Welcome to my Tech Leaders Interview Series, where I interview impactful leaders and ask them to share tips and techniques that have benefited them, both in their personal and professional lives.
This interview is with James Spiro, Journalist and Editor at CTech by Calcalist.
James Spiro is a journalist and editor at CTech. He has interviewed 200 companies across Israel about Tech, the magic of Startup Nation, and how they export technologies across the world. His work also appears in The Times of Israel and The Algemeiner, and he frequently discusses Tech on television appearing on ILTV. He has a background in journalism and PR.
What are your main productivity tips?
First, discover if you are a ‘morning’ or ‘evening’ person. I spent my higher education convinced that I could *only* work between 11 pm and 3 am. I was very wrong. Only when I entered the workforce after school did I realize that my best work comes early in the morning. Each person is different, and it takes time to learn how you respond to things around you, but my biggest tip is to recognize this as early as you can to take advantage of your best hours. Generally, most of my writing comes in the morning, and I spent my afternoons conducting interviews or planning future pieces.
Second, mute your notifications. My phone is always on Do Not Disturb. In fact, I don’t think I have heard a notification sound coming from it in about a year (with the exception of calls!). I also take the opportunity to disable all notifications across all my social media channels. This makes sure that the notifications I see on my phone are only emails, messages, and news alerts – which, let’s be honest, is already plenty!
What is your favorite drink?
Black coffee in my mornings, Coke Zero at lunch, and red wine for dinner – with plenty of water in between! When I drank liquor, my favorite cocktail was a Bloody Mary.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Being a journalist can be stressful – I’m usually working on five or six stories at any given time, which may be all in different stages. I always make sure that I have a to-do list clearly color-coded so I can see the tasks that need doing. The size of that list can sometimes become overwhelming, and so I adopt a 2-minute rule: anything that can be completed in two minutes has my initial and immediate attention. This is usually something like replying to an email, booking a quick appointment, or even doing the dishes in between interviews! This makes sure that I never get too overwhelmed with the long list of what I need to do.
As a former smoker, I had to find a new way to relax or take some time out away from my desk. Going outside for five minutes isn’t the same when you don’t have a cigarette to consume! I made sure to take plenty of walks in my evenings, with the help of my dog Tom, to clear my head a bit. I also find that swimming and running help me departmentalize my thoughts and feelings, as well as sleep better at night.
Your tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
From what I’ve learned listening to all the talented folks in Israel, I would recommend a few things that seem to benefit them. First, trust your instincts but remember you don’t know everything. Being an entrepreneur can be humbling if you allow it – plenty of mistakes will be made along the way, and it’s important to be resilient and learn from them.
Second, and I may be biased here, but you have to find your story. Why would someone want to invest in your company? Why would a journalist want to hear about it? A good story is one of the most effective ways you can get people interested and talking about your company.
Who in the Tech industry would you like to meet for lunch?
This is interesting since I’m incredibly lucky to meet with members of the tech industry on a regular basis and hear their stories. However, if I could choose one person to meet with off the record it would have to be Peter Thiel. As an early investor in Facebook and the man who conspired to bankrupt the gossip site, Gawker, I would certainly have some questions!
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I’ve lived in London, New York, and Tel Aviv in the last seven years. Each city has its own amazing qualities and gave me wonderful things during my life at times I needed them most. Right now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else in the world other than Israel, but I’m sure that will change in the future. Looking at the world today, I’m happy to live in a country that has remained relatively open for its people compared to the harsh lockdowns seen in other countries that are crippling businesses and curbing freedoms. I’m happy to stay here for now and see where the world takes me.
What is your favorite book recommendation?
This is an impossible question to answer, and so I will have to be a bit cheeky and recommend a few. First is ‘Conspiracy: A True Story of Power, Sex, and a Billionaire’s Secret Plot to Destroy a Media Empire’ by Ryan Holiday. As I referenced earlier, Holiday tells the true story of how Peter Thiel conspired to bankrupt Gawker by secretly funding a lawsuit filed by Hulk Hogan after it published a sex tape involving the wrestler. It has all the twists and turns of a Hollywood movie and raises fascinating questions about the power of today’s media, the power of venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, and how these two opposing sides fought for their own futures.
The second book I would recommend for tech lovers especially is ‘Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup’ by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou. He tells the fascinating tale of how he broke the story of Theranos and its amazing rise and fall. I couldn’t put it down and hope to write something like that myself one day. It also seems to be the right time for such a recommendation since Elizabeth Holmes goes on trial next month for various counts of fraud relating to the company.
The final book I would recommend, although I could go on all day, is ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl. First published in 1946, it chronicles Frankl’s time as a prisoner in Auschwitz and how he overcame unbearable pain and loss. He discusses admirable stoic practices as well as ‘logotherapy’, a theory he developed which focuses on the idea that our primary drive in life is not pleasure but actually meaning. He writes in detail about how we can discover and maintain goals and relationships that we find meaningful to help us live happier lives.
Why are you in Tech?
The news can be such a toxic environment full of catastrophizing, sensationalism, and misinformation. The state of journalism today is a sad one, and it inspires me to work hard and with integrity each day to improve its reputation around the world.
I am happy to focus on Tech due to the altruistic nature of it coming from the companies I speak to each week. These folks are creating amazing technologies that are making the world a better place. It’s also an incredibly supportive ecosystem here in Israel, where founders who might have served in the military together are celebrating each other’s success. It is an honor to tell their stories and be part of that journey, albeit from a distance.
CTech is the English branch of Calcalist and was founded in 2017. Its main focus is on the Israeli tech scene, where it breaks funding announcements, interviews CEOs, and runs analysis on the ecosystem.