What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur? Interview with Compedia founder Shai Newman

By Thomas Ohr

We recently had the chance to interview Shai Newman, a successful entrepreneur from Tel Aviv who co-founded Compedia.

Founded in 1988, Compedia is a global leader in the development of interactive educational systems, content and technology. The Israel-based company specialized in creating engagement through gamification, re-inventing the way people interact with educational and professional content. Compedia’s internationally awarded products have already taught millions of people, in 50 countries, speaking 35 languages.

Shai Newman is also on the advisory board of MY-WAY, a project supported by the European Commission helping to improve the collaboration and efforts of web entrepreneurship initiatives from across Europe.

How did your entrepreneurial journey start and how did you become successful?

In 1988, I was a young student toward the end of my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Mathematics with significant programing experience. I had three opportunities to choose from. The first was to continue studying towards a PhD. The second alternative was to become a partner of a well-known business man and develop, with his financing, an advanced system for building “time tables” for allocating air crew stuff to flights. My third option was to start my own company together with friends using our own limited financing. What would you choose?

I took the third option and started my own company, Compedia, deciding to take control of my destiny in a balanced partnership with friends who were at the same position like me. Although it was very challenging, I am happy with the choices I made.

Today, 27 years later, I’m still with the same partners. About 100 employees are working with us in developing next generation simulated environments, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies. We are developing advanced platforms and systems for corporate training/simulations and education. We are successful and having a lot of fun and freedom.

Being on the MY-WAY advisory board gives me the opportunity to convey the lessons I have learned to young adults considering to become entrepreneurs.

What lessons did you learn regarding entrepreneurship?

One of the first lessons I have learned was to talk right to the point and in not too many words… so I have compiled a short list of important qualities, for you, a young entrepreneur to consider.

Focused & persistent but not fixed: Although you must be open minded and from time to time recalculate your route, you have to be very careful not to spend too much time in “recalculating”. Once you select your route for the next time frame you have set – be focused and persistent.

Willing to take risks: I’m not familiar with a great success that was not involved with risk taking. Once you find something that it is really worth to risk for, just go for it.

Great executioner: Eventually, for things to work you have to execute. Translate the vision into goals and the goals to action items. Then make them happen – together with your team. You won’t achieve your goals just by yourself.

Great salesperson and presenter: Your target is to sell! To customers, to investors, to your employees and even to your family and friends. You will need the support of all the above and more in order to succeed.

Smart: Planning, problem solving and almost any decision you’ll take is about selecting between alternatives. In many cases you will have to think hard. Being smart is essential.

Involved with the relevant ecosystems: Get to know your ecosystem. Meet your potential customers and present them your solution once you are ready. They will usually know better than you what they really need.

Last but not least – Enjoy! Enjoy what you do, it is hard to succeed in something you don’t really like. You will need a lot of intrinsic motivation.

Startups often have to adapt their initial business model in order to become successful. The vision might stay the same, but a pivot can lead to a completely new business model. Was your first product at Compedia already a success? How did your business model change over time?

Our initial product was a moderate success. It was just enough to gain some resources and market presence and lead to the next stage. During the years we have done many changes, either in products, market or channels.  It is a must. Your ecosystem is changing and you must adapt in order to survive.

In the unlikely event that Compedia would have to shut down its operations and you would have to start all over again: What kind of a company whould you build today an why?

First of all, in the long term, it is not unlikely. Any company can shut down from many reasons. There is also the possibility we will sell the company. Anyway, it is something I m thinking about… I think i would do it again, initiate a new R&D company that will focus on a technology and markets i believe in and with people I trust and appreciate.

What is your experience with Tel Aviv as a location to start an international technology company?

Tel Aviv is great in so many ways. It has a large pool of talents almost in any technology, it is vibrant, well financed, very open minded and communicative people. They will even tell you when you are wrong… It is considered by many as 2nd only to the silicon valley. It is also a great place to live in with all the benefits of a big city plus the good weather and great night life. This also helps to keep the young talent around…