Yariv Bash – Flytrex and Space IL

“A week after my injury, I came back to being conscious and one of the first things I did was ask my wife for my cell phone. I Googled two things: Life expectancy in wheelchairs and total available market of spinal cord injuries.”

Visionary and creator, Yariv Bash, is responsible for both food delivery to make it to your backyard via drones and for Israel to make it to the moon. With inspiring perseverance, imagination and practical advice,  Yariv shares insights into his journey of making the impossible, possible. Namely “If you’re not making a salary it’s not a profession, it’s a hobby”.

After completing his military service in the IDF special forces, Yariv spent over a decade working in government. An electronics engineer by trade, curiosity and ‘chutzpah’ led him to reach for the moon and found  Space IL in 2011. He spearheaded the mission to launch the cheapest spacecraft to ever be sent to the moon, which made its way to space in March 2019. When the April 11, 2019 landing on the moon was unsuccessful, he reacted via a public Facebook status: “Another day at the office…” which perfectly embodies the resilient character and humor we encountered in this interview.

Today, Yariv is the CEO of Flytrex, the world’s largest network for B2C delivery using drones. It is the world’s first commercial drone delivery service with over a thousand flights logged in Iceland and North Dakota, with North Carolina quite literally on the horizon. It seems that the only startup Yariv could do is one that would change the world. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

I remember an interesting family story you once told. Can you share it with us again?

When I was full time at Space IL, I was invited to Hamburg by Volkswagen to give their management a lecture. And I vaguely remembered that my grandfather was invited by Volkswagen in the 80’s. I asked my father about it, and he told me the story of my grandfather in the Holocaust. My grandfather was in Hungary and the Hungarian Jews where the last to be sent to concentration camps. So it was in 1944 that he was taken to Auschwitz – but then the Nazis needed engineers and metal workers for the V1 and V2 rocket factory. They selected 300 Jews from the concentration camp (my grandfather was a textile engineer) and they shipped them all to the factory to work on assembling rockets. As the war continued, the allied forces bombed the factories – the conditions weren’t that good –  and by the end of the war less than 100 out of the 300 survived. In the 80’s, Volkswagen reconciled with their past and invited all the survivors for a visit.

When I went to Hamburg I asked the guys from Volksvagen if it’s okay that I tell this story. They agreed and actually flew in the guy who’s in charge of their history department. I told my story and said:  “Well guys, 70 years ago my grandfather was in the Holocaust working for Volkswagen, here I am lecturing in front of management, who knows – maybe 70 years from now my grandson will buy Volkswagen.”

Having met and worked with very successful people, can you understand how or why they became successful? Are there certain characteristics?

Each one has done it in his own way. For instance, when we started Space IL, we approached Professor Ben-Israel , the chairman of the Israeli Space Agency. We sent him an email saying “we’re three young engineers and we’d like to send Israel to the moon”. He answered “sure, I’ll meet you guys”. So we went to his office at the University and he just killed us on every slide [of our presentation]. We were sure that we’re going to be launched out of his room, and instead he said “guys, you’re still not there , but I’ll help — come present at my annual event a month from now and I’ll join your advisory board”. For me that was amazing. To see someone that was at the top invite us, even though he knew that what we’re going to say is nonsense- really! And the audience was filled with people like the administrator of NASA, the European Space Agency, officials from Israel and from all over the world.

Why was it nonsense?

We thought we’d get change from $10M dollars, we thought the spaceship needs to be the size of a bottle (4.5 kilos). He told us “Guys, none of this is going to happen”.

Professor Ben-Israel put us on stage, we spoke for 15 minutes and when we got off the stage we were approached by someone who sat in the front row. He said “Hey, you’re the space guys, do you have any money?” We answered “no”, since we had just started. And then he [Morris Kahn] said “come to my office, I’ll give you a hundred thousand dollars, seed money, no obligations.” I’ve since spoken hundreds of times in front of larger audiences and that’s never happened again.

[Laughs]

We went to the manager of the space division at the IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) and he shouted at us, really, because our plans were way off. But he finished by saying that he has the only space where we can build the spacecraft, so he feels its his obligation to help us. I think that those acts, those events, that’s something amazing to learn from. How the guys who are at the top of their profession and are most respected, were willing to give this moonshot a chance, even though they knew we we’re still very far away from what needs to be done.

Space IL is a non profit, so there was no hope for personal financial gain. Did you have an agenda? Did you think maybe you’ll do a space startup?

No, I think that opening up as an NGO was one of the best business decisions we made. It made sense to talk about the social ROI, because there’s no direct ROI in going to the moon.

How could you take 10 years of your life to work on an NGO after giving 10 years of your life to the government?

I think I really enjoyed what I did, working for the prime minister’s office was very exciting. There’s a lot of satisfaction in what you do and then in Space IL it was fun.

What do you think makes a good CEO?

Yanki Margalit, who was a very close mentor told me a very nice sentence:

“As the CEO you’re in charge of everything, including if there’s not enough toilet paper in the restrooms”. In a sense, that’s true.

You’re an optimistic person but you must have faith to take on these projects.

My faith comes from technological understanding. I wasn’t a space engineer before, but my senses and some of the conversations I had told me that it can be done (with Space IL). Same thing with drone deliveries. We played with drones and black boxes for two years and then we said “ok, what’s going to be the killer application, what can we accomplish technology wise – and as a company based in Israel not in the Valley. Where can we make an impact? or make a dent?” For me at least, that technological understanding  gives me faith to pursue the goal.

So there’s no religious faith?

I try to put my faith in myself and the people around me, and even in people I still don’t know. With a wheelchair, you’re very much dependant on the faith of others, or the help of others.

Has this experience impacted your leadership? The accident?

I’m not sure. I don’t think so, I don’t think I changed in any way. The approach before that was “ok, I have a problem, let’s solve that problem” and the wheelchair is a big problem, but it’s been that same approach from day one.

Why is the spinal cord industry so hard to solve, compared to space?

A week after my injury, I came back to being conscious and one of the first things I did was ask my wife for my cell phone. I Googled two things Life expectancy in wheelchairs and the total available market of spinal cord injuries. It’s pretty small. You’ve got tens of thousands of injuries in the US each year. Companies are investing more than 100 times the amount in regrowing male hair and we’re still not there – and hair is a lot simpler than your spinal cord. So there is some advancement, I’m keeping tracking of but it won’t be for another 15-20 years from now.

One last question – do you believe in aliens?

There are billions and billions of planets, so the statistics are that other life forms would exist. The problem is that we’ve been only been a  “modern society” for a hundred years that’s been sending rockets and communicating with radio waves , and the chances of us surviving another million years are pretty low. With the vastness of space, there are probably other life forms but we’ll never be able to communicate with them or ever meet them.

F2 Capital is a specialized, seed-stage venture capital fund backing Israeli deep technology companies at the junction of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Connectivity. Founded by Jonathan Saacks and Barak Rabinowitz, F2 Capital invests before others are ready and partners with leading international venture capital funds in future rounds. As value-add investors, F2 also operates The Junction, Israel’s leading pre-seed investment program to back game changing founders from the ground up.

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