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 Ory Weihs, Founder at Team Odeon.
Ory is an Israeli founder and investor living in Prague.
He founded XLMedia PLC and was its CEO until 2019, including overseeing its London IPO. Since 2010, Ory has invested in companies from different sectors, including SAAS, gaming, price comparison, and more. Some of his current holdings include Mews, Medorion, Gigantic, Accomando.
His latest venture, Team Odeon, focuses on improving access to education and vocational training.
Q: What are your main productivity tips?
Regarding productivity, after close to 20 years, I still experiment daily and probably will continue for the foreseeable future. It’s pretty rare to find a specific prescribed system that works.
To simplify, I break up productivity into several elements.
These elements could be things like work/life balance (especially relevant with the rise of work from home), task lists, time management (meetings, focus time, “off-time work”).
It’s plenty to digest there, but here are some easy wins:
*Set clear time boundaries between different tasks.
*Make sure meetings have a clear agenda, attendee lists that make sense and don’t be afraid to decline or suggest changes.
*This might contradict a bit but sometimes also when you are “off” but the mood strikes, go for it. Even thinking of answers for this question came while “taking time off.”
I’m sure this is not for everyone, but music helps me; reach out for some playlists if you want!
Another tip is not to enslave yourself to productivity tools. I have bought and downloaded so many tools which I ended up not using or “not committing to.” Some work, some don’t, but please be critical of them as any other tool you use.
Q: What is your favorite drink?
I live in the Czech Republic, so I should say beer, but it’s undoubtedly Moscow Mule.
Q: How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
BIG question! I’ll try to distill.
This might be the cliché of the century, but I try to maintain a work-life balance. Spending time with my family and sometimes being forced to disconnect is a blessing (although I grumble sometimes). From a leadership perspective, I try to lead by example. If you ask my team, they will confirm that I’m usually much less engaged in the afternoons and will usually rejoin the party late in the morning, hopefully being the only one there.
I find sports to be extremely effective. “Healthy mind in a healthy body” is a lifelong mantra for me. This has proved to be extra relevant during COVID times, even during the lockdown. No excuses here; any free two sqm floor area can be used as a gym!
Sports are not only physical, but mental exercise is also essential, and I try to keep my mind challenged often.
Finally, I make sure to give myself some proportions regardless of how emotionally involved I am in what I’m doing and will find myself leaning back and thinking, “it’s work; we’ll manage”. That is the privilege of not working in the emergency services or healthcare world or something similar; it’s much harder for them to say that.
Q: Your tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
It is going to be quite hard to say something that hasn’t been said already.
That’s a bit of a lean-in to my first tip, which is not to obsess about creating something no one has before. Most of the most successful entrepreneurs I have met took an existing product and improved it or brought it to consumers that haven’t been exposed to it before.
My first venture XLMedia focused on bringing gaming and betting product comparison to regions (and languages) that were not exposed to it before.
Mews, which I’m an early investor in, took property management systems to a whole new level while challenging the incumbents. It is, of course, possible to “invent” something but the EV of that is IMHO lower.
Another tip would be not to overlook EQ when hiring, especially early on when you are a small startup. From my experience, it is much easier to bridge a knowledge or skills gap when there is a personality fit with team members than bridging a culture fit. I try to apply the airport test to any new hire, which for me says, “would I survive spending hours with this person waiting for a delayed flight.” (Swap for any situation that frustrates you!) The negative effect of someone that “doesn’t connect” is much more significant than the positive one of even the biggest superstar on the team.
Fundraising is a topic we can spend days discussing but a few specific tips from the perspective of an active seed investor:
* Be reasonable with forecasts and plans, not just financial but what product goals. Seasoned investors have a good feel for what’s achievable and appreciate honesty.
*Commit to what you do. While it’s possible to raise money with a “day job,” it is a turn-off for many investors.
* Bootstrap as much as possible and bring as mature a product as you can to investors. Going back to the Mews example, beyond the team, which was the main reason I invested. The fact that with basically no money, they had an enterprise-level product with paying clients was astonishing. It showed agility and determination.
Q: Who in the Tech industry would you like to meet for lunch?
Changes daily, but right now, it’s Elon Musk, and after 3-4 Moscow Mules (which I assume will bring out the truth), ask him one very specific question. Do you really think those huge batteries at the bottom of your cars are saving the planet or causing more long-term damage when people will bury them in landfills?
Q: If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I think about it a lot; given my family situation, I would say most likely it will always be Israel or the Czech Republic, which are my two homes.
However, having lived in quite a few places before, the place I would want to come back to for some time is Japan. My relatively short period there (6 months) left a huge impression on me. The country astonished me on so many levels; the culture, food, and nature are so unique.
Q: What is your favorite book recommendation?
I’m embarrassed to say that the list of half-read books I’m in the middle of is growing exponentially but below are a few recent ones that left an impact.
Loonshots by Safi Bahcall was a page-turner for me as it really shows astonishing discoveries and what led to them.
The outsiders by William N. Thorndike really highlights a typical leader and their disproportionate success.
Finally, a shout out to my good friend Tuvia Tenenbom, anything he writes is gold and raises important, often overlooked topics while keeping me entertained.
Q: Why are you in Tech?
If you asked me this question 18 years ago, I would say, “it just ended up
like that,” and I rode the wave, but that has changed.
After leaving my last exec role at XLM in 2019, I asked myself the same question. It took me some time, but I now have an answer.
With my background, Tech is probably the best way to effect positive change in scale. An example is my new venture which, with sites like Degreechoices.com, I can use Tech to positively affect education and career choice, a game-changer for many.
On a personal level, I’m a big believer in “impactful for-profit” instead of traditional philanthropy. If we can create a profitable, growing business that positively affects society, we nailed it.
About Team Odeon: Team Odeon is a performance marketing company in the higher education and vocational training sector. They create websites to help students understand the variety of choices, access unique data-driven insights, and optimize their education and career choices.