“Keep your mind sane. Startups die when their founders burn”

Sharon Savariego, vice president of product innovation at Gong, was one of the first Israeli businesswomen to move to the valley and build her business. “I was 26 when I moved and the Israeli community was mostly couples with small children, so I felt very lonely. There were many challenges such as basic personal issues like visiting doctors, looking for an apartment, shopping for groceries, etc. Also professionally, finding an office, hiring employees, client and investor relations, even building a network – it was all from scratch. The challenges were even more difficult, since in 2006 I still had my R&D and product teams in Israel and remote employee management was not yet mainstream.”

Originally from Rishon Lezion, at the age of 12 Savariego moved to Brussels for three years with her family. She remembers her experience as a formative event in her life. “When you throw a child into a new environment that is out of her comfort zone, into a new school, speaking a new language, it opens her mind and makes her more resilient. I found that I could better adapt to changes and challenges.”

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Sharon Savariego, Vice President of Product Innovation at GongSharon Savariego, Vice President of Product Innovation at Gong

Sharon Savariego, vice president of product innovation at Gong.

(Sharon Savariego)

Savariego’s path to Gong, the Israel-based conversation analysis unicorn that raised funds with a valuation of $7.25 billion in June 2021, was far from straightforward.

Upon his return to Israel in 2001, at the age of 16, Savariego founded his first company offering online fashion catalogues. “Those were days before electronic commerce and the need was there. My father was my first investor and he gave me NIS 1000 (approximately $290) to build my site”.

After studying diplomacy and international affairs at the IDC and participating in many delegations abroad, Savariego realized the need to find a solution to maintain relations between the participants after the events. “I started to think that community managers will become a fundamental part of all organizations in the future and that community managers need a SaaS solution just like the rest of us. However, at the time, it was unconventional.”

Savariego later found his co-founder and founded Mobilize. “We worked on it for four months until we got advice from Eden Shochat (of venture capital firm Aleph) who said if we wanted to raise funds, we had to be with the company full time. We finally did it. When I quit I had a lot of debt, I even had to sell my car to finance my life.

Following a meeting with Gil Ben-Artzy of UpWest Labs, Savariego moved to Silicon Valley and eventually raised a $1.5 million Seed round. After its A round ($7 million) and an economic downturn in 2017, the company needed to turn around. Savariego mentions that she had strayed from her original vision and that it was something she needed to fix, eventually merging with a private equity fund. “I stayed three more years and passed the torch. A year ago, Eilon (Reshef, Gong co-founder) reached out to me and I was glad.”

CTech’s She-Inspires series follows the stories of various female leaders in Israel. The interviewees come from various sectors: some work in high-level positions in large organizations, some are founders, and others are key players in industries destined to change the world for the better. The objective is to know where they come from, where they are going and how they are inspiring an entire sector that is making its way towards a glass ceiling about to explode.

Have you ever felt differently as a woman in the industry?

“There are little things that make it difficult,” explains Savariego. “For example, other CEOs could meet investors in bars at night. My relationships had to be over morning coffee, which made it difficult to bond.” However, she says there are also advantages. “I was very much the woman at the front. She was well known as a woman, especially in consumer SaaS.”

How do you juggle family and a demanding career?

“Personally, I don’t believe in work/life balance as people perceive it. I don’t believe in giving 50% and it is not possible that at any given moment you are the best at everything”. Savariego’s approach is more about devoting a substantial amount to one or the other over different periods. “I disappeared from the industry for three years. Investors asked where I was and said they missed me. I built my record and now I am back, I have a good career and reputation, I was focused on my family, and my choice in Gong was balanced.”

What advice would you give other women entrepreneurs?

Savariego begins by stating how important a support system can be. “Build a list of ten people you can go to for help and the first three should be mental health support.” Secondly, Savariego enumerates trusting his intuition. “If you feel like you shouldn’t be working with someone, then don’t. If you want to fire someone, shoot fast. Everything else will work out fine.” Finally, Savariego lists what she calls “urgency bias” as something to watch out for. “Don’t be afraid you’re not working fast enough. Keep your mind sane. Startups die when their founders depleted”.

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