‘It feels kind of like Silicon Valley but in the late 80’s you know? When Apple was starting. That’s how the industry feels.’
The first time we met and hung out with 27 year old Jonathan Ofir was in the middle of a dust storm. We were serving free tea to strangers who were looking to take shelter at Burning Man in Black Rock City. I was exhausted, running on two hour’s sleep and maniacally making fresh ginger and lemon, iced tea. And Jonathan? He was on his A game; turkish coffee set up, hookahs ready for the smoking, teacups in neat order as he suggested opening up shop two hours early. He then hurried outside to spruik the shit of our lounge, ‘cause that’s just how he rolls.
After we sat down and smoked an apple hookah or two, we got talking to what Yoni (as he likes to be called) did in the default world. Grow weed! A mixture of business and pleasure. He and Eran Mordechay are the co-founders of ‘Leaf’, a sleek, white Plug N’ Plant hydroponic growing system, oozing effortless cool with it’s ‘Apple-like’ design. The size of a small fridge, it’s designed to slot into your living space rather than be hidden away.
This isn’t the first time Yoni has ventured into the entrepreneurial plane. His last project was ‘Alcahoot’ the world’s first smart phone breathalyser. He currently resides in Tel Aviv, a well known hot spot for tech start ups.
What gave you the idea for Leaf?
I had the idea for Leaf sitting in my mind for a while. In 2010 I lived in California for a bit and I had medicinal cannabis prescribed, which allows you to grow your own plants. I thought it would be a bit of fun, save me some money and be an interesting hobby. But when I looked into it, it was actually way more difficult than I thought it would be, especially to produce potent medicine. All the different lighting choices, nutrients, sensors, blah blah blah… There was just nothing that made it very easy. Six to eight months ago I had some free time in between jobs so I started building Leaf for my own personal use. And I learned that there was some demand for it, and there was nothing really like it.
So it was driven by necessity? So many people have great ideas, but they don’t always act on them, it was something you really needed.
It was something I wanted for myself and luckily a lot of other people wanted it as well. It’s definitely how it started – a necessity.
Did you ever feel overwhelmed during the process?
No, because it’s probably not too difficult to imagine, but we have a lot of fun doing what we do. Not only is it fun to grow, but there’s definitely a sense of breaking down social barriers so the obstacles don’t seem so big anymore and the team is so into it that we seem to find solutions relatively quickly, surprisingly so. When you have your heart into something, you tend to figure it out. We are taking it step by step and so far it’s going really well.
It Sounds like there’s a lot of great energy around the project
Oh yeah! I don’t know any another industry where there is such an economic incentive for the potential of cannabis being as big as it is. It feels kind of like Silicon Valley but in the late 80’s you know? When Apple was starting. That’s how the industry feels. Also it feels like we’re revolutionaries breaking down this ridiculous social barrier. So if you pair the two, it’s a lot of motivation waking up in the morning.
You killed it with your presentation on TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015 with Leaf being the number one trending article on their site. How did that feel?
Phenomenal. Surprised that I didn’t pass out. After the pitch the whole team felt really great. It was a crazy team effort. There was no way in hell we were supposed to be prepared. They only told us a month in advance and we were not ready but we made a team decision and said lets do it. This is an opportunity to get infront of a lot of eyeballs and see if there’s an interest.
And I think the best part about was the aftermath – like you said, number one trending and the amount of traction on social networks was ten times as much as the second place company. We had sales and a lot of amazing feedback. People would send us emails from all over the world telling us their stories. A lot of them were touching, people who have gone through certain medical issues and this is something that will help them get their medicine. We didn’t think we could be more pumped! And from a business standpoint it was also great because it generated a significant number of sales and we proved that there is a business here and that’s important.
Yoni speaking about Leaf at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2015.
We had only a month to prepare, and a week of that I was offline too. But the team is amazing and it was them, it wasn’t just me. Yeah I was onstage but I derived all the energy from them.
‘I choose people based on chemistry.’
It sounds like you have a great team. How do you choose the people you work with?
I had worked with Eran my co-founder and our CTO previously on Alcahoot. I ended up working with him for three years and he became a good friend. We flew several times to China to the factory together for up to two weeks sometimes, so we became extremely close. There was no doubt in my mind, and we got along so well. Of course he’s talented but there’s a lot of talented people.
I normally choose people on the basis that I would enjoy working with them, and that’s the entire team. For everyone I’ve hired we do the beer test and that means the interview is over a beer. If we get along then great, and if not, then it doesn’t matter how qualified the person is. So far it’s proven to be great, and now we’ve shifted a little bit from the beer test to the joint test, depending on the candidate, whatever they like. But I choose people based on chemistry.
A lot of entrepreneurs go through self-doubt after coming up with really clever ideas. Did you ever have moments where you thought; this is crap or this will never work?
‘This is crap’ never; but how is this going to work and how am I going to do this? Every single day.
There are so many moving parts in a business, and when you’re creating a piece of hardware with actual manufacturing, it can be very complex. Every day I wake up, I question ‘how are we going to do this?’ but right after that comes, hey we are going to figure it out, this is too good for it not to exist and we have all the requisites to make it happen.
We don’t have all the answers every single day but we figure it out step by step. Certainly there’s a lot of self-doubt, but if you have the right team, the team strengthens each other. And the mission statement is very clear; ‘to allow anyone to grow high quality medicine in the comfort and discretion of their own home’. We are going to do this or die trying, and that gives me a lot of motivation.
People might consider you a social entrepreneur. Would you ever work on something that didn’t help people in some way?
Up until now, I never have and I don’t know what that would be. (Laughs) But I have horrible, horrible ADD so I think that something that didn’t have any social good to it, probably wouldn’t catch my attention.
Which key business skill do you wish you had before you started out?
Organisational skills. I always feel like I’m more of a creative, I get it done by any means necessary kind of guy. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it could have been done a little better. I don’t follow a structure or follow a plan. But I recognize that, so I have people around me who do.
Be honest, what has been the shittiest thing about success?
Success is great I’m not going to lie, but if I had to nit pick, I would say it’s that other people who only see what you do and your success. They don’t see the pain and hard work. They talk to you in a different way and treat you a different way.
And once you’re successful the fear of failure rises. But when your just grinding and you got nothing to lose then you don’t care, you’re just trying to claw your way out. Once your successful then there is fear of failure and there is responsibility, it’s expected of you to succeed. But luckily, I’m not afraid to fail.
How do you push through days when you’re low on inspiration?
Those are the worst days. When I’m feel low, that means I’ve already gone through trying to get something from the team, something from my co-founder, and if none of that helped then I leave it. Just leave it. Don’t try and force yourself to be inspired. I go outside, I take a walk, I might even leave it for a day or two and not think about it all. That’s worked tremendously for me. As soon as you let it go, the right answer comes to you.
There’s a famous quote by Jim Rohn which says, ‘you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with’ do you think this is true in your case?
That’s 100% true. I would probably say it’s the three people you hang out with, over the five. I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing people around me who inspire me every day and they are doing great things in their respective fields so I always feel like I have a lot to work towards. When you see someone else just thriving then you can take it in two ways; you can either be jealous or say ‘I wanna be there’.
‘I see my business as my entire life.’
How important is healthy lifestyle to you?
It’s important. I function best when I’m eating healthy, when I’m working out. A year or two ago, I started adopting a different mindset. I’ve told this to a few people and they’ve also adopted it.
I see my business as my entire life, which means that there are certain things that I need as a human in order to function and be the best in the business. So it doesn’t mean 24 hours of giving to the business; what it means is that I go take a break to work out, or going on a vacation, or if I go to a concert or something. I see it as helping my business.
As soon as I made that little switch, things became much more guilt free and I really do believe that it is a healthier mindset. And what I’ve learned is to just take a deep breath. A lot of the time in startups, things are up and down every day, sometimes every hour. Always take a deep breath and know that everything passes.
What’s the one key piece of advice you would give to anyone starting their first business?
Get up and do it. The thing that I see the most in entrepreneurs, is what Mark Cuban calls ‘wantrepeneuers’. They’ll have a bazillion ideas and always talk about how they don’t know how to start or how to do it and I would say that 99 percent of the time it’s not rocket science. The point is to get up and DO IT.
Quit thinking you don’t know where to start, just figure it out. Figure out a lead, any lead, meet with people, email, bug people, beg; figure it out.
I’ve come across a lot of ideas, some of them good, others I didn’t think were good. The entrepreneurs that actually get out of bed and do it are the ones that A; I respect, because it’s difficult and B; they are going to be successful. If your initial idea doesn’t pan out, but you’re actually up and doing it, you’ll work out a way to pivot it into the right thing. If you just sit around and think about it about it all day, complaining well I’m not a software programmer or I don’t know how to build a piece of hardware, then you will never figure it out.
You figure it out when you really want to. Get up and Do it!
For more information visit Leaf’s website here.