Campaign page.

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