Who Dares, Wins
Zack Rinat is being honored as a Champion of Change for his accomplishments as an immigrant entrepreneur and innovator.
I was born and raised in a rural town in Israel called Ness Ziona. At the age of 18, I was drafted into the Israeli Special Forces, where I rose to the rank of Captain. The military taught me invaluable lessons in leadership, management, and camaraderie. The motto of my unit–Who Dares, Wins—became a guiding principle for me.
When I completed my military service, I enrolled in the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) and pursued a Computer Science degree. After graduation, I designed real-time mission critical systems as a programmer, software architect, and project manager. One of the projects I worked on was cancelled after we lost government funding. This made me realize I wanted to start an entrepreneurial career so that I could control the context of my work and my own destiny. I decided that pursuing an MBA and being immersed in the U.S. business culture would be the best way to transition my career. I applied to only one school, Harvard Business School (HBS), and was thrilled when I got in.
I moved to the U.S. with my wife and newborn, bringing only a few suitcases, great hopes, and little knowledge about the U.S. —and completely underestimating what a challenging and rewarding experience it would be for a young Israeli family. We were fortunate to have family in Boston and American classmates who supported us and taught me about suits, ties, and American business practices, and taught my family about Thanksgiving and many other American traditions. I was also fortunate to have some of the best business professors in the world—like Michael Porter, David Garvin and Bill Sahlman—who introduced me to entrepreneurship. HBS was a transformative experience for me, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to attend school there.
After graduation, I moved to Palo Alto, California to work for Silicon Graphics (SGI). As an engineer, I always dreamed of working in Silicon Valley, in close proximity to iconic technology companies such as HP and Intel. At SGI, I had an opportunity to practice and hone my leadership and management skills in an innovative, intense, and inspiring environment. I was given opportunities to grow and to contribute.
In 1995, my wife was in the process of forming a new venture with two Israeli immigrants whom she had met at the Jewish Community Center. She introduced me to these engineers and we decided to commercialize their idea to develop Internet software. Ofer Ben-Shachar, Doron Sherman, and I started NetDynamics with no external money, subletted office space, volunteer employees, and great anticipation. In an unexpected but incredible way, everything began to fall into place. A fellow HBS grad introduced me to Mark Gorenberg of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, who was the first to see the vision and invest. Another HBS classmate introduced me to legendary Intel CEO Andy Grove, who invested as well. My HBS classmates made further introductions, experienced entrepreneurs gave advice, and friends pitched in. We were able to raise three rounds of venture capital money and funds from individual investors such as Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. NetDynamics ultimately gave birth to the market for Java Application Servers and created a large industry around it, including system integrators, resellers, and competitors. NetDynamics had more than 700 customers, became a driving force in this new space, and was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1998.
In addition to being an entrepreneur and CEO, I was able to leverage my experience to support two companies that were founded by friends of mine. In 1998, I helped a friend launch TradingDynamics and served as a founding member of the Board. TradingDynamics created a business-to-business (B2B) auction platform that attracted Ariba, which bought the company about a year after launch. In 2005, I helped a high school friend of mine to start Conduit, which became Israel’s largest Internet company through a partnership with Google that matched audience acquisition to search. I was the first external investor at Conduit and served as the Chairman of the Board from 2005 to 2011.
My newest venture, Model N, is my proudest achievement. I founded Model N in 1999 with a team of employees and customers from NetDynamics. The founding team included immigrants from Turkey, Hong Kong, and Israel, as well as American-born colleagues. Model N’s enterprise-grade software solutions help companies maximize revenue captured through pricing, contracts, incentives, and rebates by championing the new discipline of Revenue Management. Revenue Management—a software space we created—drives how some of the world’s largest companies get paid, from setting up their commercial strategy, to executing complex contracts and pricing every day. Our solution is based on the premise that big legacy systems and old processes left an unsatisfying gap in the way the world captured revenue. We unlock billions of dollars of revenue potential that our customers can reinvest in their core businesses, which include life-saving drug discovery and amazing new technologies. We employ over 600 people worldwide, and thousands of consultants, partners, and customers work in our ecosystem every day. Our solutions help improve revenue results for some of the biggest brand names in life sciences and technology.
I am proud to say that we took the company public on March 20, 2013, and we are now traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol MODN. However, none of this would have been possible without a great team, great customers, and sage advice from Silicon Valley luminaries who invested both their time and money to help this vision come to fruition.
The Champions of Change award is a great honor, but as they say, “with great honor comes great responsibility.” These days my wife Orli and I are thinking a lot about legacy. Orli is a full-time philanthropist in our community, and I concentrate on leading by example to pass on the lessons I have learned as a serial entrepreneur. I often tell people that the key to success is being “all in.” The hardest part is getting to that mindset where there is no plan B—like my single application to Harvard, or like starting NetDynamics with no funding. Shred your plan B. Who Dares, Wins.
Zack Rinat is Founder and CEO of Model N.