• Levi D'Amato

Building Business: A look into startups and how they operate

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

What does the word startup mean to you? For me, I think of Bill Gates dropping out of college and risking it all to create what we all know now as Microsoft. Startups are a gamble, and that’s what makes them so enticing. They are all success stories and make great examples of “The American Dream.” However, the harsh reality of startups is that like all great stories, there are a hundred bad ones to accompany them. In fact, 90% of startups fail. So, why are they so intriguing for young businessmen? For this question, I turned to Tomer Porat, who has recently become involved in a startup called Upstream Security. The company offers a unique product: cybersecurity for cars. With the world becoming more and more technologically advanced, cars are more and more dominated by computer systems. This means that cars are susceptible to being hacked, just as your computer is. Don’t panic, though! Upstream provides cybersecurity and data management for your vehicle, just as Norton Antivirus does for your computer.

Tomer’s company is based in Israel, hailed by some as a “startup nation.” With around 6,000 active startups and a high prioritization in technology, it's the perfect soil for the seeds of a startup like Upstream. Just like the US, the Israeli government also provides startups with funding and support. However, the chances of startups succeeding are still slim. For any startup, regardless of its location, the key is to gain funding. This funding comes in waves. The first level of funding is localized, where funds are invested by the founders, their friends, and their family. The next level features wealthy investors who fund companies in their early stages. After that, venture capital firms invest millions of dollars into a startup. The end goal is for a startup to go public. This makes it a public company that anyone can invest in. However, it can take years to reach this goal. Most startups will start to see success within seven to ten years. Bill Gates’s Microsoft took six years to get its first major contract. And Apple didn’t release its first computer until 1984, despite being established in 1976. Tomer joined Upstream last year, and loosely refers to his position as “Cyber threat researcher on the product management team.” By the time I talk to him, it’s been a busy day. He just had a long meeting on a yearly annual report he has been working on for the past couple of months. When Tomer had the time to chat, it was 11:00 PM in his country. The startup life is loosely structured and can be stressful at times, but this is what Tomer lives for. He says that the thrill is what motivates him, along with the good people and the fact that one can think big and do beyond his “job title.” This healthy environment that helps push ideas farther, faster, better, is in some cases, the huge advantage of small startups over big corporations.

Tomer joined his company right after serving in the army, back when Upstream had a few dozen employees. He says that his military service and his commander with whom he was in a close relationship, impacted him joining Upstream heavily. During his service, he served as a cyber defense team lead in the elite Unit 8200, which works heavily in the cybersecurity field. However, Tomer believes that his new position gives him a new perspective of cybersecurity. In the past, he had worked in cybersecurity for the protection of his country. Now, his company develops security for civilians all around the world. One reason why Upstream is so successful is because of the passion of its people. Tomer told me about his company, and one of the things he said that caught me was about the people. Tomer told me how the company is filled with workers who devote themselves to the startup because they believe they are making an impact. This goes along with trends of startups that succeed. The startups that have passionate and motivated teams are the most successful, and Upstream proves that.

Despite the company growing and becoming more successful, Tomer still feels the nervousness to improve and to prove himself in the industry. Being part of a startup can be a dangerous game, and it’s always a risk. However, the important aspect of successful startups is leadership. According to Tomer, the reason he is so confident in Upstream is because he trusts the company’s leadership. Having trustworthy and confident leaders create a workplace environment with high morale, leading to more efficiency in the office. Another way that employees get stressed out is by what psychologists call “imposter syndrome.” Some workers doubt their abilities and begin to feel anxiety and doubt. However, Tomer says that this is a common feeling that many people have and that people are very open about this and sometimes even laugh about this, so the team gets through everything together.

Overall, startups are a risky endeavor. Seeing and learning from his leadership team, Tomer’s advice is that imagination and understanding your abilities are the key factors in entrepreneurship. Also, he says that you should go into a startup with the understanding that it might fail, but knowing you will use the best of your abilities to prevent it from failing, because everyone is in the same boat. Some, like Tomer, live for the thrill of being part of a business from scratch, as opposed to joining an established company. The important thing to remember is that everything started from something. Although companies like Google and Apple are massive international companies, they all started like Upstream.

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