The start up how to, by Waze app guru Uri Levine

2017’s already looking like it could be the year you save even more time and money using apps, and you may have Israeli Uri Levine to thank for it.

Levine, 51, a computer programmer, investor, and start up guru, was Waze co-founder (with two others) as well as president of the Israeli-based company from 2007 to 2013.

Similar to the crowd-sourcing online encyclopedia Wikipedia, Waze’s platform allows drivers to send real-time alerts about any traffic situation to other drivers, anywhere in the world.

Four years ago, Google bought Waze for a reported US$1.3-billion, said to be the largest buyout in the history of Israeli high tech.

Uri Levine, app guru

“Waze had to be sold,” he notes, “only Google knew how to monetize it in a gigantic way that we could never be able to do.” Today more than 50-million people use the app.

Since that time, Levine has been hard at work producing apps meant to help consumers spend less and save more.

To name a few, Engie connects to your car’s diagnostic computer, informing you of precisely what needs repairs before going to the mechanic. For people looking for discounted hotel rooms, Roomer helps people who want to offload and sell non-refundable hotel reservations.

Then there’s Fairfly: Once people have already bought their airplane tickets, the service searches for a cheaper flight.

Similarly, with FairSale, another after-purchase app, you scan your receipt with your phone, and the service will keep tabs on when the store has a price guarantee. (About $130-billion is lost by US consumers alone, because they don’t know about, or ignore low-price guarantees, according to Levine.)

In 2009, while still working at Waze, Levine launched FeeX – another app – with a $100,000 investment. The aim is to help people save money on financial services and investment funds. The idea came to him during the economic downturn, at a time when funds in his own investment portfolio lost a fifth of their value, and he had been charged what he thought was an unjust bank user fee.

“After I argued with them, they reimbursed me. That’s when I wanted to find ways to expose hidden financial fees. Feex examines people’s portfolios and suggests similar investments that have less expensive fees.”

In the United States alone, he contends, people pay about $600-billion annually to investment managers for their retirement and other funds. Today, there are about 30,000 users of the app in America, about 100,000 in Israel.

It might seem, then, financial acumen comes naturally for Levine, who holds a Bachelor’s of Economics from Tel Aviv University, but his love for programming came first.

In 1981, at age 16, he acquired his first computer, a Sinclair ZX – for its day considered one of the most popular computers globally, with just two kilobytes of memory. By way of example, most microwave ovens within a year or two later had more functionality.

One of his first jobs was as a software developer in the Israeli army, and later a developer at Comverse, a telecommunications company in Israel. About 20 years ago, it was one of the largest employers of software engineers, and an Israeli high-tech industry success story.

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

Often asked for his advice on how to launch a start-up, he offers a five-step approach:

  • “First, fall in love with the problem – not the solution.
  • Second, make mistakes fast. The biggest enemy of good enough is perfect.
  • Third, focus. It’s very easy to defocus. You have to say no to everything else which is not solving the problem.
  • Fourth, half of the startups fail because they realize that the team is not right and they don’t fix it.
  • And finally, understand who your users are, and what their perception of the problem is.”

As for apps, those wishing to create and launch one should have this goal in mind: “Create value for the users, and make it simple to get to the value.”


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