Dan Avida is the Co-Founder and CEO of Engageli. Before founding the company, Dan worked in technology as an executive and/or board member for more than three decades. Throughout his career, he has scaled several companies from a small founding team to over $100M in revenues and valuations of over $1B.
As co-founder of Decru, he led the company from its inception through its acquisition. He also served as Chairman and CEO of EFI, where he oversaw the development of its flagship product from the earliest days and achieved market capitalization of over $3B. Most recently, he acted as General Partner at Opus Capital, where he led early-stage investments in several companies, including SolarEdge, Inc. (NASDAQ: SEDG).
Dan has a B.Sc. in Computer Engineering, summa cum laude, from Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Dan Avida: Thank you for having me! My name is Dan Avida, and I am the CEO and co-founder of Engageli. Before founding the company, I spent more than three decades as a tech executive, board member, and venture capitalist. Throughout my career, I’ve participated in scaling several companies from a small founding team to over $100 million in revenues and valuations of over $1 billion.
Engageli is a comprehensive learning environment purpose-built for education including higher ed, alternative credentialing, upskilling, as well as employee and customer onboarding and training. Engageli recreates the in-person classroom in cyberspace and supports all class sizes, from small intimate seminars to large lectures with hundreds of learners. Our platform blurs the lines between learning modalities, providing flexibility for learners across synchronous, asynchronous, blended, or hybrid environments.
One of the many things that make Engageli different is that learners are “seated” at virtual tables to promote peer-to-peer learning and community. Each table can seat 10 learners; either randomly assigned, assigned by the instructor, selected by the learner, or distributed based on learners’ responses to a quiz or poll question. The instructor can address the class as one large group, as well as “walk around” the virtual room and join a table to interact with or coach learners. Learners can talk amongst their tablemates without disrupting the classroom, virtually raise their hands to join the podium, and be heard by all the participants, as well as send chat messages. Most importantly, learners are always in the same space as their instructors.
Further, Engageli’s ability to measure learner behavior provides instructors insight into learner habits and understanding at a level impossible to collect in in-person classrooms. Instructors have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage that data to make short- and long-term changes to teaching practices and curriculum content as well as identify learners that need support before it is too late.
Finally, the Engageli platform protects student privacy with state-of-the-art encryption. By default, only the instructor is recorded. Learner video and audio are not recorded during the class session unless their hands are raised, and even then, an instructor can choose to record only their voices.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Dan Avida: The COVID pandemic has been a global health and economic crisis with tragic outcomes for many, leading to major societal, business, and cultural changes – and will continue to do so. We gave a lot of thought to how we can best provide value and help people in these changing circumstances. Because of the pandemic’s dire toll on education, we created Engageli for the higher-education market where we saw a lot of pain as existing meeting software was repurposed for education, and not up to the task of providing for the complex needs of effective learning. Recently, due to increasing incoming requests from companies outside of higher ed, we decided to expand the scope of the markets we serve.
I have been involved in building companies for a long time (I did my first start-up as a university student almost four decades ago). As we’ve all experienced, the pandemic has changed the way and where we work as well, and so Engageli is the first company I have worked for which was designed to be remote-first. This required rethinking many of the practices we have been accustomed to.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Dan Avida: Experience shows that everyone charts their path and that for every rule there are exceptions. That said, there is some general advice that I think can be useful for leaders as we move through 2022.
It’s critical to work on an impactful project that you and your team are passionate about and uniquely qualified to tackle. Most new ventures quickly find themselves in a competitive market; to improve your chances of success, your team should have a dedication to your company’s mission and its specific, differentiated advantages.
The problem Engageli is solving wasn’t hard to find – in the early days of the pandemic, millions of parents witnessed the same subpar learning experiences their children were suffering through and saw firsthand how teaching and learning using video conferencing tools led to poor engagement and declining learning outcomes. At Engageli, our team is uniquely positioned to create the right solution – a sophisticated purpose-built product designed to run on most computers and smartphones developed by gifted developers across three continents and brought to users by teams cognizant of the market complexities.
A cohesive team performs better, in both good times and bad. In 2006, SolarEdge was founded by five engineers that had previously worked together. I co-led their Series A investment round and served on the SolarEdge board for over a decade. Over the years, the team hired people they worked with in the past, as well as talented people that they met along the journey, including Zivi Lando, the company’s current CEO, and Rachel Prishkolnik, its General Counsel.
The company was quite small and didn’t have deep pockets during the Great Recession and found itself faced with an exceptionally difficult fund-raising environment. Selling its products was very hard as prospective customers could not get financing for solar projects during that time. But, thanks to the leadership of Guy Sella, the company’s extraordinary co-founder, and the cohesion of the team the company successfully traversed that difficult time while many other companies failed. Today, SolarEdge has revenues of well over $1B and is a part of the S&P 500, both rare accomplishments for a relatively young company.
I think it’s important to provide guidance and encourage every member of the team to make concrete contributions. There are many examples of avoidable bad outcomes because senior leaders did not heed the warnings from their people in the field. This happens in the private and public sectors far too often. This lesson applies to small companies as well – it is important for management to receive information and advice from the entire team. Especially in this post-COVID era, every person’s contribution is significant. Managers that only manage and have no tangible results to show are typically less effective since they have no first-hand knowledge of the work that needs to be done. Also, leading from the front is usually appreciated and respected by the people that are expected to follow.
Finally, make decisions that are intended to optimize future outcomes, not to justify prior actions. Leaders typically focus too much on justifying the past when they should be making decisions about the future. This is often a mistake. The decisions made by Apple’s leadership after Steve Jobs’s return to the company are some of the best examples of courageous decisions, especially as they were against the common wisdom in several important situations and that took the company in a new direction.
At the time, many thought that Apple should focus on software by finishing a project started before Job’s return, intended to enable MacOS to run on hardware designed for Microsoft Windows. Jobs canceled that project and many other product lines and plans made by the previous management. The company dramatically increased investment in building hardware products intended for markets that were considered commoditized – music players with the iPod and then mobile phones with the iPhone. This resulted in one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history and led to Apple becoming one of the most valuable companies in the world today.
To paraphrase President Harry S. Truman – “The buck stops with the CEO.” Leaders must listen to their team and advisors but recognize that sometimes they need to make difficult decisions that are contrary to the advice they receive. Sometimes these counter-intuitive decisions that look wrong to onlookers are the ones that make all the difference.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Dan Avida: I had a front-row seat to the poor experience most learners had about two and a half years ago as they found themselves being asked to learn using video conferencing software intended for business meetings. This led to a lack of engagement and, for the most vulnerable populations, the loss of critically important years of education. The pandemic highlighted an important need—for that period, but also in the future.
Surveys of employees, instructors, and learners consistently show a strong preference for a hybrid future — where people can choose some days to come in person to their work or university and some days to work and study from home.
This created a significant opportunity to disrupt the way people work together and collaborate at companies and higher-ed institutions. Our platform offers a better way to give both learners and instructors a superior experience that is optimized for the hybrid future.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Dan Avida: I have been working in technology companies for quite a long time, and so have seen multiple cycles of successful and difficult times. Most of the advice I have received over the years is as applicable when the pandemic started as it was when I first received it years prior.
- Never argue with people’s feelings. I learned that from my boss when I was a newly minted manager, and still find this advice to be very useful. There is no point in trying to convince people to change how they feel about something by argument. Many studies have shown that to be true.
- Another executive early in my career explained to me that it’s not what you did with the last million you invested in a project, it’s what you are going to do with the next dollar you invest. This has always freed me to manage investments looking forward instead of in the rear-view mirror. Every new dollar invested is influenced by what comes next, rather than what happened last. This is harder to do than it seems.
- One of the things I learned from a conversation with Steve Jobs is to be focused on long-term goals, even at the expense of short-term gratification. There’s no need to act impatiently, ROI can be calculated over years, not weeks and months.
4. Something I learned from Efi Arazi, one of the first successful Israeli serial entrepreneurs, is to not go into negotiations with a backup position in mind. If you have one prepared, you’ll often get to it prematurely.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Dan Avida: We are in the midst of the transformation of many industries that have been slow to adopt modern technology, such as healthcare, education, and shopping.
Over the past decade, the popularity of online courses has increased, and the market is expected to reach $325 billion by 2025. People want and expect to have a choice to show up online or in person for work and education. Online learning is offering learners numerous benefits. According to the World Economic Forum, on average, students learning online retain 25-60 percent of material compared to only 8-10 percent in a classroom, and online learning allows students to learn at their own pace, requiring 40-60 percent less time to study than in a traditional classroom setting.
Ninety percent of U.S. companies offer digital learning, according to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report. Additionally, 72% of organizations believe online learning gives them a competitive advantage.
The University of Central Florida published an infographic sharing that “a $1,500 investment in training per employee per year can lead to a 24 percent increase in profit margins. For every $680 invested in employee training, shareholder return increases by six percent. For every dollar spent on online learning, companies can earn $30 in improved productivity. Other corporate benefits include acceleration of employee training via a 40% to 60% reduction of training time, a 25% to 60% boost in knowledge retention, and a 218% revenue increase per employee.”
The infographic continues to outline how the benefits of online learning go beyond increased profitability, but also allows students to learn five times more material for every hour of training compared with face-to-face training. “Online learning decreases energy consumption by 90% and carbon dioxide emissions by 85 percent” compared with traditional learning. The U.S. government is currently spending approximately $2.59 billion on self-paced online learning products.
It is expected that this momentum will continue for the rest of 2022 and years beyond. College students will continue to take some of their courses online and corporations will continue to deliver L&D to their employees dispersed throughout different geographies online. All of this necessitates better tools, like Engageli, to ensure learning, engagement, and inclusion.
And there are also adjacent markets for expansion. We held our first user conference using the Engageli platform and it dawned on us that we inadvertently built the world’s best virtual event platform! There are many use cases for our platform that go far beyond where we started.
Our Engageli journey is only beginning.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Dan Avida: A lot, and I have been doing it ever since I first started programming a long time ago.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Dan Avida: We believe in the power of our platform to facilitate effective communications and so we rely on it heavily for our internal meetings. Guests attending our weekly all-Engager meeting (our All Hands call) are struck by the high level of engagement across our employee base that spans six countries across seven time zones as we discuss the latest company developments.
Our team members are “seated” at multiple Engageli virtual tables, and there is a flurry of conversations and engagement that far surpasses the traditional Silicon Valley in-person all-hands meetings. Adding to the overall experience are the poll questions we often do that leverage the innovative platform functionality. Our distributed team believes so deeply in our product that we structure our operations to leverage its capabilities.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Dan Avida: The transformation in learning is here, but the challenge for us is to help educate organizations on the need to choose solutions that best meet their needs, and why they shouldn’t simply stick with the quick fix solutions that got them through the pinch in the pandemic.
Engageli created a disruptive platform and an entirely new category of multimodal learning technology. It is a comprehensive, digital-native solution built from the ground up to focus on improving learner outcomes. Up until now, instructors had to cobble together different applications to create a mediocre solution; with Engageli, everything is built into the platform.
When people try our platform, they immediately see the value, but the challenge is to consider the barriers to organizational change and overcome resistance to change.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Dan Avida: I have been interested in green energy for a long time. That led to me making an early investment in SolarEdge. I remain very interested in learning more about this important space. Two of the biggest global challenges that need to be addressed quickly are the ongoing climate crisis, as well as broadening access to education to prepare people for new jobs that will replace jobs and industries that are phasing out.
Addressing climate change requires innovative solutions such as solar and wind energy, electric cars and bikes, and so on. It is unlikely that people will be willing to give up on mobility and the modern comforts that require energy so we need to create energy that does not cause adverse effects.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Dan Avida: The lockdown during the early phases of the pandemic led many to reevaluate their choice of employers. That, coupled with low unemployment, a booming job market, and remote work a possibility for many, provides people with a much larger selection of job opportunities than ever before.
We view our team members as critically important to the company’s success. To somewhat paraphrase Steve Jobs: “We attract people who want to get in a little over their head and make a little dent in the universe. We are aware that we are doing something significant. We’re at the beginning of it and we’re able to shape how it goes. Engagers sense that right now is one of those moments when we are influencing the future. “
Although we are all busy and our team is fully remote, we adhere to the time-tested Hewlett Packard practice of “management by walking around.” People are encouraged to share what’s going on in the organization and it allows us to build relationships. I also try to stay abreast of issues and solve problems before they get too big.
The results speak for themselves – in less than a year, we have built a sophisticated and comprehensive audiovisual platform from the ground up to specifically improve learning outcomes. And in less than two years, we’ve built partnerships with colleges, universities, upskilling, continuing education institutions, and corporations around the world.
We communicate often and believe the free flow of ideas sets the tone for the organization, where we bring impressive credentials from elite universities and experience from Fortune 500 companies, but also a genuine interest in new perspectives and approaches. At Engageli there’s genuine respect for ideas and opinions from all of our employees, irrespective of their role in the company.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Dan Avida: Clairvoyance. Once I obtain it, it will be quite straightforward to put into practice.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Dan Avida: I have never considered “success” in the way one views success in a race. At the end of a race, there is a winner who finishes first, and that person succeeded at that particular event. Life and work are far more complex. There is always a long list of objectives to achieve. Success to me is accomplishing one’s objectives ethically while maintaining the health of the person and the business.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Dan Avida for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Dan Avida or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.