Idit Levine’s tech journey originated in an unexpected place: a basketball court. As a seventh grader in Israel, playing in hoops tournaments definitely sparked her competitive side.
“I was basically going to compete with all my international friends for two minutes without parents, without anything,” Levine said. “I think it made me who I am today. It’s really giving you a lot of confidence to teach you how to handle situations … stay calm and still focus.”
Developing that calm and focus proved an asset during Levine’s subsequent career in professional basketball in Israel, and when she later started her own company. In this episode of The Tech Founder Odyssey podcast series, Levine, founder and CEO of Solo.io, an application networking company with a $1 billion valuation, shared her startup story.
After finishing school and service in the Israeli Army, Levine was still unsure of what she wanted to do. She noticed her brother and sister’s fascination with computers. Soon enough, she recalled, “I picked up a book to teach myself how to program.”
It was only a matter of time before she found her true love: the cloud native ecosystem. “It’s so dynamic, there’s always something new coming. So it’s not boring, right? You can assess it, and it’s very innovative.”
Moving from one startup company to the next, then on to bigger companies including Dell EMC where she was chief technology officer of the cloud management division, Levine was happy seeking experiences that challenged her technically. “And at one point, I said to myself, maybe I should stop looking and create one.”
Learning How to Pitch
Winning support for Solo.io demanded that the former hoops player acquire an unfamiliar skill: how to pitch. Levine’s company started in her current home of Boston, and she found raising money in that environment more of a challenge than it would be in, say, Silicon Valley.
It was difficult to get an introduction without a connection, she said: “I didn’t understand what pitches even were but I learned how … to tell the story. That helped out a lot.”
Founding Solo.io was not about coming up with an idea to solve a problem at first. “The main thing at Solo.io, and I think this is the biggest point, is that it’s a place for amazing technologists, to deal with technology, and, beyond the top of innovation, figure out how to change the world, honestly,” said Levine.
Even when the focus is software, she believes it’s eventually always about people. “You need to understand what’s driving them and make sure that they’re there, they are happy. And this is true in your own company. But this is also [true] in the ecosystem in general.”
Levine credits the company’s success with its ability to establish amazing relationships with customers – Solo.io has a renewal rate of 98.9% – using a very different customer engagement model that is similar to users in the open source community. “We’re working together to build the product.”
Throughout her journey, she has carried the idea of a team: in her early beginnings in basketball, in how she established a “no politics” office culture, and even in the way she involves her family with Solo.io.
As for the ever-elusive work/life balance, Levine called herself a workaholic, but suggested that her journey has prepared her for it: “I trained really well. Chaos is a part of my personal life.”
She elaborated, “I think that one way to do this is to basically bring the company to [my] personal life. My family was really involved from the beginning and my daughter chose the logos. They’re all very knowledgeable and part of it.”
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