Israeli Company Gives Silicon Wadi’s Senior Citizens a Second Chance

Often not, but one company called By the People gives silicon wadi’s seniors a second chance.

When Mercado Software faced liquidation and was sold to a U.S. company at the end of 2008, one of the dozens of employees left jobless was Avital Yanovsky, now 48, a programmer who had done her army service in the Mamram computer unit.

For the first time in her life, Yanovsky found herself without a job, an emotionally devastating experience for her. After a while she decided to learn coaching but quit after a few months. “High-tech is what I know best: It’s my professional destiny,” she says.

But destiny and reality don’t always go hand in hand, and all attempts to reenter the industry at a level that suited her skills were unsuccessful.

Two years after being laid off by Mercado, however, Yanovsky discovered By the People, a company performing and managing projects for other high-tech companies employing 88 freelancers plus a staff of 12 people with physical or minor emotional handicaps.

By the People, using a unique business model, offers techies aged 40 and over the chance to rejoin the workforce after leaving their previous companies for various reasons, mostly due to layoffs.

Yanovsky is happy there. “Most of my colleagues are my age, more or less,” she says. “Unlike at other high-tech companies, a person’s relatively advanced age isn’t a reason for firing him or for blocking his advancement. I don’t suffer the daily anxiety over my professional future and I’m exposed to other workers who each do something else.”

By the People isn’t a philanthropic organization, but a high-tech services company that is out to make a profit while at the same time pursuing social objectives. Workers range in age from 38 to 67.

“These are excellent people who mainly dropped out of the labor market due to age,” says founder Oren Glanz, a serial entrepreneur for many years with two handsome exits behind him.

Glanz, who makes his way around in a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, started the company in 2008 after realizing that the labor market was thirsting for different models.

“Techies being fired over and over undergo a hard experience that becomes even more difficult as they grow older,” he explains. “They come to us hurt, sometimes after all their savings have run out and they can’t lower their standard of living any further. We give these people, who excelled where they worked in the past, a platform and tell them: ‘Rather than retire, go back to doing with us what you did three or 10 years ago, because there’s a demand for professionals. Come work in our framework as a team of experts.’

“It’s important to understand that these people don’t want to be salaried again, but they want to stay in the field they know and love,” he continues. “Here they can work without the normally insane atmosphere at the high-tech companies. In the projects we manage they switch from taking an employee’s approach to taking the approach of a small independent in a secure area, and from here − if they want − they can become truly self-employed and establish, for instance, a startup like some of them dream of doing. “Only a few work exclusively on our projects. We highly encourage them to also bring in independent projects.”

TheMarker: What if a younger person wants to join you?

Glanz: “Young people don’t come here for the simple reason that they prefer being salaried and hope it won’t happen to them: That the market won’t toss them out at an older age.”

Anyone who wants is accepted?

“Absolutely not: Candidates undergo careful screening. We want to provide our customers the best workforce. We present ourselves as a community of experts because that’s exactly what we are.”

Encouraging an independent career

The company model is mainly based on services to outside companies. “Large companies come to us asking for various services,” according to Glanz. “Our people work on these projects as freelancers while at the same time bringing in their own projects.”

The professionals, he claims, earn between NIS 35,000 and NIS 45,000 a month and the rest according to their field of expertise. “The pay isn’t any lower than employee salaries earned in their field,” he says, adding that they pay a “token amount” for office services.

Where do the company’s profits come from?

“From the projects that the company manages with a guarantee to the customer,” says Glanz. “We are talking about roughly 10% to 20% of the project’s value.”

Some would say that you’re taking advantage by avoiding employer-employee relations.

“This model isn’t a salary-based model. It’s important to us that each of the workers here builds an independent career and our job is to support them this way.”

Osnat Heifetz, 46, worked at ompanies like Yael Software and ECI Telecom before her career was derailed when she accompanied her husband on a stint in Paris on behalf of the state. “When I came back to Israel in 2004 I didn’t want to go back to being salaried and dependent on the organization’s stability,” she says. “I was also fed up with always being moved around from place to place. I decided I had enough and became a consultant.”

For six years Heifetz worked from home and from coffeehouses, but about half a year ago the loneliness began to bother her. “At first I thought about opening an office, and then I was told about the option of working independently in the framework of the company and I came here,” she explains. “Now I mainly deal with building websites and helping small businesses.”

Ruti Baron, 39, a marketing systems consultant who works mainly with small businesses, makes use of the company’s office infrastructure and her colleagues who she enlists when needed as partners in the projects she manages. In the past she worked in the bakery division of Elite.

“That job was round the clock and did me in,” she recounts. “Each time the biscuit production line broke down I had to drive to Nazareth to make sure it would be fixed.”

After working at other companies in marketing she arrived at By the People. “As a mother of two little girls I feel I can’t completely consume myself with my job,” she says. “The solution that the company offered is simply ideal.”

At 67, Eytan Ben Meir is the oldest worker at the company and an alumnus of Tadiran Telecom, Motorola Israel and Edunetics. The last company he worked at folded in 2009.

In the past two years at By the People, Ben Meir has performed projects such as establishing an online financial system compliant with Finance Ministry standards. He’s now working on a project in health management for a startup.

Returning to programming, which he hadn’t done for many years, was a compromise for him but he says he enjoys every minute. “The advantage is that the company has people who can participate in projects I initiate,” he says. “If I have a technical or technological problem I can consult with people sitting here. Flexibility is also important. At my age I’m not looking for a long-term career or a salaried status but want to be open to possibilities and opportunities.

“Nobody here told himself at 18 that he wants to be self-employed,” he says. “In fact, until the age of 40 the idea never occurred to them. But the shocks hitting the high-tech industry in waves, together with the latent desire for taking initiative that suddenly emerged, changed these people into self-employed, and furthermore toward being creative like they’ve never been before.”

Eyal Toueg