How an Orthodox Israeli woman went from a small-town online shoe retailer to a high-tech startup, and what she learned about diversity along the way.
By Becky Levine (Co-founder, Bemooi)
Sometimes creating a business is anything but predictable. You put together a business plan and set out the money you need for the initial investment and go work on making your dream a reality. That is exactly what I did when I decided that my passion for shoes could be turned into a business. I contacted a website designer, told him what my dream website would look like and then hopped on a plane to Milan for a big shoe exhibition in order to purchase shoes for my new business. I brought in my first shipment of shoes and uploaded it to my beautiful website and waited for customers to come. I added a section on my website that I do personal shopping and styling because I enjoy contact with my clients.
One day I got a phone call from a guy named Avi. He said that he came across my website and that he and his partner Davidi are hi-tech entrepreneurs. He asked if I could come to Herzeliya for a meeting. I am always open to any offer so I said sure. They asked me if I were to look at a women's shoes, would I be able to recommend new styles of shoes based on what she already owned? Of course, I answered. Shoes are a language. I went on and on about shoe characteristics, style and form, and they asked me if I wanted to join them in a new startup where women would upload pictures of their shoes from their smartphone and get personalized recommendations based on their own style and taste. They have the tech know-how and I know shoes. That is how we founded Bemooi.
But working in this new office (you can see the view from our office in the picture above) was a bit of a culture shock. I live in a suburb of Jerusalem in an Orthodox town and I am an Orthodox woman. To start working in a secular environment in Herzeliya was something new to me. I have worked before in a hi-tech company in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem has a large population of Orthodox people in the city. Kosher was never an issue, for example, while at Bernooi I found myself explaining what I am allowed to eat. We also had heated arguments about my beliefs and my political views. I found myself explaining to the team why I couldn't take off my cardigan when the AC broke down. I abide by rules of modesty and cover my elbows with a long-sleeved shirt and knees with a skirt. I also wear a wig as a head covering.
At the office we order lunch from various restaurants in the area and it feels a bit unpleasant that the office has to order from a kosher place because of me. I try to bring in food from home and when I do, they all say, "Yay! Becky's not eating with us, let's order real food." That's fine with me. Live and let live. At work we are professionals, so we keep our arguments profession, discussing the thickness of heels or what questions we want to ask our users when they sign up for our service.
We are working on this close to a year and have developed an awesome system (and friendship, I must add!) that we are all proud of. My two founding partners,, who are top-of-the line tech and marketing people, and I have created a tool for online shoe shopping that is based on algorithms and state-of-the-art technology.
Like I said, you start a business and end up in another business. I am a flexible person and this suits my personality, but it is always important to keep an open mind. I think that being open-minded allows me to work with people who are different from me and enables me to make career changes in a flash. I believe in what we are doing at Bemooi and I know that this will change how women shop online for shoes. Since I live a structured life -- wife, mother to three children and my religion -- I let my creativity loose in my business. I am not preaching to anybody -- live and let live -- but for me this is a good formula for creating a successful business!
Do you think startup teams benefit from being culturally diverse?
About the guest blogger: Becky Levine is Canadian born and has been living in Israel for close to 20 years. She has been selling footwear online for the past five years. Previously, she managed a contact lens manufacturing company and worked in hi-tech. In addition, she has coordinated medical conferences for a non-profit organization in Israel in the field of Autism research.