All In The Family

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Height, eye color, teeth are all things we know are inherited. But what about entrepreneurship; is there a gene? Despite the advancements made by the Human Genome Project, the entrepreneurial gene, if it exists, has not been identified. Yet with these two sets of Israeli brothers – Eyal and Ron Gura and Vitaly and Alex Sirota – it would appear there is some common inherited characteristic. Either that or maybe there was something in the water.

The Gura and Sirota brothers stand out even in Israel, which has more entrepreneurs per square mile than just about anywhere else on earth. Between them the Guras have created four companies (three were sold to big corporates) and Eyal Gura is already on to what he says is “the next big thing.” The Sirotas have launched six start-ups and Vitaly Sirota believes he may have passed the entrepreneur gene to the next generation.

Eyal Gura, who served in the Israeli Navy Submarine Flotilla in various commando positions, earned a bachelor of arts degree from the Zell Entrepreneurship Program of IDC Herzliya, where he co-founded the first entrepreneurship club in Israel, called the IEC. He went on to earn an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in the U.S.

Once back in Israel he got busy. In 2011 he made three successful exits in the span of five months. In April of last year he sold PicScout and PicApp, two startups he co-founded, for a reported $20 million and $10 million respectively.

He had help from his wife, Maya Gura, an entrepreneur in her own right. Maya, who Eyal calls the “idea-maker behind our start-ups,” planted the seeds for PicScout in 2003 when she and Eyal were not yet married (they recently celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary). She was looking for an easier way to identify digital images for her work, something that could improve on manually scanning hundreds, if not thousands, of websites to see if images were being used without copyright payments being made. Eyal figured a computer program could do it better and launched PicScout, serving as CEO and Chairman. Before long PicScout was named a Deloitte Fast 10 company and was acquired by Getty Images.

In his spare time Eyal also served as CEO of PicApp, a digital images advertising company he founded in 2008, which was acquired by Ybrant Digital last year. And, he become the founding investor of Appchee Applications, the creator of the social commerce platform The Gifts Project, which was co-founded in 2009 by his wife Maya and brother Ron (pictured on Informilo’s home page), a former lieutenant in the Israeli Air Force, and, like his brother, a graduate of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program. Ron earned a BA in business administration from IDC Herzliya and served as chairman of the IDC Entrepreneurship Club that his older brother founded.

The idea behind The Gifts Project, Ron’s first venture, was that there had to be a better way to collect cash for group gifts than going from cubicle to cubicle in the office or during halftime at a football game. The user picks a gift, employs social networks to invite friends, and then The Gifts Project takes care of the rest. If the friends open their wallets, the retailer gets the sale, The Gifts Project gets a commission, and PayPal gets a new user.

DLD Tel Aviv Chairman Yossi Vardi, a high-profile Israeli angel investor, provided seed funding for The Gifts Project. Venture funding soon followed from Index Ventures and Gemini Israel Funds. The company was sold in September 2011 for a reported $20 million. Since the sale, The Gifts Project has become the eBay Israel Social Center, which is now headed by Ron. Now 28, the younger Gura brother was named among Israel’s “40 under forty” top professionals by Israeli business magazines Globes in 2012.

So how is it that two brothers from the same family ended up founding so many successful companies? “There was no special effort by our parents to instill in us an entrepreneurial spirit, just things we saw at home,” says Eyal, now 35. “Our mother brought us up. She had a few pharmacies and seeing her work day to day managing her stores and helping her out in the summertime helped us a lot.”

Says Ron: “What I learned from my Mom is that when duty calls whenever that is, even its it’s late at night and you are at dinner, you have to respond. She taught us through her actions that the customer is the most important thing and for me remembering that has been important for having a successful business.”

It also certainly helped that the Guras’ father, who did not have a large part in bringing up the brothers, was and still is a well-known serial high-tech entrepreneur, suggesting there may be something in the genes after all.

While Eyal Gura does not have a recipe for becoming an entrepreneur, he believes it is possible to become one at any age. A teacher at the brothers’ high school retired at about 50 and went on to found one of the largest real estate companies in Israel. He is now in his 90s.

As for Eyal, now 35, he says he is working on his “next big thing” and will only reveal that it is in the health tech sector. “It is never too late if you have the right spirit,” he says.

From Internet to Health Tech

Vitaly Sirota, 49, is a case in point. He launched his first start-up in the health tech space a quarter of a century ago in the Ukraine, where he and brother Alex were born, and didn’t let age or a change of country stop him from launching others.

The two Sirota brothers immigrated with their family to Israel in 1990. Immediately after arriving in Israel Vitaly was hired by IBM, where he stayed for seven years before founding Elbrus, which built software for large multinationals.

“I prefer small companies and start-ups, but right after arriving in Israel I had immigration issues and had a family to feed,” says Vitaly. As soon as his wife found work and his situation stabilized he became an entrepreneur once again.

While Vitaly has vast experience in healthcare, he and his brother Alex are best known for having founded FoxyTunes, a browser extension that controls a media player from the browser window. It was younger brother Alex, now 35, who first came up with the idea for FoxyTunes, which they sold in 2008 to Yahoo! for an undisclosed sum.

Again, Vitaly, never one to rest on his laurels, got the itch to start a new venture. In 2011, on his first trip back to Ukraine since moving to Israel, he met with the team from his original start-up. The company was still focusing on cardiology devices and Vitaly got the idea to combine that know-how with the Internet experience he had gained in Israel.

“A lot of people die from heart diseases and we definitely can do something about it,” says Vitaly. “For me it’s the best possible use of computers-mobile-Internet and the best motivator both to work hard and to put my money where my mouth is.”

Beecardia, his latest venture, is building mobile devices and cloud-based software that allow doctors to care for patients locally and remotely.The goal is to make it easier for doctors to give immediate care from anywhere and ask colleagues for second opinions. This is done by providing easy access to both real-time and archived online information at anytime from anywhere – through tablets, mobile phones and desktop computers, and by opening the platform to third-party electrocardiogram manufacturers.

Vitaly and his team want to distinguish themselves in the rapidly crowding field of health tech by focusing on creating the best user experience. Vitaly says he has purposely nurtured a small “dream team” to avoid bogging down design issues, as often happens at bigger companies.

But even bigger companies can be disruptive. Just ask Ron, who now works for eBay. He brushes off any suggestion he might lose his entrepreneurial edge by working for a big company. “Eyal told me that to be an entrepreneur you have to create value; it doesn’t have to be with a new company,” says Ron. “I can be an entrepreneur starting a company or it can be within a bigger company. At present we are having a good time and it’s exciting. As long as we keep this mandate I don’t see why it should be any other way.”

If there is one characteristic the two sets of brothers have, it is the willingness to put in long hours. That characteristic seems to be engrained.

“My oldest son who is 26 used to say he didn’t want to be a programmer because he saw the long hours I work,” says Vitaly.But just as the salmon swims thousands of miles through ocean and fresh water to return to the stream where she was born, the son of a serial entrepreneur could not avoid the call, and so it is that Vitaly’s first born has decided to become a programmer, and perhaps soon an entrepreneur.

Companies Founded By The Gura And Sirota Brothers

Eyal Gura

  • Thescouter.com– intended for talent and recruiters in sports (closed)
  • PicScout– automated recognition of digital images (sold to Getty Images for $20 million in 2011)
  • PicApp–advertising-supported free downloading of digital images (merged with Ybrant Media for an estimated $10 million)
  • The Gifts Project– ecommerce platform that uses social networks to organize and facilitate group gift giving (sold to eBay in 2011 for roughly $20 million)

Ron Gura

  • The Gifts Project – (see above)

Vitaly Sirota

  • Witalize– incubator developing early-stage Internet, medical devices and digital art projects (shareholder, still operating)
  • Beecardia (under Witalize umbrella) – produces mobile devices and cloud-based software that allow doctors to care for patients locally and remotely (still operating)
  • FoxyTunes – a browser extension that controls a media player from the browser window, (acquiredby Yahooin February 2008 for an undisclosed sum)
  • Rcadia Medical Imaging– computer-aided diagnostics with unique image processing technology (still a small shareholder)
  • Elbrus– built software for large multinationals including IBM and Philips (on hold)
  • Meditek– medical computer systems (split into two companies, one of which is a partner of Beecardia)

Alex Sirota

  • FoxyTunes– (see above)
  • Elbrus– (see above)

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