Dror Ginzberg has been a serial entrepreneur for most of his life, but before he could launch his latest venture – video-creation software company Wochit – he needed a heart-to-heart discussion with his wife.
“When you run a start-up, it’s a 100% commitment and there’s a toll that it takes. In a way, you lose control over your life,” he says.
One of the big concerns for Ginzberg’s family, who live near Tel Aviv in Israel, was how much time he would be away from home. Pitching investors, finding clients, and building a cross-continent business involves a lot of flights and hotel nights. Ginzberg would know. He’s been involved three tech start-ups in Israel, most recently selling PicApp in 2011, so he knew that realistically his new venture would require him to spend several days a month in New York and other locales.
There’s a seven-hour time difference between Tel Aviv, home to one of Ginzberg’s offices, and New York – making family phone calls tricky (Credit: Alamy)
Still, they agreed to try it. “I’m happier being busier than a normal human being would be,” he says. “We said it might be a tough few years, but hopefully it will pay off.”
Ginzberg, 45, does indeed travel frequently. As the CEO and co-founder of the 55-person company, which has offices and clients in the US and Europe, he’s away for about two weeks a month, and then home for the rest of the time. Most of his trips are to New York, where has an office of 15 people. He also stops in London for two days on his way back to Tel Aviv to check in on his 10 staff there.
Having an apartment in New York, rather than relying on hotels, makes trips to the city easier (Credit: Getty Images)
Par for the course
The travel itself is nothing exciting. Because of the seven-hour time difference and the 12-hour commute between Tel Aviv and New York, he usually tries to take a red-eye so he can sleep on the flight and be ready to go in the morning when the plane lands. He usually buys economy tickets, but all the frequent-flyer points he’s accumulated means he tends to get upgraded to the more comfortable seats. “With such an intense travel schedule, not flying business class is almost impossible,” he says.
With such an intense travel schedule, not flying business class is almost impossible
Once he lands in New York, he heads straight to the apartment the company rents for visitors to the city. Having what’s essentially a second home, rather than living out of hotels, makes splitting his time between locations easier on his mind and the company’s expenses. “You can see how expensive hotels are in New York,” he says. In London, he tries to stay at the same ACE Hotel near his office, though if he can’t get in, any nearby hotel will do.
Ginzberg at the Disruptive Innovation Awards during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City (Credit: Getty Images)
What is hard about the travel is being away from his four children, aged 17, 12, 11 and 8, and knowing the sacrifice his wife has had to make to help him further his career. She’s a psychologist with a private practice and while she works hard during the day, she’s had to limit the hours she can put into her practice since she’s the one at home with the kids.
Still, he tries to be there as much as he can, even if he’s not physically at home. No matter where he is, his first call in the morning — always a video call — will be to his family. He also tries to help his kids with their homework over FaceTime. Recently, his eldest was taking a computer-science class and needed help with an assignment. She took a photo of the homework, sent it to him and he helped her to work through the problems. “It’s something that happens a lot,” he says. “It’s nice.”
My family knows almost exactly when I’m in and out
It also helps that he plans his schedule a year in advance so he and his family know, as best they can, when he’ll be away. While he’s not sure when every meeting will be, he at least knows when he’ll be in New York and can fill what he’ll do there later. Last minute trips still pop up, but not often. “This brings a little more stability to our lives,” he says. “My family knows almost exactly when I’m in and out.”
In the groove
There can be worse cities for business-travelling culture lovers – Dror recently saw Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden (Credit: Getty Images)
As hard as it is to be away, it makes it a little easier that he’s in New York, says Ginzberg, a music buff who often attends concerts. He recently saw Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, and he’s seen Sting, Peter Gabriel and Steely Dan, all favourites of his. “These are the kinds of things you only get to see in New York,” he says.
He also likes the food, especially restaurants that serve grilled meat, but his favourite place is Xi’an Famous Foods, a Chinese food chain that gives him a hearty meal quickly. “They do some kind of noodle dish with meat — it’s the best fast food I can find,” he says. Ginzberg cooks about half his meals himself at the company apartment.
Culturally, there’s one main difference between Tel Aviv and New York that stands out: the way people communicate.
London’s business culture is more open to experimentation than New York, Ginzberg says (Credit: Getty Images)
In Israel, people are extremely direct and may even seem rude to someone not familiar with the way Israelis speak, Ginzberg says. People in New York and London are more indirect, he says. He’s found that some people aren’t sure how to respond, while others enjoy the honesty. Ginzberg hasn’t had to adjust his speaking style per se, but he tries to tone things down with certain people. “In order to get the most out of each of us, different approaches and techniques are a must,” he says.
In Israel, people are extremely direct and may even seem rude to someone not familiar with the way Israelis speak
Lunchtime is also done differently in New York. Most people grab a snack or sandwich and sit at their desk, their head still buried in work. In Israel, people go out for lunch and spend an hour away from their computers. Workers also take more leisurely lunches in London, he says. “It takes some adjusting,” he says, adding that he too eats from his desk when he’s in New York.
As for London, it’s similar to New York in that it’s a bustling city centre, but its business culture is more open to experimentation than the Big Apple’s, he says. He’s found that the city, and Europe in general, is more willing to try new technology and test out new products. He can’t pinpoint why that is, but it may have to do with language. His product comes in multiple languages, so anyone in Europe can use it. “The market’s just easier there,” he says. “We notice an openness.”
While eating at the desk is normal in New York, workers in London and Tel Aviv generally take a more relaxed approach to lunch (Credit: Getty Images)
There’s another cultural quirk: Londoners don’t like to cut in line, but Israelis sometimes do. It likely goes back the directness, though “it isn’t different from driving in Italy versus driving in Switzerland,” he says.
Peace of mind
When he’s travelling, what Ginzberg misses about Israel is the feeling of home. The entrepreneur grew up in Israel and as much as he likes New York, nothing compares to Israel, he says. He misses his family deeply when he’s away and his friends, too.
“I go out with people in New York, but my social life is in Israel and I miss that,” he says. “I feel more at home in Israel than anywhere else.”