“Teens need us more than ever”, Chen Yahav-Levanon and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Teens need us more than ever. Any teen that wants to work should have a job. Through the Kumbaya App, we want to help educate and prepare teens for the real world by helping them enter the job market earlier. This can be tied back to their traits, teens want independence and desire for financial […]

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Teens need us more than ever. Any teen that wants to work should have a job. Through the Kumbaya App, we want to help educate and prepare teens for the real world by helping them enter the job market earlier. This can be tied back to their traits, teens want independence and desire for financial success but they lack sufficient and safe solutions to find flexible job opportunities. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic caught us all off guard and removed in-person job opportunities for teens as non-essential businesses close and unemployed adults are looking for jobs themselves.

As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chen Yahav-Levanon.

Chen Yahav-Levanon is a Co-founder and the CEO of the Kumbaya App, overseeing all business decisions for the gig marketplace company that connects teens with parents who need care services. She is a serial entrepreneur, having previously co-founded and led both self-funded and profitable SimilarTech and ClicksMob (acquired in 2017, ranked #28 in Forbes’ list of America’s Most Promising Companies in 2015 and listed at a Deloitte Rising Star winner in 2015). In 2019, Chen was featured in Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 40 under 40 as an individual to watch.

Prior to co-founding Kumbaya, Chen worked as an investment banker at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and was also a former European champion hurdler. She graduated cum laude from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s degree in Business and Economics and holds an MBA from Bar Ilan University in Israel and Fudan University in China. Chen is also a mother of three young children and is passionate about helping people thrive in their professional lives while raising children in the modern world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me. I grew up in Israel and used to be a professional athlete, running 400m hurdles. My childhood heavily revolved around sports as the daughter of a gymnast mother and a father who used to be a long jumper. As the only girl amidst three brothers, I learned to be competitive in order to stand out and always challenged myself to do what they could do and more.

To this point, I ran my first 10K when I was just five years old. My parents had me in gymnastics until the age of 12 and then I transitioned to track and field full-time. Growing up, I learned to not only be competitive but also to be disciplined with a strict athlete diet and busy schedule.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?

I loved sports from a young age, so my motivation and work ethic to pursue a professional career as an athlete stemmed from my core, but my parents definitely inspired me and encouraged me along the way. They always took me to meet new coaches and trainers when I asked them to and traveled with me for competitions no matter the distance. I am extremely grateful for their support and I bring this into my parenting style with my own kids.

Overall, I had a great experience with my athletic career path as a European champion hurdler. It was stressful at times but extremely rewarding and has served as a strong foundation for my success in the business world.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Definitely! After becoming an investment banker, I quickly realized that I wanted to pivot my career. I felt like a machine in that field, not a human being. While in Israel, I met a famous businessman at the gym I used to go to. I recognized his face from the newspapers and approached him to introduce myself. Stemming from the chance encounter at the gym, I convinced him overtime to hire me as his “chief of stuff” and worked with him four years.

While working at his company, I transitioned to a financial associate and then to chief knowledge officer roles. It was the best business experience I could have ever asked for. As one of my most trusted mentors to this day, he taught me that money is not everything and the importance of being patient and understanding of other people. Without his guidance, I would not be the successful entrepreneur that I am today or have had such solid teams backing me up.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I can tell you about a funny misconception I had during my teen years. Transitioning from being a European champion hurdler in Israel to a sports scholarship student at Brandeis, I was expecting the sports facility and athletic resources to be limited at the Division III university. However, during orientation week, I was surprised and greatly impressed to find that the sports facilities were amazing. They offered a laundry service, training sessions, new equipment and much more than what I had previously experienced. The Brandeis facilities would have been a kingdom of sports in Israel. From this situation, I learned to be more open-minded in life and about the American lifestyle and school system in my next three years, which were amazing at Brandeis.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?

While participating in college sports, I also majored in business and economics. During this time period, I really started to understand what America had to offer me. I saw Wall Street as the next big challenge I wanted to tackle and shifted my focus from being an athlete to becoming a full-fledged businesswoman.

Graduating in just three years, I dove into this next chapter of my life and became an investment banker where I quickly found myself working 120 hours a week. During this time, I stopped running and exercising altogether. While it was an invaluable professional experience, I soon realized I wanted to work on my own projects and run my own businesses. This shift in mindset and interests led me to start my first company in 2012 and it was all history from there! I co-founded and led both self-funded and profitable SimilarTech and ClicksMob, which was acquired in 2017. Now, I run again and cannot go a day without doing something active. I don’t put myself on standstill for anything or anyone.

Looking back, I do want to emphasize how much of an influence my sports career had on my business success. From my days as a champion hurdler, I learned to never give up and be persistent. It’s cliché but has held true throughout my life and career. Professional athletes are hard-working — they know what dedication is, they know losing is and they know what winning is. As a hurdler, I was used to always handling ten hurdles on the track and was very aware that I needed to make each one in order to succeed. I have a saying now that if you don’t jump nine hurdles, you will not make it to ten. It helps me remember that, while it’s important to dream about the finish line, there are always hurdles you need to overcome to get there, and you need to recognize and address each one before you can reach your ultimate goal. I say to my team all the time, “we are talking about the eighth hurdle, but we need to focus on number three,” and it helps remind us all to take things step by step and prioritize actions as needed.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am extremely excited about the Kumbaya App, my latest company I’ve launched with my co-founder, Dr. Adi Zief-Balteriski. While trying to solve care services for our own families as working moms, Adi and I discovered 90% of parents who need childcare mentioned they are using their own teens or teens in their network to do a variety of care tasks. We paired this discovery with the fact that GenZ teens are not lazy. They want to work and save for their future, but their busy academic and extracurricular schedules do not allow them the flexibility to get traditional part-time jobs.

The Kumbaya App helps parents find trusted and affordable childcare and any teen in any geography who can work and wants a job to have a paid gig by doing virtual babysitting and other tasks. The platform connects teens with parents through their own parents’ network. It provides them a safe place to make extra money, learn about financial responsibility, and foster a work ethic that will prepare them for the future.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has removed in-person job opportunities as more people look to stay home for the upcoming months and, potentially, years. It has also taken away a lot of summer jobs and internships for teens. Competition is now fierce with over 40 million adults currently unemployed. To address these issues, we launched the Kumbaya App early to help U.S. communities cope with the new reality by providing teens the opportunity to do virtual gigs for money while helping parents working from home with virtual assistance.

I feel like my story is coming full circle because I used to teach younger kids gymnastics when I was 15-years old, and now I’m helping teens find babysitting, tutoring and other gigs to conduct similar sessions. It combines my passion for teaching others as a teenager with my drive to run successful businesses as an adult. It has been incredibly rewarding to know I am helping to instill the value of hard work within our current generation of teenagers.

Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?

Absolutely. On the good days and the bad days of entrepreneurial life, I know to never give up and be persistent even when faced with a crisis. Similar to the way your body prepares for a competition and nerves are tense, your body reacts to crisis situations in business whether finance-wise or employee-wise. It’s the same feeling as when you’re on the track, about to start a race.

With the first company I co-founded, I had a client that did not pay half a million dollars that were due. I felt panic overcome my body when I found out the news, but I knew to breathe and saw it as one of the hurdles of my long-game race. I made a short term plan to address the “hurdle” by checking with relevant contacts and conducting a risk management assessment for short-term and long-term outcomes. It turned out that the company had gone bankrupt and they did not have the funds to pay for our service. I negotiated an agreement and, in the end, it did not harm my business.

Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Yes! My five work ethic lessons revolve around the following values and skillsets: 1) dedication, 2) teamwork, 3) managerial skills, 4) confidence and 5) Want to win but also knowing how to lose.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times already, persistence and dedication are values athletes learn from a young age that are incredibly useful. Entrepreneurs need to know how to turn someone’s “no” into a “yes.” When I started my second company, I realized that we needed to focus on selling to enterprises. However, many naysayers said it would be too hard to sell in the American market. I told them I was going to do it, and, for six months, I worked on meeting and speaking with the right people. I soon had a long list of clients in the American market, including Fortune 100 and 500 companies.

The next lesson I want to highlight is the importance of teamwork. Although being a hurdler is an individual event, you still get to participate in relays and you play as part of the entire team. You need to do your best for yourself, but also for the group. It is similar to running a business, as you are truly never alone. You need to be able to trust and rely on your co-founders to reach the goals you set out to accomplish.

Additionally, I think managerial skills are essential. When I helped kids and other teens learn gymnastics, I stepped into a coach-like role and learned how to work with others and help them produce their best results. I took these skills to the business world and applied them to manage my employees. To this day, my first employees at Clicksmob still stay in touch with me.

To be a good athlete, you need to believe in yourself and your capabilities. Entrepreneurs need to apply the same type of confidence to their professional work. When you address an audience, raise capital, speak with employees and participate in events, you need to be confident. Your likelihood of success will greatly increase when you truly believe in yourself and the company you are building.

Lastly, just like athletes, good professionals need to learn how to lose. As a working mom, I have seen that my son sometimes does not know how to lose and he gets upset after a match. I coach him that it’s important to be a good fighter and figure out why you lost in order to know how to improve. It’s okay to be upset, but it’s also important to focus on practicing and becoming better for next time. Entrepreneurs face all types of hurdles and need to face setbacks and challenges with grace and competence.

What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?

My advice would be to find a good mentor and don’t give up. If you want something, go after it, but have a short term and long term plan for bringing your company, or idea, to life.

You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Yes, I am honored to have worked with many incredible women and also given back to the growing community of businesswomen and female entrepreneurs. I actually started to do so unintentionally when I co-founded ClicksMob. 70% of our employees were women, and it was highlighted during the Me Too movement a few years back as a female-led and female-dominated company. I’m glad I could contribute towards the positive change by running a company like this in a world where companies are predominantly run by men. I encourage women to aim high if not higher than their male peers.

I also see the Kumbaya App as a great medium through which to spur positive change for the world. We aim to address the U.S. childcare crisis and the fact that GenZ teens have limited opportunities for employment. The Kumbaya App is the first and only communal marketplace connecting nearly 30 million GenZ teens with virtual and in-person care-related job opportunities. In just a few short months since soft-launching in mid-March 2020, we have seen 100% growth week over week regarding teens signing up. Teens today are not lazy. They want to work, be independent, and save in preparation for their futures. We want to help them on this journey.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

Teens need us more than ever. Any teen that wants to work should have a job. Through the Kumbaya App, we want to help educate and prepare teens for the real world by helping them enter the job market earlier. This can be tied back to their traits, teens want independence and desire for financial success but they lack sufficient and safe solutions to find flexible job opportunities. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic caught us all off guard and removed in-person job opportunities for teens as non-essential businesses close and unemployed adults are looking for jobs themselves.

I want to start a movement to help teens feel empowered to meet their personal, professional and financial goals and continue to be the tech-savvy, resourceful and hard-working generation we are finding them to be.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I’m not sure if it qualifies, but I really like the way Sheryl Sandberg tells women entrepreneurs to “lean in and get a seat at the table.” After I built my first company, I feel like I finally got my seat at the table.

Before, I felt I stood outside the room, not because of anyone or any company structure, but because of me. I really wanted to earn it and own it.

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

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Jessica Alba. She built the Honest Company into a billion-dollar business because of a need she faced in raising her own children. She wanted organic options for baby and child products and built her company to fill a gap she saw in the market. I would be fascinated to speak with her about how she manages her business and successfully stuck with her vision and built a strong team to help run it.

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