Israeli app developer Uri Levine. (photo from Uri Levine)
This could be the year you start saving all kinds of money and time from using apps, and you may have Israeli Uri Levine to thank for it.
Levine, a computer programmer, investor and start-up guru, was a Waze co-founder (with two others), as well as president of the Israel-based company from 2007 to 2013.
Waze’s platform provides drivers an opportunity to post real-time alerts about any traffic situation for other drivers, anywhere in the world. Four years ago, Google bought Waze for a reported $1.3 billion US, said to be the largest buyout in the history of Israeli high tech.
“Waze had to be sold,” Levine told the Independent. “Only Google knew how to monetize it in a gigantic way that we could never be able to do.” Today, 50 million people use the app.
Since his Waze days, Levine has been hard at work producing other apps meant to help consumers. To name a few, Engie connects to your car’s diagnostic computer, informing you of precisely what needs repairs before going to the mechanic. For people looking for discounted hotel rooms, Roomer helps people who want to offload non-refundable hotel reservations. Then there’s Fairfly: once people have bought their airplane tickets, the service searches for a cheaper flight. Similarly, with FairSale, another after-purchase app, once you’ve already bought an item, you scan your receipt with your phone, and the service will keep tabs on when the store has a price guarantee. According to Levine, about $130 billion is lost by American consumers alone because they don’t know about, or they ignore, low-price guarantees.
In 2009, while still working at Waze, Levine launched the app FeeX with a $100,000 investment. The aim is to help people save money on financial services and investment funds. The idea came to him during the economic downturn, at a time when funds in his own investment portfolio lost a fifth of their value, and he had been charged what he thought was an unjust bank user fee.
“After I argued with them, they reimbursed me. That’s when I wanted to find ways to expose hidden financial fees,” he said. “FeeX examines people’s portfolios and suggests similar investments that have less expensive fees.”
In the United States, he said, people pay about $600 billion annually to investment managers for retirement and other funds. Today, there are about 30,000 users of FeeX in America and about 100,000 in Israel.
Levine holds a bachelor’s of economics from Tel Aviv University, but his love for programming came earlier. In 1981, at age 16, he acquired his first computer, a Sinclair ZX – in its day, it was one of the most popular computers globally, with just two kilobytes of memory. By way of example, most microwave ovens manufactured in 1982 had more functionality.
One of Levine’s first jobs was as a software developer in the Israeli army. Later, he became a developer at Comverse, a telecommunications company in Israel. About 20 years ago, Comverse was one of the largest employers of software engineers, and a high-tech industry success story.
“I would nearly say that the economics degree provided me with a point of view, but the real study was in the army and, later, on the job as a developer,” he said.
Often asked for his advice on how to launch a start-up, Levine offered a five-step approach: “First, fall in love with the problem – not the solution. Second, make mistakes fast; the biggest enemy of good enough is perfect. Third, focus – it’s very easy to defocus. You have to say no to everything else which is not solving the problem. Fourth, half of the startups fail because they realize that the team is not right and they don’t fix it. And, finally, understand who your users are, and what their perception of the problem is.”
As for apps, those wishing to create and launch one should have this goal in mind, he said: “Create value for the users, and make it simple to get to the value.”
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.