Surviving cancer is one of, if not, the hardest thing to do in the world. After that, everything in life became a little easier for Michael Veltri. Serving in the marines, his buddies helped by joking around to help him to not feel the pain. The whole experience of beating testicular cancer served as his catalyst to transitioning from a decorated Marine to becoming a business transformational coach. He says that in life, you either make good decisions, bad decisions, or no decisions at all. Agriculture is often seen as an industry that is not very tech savvy. Tomer Tzach envisions Crop X as the big leader in the agriculture world. They have an inexpensive sensor that is easy to deploy to notch tech and will address the mass market and analyze a handful of important data.
We have Michael Veltri and Tomer Tzach. Michael is a bestselling author. He’s a cancer survivor who’s turned it into an amazing experience that has made him an impressive keynote speaker. Then we’re going to talk to Tomer Tzach, who’s a four-time CEO and now he is the Head of a company that Forbes recognized as one of the Most Innovative Ag Startups to watch.
Listen to the podcast here:
Surviving Cancer with Michael Veltri
I’m with Michael Veltri, who’s a battle-hardened entrepreneur, best-selling author, decorated marine veteran, cancer survivor, and business transformational keynote expert. Recognizing that our success is both organizationally and personally are the culmination of our daily decisions, Veltri elevates organizations and improves lives through better decision-making processes. He is the author of the national bestseller, The Mushin Way to Peak Performance: The Path to Productivity, Balance, and Success. Welcome, Michael.
Thanks for having me.
I want to start with your story. That’s a sad story that led to a good ending. Can we start with your experience surviving the cancer?
I love speaking to successful elite teams. My start with successful elite teams came when I was in the Marine Corps. The reason why I bring that up is I don’t do anything half assed, including getting sick, so I had never been sick a day in my life when I was diagnosed with cancer. It came at the height of my physical prowess. I was 34 years old and has a successful professional career in business, then a big slap in the face with this little thing called cancer that transformed everything, but in a good way.
I was diagnosed with testicular cancer caught very early. It was like a textbook case. I had the testicle surgically removed. There was no spread. Everything looked good and six months later it had spread to my lungs. All of the hilarious jokes that you might imagine losing a testicle from my buddies stopped. That’s the one thing, you always have to have a sense of humor over everything. Once the cancer spread to my lungs, it was gloves off and it’s getting down and dirty. I could go in a lot of different directions.
It’s an amazing comeback for something like that. You’re also a decorated marine veteran and I loved how you started that one video. I could see that you’d be a great speaker. Can you give a little bit of a background about how you transitioned to being a keynote speaker? Maybe you could talk a little bit about the part of the video I like so much.
I’m glad you asked me about cancer first because that was the catalyst for all of your audience and for successful people. Being able to transition to something new or face big scary things in my life is very easy because it’s not cancer. Everything else is easy once you’ve survived cancer. I was 34, finished my aggressive chemotherapy, and had one final procedure, which was surgery to remove half of my left lung. It took a while to recover from all of that and along the way, I had a successful career in corporate America, lived in Japan for ten years doing something I’m truly passionate about, which is martial arts. In addition to working full time as a sales executive, I also had established one of the largest aikido martial arts academies on the East Coast.
The way I transitioned into keynote speaking is I’ve always been a teacher. I love teaching. When I was teaching in my academy these elegant principles of the martial arts, which my book is based on, there’s a direct analogy to how to apply these principles into your business and personal life. My academy is in the heart of Washington DC, a few blocks from the White House, so I attracted a lot of political, military, business elites that became my students and invited me to come in and speak to their companies and organizations. In the book, I share some great stories about speaking and teaching at the Central Intelligence Agency and having the FBI ask me about helping them to try and woe a Russian spy that was a student of mine. It was a cool thing.
I started speaking to organizations to help them improve productivity using the aikido principles as an analogy for improved performance and along the way, realized this keynote speaking thing is tough. A lot of people would think, “I’m good at doing X, Y, and Z, so I can do A, B and C.” I was probably a professional amateur speaker for a decade before I looked to get professional help and up my game to transitioning to a full-time keynote speaker, which is what I do now. Like most successful professionals, I thought I could do it by myself.
After struggling and realizing why isn’t my audience getting into the action that I’d like them to take, I stumbled across a mutual friend of ours, Dr. Nick Morgan, who is a renowned speaking coach. Through his methodology, I transformed the way I speak and got me to be at that level as a professional keynote speaker. For the past four years, I have been doing this as my full-time profession, speaking to companies and organizations about better decision-making skills based on my principles in the book and my background in the Marine Corps, and I’m happy. I’d love to tell the story of the hand grenade story.
I love that you started off sizzle reel with that because it captures attention. I think a lot of people try to create great sizzle reels. I have a lot of speakers that are an audience to this, so you definitely captured my attention.
The analogy I draw is decisions in business and life are like a hand grenade. It came from the time when I was eighteen years old in Marine Corps Boot Camp training and it was my turn to throw the live hand grenade. I am literally standing there with this Marine Drill Instructor screaming in my face and I forgot what to do, like I’m holding a grenade and, “You got to make a big decision,” so somehow, I ripped the pin out. The drill instructor’s job there is to purposely confuse you, drive up fear emotions, and then I’ve got 40 of my marine buddies on the side watching me. My ego comes into play.
I don’t want to look bad in front of my team, so I give the analogy that you have three choices in that case. You can make a good decision and hopefully throw the hand grenade, but again, you got to throw a hand grenade in the right direction at the right time, the right distance. If you make a good decision, you still have to execute it properly. You can make a bad decision and drop the hand grenade and kill everybody. The third option, which is the scariest, is that you choose to make no decision and then I say, “You have to hold onto the hand grenade for the rest of your life because you can’t let go of it.”
That’s the analogy I start off with, explaining that decisions in business and life are like that hand grenade; you’re going to hold it, drop it or throw it. You’re either going to make a good decision, a bad decision or no decision. We all do that no matter what it is, even myself. I’ve gotten better at it, but I know there are still some decisions I’ve put off making. I don’t hold that hand grenade too much longer, but all of my audiences that I talk to struggle with decision-making.
One thing you might find interesting and also quite eye opening is that researchers at Cornell University have discovered that kids make 3,000 semi-conscious to conscious decisions a day. If kids are making 3,000 decisions a day, how many decisions a day do us, busy professionals, make do you think? We make 35,000 semi-conscious and conscious decisions a day.
It reminds me of a study that looked at kids versus adults in terms of their creativity and all the differences of what changes except it goes the other direction. They’re all very intelligent when they’re kids, and then as they get older, their creativity starts dropping.
If you were looking at 35,000 decisions a day, 365 days a year, that’s over 12 million decisions annually that we’re making, that our clients are making, that our spouses, and prospective customers are making, so there’s got to be room for improvement. In my life, there’s always room for improvement. That’s what I now speak to audiences about. With 12 million decisions a year, hopefully we’re all getting poised to make some great decisions this year.
Whenever a guest asks me a question, I’m always so far off because I go way up over the top, but it is an interesting thing to discuss. It’s fascinating when you get to the way you explain how to do things in your book and in your talks. First of all, I love how dynamic you are as a speaker. You did a great job with helping if it wasn’t always like that, which I imagine it was probably always great too. I was interested in the decision traps in your book. Another thing I found interesting about the Mushin way was you said it’s not linear. Can we go into some of that?
I introduced five decision-making traps that we all fall into, some more than others. One of my favorite example is called the Ferris Bueller trap. If we all remember the iconic 1986 movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, he was all about living from his heart, having fun, taking the day off, and playing hooky. In that trap, I introduced the concept of it’s trap of bad balance because decision-making is a balance between your head and your heart, between data and instincts, between what I call Ferris Bueller and then his polar opposite, who is all about data, numbers, and statistics, Dr. Spock. You don’t want to be too much of a Ferris Bueller; you don’t want to be too much of Dr. Spock from Star Trek, but you want to find that balance.
When I’m talking, I introduce five traps that people can relate to and then five simple solutions to help conquer those traps. Throughout the book, I do that in different ways. You mentioned about linear versus a more didactic approach, a more overall approach. How can you leave an audience with what I call relevant and retainable tools in a way that is not too complicated? That’s how I wrote my book and that’s how I speak. I do that a couple of different ways, realizing that our learning, at some level, you have to learn the step A before you can move on to step B, so there is some linear motions to it.
By showing them the bigger picture, by showing them a problem that they can relate to, it helps that linear progression grow at a much more didactic pace that they’re thinking ahead of time, “The problems I have with attracting and retaining top talent applies to that” or “What I’m struggling with that home applies to that.” I get people to think a lot differently than just, “I do steps A, B and C, and I’m going to increase sales by 10%.”
It reminds me of some of the Myers-Briggs training I had with how people either think like they have to read the book from page one all the way through or they can’t jump around. Does it make you more likely to read the last page of a book now that you think not directly in one, two, three orders? Has it made you not so structured now that you’ve learned this?
Going back to cancer, one thing I learned is that life is messy, life is a series of zigzags. I’m a Type A overachiever. From the Marine in me, I like my order and things in place, but it’s not like that, so yes, it helped me to be much more open to life and businesses, zigs and zags and everything that may happen in between.
You talk to a lot of groups about this stuff. Is there any particular group that you prefer to speak to? Do you go to all industries? Different types of audiences? What’s your focus?
My focus is on success and then insert the following three things: some speakers use the material for remedial purposes to help struggling teams get better and that’s fine, that’s very valuable. I love dealing with teams that have been at 180% of quota and are looking to get up to 250%, so I work a lot with sales teams across all industries. The second group I speak to are managers of all levels, so from entry level management to C-Suite and CEOs. The third group I focus on is larger companies, Fortune 500 stuff who’ll have internal talent management programs for what they call high-potentials or rising stars. That’s what I focus on. The reason is I’m one of them. You want to talk to audiences that you can relate to and can relate to you. I do a lot of work across all industries with those three groups: sales teams, managers, and then high-potentials.
I notice you talk about becoming successfully miserable and how to free yourself from success trap. What do you mean?
I had started a successful business doing something I was passionate about, that I love to do, and was fun doing. After reaching a level of success, it became like an anchor tied around my neck. It became a burden. I was caught in this success trap and I had become what I call ‘successfully miserable’. In other words, we all evolve in our interests, our goals, our passions. People like me, other successful professionals that reached a level of success, might start to feel trapped eventually. They might want to do more, or they might want to do something different. If you’re a business owner, you might want to sell your business and you might not know how to do it, or you might know the right decision is to sell your company, but you’re afraid to do it, whether it’s ego or anything else that’s coming of all.
When I talk about this concept of being successfully miserable, my corporate audience, the VPs, EVPs, I see their heads start shaking; they wanted these promotions, they’ve got these promotions and now they’re dealing with. I’m just going to make something like sexual harassment. They never saw that coming. Now they’ve got to deal with a sexual harassment case they never saw coming or eighteen-hour days that’s ruining their marriage.
We deal with people that are successful that becomes successfully miserable and don’t know what to do about it, don’t know how to make good decisions to find the right path forward, especially when the pace is fast, the stakes are high, and the outcome is unclear. That’s the environment I thrive in from my time in the Marine Corps to my time in the martial arts to my time in corporate America. Helping audiences that are successful avoid becoming successfully miserable or if they are successfully miserable or not just enthralled to get out of bed every morning, excited to tackle the day. If they’re looking at their smart phone, 24/7 trying to get back to clients and just feeling overwhelmed, that’s when my material is the perfect fit.
I even considered myself having the golden handcuffs at a job. It’s tough to leave when everybody keeps telling you, “This is so much money. This is so successful. Why would you ever want to leave?” What advice are you giving? Are there any tips to start them to open up their eyes to what the next thing they can do if they feel like that?
It’s based upon several things. When I speak to audiences, say it is a 60 or 90-minute keynote or maybe I’m brought in to do a keynote workshop, the decision-making solutions address exactly that. The book can go into more detail, so the book also provides steps that readers can take, or my audience can take to start to get the clarity they need to get out of the golden handcuffs or to see decisions that they didn’t think existed before. Just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean we don’t have great decisions. I don’t care what your situation is because I went through it with cancer. It took a life-threatening illness like cancer for me to see this. One of the things we have to do to start to get the clarity, the space we need, to see these great decisions that are always there comes with my first decision-making trap. I call it the Trap of Clogged Arteries.
The arteries I’m talking about is our decision-making arteries and they are clogged with exactly what I said, e-distractions or smart phones, smart watches, our diminishing attention span, and our reactive nature in our professional lives, from our smart phones that use us instead of us using them. The first step we have to do is take control over our electronic communication. I always ask my audience, “How many of you use your smart phone as an alarm clock each morning and then immediately start looking at the emails, text messages, social media, and calendar posts? I used to. I can tell you the exact date. It was October 17th, 2010 when I removed wireless email from my handheld device and my life changed dramatically.”
I preach that to audiences. You do not need to have wireless email, you don’t need to be looking at your email 24/7. I am incredibly responsive still to everyone, but I do it very differently than looking at my email. The first thing I would tell people is you’ve got to unclog your decision-making arteries that are clogged with all of these e-distractions. From there, there’re other steps we can start taking, but without that first fundamental foundation, no matter what we do, you’re always going to be reactive to everything if we’re not taking control of our electronic communication.
Do you check your email during the day or any other time other than on your phone? Are you on your computer checking it? Or you just don’t check it twice a day? What’s your routine?
I’ll share with what works for me, but it might not work for everybody. I’ll preface that with saying there is a behavior like things you can do to increase productivity, but then there is your relationship to that behavior. For example, no matter what tips, tricks, techniques, hacks someone might try, if their relationship is, “I don’t have enough time,” they’re never going to have a breakthrough or transform their business or life to take advantage of these techniques. That was me. For a long time, I always thought I never had enough time in the day. It’s a fallacy. Time is limitless and there’s always time.
What I do is I do not have wireless email pushed to my phone. I have the ability to access it, but I also have the discipline to not access it. I have my email set up on my laptop that I specifically just check on my laptop. The only time I will check email on my wireless handheld is if I’m traveling for a long period of time and I know something’s coming through, but the first move is I remove all push notifications, so even on my laptop, I have to go pull the email in because when that ding comes in that you’ve got an email, you’re going to look at it. People are going to look at it.
I am in California. I have a virtual assistant that lives in Indiana. Her job, and this is what she does as a profession, is to monitor my email for any time-sensitive red flags that I need to get back to right away. She, in essence, handles the wireless aspect of it that if it’s very time-sensitive stuff, for example, if the Speaker Bureau contacts me asking me about my availability, I want to get back to them right away. If I’m not right in front of my email or if I’m not checking it, I typically check my email maybe like once an hour, I have a system set up where I can do that. My virtual assistant will let me know, “Michael, you’ve got this request. You got to get back to them,” and we’ll go from there. I set it up that way and it works for me. I do not check email typically past 5:30 to 6:00. I’m off, I’m with my family. You train the people that you do business with. That’s how you operate.
Everybody knows I go to bed early. If you’re known as not the life of the party, that helps a little bit, because they know you’re asleep. Those are great tips and I do the same thing. If I go more than an hour, I’d have hundreds of messages, so I have to do it, but I don’t like the push notifications either. I think that what you’ve delivered in this book is fascinating. Option two didn’t go through, but options three, are you still holding the grenade? Or did number one work out well for you?
I am alive and kicking. I did throw the doggone thing and I got to tell you, it was an exhilarating experience. I’m an imperfect human being like us all and I still have my grenades that I hold on to, but it’s a practice. I’ve gotten better. Maybe if I’m putting off making a decision around hiring a new vendor or something, that time is much less because I practice what I preach. I’ve done research on all these decision-making traps and solutions, so I apply them. It would be false for me to say I don’t struggle too and that’s also why I get hired. Audiences want to see that you struggle too, that you make mistakes, and you practice it, and you get it wrong, and then you try again to get better. I would say I still hold on to some grenades but not nearly as long.
Can you share how people can find out more about your book and you? Is there a place for them to go to get information?
The website, MichaelVeltri.com. If they go to my website, they can find everything they need from information on my book to some tips and techniques on making better decisions and everything there.
Thank you, Michael. This has been so much fun. I appreciate it.
Thank you very much, Diane. I enjoyed it.
Crop X with Tomer Tzach
I am with Tomer Tzach, who’s a four-time CEO and former investor with a successful track record in Israel, a growing technology hot bed. He’s made significant advances since taking over the reins for a company called CropX and is focused on establishing a global internet of soil. Recently named one of Forbes’ Most Innovative Ag-Tech Startups to watch, CropX is leading farmers around the globe into the era of connected soil. Tomer, welcome.
Thank you very much.
I worked for many years for ICI Agricultural Chemicals, and I know a little bit about the Ag industry. I remember pink bollworms and cotton leaf perforators and some of that when we sold AMBUSH, but I heard about your work through my good friend, Dr. Jim Jeremiah from the Forbes School of Business and Technology because he was impressed by you when he heard about your work at a Forbes summit. I’m interested to hear about CropX and how it’s become a big leader in the Ag industry. Can you give me just a little background about you before you got to CropX?
I grew up in between Israel and the United States. In Israel, everybody has to do a mandatory military service, so I started my career with the Israeli Air Force as a transport pilot where I flew for about seven years. After leaving the Air Force, I studied computer science and I joined Intel Technologies here in Israel as a programmer for four years and then I switched sides. I joined a local VC, also in Israel, first as an associate and then was promoted to partner, so I did some investing for about four years, and then I went back to the operational side.
I joined a small internet startup as CEO and it was a startup that was in distress. We had seven people and didn’t have any money, so they looked for a CEO that knew how to raise funds and they were assuming since I came out of a VC, I would know how to do that. We eventually sold that company after about a year with one of those exits where my face was in the newspaper, but my bank account stayed more or less the same, but it was a very interesting experience. From there, I ended up founding my own international eCommerce company that sold mainly diamond jewelry online. It was a company that grew nicely. I always get an interesting reaction, especially from women, when I talk about the diamond.
I ran that for about six to almost seven years. It grew to about 70 employees, $15 million of annual sales. It was a nice ride. We eventually sold the main branch to a leading diamond manufacturer and that’s when I was approached by a head hunter that offered me to join this exciting Ag-Tech product. I knew nothing about Ag-Tech at that time, but for me it was an occupational love at first sight. I was very excited. I love Ag-Tech. It’s a huge space and I totally understood this technology, especially compared to other industries that I’ve been in like the internet. A lot to do and a lot to contribute, specifically with CropX, I also am very excited with the practical solutions, both hardware and software.
You stick this into the ground and it shoots information to an app on the phone. Is that how it works?
Yes. It’s very intuitive, do-it-yourself, so the farmer essentially gets it by mail, install it in the ground in less than five minutes. Compared to other technologies out there, it’s a huge advancement. It’s very revolutionary because other technologies are typically installed by a technician and can take up to half a day to install. With CropX, you can do it yourself. Five minutes and you get information and that’s all there is to it.
That’s amazing because we don’t think of that industry as very high tech. How do they handle this? Is this something that farmers are excited about? Are they tech scared at all by it? How did they react?
There’re so many farmers so it’s hard to talk about an average case, but from my experience, many of the farmers that are out there are second generation, very technologically savvy, and they’re also on the app side where the app is on the phone. Many of them have very advanced phones. They buy on Amazon, they have Facebook pages, and this is becoming very natural to them. Also, just from my experience, many of the farmers are very technological, so installing a sensor is a no-brainer for them. They’re very good with technological approach and do-it-yourself is exactly what they’re looking for.
This was founded in 2013. You have a venture capitalist background. What makes a company like CropX stand out as a disruptor? Why do you think you’ve been able to attract and retain such a great team that you have to get recognized by Forbes?
CropX’s vision is very revolutionary. It stems from several different things. One is that most of the industry, the traditional sensing industry is you have several companies out there that I view more as service companies with a sensor, but I think CropX is something different. It’s saying, “We’ll create this very unique sensor that’s very easy to use, to deploy, very inexpensive, and it’s the only sensor that can be easily deployed in mass,” and then address the mass market, but that’s just the basic layer. The more exciting layer that comes above that is the analytics and the big data play. We’re essentially using the data to come up with very exciting insight that potentially can affect the entire Ag industry as a whole. I think the vision is very large in that respect.
What kind of data are you getting? Is it soil analysis? Bug problems? How many of those do you need? Do you have to put them every certain amount of feet?
In terms of the data, we started with moisture sensing in the ground and temperature sensing, but now CropX is evolving a significantly beyond that. We’re starting to talk about nutrient management, fertilizer application, and hopefully, also to be able to talk about crop protection and plant disease in the near future. We started with a certain point and we’re adding sensing capabilities to the product very quickly. In terms of the area that the sensor covers, that’s also one of the unique advantages because due to the algorithms that we apply.
We are able to do a topographical analysis of any farm and recognize where a land is unique and where it differs the most or where there’re variants, and by that to optimize the number of sensors that are used. You only need to put sensors where you have two different land or soil characteristics and therefore we’re on average, for example, able to cover an area of a pivot with about three sensors. A pivot is 125 acres. It’s very unique and it’s a system that optimizes for cost in that respect for the farm.
You said you’re getting more capabilities. What’s your overall global vision for this company? Where is it going in terms of growth in that respect?
When I try to dream about CropX several years ahead, I see our sensors all over the world and then trying to get the sensor to such a level of sophistication on one hand and at such a negligible price point on the other hand, that it will be a no-brainer and every farmer would use these anywhere and everywhere. All of a sudden, you’re collecting all this data from anywhere in the world, so you have such a powerful network that can share knowledge from one field to another field because you have so much data. For example, a farmer that’s growing corn on a sandy loam and temperature is such as in the Kansas area, and using a certain irrigation method and certain fertilizer that is likely to produce a yield that’s in a certain level because we’ve already seen that happen in other places in the world that has similar characteristics.
When I left Ag Chem, I went into the pharmaceutical division, and what you’re saying reminds me of Mayo Institute here for medical field. One of the big advantages to going to Mayo is they have all this shared data about patients. You got this gigantic database and you go, “Somebody had this over here,” and then they can draw from that. What you’re seeing is that people are sharing data. How is that digital Ag reshaping farming then?
It is step-by-step. We always say that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. We already see this happening. Our sensor has several depths of sensing, so just to cover the entire root zone of the plant for example, many times we have a farmer that irrigated and calls us up and say, “The top sensors shows me an irrigation that I see a reaction in the app, but I see nothing at the bottom sensor. I think that the bottom sensor might not be working.” We say, “We’ll call you tomorrow and let’s see if the problem remains.” 99% of the cases, we call them the day after and he says, “Everything’s okay now. I see the reaction.”
The reason is that farmers are used to assume that water just percolates all the way down to the bottom where the roots are very quickly, so they were expecting to see a reaction eighteen inches below ground after fifteen minutes, which is what they were taught to believe. In real life, water percolates about an inch an hour. It takes almost a full day for water to get all the way to the bottom of the roots, so all of a sudden, they understand that, and also a very significant rain event. Many farmers assume that water goes all the way down to the root zone, when in fact, they just get washed off and doesn’t even get to the root zone. All of a sudden, they’re getting the real picture and changing their behavior due to that.
How is this impacting the crops? You’ve got the smart farming that you’re doing. Does it depend on the soil? Are you seeing major changes in productivity from the farms?
There are many use cases and many different advantages or benefits to the farmers. Some may be increased yield, some may be saving on water, some may be even saving on energy. By means of example, pivot is huge. It takes about 24 hours just to spin around one circle or even more. In terms of energy, just the electricity, the cost to turn that around one circle could get up to $400 to $500, so we end up telling the farmer, “You have enough water in the ground and there’s rain coming tomorrow.” They stop the pivot for two days and they’ve already saved almost $1,000 in energy. Those are just a few examples on irrigation, but with fertilizer management, it’s presenting on runoff and leaching, and therefore, environmental issues and many times has to do with regulation, compliance, and sustainability. There’re a lot of different use cases and it depends on what kind of farm you’re on.
You’ve also been in so many of these others that you mentioned, and you have a lot of experience in venture capital. I saw some article where you said entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are very different, almost like comparing Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Do you still have that perspective? What have you learned about venture capital that has helped you be successful now in CropX or in any other ventures that you’ve done?
I remember writing that article a long time ago. I don’t even remember what I was thinking that I presented, but I don’t remember what I wrote there. I can say two things about that. First of all, I think I became a VC too early in the sense that I became a VC before I was a CEO. Venture capitalists that weren’t in the driver’s seat and don’t have true managerial experience are always going to miss something and they will never be effective board members, they can never help a company or CEO the same way. I might be exaggerating because some are still great investors, etc., but on average, it’s important to have a significant managerial experience before you join a VC.
In most cases, the younger people that join VC is actually joining as principals and associates and therefore, they don’t sit in the board and they only do deal flow. That is for a very good reason. The opposite side or the flip of the coin is that now that I’m a CEO, my experience as a VC helps me in areas such as the fundraising, managing the board, managing the relationship with the shareholders, and so forth, so that’s also a very complementary experience in that respect.
You now are in Israel and a lot of your businesses are in the US and North America as well. Is that correct? How is that, running it from a global perspective? What’s your biggest challenge?
It is a challenge first of all because we have our sales team in the United States. Even though I grew up in the United States and I love the United States, I know the culture relatively very well, it’s still not the same. I interview people in Israel. Five minutes I sit with them, I know exactly what they’re about. In the United States, it’s more difficult for me. The only solution is having a very strong manager here that does the work that needs to be done. Thanks to a very significant advancement and video conferencing, that also simplifies things very much compared to where we were twenty years ago where it was very difficult to maintain a relationship. I always use technology such as Zoom and Google Hangouts. It makes things much easier.
I’m a big Zoom fan and I know what you’re saying. I do a lot of my work virtually. Looking at your background, it reminded me of a conversation I had with Naveen Jain, who is a serial entrepreneur, billionaire, genius behind a lot of companies. He had the same feel for what he was saying about how you fell in love with that industry. He says he likes to go into new industries that he knows nothing about because he goes in with fresh eyes and doesn’t have to unlearn what he thinks he already knows. Do you think that was helpful to you to go into a completely different industry? You didn’t know what you didn’t know, and you start from scratch?
Yes. At the end of the day, you learn that management is management and you learn with time what works for you. I have a very technological background, but I’m a software programmer by DNA. I’ve never managed hardware before, so you don’t need to understand exactly the bits and bytes of every piece of your organization in order to be able to manage it properly. Also, many times it’s very interesting to see how you can bring certain protocol or things or ideas from an entirely different industry to a new industry, and that is very fruitful in that respect. It’s very interesting to shift every several years, so that’s from the personal aspect.
Are you a curious person naturally? Do you like to learn new things? I’m always trying to find out the commonalities between serial entrepreneurs and people who change industries and things. Do you find that you’ve always been a curious person?
I think so, yeah.
That’s a tough thing to develop in other people. Do you work on developing your people in that respect? Do you try to hire people who are curious? Do you think that makes any difference?
Human resources is probably the most important part of the organization. The team is most important and I’m a true believer that it’s all about the people. I’m not sure that necessarily curiosity is first and foremost thing that I’m looking into when I hire employees, but I know that there’re so many things that are important for me. It’s loyalty, it’s execution, people that are performers. I tend to look at their background and I look for excellence. I go all the way back to high school.
People that excel, you can see that very early in the game in the choices that they made, whether they play the musical instrument or they were excellent in sports or something like that, and what they chose to learn in college. If they went to a certain university or not, if they pushed themselves harder to get to universities that are harder to get accepted to, and stuff like that. That’s probably the most important thing for me. Curiosity is also very important, and there’s a long list of qualities if you look for excellence in an employee.
There’re so many factors to making a company successful. Your company is doing something right if you’re named one of Forbes’ Most Innovative Ag-Tech Startups to watch. Do you have any new products coming out on the horizon? Or is the device we’ve been talking about your main focus?
We have three new versions coming out in 2018. I’m not able to talk about that too much because we have some press releases lined up and so I cannot disclose that at the present, but this is going to be a very interesting year for CropX.
I could see why Dr. Jim Jeremiah liked you so much because he said, “You got to talk to this guy. He’s got such a cool company.” If anybody hasn’t seen what your product looks like, the video is online and it’s interesting just to see it and the fact that it connects to the app. It’s something I could see being very useful from my limited background in agriculture. I was very interested in what you’re doing, and I enjoy reading about all your work. If people want to find out more about what you do in your company, is there a way they can reach you?
Since you mentioned the video on YouTube, I totally agree. I think it covers our story nicely, so just go to YouTube and type in CropX. It’s also on our website and there’s a lot of information there. You can approach us through the Contact Us or just email me directly. It’s Tomer@CropX.com.
Thank you, Tomer. This has been so fascinating. I enjoyed our conversation.
Likewise. Thank you very much, Diane.
Thank you so much to Michael and to Tomer. I enjoyed all your information. If you’ve missed any of our past episodes, you can go to DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com. You can find us on iTunes and everywhere else pretty much and at C-Suite Radio and a few other locations. If you want to know where we’re located, you can just go to my main site, DrDianeHamilton.com to find out. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
About Michael Veltri
Michael Veltri is a battle-hardened entrepreneur, bestselling author, decorated Marine veteran, cancer survivor, and business transformation keynote expert. Recognizing that our successes, both organizationally and personally, are the culmination of our daily decisions, Veltri elevates organizations and improves lives through better decision-making practices. He is the author of the national bestseller The Mushin Way to Peak Performance: The Path to Productivity, Balance and Success.
About Tomer Tzach
Tomer Tzach is a four-time CEO and former investor with a successful track record in Israel, a growing technology hotbed. He has made significant advances since taking over the reins for a company called CropX earlier this year and is focused on establishing a global Internet of Soil. Recently named one of the Forbes most innovative ag tech startups to watch, CropX is leading farmers around the globe into the era of connected soil.