Anyone who thinks the internet is the preserve of pioneering young millennials should meet Yossi Vardi. Anyone who thinks instant messaging is a product of the 21st century should do the same.
“Yossi Vardi is a pioneer,” says Fabio Spagnuolo, head of advertising and web department at Intesa Sanpaolo.
For nearly 50 years Joseph ‘Yossi’ Vardi has founded and helped build more than 85 hi-tech businesses in sectors that include energy as well as software, the internet, mobility and tech in general.
He’s hailed as Israel’s leading tech entrepreneur. In fact, Yossi Vardi is a main driver behind the country’s ranking among the big boys in tech innovation, alongside the US and London.
Back in 1969, Vardi co-founded one of Israel’s first software houses. Thirty years later he was founding investor of Mirabilis, the first instant messaging application released to the web.
He takes no credit for the creativity. But without his deep pockets, many fledgling firms, including Mirabilis, might have fallen at the first hurdle. “I can’t tell you how it was invented; I just put up the money.”
His son was one of the four innovators who approached him. “After four months, they showed me the first internet-wide instant messaging. I thought it was idiotic. Why would anyone want to type text when you can pick up the phone?”
Vardi never claims to be an innovator but is a money man – one who seems to have a knack of investing in winning ideas. “I was wrong. Every day for seven years, 100,000 people downloaded it.”
Mirabilis was sold to AOL in 1998, the leading internet company at the time, for $400m. It was that sale that sparked a whole generation of Israeli start-ups. Now in his mid-seventies, Vardi is the godfather to many, including Gteko (sold to Microsoft) and Tivello (to Cisco).
What’s he looking for in a potential firm to fund? “I’m not looking for a business plan, I’m not even interested in the idea,” he says. “The key is the character and talent of the person behind it, because it’s the execution that’s important. You need the passion.”
You also need luck, he says, being in the right place at the right time; typical Vardi modesty. “But you can increase the probability of luck by working harder.”
So there we have it; the secret to Vardi’s investing success – people. It clearly works. Vardi has fostered a culture of innovation and creativity, not only in Israel but globally via events such as Unbound London, and is a friend of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Innovation Center.
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