Waze to Stay in Israel and Double Number of Local Employees

The Israeli startup, acquired by Google, had tough times when no one wanted to invest, recalls the firm's CEO at a Tel Aviv gathering of entrepreneurs.

Waze expects to double the number of employees it has in Israel by the end of 2014, CEO Noam Bardin said earlier this week.

Bardin said that Waze had grown 20% since it was acquired. The Israel navigation app developer has 120 employees at its office in Ra’anana who are supposed to move to Google’s Tel Aviv office, after the startup was bought by the Internet giant in June.

His comments were made during a video conversation from California with Waze co-founder and former president Uri Levine as part of a Tel Aviv event called Venture Capital in Jeans: A Year of Exits. The event was part of the Startup Stadium initiative hosted by Izhar Shay, a partner in the venture capital fund Canaan Partners. Entrepreneurs from some of this year’s biggest exits were at the event, including Primesense and Soluto.

“It was a real experience to join Google,” said Bardin. If someone needs to sell their company, I strongly recommend Google.”

The Waze CEO also confirmed that the startup’s management had told Google that it would stay in Israel after the acquisition and that the multinational had no problem with that arrangement. “It's not practical to move 100 people,” said Bardin.

He added that most difficult period in Waze’s startup phase was raising the second round of investment. The business was not taking off, the money had run out and the company was not paying salaries, he said. At the time, Waze entered negotiations with Microsoft and there was a lot of friction with investors.

“Today, people look at Waze as a success story, but it was hard,” said Bardin. When the startup asked all the venture capital funds in Israel to invest in the company valued at $40 million they all refused. “In the end, the round [of investment] ended at $100 million when Microsoft entered the picture,” he recalled.

Levine said that the first round of investment -- before Bardin joined the company -- had been even harder. “The trek to raise money is a hard one,” Levine said, comparing the startup experience to a rollercoaster ride.

Bardin’s advice to new entrepreneurs was to think about where to gain the expertise necessary to pull it off. “Every entrepreneur who sets out must think from where to draw experience – from investors and mentors,” he said. “One must minimize mistakes. Before getting started one needs to find experienced people and Israel has many people who have been there and done it.”

During Waze's acquisition negotiations the media buzzed with rumors, among them, one regarding final talks with Facebook. Bardin seemed to confirm that most of the rumors were true. “We have a problem with startups in Israel, people don’t know how to keep their mouths shut,” he said, noting that several times these rumors almost torpedoed the final deal.

The Waze traffic and travel app now directs some 1 million Israeli drivers a day.
Reuters
Itzik Ben-Malki