Ran Harnevo: “Fail, be honest, debrief, build and believe”

Fail, be honest, debrief, build and believe. I’ve had many failures in my career and some of them were glorious. I’ve learned to accept my failures, be honest and live with them. Really learn from each failure without making excuses or drinking your own Kool-Aid. When you finish that process you have to build again, […]

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Fail, be honest, debrief, build and believe. I’ve had many failures in my career and some of them were glorious. I’ve learned to accept my failures, be honest and live with them. Really learn from each failure without making excuses or drinking your own Kool-Aid. When you finish that process you have to build again, implementing all your learnings and most importantly believing in yourself and your mission again. It’s a really good cycle to build your resilience.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ran Harnevo, the co-founder and CEO of Homeis.

Ran Harnevo is the co-founder and CEO of Homeis, a startup launched in 2017.

In 2007, Harnevo co-founded and served as CEO of 5min Media, the industry’s first online video syndication platform. After 5min Media was acquired by AOL in 2010 (for 65 million dollars), his vision became the cornerstone of AOL’s video strategy. He was the Global President of AOL’s Video division from 2010 to Oct 2014, overseeing the creation and production of high-quality original programming (getting five Emmy nominations and one Emmy award) while building Aol’s video tech stack and infrastructure (including the acquisition of AdapTV for 405 million dollars in 2013).

From 2015 to 2016, Harnevo was the CEO of Bkstg, a mobile platform with a mission to directly connect musicians and fans globally. Prior to starting these platforms, he worked as a reporter and deputy editor at Tel-Aviv Magazine. He studied Philosophy and Computer Science at Tel Aviv University (but never graduated) after serving in the Israeli Air Force for seven years. He currently resides in New York with his wife and their two children.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I’m an Israeli entrepreneur. I arrived in the U.S. in 2008 with my first startup, 5min Media, which was the first video syndication platform on the Web. The company was sold to Aol in 2010 (for 65M dollars), and I became the Global President of Video at Aol, scaling the work we’d done as a startup and reaching over 150 million users monthly.

Since I arrived in the U.S. as a (privileged) immigrant, it was clear to me that the internet under-serves immigrants and their needs, in America and globally. In 2017 I co-founded Homeis, a platform with a unique mission to build a better internet for immigrants. In the last three years it’s been my mission, and I’m very passionate about it as we live in such a divisive world.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Israel is a very tech oriented country, but I never had any attraction to technology. When I was approached by two friends of mine to begin a startup I thought, I’m not equipped enough to be a founder, not to mention being a CEO. But I realized that one can learn, and that the internet is the only place where people can actually make real shortcuts in life, if they are daring enough to try.

Less than four years after launch, our startup was acquired. A year later we became the second biggest video platform in the U.S. after YouTube. My takeaway was that aiming high, even while it feels delusional at some points, is the only way to make things happen. I look back and cherish this story every time I face doubts, a very frequent experience for an entrepreneur.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are a company of immigrants building a consumer product for immigrants. Weirdly enough, it has never been tried before. Homeis is a social platform for immigrant communities, and all of us on the Homeis team live in these communities in real life. That’s rare and I appreciate it dearly.

In the last few months, for example, the Trump administration has been putting huge legal obstacles in front of immigrants and trying to make their lives difficult. Thirty percent of our workforce is having legal issues. Some lost their visas, some left the U.S., and we all live and breathe the problem we’re trying to solve. It inspires me, it makes all of us feel that in a world where tech is blamed for many harms in our society (and rightly so), we’re using technology as a force of good. It’s a great feeling.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My mother is an entrepreneur herself, a woman entrepreneur that worked in a very manly world before the word inclusion had made its mark. She is a crazy optimist and a huge believer. When I started my entrepreneur journey she was the most supportive person one can think of. She immediately gave us an office, some IT to work with, and mainly the belief that we can make it if we put enough blood and sweat into it. To this day I think entrepreneurs should be wildly optimistic about their vision, it’s such an essential ingredient in one’s success. I’m so grateful for all the believers that join you when you have nothing in hand. It’s the hardest phase for an entrepreneur, and these believers are the most precious support system in the world.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

For me resilience means mainly one thing — to constantly ask for constructive criticism, always! And then to be able to implement the stuff you agree with and move on. Everyone that builds startups will tell you that the hardest part is the amount of negativity and disbelief that surrounds you by nature — you hear “no” way more than “yes,” you meet many more skeptics than believers. Resilience is not the ability to ignore the harsh critics and move on, but to actually take the right feedback, take care of it, and ignore the rest. While it sounds like a very logical thing to act upon, I find it is one of the hardest psychological barriers to overcome. It’s resilience.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Ha, that’s a good question and it’s hard to avoid clichés when thinking of it. But I’ll choose The Immigrant, which is a character that existed for thousands of years and who I think is underappreciated. Leaving your own country, your culture, your language, in order to build a better life for you and mainly for your family is so inspiring to me. In the last few years I’ve met thousands of immigrants from all over the world, and I’m always amazed by their resilience, determination and the ability to overcome obstacles that other members of society usually don’t even recognize. So yes, I won’t choose a specific immigrant, but all of them. Their courage is what makes me wake up each morning and I’m thankful for that.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

When I led video at Aol we wanted to move the company to original programming. It was 2012, way before all media companies started their own original programming. My peers thought the corporation would never spend the amount needed to make it work, that a tech company wouldn’t go to Hollywood to recruit talent in order to compete with traditional media.

But it happened. Tim Armstrong, Aol’s CEO, saw our vision and decided to double down. A year later we launched shows with James Franco, Sara Jessica Parker, Steve Buscemi, and many others. I sometimes wonder why I didn’t think it was impossible. But we made it, and it was mind blowing even to me and my team.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

After Aol I tried to create a startup in the music space. Our belief was that artists have to go direct-to-consumer and find a path to bypass the big tech giants who steal their data (I still believe in the need for this startup by the way). But the company failed. It raised a lot of money but didn’t have the right DNA from the get go. After winning so massively prior to creating this startup, there was something so shocking in its failure, even though most startups fail. It was a good lesson in humility for me, but the failure burned. It was hard to digest. In hindsight it was one of the most insightful periods of my professional life.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Like a typical Israeli I joined the army when I was 18 years old. I left home and found myself in the most challenging environment a high school graduate can find himself or herself in. I think that for me, and honestly to a lot of Israeli entrepreneurs, the army was an early and super meaningful lesson in resilience. After serving for over seven years I left the army fearless. It helped me a lot in dealing with the uncertainty of the startup world.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Fail, be honest, debrief, build and believe. I’ve had many failures in my career and some of them were glorious. I’ve learned to accept my failures, be honest and live with them. Really learn from each failure without making excuses or drinking your own Kool-Aid. When you finish that process you have to build again, implementing all your learnings and most importantly believing in yourself and your mission again. It’s a really good cycle to build your resilience.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I always tell my employees that all minorities matter, and that fighting for one means you fight for all the others. I think we chose a big enough minority — immigrants — to bring them the most amount of good. But if I could, I’d partner with platforms who help and inspire the black community, LGBTs, and women. I believe that combining forces is the most efficient way to bring tons of good to tons of people.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I’d be happy to have lunch with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Since my first steps on the internet I was amazed by his ability to create and pivot his company. Netflix always had a vision and understands what will happen in the market way ahead of time. They do it with amazing resilience and with the right DNA. Oh, and I also have some ideas for documentaries that I’d be happy to pitch. 🙂

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow Homeis on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow me on Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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