Are the values of a successful start-up Jewish at their core?
For decades now, Israeli cities have been overrun by cats. As the Start-Up Nation continues to bloom, Israelis can soon look forward to another creature inundating their streets: the unicorn.
First coined in 2013, a “unicorn” is the term given to a privately-held start-up valued at $1 billion - and in Israel, there is an influx of them.
About a month ago, I walked into the Tel Aviv offices of one of the latest Israeli companies to join this rank, monday.com: a team management software company that soon thereafter announced a $150 million Series D round at a $1.9 Billion valuation.
I was there for a first interview - and I must be honest - at the time, I didn’t fully understand what I was getting myself into. In hindsight, I now understand I was overly nonchalant about the prospect of working at this one-horned wonder. With an unparalleled work culture, monday is not only a commercial rocket-ship, but a leader in worker happiness and satisfaction. The implications of this are exciting. If other companies are forced to replicate this kind of work environment to compete in attracting talent, these values may hopefully become industry standard.
In my opinion, many successful corporate values - although perhaps unfashionable to point out these days - are rooted in Judaism. I can’t help but wonder whether, ultimately, in an unexpected cosmic narrative-twist, the corporate world will inadvertently turn out to be one of the frontiers through which Jewish values manifest in the world.
As I walked in for my first interview at monday.com, I was immediately struck by a feeling that resonated with something deeper, intangible and very potent: the feeling of home.
The first word in the Torah is Bereishit, loosely translated as “in the beginning”. There is a form of Jewish numerology which spells out individual letters the way they are pronounced. For example, the letter Bet is spelled out in Hebrew as “בית”, which can also be read as ‘Bayit’ meaning ‘home’. Using this method, we can re-read the first word of the Torah as “the home is the beginning”.
So it’s no surprise that monday.com has invested in making its offices as comfortable as possible. While this isn’t anywhere near the primary attraction of the company, it’s a nice perk. In the Tel Aviv office, there’s a gym, massage room, zen meditation room, whiskey room, sleep room, wood workshop, music room, podcast-recording studio, and a cinema. There are showers on every floor, monthly lunch-ordering credit, a constant stream of catered food and healthy snacks - and if you’re really picky about nutrition, beer on tap.
In making employees feel like a family, the company goes above and beyond in ensuring that their workers’ every need is taken care of. If you’ve forgotten to write a card for a loved one on Tu B’Av (Jewish Valentine’s Day), there’ll be a card station kitted with decorations and chocolates. If you need to entertain your kids while running into the office on a Friday - they can enjoy the jumping castle that goes up on weekends.
There are Pilates classes and woodwork classes; bi-weekly fun nights out, summer camps for employees’ kids - and of course - a regular component of Israeli tech start-ups: dogs walking around the offices. There’s even what’s known as monday clinic - in which, if needed, the company provides and pays for anonymous appointments with a psychologist.
The feeling of entering one’s home can be far more telling than any other external gauge. Little wonder then, why there is so much emphasis on the concept of a home in Jewish law. Jewish values can be felt by simply entering the home, just as I felt monday’s values when I walked into their offices. Of course, that comes largely from ongoing company culture - but values start, and stem, from home.
In line with the product’s goal of making work processes more transparent, the company promotes a culture of transparency internally. Through its internal data repository known as Big Brain, virtually every KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is open for all to see. It includes classic metrics such as ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) and far beyond, into areas such as the amount of student accounts, the distribution of production costs and even customer support tickets.
Not only are these metrics available, they are projected on screens around the office. Every 5 metres or so, there’s a new panel of Big Brain monitors. On the sales floor, it takes a special twist. When a deal closes, the monitors get momentarily overtaken by digital confetti raining down over a picture of the rep who closed it and how much they closed for. This is followed by rapturous applause by members of the sales team.
In Hebrew, the word soul (neshama) comes from the same root as the word for breath (neshima). The air we breathe may be intangible and transparent, but is nonetheless most crucial to our survival. In Jewish philosophy, the same is true of the soul: We cannot see it or grasp it, but it is nonetheless our most crucial and essential component.
In a corporate environment, a state of transparency is therefore akin to the soul: crucial to its ongoing sustenance. In a transparent environment, everyone is imperfect, not merely those that invest more in hiding it. With transparency, everyone is accountable, not merely those with superior titles. And of course, everyone is nicer, since so many nasty social dynamics around us are based on imagined projections.
What emerges is a space to make mistakes and learn from them - which is in turn crucial to the next value: modesty
Perhaps the most highly-regarded human trait in Judaism is humility. Einstein famously said that knowledge is inversely proportional to ego: a matter-of-fact take on what we often consider to be a mere nicety. Crudely explained, there can be no growth nor expansion if the individual already perceives himself as maximised.
For monday.com, a candidate can be extremely talented – even the best in their field – but a drop of ego and they won't get hired. The result is that work processes become more result-oriented because the product, the team and the company become greater than the individuals who comprise it.
Over time, humans developed tools to address challenges. In the modern age, these tools became digital. Then, when these tools inundated us, we needed new tools to manage our tools! Tools become counterintuitive when they demand us to work for them, more than they work for us! This has given rise to emergent market of management software.
A key component of the monday platform is automation - whether teaching the system to create recurring tasks, or to update relevant players when things change. This results in virtually all of that counterintuitive grudge work being taken out. Another main reason the monday.com platform has become so popular is that the user experience is simple. Simplicity is revitalising in a world that is becoming increasingly complex.
The Jewish institution called Shabbat aims to achieve exactly that. It is a shared cultural agreement that strips away the daily complexities and invites us into our own home, affording us the opportunity to refocus. For me, this is exactly what Shabbat is all about. Once a week we put down our tools to remind us that they should be serving us, not vice versa.
The challenge of tomorrow’s Jewish educators is not one of content, but of branding: For today’s generation, hearing “saying a blessing before eating” causes us to turn up our nose; call it “mindful eating” on the other hand, and we’ll be lining up to find out more. At face value, there is nothing kosher about a unicorn, but then again, Judaism has never been about taking life at face value. In a world in which spiritual inspiration is ever-hard to come by, it may just take a one-horned mythical beast to do the trick.
After studying at the University of Cape Town and Ohr Sameach Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Josh made Aliyah and enlisted in the Nachal Brigade of the IDF. He now lives in Tel Aviv and works as a product consultant at monday.com. With activities ranging from body surfing, guitar-playing, making and selling biltong, writing, content-creation and scuba diving, Josh is living proof that ADHD should not be diagnosed nor treated, but channelled!