Jifiti CEO Yaacov Martin on building a tech oasis in Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut

Jifiti CEO Yaacov Martin (courtesy)

Israel boasts one of the world’s highest startup densities – so how can businesses stand out from the crowd? While innovative technology and funding are essential, could the answer also be related to something as simple as location?

I talked to Yaacov Martin, CEO and Co-Founder of a global fintech company established in Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut. Martin shared his story and explained why establishing his company in a non-traditional tech hub was one of the best decisions for his company.

Why did your startup decide to base itself in Modi’in? 

The original reason for choosing Modi’in was practical, as I and my two co-founders lived in the city. The idea that we could find close-to-home working space was critical.

Once we’d grown considerably, we needed to reevaluate our location from a networking and business development perspective and from the need to attract the right people with the right technical and managerial skills. Generally, Tel Aviv is considered the central hub for fintechs. However, being able to pay a fraction of the cost for office space in Modi’in compared to Tel Aviv was very enticing to us and meant greater flexibility in our budget for other items, such as salaries, employee perks and office improvements.  At one point, we were feeling a little pressure from our board, who was reminding us how important it is to build a strong company reputation and advised us that we likely needed to be situated in Tel Aviv for that. But this would also mean we’d be competing for talent against the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon.

 This is when our entire mantra changed. We recognized there was an entire commuter talent pool ripe for the picking. If we could offer people a job closer to home instead of spending hours commuting helping them spend more time with their families then we’d have done a real service.

Can you touch on the opportunities and challenges of not being in a traditional tech hub?

By basing ourselves in Modi’in, we began attracting a much more diverse demographic, who provide a richer set of perspectives when it comes to any aspect of the business, be it product, engineering, business, or finance. The diversity of our workforce has been fundamental to the character and values of our company.
In my opinion, the fintech industry typically attracts a young demographic, which brings both benefits and drawbacks, including the fact that young workers tend to switch jobs more frequently. However, by attracting a slightly older and more experienced employee demographic, often with families, we’ve cultivated a more loyal workforce, as stability is important to them. This has helped shape the company’s ‘family’ culture, which I find increases employee satisfaction, productivity and a sense of accountability. Today, I would guesstimate that the average tenure of a Jifiti team member is at least triple that of an average tenure at any comparable company in Tel Aviv.

Team in Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut

I appreciate that there’s value in operating from and situating ourselves at the heart of Israeli fintech: it contributes to company networking and collaboration and increases exposure to investors. So, being based in Modi’in, we needed to make more of a concerted effort to get out to network with peers and investors, as it doesn’t just happen when you’re walking down the street. For example, we specifically targeted certain investors instead of relying on being well-known in the investor community. We even tested a satellite office in Tel Aviv but didn’t find it was worth our while to move or set up a permanent office there. And, as we discovered during COVID-19, all of a sudden, discussions around location and a physical office changed and certain other considerations became more pertinent. 

Can you share some of your startup’s strategies for attracting and retaining talent and overcoming geographical barriers?

You need to first know what is most im
portant to the talent pool that you’re targeting, and you need to attract them by pointing to those things that matter most. For example, we considered putting up signs along the route that leads out toward Tel Aviv, explaining to the drivers that they could have spent another hour with family if they worked closer. Finally, we also invested a lot of thought and resources into our offices. A couple of years ago, we moved locations and invested significantly in choosing a location within the city and building an office comparable in its comfort, features, and modern vibe to the most up-to-date and functional offices in Tel Aviv. We situated the new office a close five-minute walk from the train and bus stations. Even though it involved paying a certain premium, we knew that if we insisted on operating in Modi’in and wanted to attract both Modi’in and non-Modi’in residents, we had to make sure it was comfortable, appealing, and ultra-accessible. Put simply, we attracted talent by highlighting our differences instead of comparing ourselves to companies in Tel Aviv.

Do you have any insights for entrepreneurs/companies wanting to build successful tech businesses in less centralized locations?

You don’t have to follow the herd into the busiest place. First, we all know that time is our most valuable resource, so picking your company’s location based on perceived needs rather than the most efficient use of your, and your workforce’s time, could harm the company.
Second, every founder has to find unique attributes about themselves, their company, and the service they’re providing. And I believe that should manifest itself in the location as well, to a certain degree. Once you crowd yourself in with everybody else, you’re sometimes diluting your unique proposition. You need to match your location to your company in terms of character and values. Ask yourself: Who are you really, and what does your company represent?

Finally, attract team members and talent by explaining who you are and what you stand for before you attract them just because of your sexy location.

As a tech company situated in a country facing conflict, what initiatives has your startup taken to support employees, maintain operations, and contribute to the community’s recovery efforts?

Touching on the fabric of Israeli society as a whole, I think many of us made false assumptions about our younger generation; that maybe we’ve become spoiled to some degree and we’re no longer value-driven or resilient. But war has brought out an unbelievable show of comradery in young people, a willingness to protect others and to sacrifice. 
Within Jifiti, several employees have been drafted, and others across our multiple offices in Israel, the US, and Europe have been sharing the burden by picking up where they left off. This strong display of teamwork is resulting not only in maintaining our business, but driving it forward. 

We established within the company the drive to grow so that all those on the frontline have a viable, healthy and prosperous professional home to return to. This drive was the only way that, on some days, we were able to wake up and come to work after hearing terrible news and tragic reports. We felt it was our duty to give it our all while our team members were out there. We also set up several initiatives to support and keep in touch with those on the frontline, including taking day trips to see them at the border, sending packages and staying in touch with their families. We created a spreadsheet to see how we could best assist their families and make it easy for team members to offer or request assistance, ensuring we all felt we were part of the same team striving for the same goals.

At the end of the day, a company’s culture and deep-rooted values are what should determine the ‘home’ of the office. For Jifiti, the central oasis of Modi’in is the perfect choice. 

About the Author
Dalia Cohen has worked in magazines such as Newsweek, Fortune and Women's Health in her editorial career. She is actively involved in many NGOs and writes articles on topics such as politics, health and technology. She is also actively working on antisemitism and women's rights.
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