This autodidactic Israeli entrepreneur is a non-stop builder of software technologies – and business relationships.
Kiryat Motzkin is not the first place that comes to mind when you think about Israel’s technological prowess. Sitting 30 kilometres’ south of the Blue Line that separates Israel from Lebanon, the small suburb is a world away from the vibrant coffee shops and high-tech offices of Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituach.
Yet it was in Kiryat Motzkin that Nimrod Sabag, 35, got his start. Since as far back as he can remember, he has been obsessed with technical challenges. At age 8 he was dismantling all manner of electronic devices then figuring out how to recombine them into new contraptions. By age 12 he started teaching himself how to write code, and by age 15 he had launched his own video game to an enthusiastic audience of local gamers.
During his service at the IDF, he maintained and monitored radar technologies for the navy. “I was invited to make a career out of it,” he recalls. “But I knew that, while the IDF would provide an honourable, stable and intellectually rewarding career path, it could never give me the level of independence and autonomy that I wanted in life.” 15 years’ later, Nimrod has established himself as one of the world’s pre-eminent entrepreneurs operating in the field of performance marketing technology.
The big break that didn’t come to fruition
In the final days of his IDF service, Nimrod was approached by two older businessmen – both 20 to 30 years’ his senior. “They were building what was basically a hybrid of Instagram and Snapchat. But this was in the Nokia era, before the iPhone had even launched,” Nimrod tells the Times. “They brought me in as a partner and asked me to build the whole thing. I was a one-man tech department.”
Thanks in part to Nimrod’s development efforts, the start-up had some early successes and managed to raise over 7 million dollars of funding. All of a sudden Nimrod found himself in a position of influence: dealing with investors, travelling around the world to conferences in Shanghai and Barcelona, and working out of an office in what was at the time one of the finest office buildings in Tel Aviv. “I had a lot going for me,” he recalls.
At one point the start-up received a multi-million-dollar buy-out offer from an American company. Contracts were exchanged, due diligence was done, and Nimrod thought he had just made his first million at age 23. Much to everyone’s frustration, the deal fell through at the last minute and, about a year later, the company went under.
Nimrod explains that this experience should be a cautionary tale for entrepreneurs everywhere. “A deal is never done until the money is in the bank,” he insists. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen deals collapse at the very last minute. Never celebrate before you are 100% sure it’s a done deal. Otherwise you run the risk of feeling a sense of disappointment of the very worst kind.”
Plotting his own path
Rather than slowing him down, the setback of the failed acquisition ended up driving Nimrod to push for more. “At age 23 I went from being on the brink of a lucrative exit, to having to hit the reset button,” Nimrod tells the Times. “At that point I realised I needed to make things happen for myself, not just as a CTO or employee but as the main driver of a business.”
Nimrod had been exploring the affiliate marketing industry for a number of years, and started investing more time into it. He was drawn to the fact that there are thousands of advertisers out there who are willing to pay a lot of money for new customers. “Performance marketing is a very Darwinian environment. It’s black and white. Either you deliver or you don’t. If you deliver, the rewards can be exceptional. If you help people deliver at scale, the results can be outstanding”
In his mid-20s he used the culmination of his experience, knowledge and the tools he had developed for his own marketing efforts to launch a new performance advertising network. “It took a while to get traction, then we got big very quickly. When the network took off things started accelerating. Before I knew it the network had grown into one of the major lead aggregators for online CFD businesses, connecting affiliates with CFD trading firms at a massive scale, and employing 20+ people.”
Nimrod’s explains that his network’s advantage stemmed from the fact that he had developed a lot of the technology himself to solve the problems that affiliates and advertisers were encountering on a daily basis. “The main edge was that I found a better way to match leads and advertisers through a smart routing algorithm. 100% automated. This technology gave me an advantage over other networks because most of them were making sub-optimal matches which caused a lot of waste. So things grew very quickly once the word got out.”
Over the past few years Nimrod has extended his marketing technology suite to include a plethora of lead routing tools and CRM systems that help affiliates and advertisers get more work done with fewer resources. Nimrod attributes the growth of his network to the power of compounding returns. “I think compounding is the key. Do whatever it takes to achieve positive network effects in whatever you’re doing. Whether that’s building an advertising network, starting a bank, or simply investing in real estate. You want to build on your early successes to make things snowball in your favour.”
Compounding results and relationships
For Nimrod, the power of compounding also applies to his business relationships. A few years ago he decided to broaden his horizons by relocating to Monaco, the principality with more billionaires per capita than any other country in the world. “I moved to Monaco because I knew it would be a place where I could take my business network to the next level.”
Since moving to Monaco, Nimrod has become an active member of the Jewish and wider business communities. “Moving to Monaco opened a lot of doors for me. Everyone I meet here is working on interesting problems at a big, global scale. There’s no question that this is a great place to be if you’re on the hunt for new deals and new opportunities. Plus the lifestyle is one of a kind.”
He and his business partners cover a range of disciplines and geographies. “One of my contemporaries is Israeli, he’s an expert in physical commodities trading. Another one of my partners is Australian, he’s strong in data science and derivatives. Another is an old-school Swiss banker who sits on the board of one of the world’s largest private banks, with $140+ billion assets under management. And another is a British guy running a gaming empire at a massive scale.”
According to Nimrod, once you have so many talented people with complementary knowledge and skill sets gathered around one table you can learn from each other. And you can figure out where the next big opportunities are going to be. “The business environment here is very fluid, big deals can happen very quickly. Everyone is open to new opportunities.”
Nimrod has also been involved in MonacoTech, a business incubator and accelerator program co-founded by the Principality of Monaco, Monaco Telecom and French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel. “MonacoTech is a great initiative that’s putting the spotlight on Monaco-based tech start-ups. I contributed as part of a smart city initiative based there, and I’ve been the recipient of a number of promising pitches in the cyber-security and blockchain domains. As technology becomes more central to every industry, I’m confident that Monaco is doing the right thing by nurturing new entrepreneurial talent.”
The importance of working on the right thing
At a time when Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs are lauded for working 24/7, Nimrod offers a contrarian take. “To be honest, I think hard work is over-rated,” he explains. “If the goal is success, doing the right thing at the right time is what matters. Some people work very hard but they don’t end up having much impact because they focus on the wrong problems or, worse, they build solutions in search of problems. The key is to make sure you’re working on the right thing and that you’re riding a market wave right before the wave breaks. When a clever solution meets a big and growing market, that’s how you make a killing.”
Nimrod’s greatest admiration is for people who achieve some balance in life. “Most of the business people I know in Monaco have a balanced life – they work on the right things at the right time, and then they enjoy life. I’ve got a wife and a young child now. Business is better than its ever been, and I’m spending more time with my family than ever before. Giving up the fun side of life, that’s not something I can get comfortable with. And as far as I can tell, business success and family time don’t need to be mutually exclusive.”
Waiting for his (really) big break
There’s no question that Nimrod’s jet-setting lifestyle in Monaco is a far cry from the life he knew when growing up in Kiryat Motzkin. Nonetheless, he is determined to continue expanding his business network for many years to come. “From my perspective this is just the start. I’ve had some things turn out very favourably for me over the past few years and it’s been a great ride. But I definitely want to be doing even bigger things in future. That’s just the way I’m hard-wired. I’m curious to see what else I can achieve.”
On the question of whether he ever envisions himself living in Israel again, Nimrod is optimistic without being too specific. “It’s something that I plan to do eventually. But I don’t know the timing for that. At the end of the day, Israel is my homeland and I would like to make it my home once again some years in the future.”
New industries, new geographies
Nimrod continues to look for new partnerships and new investment opportunities. Notwithstanding the current unfavourable market conditions, over the past few years he’s developed a fascination for distributed ledger technologies. “I actually think blockchain is both over-rated and under-rated. On the one hand, a lot of the experiments from 2016-2018 will fail, and there are many unsound projects that raised a lot of money due to hype and no substance.”
“But the handful of initiatives that succeed in the long-term will have a greater impact than most people can appreciate right now. So I’m short-term bearish but long-term bullish on the category. Decentralized networks might be the greatest wealth-creation opportunity of my lifetime. We’ll look back on the 2016-2017 mania as a blip on the radar in comparison to what’s coming over the next few years. A new wave is gradually forming.”
His search for new partners has also taken him into new geographical areas, and he’s working on some collaborations with a group of Indian entrepreneurs. “For me, the Indian people have a lot in common with us Israelis. They have a certain chutzpah that I can relate to. I think [the Indian people] are going to be a major force in the performance marketing world. They have the intelligence, the numbers, the resources and the drive. I’m confident the Indians will manage to do [performance marketing] bigger and better than anyone else – It’s only a matter of time.”
Nimrod will be in India this month for the first time, attending the Earning Labs digital marketing conference in Delhi. “I’m excited about it. I’ve dealt a lot with Indians over recent years, but being there in person will be a new experience. I look forward to exploring the city and I’m hoping to find some strong new partners to team-up with.”
Hosts at Earning Labs Delhi Conference is terming Nimrod’s arrival in India as game-changer for India-Israel ties. Sumit Ghosh from Globussoft who is one of the organiser at event added “I believe strong business ties between India and Israel are very much dependent on entrepreneurs actively participating in businesses, the Earning Labs conference with Nimrod can truly change perception of many.”