Leaning on our friends and family during these challenging times has been an immense relief for many of us, but one of the most important forums for solidarity in this era shaped by conflict and tragedy is not so visible. The power of online community has played an invaluable role in providing wartime support, and Nathanaelle Klein, Technion alumna and Chief Product Officer at Soli, is one of the talented individuals shaping an empowering online community in Israel right now.
In speaking with Nathanaelle, I learned about how the academic foundation she acquired at the Technion inspired her global career, and why she returned to Start-Up Nation to support and empower women around the world.
Michael: It’s nice to meet you, Nathanaelle! Many people are surprised to hear that the Technion has a very vibrant community of international students, and I know that you moved from overseas to pursue your education there. What brought you to Israel?
Nathanaelle: Yes! I am originally from France where the Technion has a very strong reputation among Jewish students, and my family has a long history of attending the Technion. Two of my older siblings studied there before me. It was always my dream to seek a Technion education due to my family history and the university’s world-renowned reputation. Once it was time for me to go to university, I had no hesitation and was so excited to start my studies there.
Michael: There’s something very special about the family roots that so many students share at the Technion, especially internationally. Did you know what you wanted to pursue once you got there?
Nathanaelle: Like many young adults, I had no idea exactly what I wanted to study when I entered university. That said, I did know I wanted to pursue engineering of some kind. While at the Technion, I had the ability to work towards two degrees simultaneously, so I decided to dive into electrical engineering and physics and graduated with a degree in each field.
Michael: Wow! I can imagine that pursuing two degrees at the Technion would be incredibly rigorous academically.
Nathanaelle: It definitely was not easy! I had a great experience at the Technion, though, and I’ve carried the lessons I learned there with me throughout my life. I really value the Technion’s commitment to offering a diverse range of subjects and, as thorough as my science curriculum was, I equally enjoyed my humanities courses and volunteering opportunities on campus.
In exploring so many areas of study and under the rigor of instruction from my professors, I ultimately learned that nothing is impossible. Knowing that I have the confidence and ability to overcome any challenge that comes my way is the most important thing I learned at the Technion.
Michael: I’ve heard a similar sentiment from other alumni, and it speaks to how resilient the Technion community is – even years after graduation. Where did you take your skills after the Technion?
Nathanaelle: I was fascinated by the study of semiconductors while I was in university. After graduation, I joined TowerJazz, a semiconductor manufacturing company, and I worked there for five years as a device engineer. I learned a lot in my time there, but I knew I wanted to move on to more strategic roles that impacted business decisions. I decided to explore a diverse educational foundation and pursue a Master of Business Administration. I took a chance and applied to graduate school in the US while pregnant with my second child, and I was accepted to the MIT Sloan School of Management. I never abandoned my science roots, though, and I held leadership positions in the healthcare and technology clubs while I was there.
Michael: That’s quite the leap to move to the US with your husband and two kids and pivot to a business degree, but I am sure you excelled given the close alignment between a Technion and MIT education. Did you make a big career change as well, or go back to the tech sector?
Nathanaelle: After I graduated, we moved out to Silicon Valley knowing that I wanted to reenter the tech world. I joined SanDisk, a data storage company, as a product manager where I was responsible for developing embedded storage for the mobile, smart home, and automotive markets. After a few years, I realized that I wanted to move towards consumer products. Around that time, Google launched their first Google Home speaker. I have always been passionate about consumer products, and I just fell in love with this one. I knew I had to join the team! I left SanDisk to join Google as Lead Product Manager where I later led the full launch of Google Nest Wifi, which ensures full home connectivity coverage for Wifi and smart home devices with Google Assistant integrated. Eventually, though, after the family grew with two other children born in the US, my husband and I wanted our family to settle down in Israel. We moved back to Tel Aviv in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. In Tel Aviv, I joined the Waze team to lead all of the mobile and in-car user experience while driving.
Michael: Based on what I know about your work with Soli, I can guess that working there is likely very different from working in big tech. From everything I’ve heard so far, it seems like you actively seek new experiences whenever you have the chance. Can you tell me more about how you started working with them?
Nathanaelle: At Google, I loved getting to influence hundreds of millions of users with the Home products and Waze. However, the start-up space was very attractive to me because I was interested in the process of building a product from the ground up and finding product-market-fit. A company called SafeUp was looking for a head of product to guide that process and build their product strategy. I saw the position as a way to build something from scratch with a mission I cared about deeply, so I took the leap and joined the team! From there, our team transformed SafeUp into Soli. Even a year later, I find the fast pace of the start-up environment incredibly refreshing and exciting. Similar to my time at the Technion, I feel like anything is possible.
Michael: Could you walk me through what Soli is and how it works?
Nathanaelle: Absolutely. Soli, which evolved from SafeUp, is a revolutionary app creating a safe space for women and those who identify as such. It initially focused on ensuring women’s safety in potentially dangerous situations, like feeling unsafe while walking alone. Users could connect with nearby women for immediate support. Recognizing the deeper potential of this woman-to-woman support system, we transformed SafeUp into Soli. Now, Soli is more than a safety tool; it’s a safe space for women to find solidarity and support during times of loneliness, frustration, or fear. To ensure maximum safety for our sisterhood, we use business intelligence and advanced tech to run identity checks and ensure that potential users are who they say they are. If there is any doubt about a potential user, our community team will make personal contact and ask for further proof of identification.
With the added comfort of identity verification, users can share their struggles in a judgment-free environment and are instantly matched with like-minded women. Soli is not just an app for seeking help; it’s a safe place where users have the opportunity to offer support, foster empowerment, and develop relationships with like-minded peers.
Michael: Community support is something we’ve all been relying on heavily these past few months, and hearing stories of strangers offering compassion to others in need is a bright spot. I’m curious what, if anything, changed at Soli after the war started on October 7th?
Nathanaelle: Soli is currently available in 40 countries with a focus on the UK market. After October 7th, we saw a sharp increase in demand for our services in Israel. We had to quickly adapt and focus our product to respond to the horrific events that day and the war that followed because the widespread emotional impact was unlike anything we had encountered before. While Soli employs advanced AI for identifying critical situations needing external assistance, the platform aims to support day-to-day struggles and wins. We wanted to provide a secure and supportive environment for every woman facing challenges in Israel during this difficult period and provide a way for women who wanted to volunteer and support others to come to Soli and provide this help.
Fortunately, we came to realize that Soli was equipped to respond to these unique needs, and we’ve built an incredibly robust community of women across Israel.
Michael: Have you been surprised by any of the needs that women have used Soli for in the last few months?
Nathanaelle: Most of our user base are Gen Z and Millennials, and we’ve noticed an increase in loneliness among these populations even in a country like Israel. That really surprised me, especially because of Israel’s close-knit national culture. Clearly, the last few months have made it difficult for Israelis to get help through their traditional network including friends and family. The entire nation is experiencing different levels of post-trauma, but we have found that no one else has really looked into this specific generation and group of women who were not directly impacted by the attacks but still suffering emotionally.
In addition to dealing with emotions linked to the war, many women struggle with celebrating their small personal victories because of the guilt that comes with having more optimistic feelings during such difficult times worldwide. It’s been uplifting to see that we have provided an open forum for listening and validation to any woman who may be silently struggling right now, and it doesn’t look like the need for this community will slow any time soon.
Michael: In the digital age, we definitely take for granted just how vital our online communities are to our sense of belonging and strength, and your work is a great reminder of just how much of an impact they can have on individuals. It sounds like Soli is providing an essential forum for women in Israel right now, and I’m excited to see how the platform continues to grow worldwide.
Nathanaelle: Thank you, Michael! While our focus is on Israel and the UK for the time being, we will definitely continue to work towards growing our Soli network of women all over the world. It has been a pleasure reconnecting with you and the Technion.