ClicksMob's Chen Levanon on career, work culture, and building a billion-dollar companyTanvi Dubey
Chen Levanon has a foot each in two countries and two offices. As the CEO of ClicksMob, a performance platform dedicated to making mobile advertising better, she leads a team of around 60 employees, based out of ClicksMob offices in Tel Aviv and San Francisco.
A group of four got together with limited resources in 2013 and began to work on the idea and venture. It was at this time that Chen joined them. Within two months the company became profitable and earned the initial investment back. Chen has been spearheading this growth ever since with grit, hard work and passion.
HerStory spoke with Chen to know more about her journey before she joined ClicksMob, her journey as a CEO and the challenges she faces at the helm of a company.
From corporate to entrepreneurship
Chen completed her graduation in 2006 at Brandeis University in Boston. The same year, she spent a year-and-a-half working as an analyst with Lehman Brothers Investment Banking Division, the Israeli Group. This was followed by a stint with the Department of Finance Israel Financial Levers (IFL), Ltd. She joined them in 2008 and stayed on till January 2013, after which she joined ClicksMob.
In 2011, she completed her degree in Business Management from Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv.
Chen claims that she did not have the soul of an entrepreneur but she was sure that she had learnt all she had to from the corporate world and wanted to make a change, build something or start something new. “I felt I had the energy and the capabilities and ClicksMob happened to be the right choice,” she says with a smile.
The business was an instant success and Chen shares, “The founders understood and had experience in the online space and they knew the mobile industry is booming and thought if the performance platform worked well on web it should work even better in mobile and they were right!”
Crossing the hurdles
A hurdler in college, Chen believes that running and entrepreneurship have two things in common: both need dedication and focus on the goal. “Like the hurdles in a race, our life has hurdles that I need to cross on a daily basis as an entrepreneur with office in two different countries, and as a mother,” she says.
Chen started her journey from Tel Aviv and San Francisco and kept going back and forth for the first year. Chen herself was pregnant and travelled a lot. She has now moved to San Francisco from Tel Aviv with her husband and kids.
On the personal front, one of the challenges has been being a working mother to two children. Chen overcame it through support she received from her family and employees.
She says her husband has been an equal partner since they became parents.
“After I gave birth we shared everything for a few months and my husband didn’t take any projects and when he was away I had great support in my mother who would come around to help us,” Chen explains.
She gives a lot of credit to her team, saying, “Finding good employees may be a challenge but we have a team that does not need daily management and does what it is supposed to do. That is a great source of support to me.”
First mover’s advantage
Chen agrees that the first mover’s advantage has worked in ClicksMob’s favour. “Our focus is mobile and mobile performance. We were pioneers in this technology and when we started it we did not realise it would get to be so huge,” she says.
As a CEO, whose focus in on business development and building a billion-dollar company, Chen is confident that they are one step ahead of the game in not only seeing the larger picture, but in also analysing how the mobile world is changing and how advertising in the mobile context will acquire new forms.
They also have their focus on quality and technology. “Yes, we are high on tech but we believe in tech with a touch. Our clients matter to us so it is not just providing them quality and tech, but also the care they need,” emphasises Chen.
Culture, vision and leadership
As a leader, Chen believes that a strong culture is important in an organisation and needs to be built differently from how corporates function. “When I was in investment banking I liked the people, the hiring and the ways the employees were treated but what I did not like was the culture. I told myself that if one day I had a company I would use the same takeaway — train and hire people the way I had seen it been done but the culture will be different,” Chen says.
Since she knew what she wanted, she had to focus on building that culture. “I wanted people to come to office with a smile, have the managers and employee be a part of the culture that defines us as a company,” she adds.
With offices in two different cultural zones, Chen has ensured that employees travel to the different countries to understand the differences and the challenges of working from the other city. “I am not saying it is easy, it is challenging. We are not perfect but we are working on it everyday. We try and ensure that people communicate, and that our synergies are in sync,” Chen explains.
Guilt, glass ceiling and time management
As a mother of two young children, Chen says, “Happy kids make a happy mum, says my mother. Guilt is something that we can’t avoid but you need to teach yourself to separate your heart and your brain and think straight. Often, women face more judgment and we feel that we have to prove ourselves. The feeling used to bother me earlier, but now it doesn’t. The very fact that we are talking about these issues means something is going to change for women.”
According to her, entrepreneurship has given her a lot more flexibility than her corporate career and though she has had to travel frequently, Chen takes her children with her and gives up on her sleep time to spend time with them. “Once they are asleep I use the time to work, rest and finish calls. It is challenging but very doable,” she says.
Women force at ClicksMob
Women form the majority of the workforce at ClicksMob and Chen assures me that the decision was not conscious. The HR hired them because of their skills, their talent and what they bring to the table.
While a lot of women are to be found in US, Tel Aviv has a very small percentage of women entrepreneurs in tech.
Staying ahead of the game
Even though ClicksMob has the first-mover’s advantage, what keeps Chen awake at night is figuring out ways to be one step ahead in the game.
Given that the company has been running successfully and making profits, the question of funding is omnipresent. Chen says, “During the last few months, a lot of companies have approached us. We are thinking about it and are not closed to the idea.”