Technology is something humans “invent” as a tool to better serve us.
Money is technology. So why not remake money?
Or at least that’s the thinking behind Bancor and cofounder Galia Benartzi, who’s had her own fascinating career shuttling between Israel and Silicon Valley. In that time she built and sold off two start ups herself. “I was just solving problems,” she quipped.
Some of us can hardly solve making a bed in the morning.
Grit Daily caught up with Benartzi to get a more detailed look at how she migrated from marketing cosmetics in early stint at Estee Lauder — to shaping some of the tech we all take for granted today.
Grit Daily: You’re way better known for software than perfume. So how did you get involved with Estee Lauder early in your career?
Galia Benartzi: I interned at Estee Lauder in the marketing department in the Summer between my junior and senior year in college. It was a great experience overall, living in the NYU dorms and working on the 56th (or so) floor of an ivory tower on the corner of Central Park. It also taught me that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, to forge my own path, and to work on products and services that impact the world in a positive way.
GD: Before Estee Lauder you shuttled between Israel and Silicon Valley. How did each shape your view of entrepreneurship?
GB: I grew up first generation in Silicon Valley and moved to my parents’ native Israel in high school, then back again, and finally returned to Tel Aviv as an “adult-ish” when I worked for Founders Fund and focused on investments in Israeli technology.
Silicon Valley taught me about vision. To see the world around me as a platform on which to design new and hopefully better solutions.
“To remember that everything you see around you was built by people no smarter than you.” — Steve Jobs.
I saw an opportunity to story tell compellingly and to polish products to a level where non technical people could be impressed by them at a glance. And it’s fun to wear sneakers and t-shirts while building game-changing products and companies.
Israel taught me about practice. To roll up the sleeves and get into the guts of the hardest problems and their solutions. To appreciate hardware and science. And invent and deploy truly new technologies in the service of saving or improving lives, beyond making them more fun or convenient. To embody “This is what we have, and with this we must win” (Hebrew saying) To wear flip flops and tank tops while building really game changing products and companies.
GD: For the uninitiated, what’s the story behind Mytopia? How did that start?
GB: Mytopia was the first social gaming company for smartphones, devices at the time such as Palm OS, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and others. We were inspired when we picked up a Palm Pilot and thought it looked kind of like a gameboy. We were surprised to discover it had no games on it. Mytopia was “my perfect place to play,” on my device, but with real people on any device they might have.
This is how our cross-platform technology solution and expertise began to develop, as the mobile device market was and would become increasingly more fragmented during those years (2005-2010). Its mind bending to look back and remember that we were selling mobile games (some for $20 a copy!) to end users who were downloading them from websites and syncing them to their devices with cables, then unlocking them with custom codes generated for their specific device IMEI number.
I bet most readers don’t know their phones all have IMEI numbers anymore. That used to be a thing.
GD: And 888 acquired it? Expand on that.
GB: Yes, they acquired the company in 2010 to enter the social gaming and mobile space. It was an incredible experience for my team, going through our first acquisition, seeing our products and infrastructure become part of a larger customer offering around the world.
GD: Software development was a crowded market when you started Particle Code. What made you enter the fray, anyway?
GB: Particle Code emerged from our experience in Mytopia, building rich multiplayer games for the fragmented mobile landscape, and needing to develop our own solutions in order to deploy high quality and connected content at the same time across a slew of very different devices, screens and operating systems.
After Mytopia was acquired, we took our expertise in this space and applied it to Particle Code, where we built a cross-platform development environment that would help other developers do what we learned how to do over the previous five years: write code one time and deploy it efficiently across the market. It was a fascinating time as the debate ensued between native vs. HTML5 applications.
GD: That, too, got picked up by Appcelerator. Share that story.
GB: Appcelerator acquired Particle Code in order to join Titanium, which would become one of the leading cross-platform technologies in the industry, alongside Adobe (PhoneGap) and Unity. Again, it was an incredible growing experience for our team to find such an aligned way for our technology to reach end users at mass. And working in the B2B (or B2Dev) space was an entirely new frontier after our direct to consumer experience at Mytopia.
GD: What makes you tick? Why not just “call it a day” after two exits?
GB: I honestly believe that we can be as good as we can imagine, and I am moved to my core by the possibility of making a difference. I don’t feel like any other life is worth living, for me. In this phase, I am totally driven to change how money works. Money is currently the operating system for our collective human coordination, and if “software is eating the world,” money is eating our souls. The existing, low tech, centralized and scarce nature of money is now hindering us from expressing our potential, rather than aiding us — which is why, presumably, we invented it in the first place. It’s time to re-make money. It’s time to set it free.
GD: When you’re not hacking sales at your latest fintech company, how do you spend your “down time,” if any?
GB: I am a yogi, a dog mamma, a beach bum, a plant lover and an active sister, daughter, aunt, niece, cousin, friend and host in Tel Aviv. I don’t have a lot of free time these days, but I love to read, especially about economics and spirituality (they are totally connected), mentor entrepreneurs and especially women in the space, and sometimes organize events and community around intentional collaboration, including how we can upgrade the ethics of our economies. It’s a lot, and often difficult, but I feel so grateful and blessed to be in a position to do this work, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.