Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



Startup life: It’s a family effort

One month into the summer vacation and the kids are pretty busy. They keep themselves occupied, they don’t get bored, and they seem to be really happy with their freedom. I get to see them during meal times mostly. They don’t complain, yet I can’t escape the guilty feeling that’s creeping on me: What a terrible mom, not dedicating quality time to my kids during their summer vacation.

At the height of it, when I finally decided to take an hour off emailing and social networking to play a board game with my 9 year old son, he accepted me with a hug. Enhancing that guilty feeling.

But they know, and I even heard them explain it to their friends, that their mom is working, working really hard, working a lot. Sure, mom is at home, but mom is in her study, and shouldn’t be disturbed.

So it’s not only me paying the high price of a startup set up. Not that I ever believed it was only me. I can safely say that I am lucky my family accepts my crazy work hours and supports the startup effort.


What Does Bar-Mitzva has to do with Entrepreneurship?

This silly question kept popping over the past few weeks, as I have been working on both – the launch of my startup company, and the launch of my son into adulthood.

So a child reaches the age of 13 and there’s a bunch of ceremonies and traditions worldwide around the grand achievement of getting to a 13th birthday (give or take a year or two). All are aimed at marking his entrance to a world of adults.

We celebrated this event yesterday with the family at a restaurant. My son was excited and touched, proud and happy. He received many blessings and presents. Can’t do without the symbolic sentence like “you are now…” bla bla bla (although I think that was the waitress). This morning he found it hard to get out of bed. First day of the week. Then he started coughing and declared he is sick. The child remains a child. No ceremony can change that.

I found an interesting correlation with the launch of our startup company, Saveby. The fact that you announce the launch of an alpha version – doesn’t mean, of course, this baby can now walk. There’s such a long way ahead of us. The transition to “adulthood” can take steps forward and backwards just like adolescents do.

It just made me think that perhaps, the Bar-Mitzva and similar adulthood ceremonies should be postponed for another 5-10 years. Or better still, don’t let age or ceremonies decide adulthood, let development announce it, when it’s there.

As for the start up – at least there the convention is simple: when it walks you can remove the “beta” for the title. OK, my son is now in beta.

Regrets? Na… not me.

Why didn’t I do my first startup 14 years ago? It was shortly after ICQ was launched that I had my first “big” startup idea. It was a couple of years after I acquired my degree in marketing and left print journalism in favor of the internet. I had a 6 digit ICQ ID which I was very proud of. I thought the ICQ technology could be easily adopted for advertising and sales: let people sign up to get news and updates from their chosen brands and sellers. I even found the perfect name for this startup: Lemino.

I toyed with the idea for months. Drafted business documents. Began creating a system flow. Then I met with a seasoned entrepreneur, at the time “between CEO jobs”, hoping to recruit him and together build this company.

In retrospect – this was probably my major mistake. And it happened because 14 years ago, I was too young to realize it wasn’t a leader I needed, but a team. Preferably a technical one.

The idea melted away, I needed income and I abandoned it, along with quite a few good ideas that came before and after it. It took several good years of acquiring experience in several domains to realize I have what it takes, always had it. And it’s time to go swimming.

Nothing Much.

I’ve been so terribly preoccupied lately I didn’t get a chance to complete any of the blog posts I’ve started to write. Each paragraph bursting out of me in a rage of passion to this topic or that. But then I get all entangled with the actual doings, and the post gets abandoned.

Well not this time. This one is going up.

There is a mix of topics I am dealing with. If an outsider would have looked at my browser windows at any given point of time – they might consider a multiple personality disorder…

At this time, for example, I have a bunch of Facebook games I am trying out. Then several windows explaining about World of Warcraft and how to play it, and an additional bunch of windows all related to the use of World of Warcraft at school. There are many recommendations there. I’d start with Lucas Gillispie’s web site

Then I have another set of windows open and they relate to the efforts to bring some innovation into education in Israel. There is a list of 29 elementary schools in Israel that are considered “experimental”. 21 high schools and 34 nursery school classes. It’s a drop in the ocean really. Some of the experiments described do not present any education innovation at all. But some do, and I cling to then with hope it may hint of a positive direction.

Seems impossible to be online without some of my favorite networks: at this time it’s, where I follow the discussion on NYTimes: “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green and where I follow the wow-in-school group

As a side kick I need to check out the weather in far away Thessaloníki in Greece, since my daughter would be traveling there tonight, to participate at a Model UN convention. There are some un-answered email messages about the Eurekamp unconference I am helping to organize. I also have to check out some sources regarding a TV documentary I am planning to do and …oops. My alarm clock just went off. Got to pick up the little one from school. Time for a break.

If only there were 34 hours a day…

In less then 30 minutes I will be out the door again, on my way to the violin lesson with my 7.5 year old son. It’s raining outside, and windy, and cold. I would rather stay at home. But to be perfectly honest – the weather is not the reason. The reason is that I have so little time to work.

I feel like running against the wind. Got so many errands and driving assignments there’s barely no time left for continuous undisturbed work. With no other choices I find myself trying to catch up at night, sometimes staying up until 1AM. These are good quiet hours that allow me to read huge amounts of material. But these are slow hours for writing and really not the time for conversations at all.

I have to admit that being a mother AND an entrepreneur is, let’s put it delicately, challenging. I want to be there for my kids, I want to take a part in their lives, I want to play with them, read with them… I also want to live my own life and find time to do some sports, to meet with friends, watch TV. Taking on entrepreneurship is what changes it to super-juggling. Entrepreneurship requires more hours then a day has to offer. I’m in a serious deficit.

Is this why there aren’t so many mother-entrepreneurs?

Yet, I am not ready to give any of it up. To make things even worse – I think I have discovered my calling over the last several months. I feel so passionately about education I just know I have to get involved and start doing things. Well… I actually started to. More news would follow.

It’s Kidsville!

It’s kidsville time!!

I admit it.  I gave in to my youngest child and let him get an account on Facebook. Farmville was the trigger, and though he is apparently the first among his 2nd grade classmates to play it I am not convinced he is the first one to have a Facebook account. He started by playing Farmville with his brother (6th grader) and sister (10th grader). But his network of neighboring farms is expanding to include their friends and more distant family members.

CNN titled it “Social networks and kids: How young is too young?”
They mention, among other things, Susan Greenfield who was quoted on “The Mail”, an article which I already covered in my February post. How young really? My daughter joined on 8th grade. My son at the beginning of his 5th grade. And then my youngest at the beginning of his 2nd grade. That’s probably as young as possible for a text based network.

But here are two new facts to consider:

First, the PEW report published a day after the CNN item. It’s titled “Social Isolation and New Technology” which “finds that Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the Internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – Internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.”

The second is this item, published on National Geographic about 2 weeks earlier, titled “Googling Fights Dementia, Study Suggests”.

So let’s stop and think for a moment.

What do kids find in social networks?

I think that … big surprise, the same as adults: Accessibility. Of people, of course. Why is it OK for me to use social networks to connect with colleagues who I never met and may never meet face to face in my life, from other parts of the planet, but it’s dangerous for kids to use social networks to connect to classmates or school mates or soccer team members who they cannot meet on a daily basis after school hours?

Well I am no fool. Some people jump at this question with the dangers theme. There are many dangers lurking around the cyber corner and these are more meaningful to innocent young kids then they are to adults with some life experience or to teens with some networking experience.

Yes, some teens are more network savvy then some adults I have met. They understand what details one never reveals, what information to present or not to present in the first place, how to block unwanted communications… They know the network’s right and wrong as well as they know the streets’ right and wrong and sometimes even better. Those streets that bear dangers to innocent young kids too – so what’s the difference?

The difference is that we know the streets, we feel that we can see the streets and imagine we can anticipate street behavior. However the network is perceived as not visible and unpredictable. Personally I might be a different mom. I fear I cannot see what is happening with my kids on their way home from school. It’s about 300 meters walk, through a path between trees, and it’s scarier in my view, then the time they spend online – either chatting or on social networks.

The Internet, as I see it, is a channel of communications which is here to stay. The question we are facing now is not how young is too young, or how to control the younger generation’s use of the network, but rather – how do we make it more visible and more predictable to us, their parents.

I keep remembering this “House on the Prairie” episode “Cross Connections” where they introduced the telephone and switchboard in the town. There will always be those who abuse the innovation, but can you imagine our world without a telephone connection??


Personal Happyness Quest

“No happy mothers” is the opening line in an interview conducted by Dana Spector with Orna Landau, the author of a new book in Hebrew, freely translated to “One more love”.

No happy mothers???

It’s time to publish the following post, written about 3 years ago. It was a part of a discussion on “Digital Eve Israel”. The discussion titled “Upward Mobility” started with the question why are there so few women CEO’s and VP’s in Israel.

Reflecting on the “upward mobility” issue, I was reminded how I once was extremely ambitious and the sky was the limit. I could have been your lady CEO, had I pursued my plan accurately. But something changed in my life and made me look at things from a different perspective.

The first time I was driven off my job was after my boss at the time said “this is not really a job for married women with children”. This was a year after my first child was born. Two guys were needed to take my place during the 4 months of maternity leave I took and when I returned I was softly advised to try another position, not quite as central or demanding as my original position (but please support the guys when they need it). I agreed to try it but it wasn’t quite it, and when I asked for my original position back, I was advised seriously by my boss that this is ‘not a suitable position for married women with kids’.
That insult was the last straw in that industry, where you sometimes need to behave like a man to move upwards.

That was the first change in plans. Nearly 6 years later, a start up I was working for, averaging 12 hours per day (already a mother with 2 kids) fired me, with half the company, when I was 2 months pregnant. Knowing I was about to have a difficult pregnancy I took it as some omen and decided to stay home and get to know my kids from noon hours on. The freelance jobs I took were performed with the laptop, in bed.

After only 6 months the change was showing on their health and on their growth charts. That’s when I decided I will stay home even longer and actually skip nannies with this 3rd and last child. During this time it suddenly hit me:
As liberal and feminist as I’d like to consider myself I realized that motherhood is really a very temporary privilege. If I don’t use it to the fullest now I will never get a chance to redo it. It’s not that I haven’t been a mother before: it’s just that I have discovered the connection between the quality and quantity in the case of motherhood. The more you are there – the more you can affect the way your children learn to think, behave, react, study, communicate, not to mention their choices… I became an ambitious mother.

After a couple of years at home, when the youngest went to his first “day care”, I decided to look, again, for a position. All offers I got discussed limitless number of working hours per day, for a position to suit my qualifications. Companies demanded 10 hours per day at least. I actually wrote about it several times, but no one really cares. It’s a state-induced workholism.

That’s when I became a “CEO”. I decided I have enough knowledge, experience, expertise, ability and originality to establish my own business. I never present myself as the CEO of Lemino. But here I am, letting you know, that I am.

The fact that women are not as involved in the corporate life as men has a lot to do with the choice of motherhood, and a little to do with the way math and sciences was (sometimes still is) taught. I know only one success story in person: I can never understand how she did and does everything – a brilliant career and motherhood at a very early age. I think that determination has a lot to do with her success. But most of all – talent. She is so talented and really appreciated. And it also takes a special talent to be able to juggle between the two careers. When I asked her opinion on the upward mobility, and she is a high management in one of the largest high-tech corporations based in Israel, she said that although at the entry level they keep the numbers balanced between men and women – it changes later, and it seems like most of the time it is made by choice, when priorities change. This choice is nothing to be ashamed of, or apologetic about.

I read this book, some time ago, “I don’t know how she does it” by Allison Pearson, which discusses smartly and with a lot of humor that conflict between a career and motherhood (also translated to Hebrew). Going back to happy mothers, I think every woman finds her happiness in a different place. I think happiness is, among other things, a function of what you want, same as disappointment is a function of what you expect or hope for. Happiness, real and true, can be found in many places but bear in mind that it does change forms with time.

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