Uri Levine’s Waze and Means


More than 50 million people around the world are using an app that helps drivers get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time. That mapping app is Waze, which has revolutionized how people find directions, in part by crowd-sourcing real-time, driver-inputted alerts about traffic situations.

And it wouldn’t have been possible without the vision of programmer and startup guru Uri Levine.

As co-founder of Waze along with two colleagues, Levine was president of the Israeli-based company from 2007 to 2013, when it was sold to Google for $1.3 billion – reportedly the biggest buyout sum in Israeli tech history.

“I was pretty sure the vision that we had will be kept – helping drivers to avoid traffic jams,” notes Levine. “Waze had to be sold; only Google knew how to monetize it in a gigantic way that we would never be able to do.”

Not content following a single road, Levine steered himself towards creating other apps, even while still employed by Waze.

The FeeX app was spurred by Levine’s annoyance at his bank slapping him with an unexpected $250 fee when he wanted to cash out an investment. Though he disputed the charges and was reimbursed, the burgeoning tech maven decided that he wanted to help others avoid similar costly surprises from banks and other institutions.

It took a $100,000 investment on Levine’s part in 2009 to launch the app, which appraises users’ investments and portfolios and seeks out lower fees. FeeX currently boasts nearly 200,000 users.

The Fairfly app has a similar money-saving mandate. The airline-ticket app searches for cheaper flights, and can even cancel an existing booking for a user after a ticket has been purchased.

Levine, who built his success on an app for drivers, also kick-started an app that analyses what auto repairs are needed, called Engie. The app connects to a vehicle’s computer and informs the driver of repairs that may be needed before a problem arises.

Meanwhile, Levine hasn’t strayed far from the geo-mapping idea, as a board member and investor to Moovit, a Waze-like app for public transit. How he manages to attract users for these various platforms may come as a surprise to some.

“With all successful apps, their growth was based on word of mouth,” Levine says. “Look at the apps that you have on your first screen, your homepage, and ask yourself how you heard about them. It is nearly always ‘someone told me’.”

Getting a product noticed is “very simple,” to Levine’s mind: “Create value for the users, and make it simple to get to the value.”

Much of this tech wizardry can be traced back to 1981, when a 16-year-old Uri Levine was tinkering with his first computer, the Sinclair ZX. It contained just two kilobytes of memory – upgradeable to 16 – comparable today to a few seconds’ worth of an MP3 music file.

In adulthood, Levine entered Israel’s cyber-spy agency, Unit 8200, later becoming a software developer for Israeli intelligence. From there, he took his programming abilities to the telecommunications company Comverse.

Throughout his career, Levine credits a combination of academics and hands-on experience for providing him the tools to make groundbreaking decisions.

“I would say that the Economics degree from Tel Aviv University provided me with a point of view, but the real study was in the army, and later on-the-job as a developer,” he says.

Having brought various successful startups to the world, Levine suggests the primary goal of anyone entering a business is to “fall in love with the problem, and not the solution.”

He also says a new venture must be willing to make changes on the fly if necessary.

“Half of the startups fail because they realize that the team is not right, and they don’t fix it.”

Levine cautions entrepreneurs not to lose sight of their goals, either.

“It’s very easy to defocus,” he observes. “You have to say no to everything else which is not solving the problem.”

Dave Gordon | The Edge Blog



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