Perspectives

180° Shift: From Combat Soldier to Social Entrepreneur

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  • (All photos by Asa Mathat)

Speaker

Yanki Margalit
Chairman, SpacelL


Yanki Margalit of SpaceIL speaks about his evolution from a child of war to an entrepreneurial adulthood.

Read the full transcript below. (Transcript by Realtime Transcription.)

Kirkpatrick: So now, we have this thing we do called 180s, which we say 180 seconds to talk about 180-degree shifts in your thinking. And we hope that these short talks challenge your thinking.

And our first 180 is somebody that Simone and Josh and I, my two top partners at Techonomy, met when we were in Tel Aviv. Yanki Margalit of SpaceIL, who is going to talk about the life-changing lessons he learned in his journey from soldier to entrepreneur.

So Yanki, come on up. I want to shake your hand, since I haven’t even seen you—

Kirkpatrick: Thank you for coming from Tel Aviv to Techonomy.

Margalit: Thank you. Pleasure.

Is it on? I have a presentation, so let’s get it on.

I’m going to tell you a story today. This is a story about three wars, one decision, one friend, and endless opportunities. Let me start with the wars. I participated in my first war when I was only 5. I was sitting in a shelter with my mom. My father was drafted. And I still remember the fear, I still remember the smell of the fear, sitting in a shelter, being 5 years old, my first war.

I was 11 for my second war. This is 1973. This time, again, my father was drafted, but I’m taking a more responsible role. This time I’m a little boy responsible to paint cars’ headlights with dark colors so that the Arab airplanes when they come at nights will not see us. We need to keep it dark.

Well, I guess this is the time to extend my apologies to all the car owners at that time.

In my third war, I’m already a 20-year-old young officer, young lieutenant in the Israeli army. I’m sitting inside a tank, in Beirut, and this time the feeling of fear is now—there’s something more to that. There is fear, there is power, there is discovery. I’m soldier now. My father is left at home, and I’m inside a tank. What am I doing? What am I doing?

I’m doing the right thing. This was exactly the right thing to do. And the right thing to do at that time, at least if you were Israeli—is called in our own jargon, it’s called “aharai.”

Aharai is the combat shout for Israeli commanders. When they go to fight, they shout, “after me, aharai.” They don’t shout “attack” or “go ahead.” They shout “aharai, after me.”

And I was doing the right thing, aharai. Was I doing the right thing?

Well, 1982, in Beirut, I had my first doubt. And in a way, at that time, I took my first win decision. Somehow being inside the tank as a young Israeli officer didn’t feel like the right thing for me. It felt something else. So I took a decision. It was a very tough decision. I gave back my officer wings, I quit the army, I traveled the world, I started my own business, and I was off for another direction.

And then I met Ami. Ami didn’t know it yet, but he was the one to complete my transformation. Ami was a dreamer. He wanted to print the book that would change the world. He wrote the book called “A Guide For Practical Dreamers.” He was a dreamer in a way. I was a practical guy.

We met together, and by helping Ami, actually helped myself. We printed the book, and I completed my transformation. I completed my transformation from doing right—being right thing, to doing right. There’s not just one right thing. And you should choose and pick, and carefully pick your own right and do it.

Over the next few years, I got very lucky. I got very lucky with my business, but I got even luckier with my ability to help young entrepreneurs, to help dreamers to fulfill their dreams, to help Asaf and Anat and Ami with Idealist, and to help Jean with Latet. They all started their own non-profit organizations. They all changed the world. And I was part of their success, part of their change, and I was so lucky to do that. I completed my transformation. I became a social dependent on myself.

These days I got engaged with space again. We’re about to send a spaceship to the moon, but this is a whole exciting story by itself.

So to complete my transformation, this is the first time I’m actually telling this story. This is the first time I’m standing in front of an audience, telling my story. And I would urge you, there are so many right things to do. I would urge you to carefully choose and pick your right thing. Thank you very much.

[APPLAUSE]

Kirkpatrick: Thank you, Yanki. That is an inarguable point, and thank you for making it.

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