November 13, 2019

Why Israeli Chutzpah Matters in Business 

Photo from PxHere

No matter how many times I tried, I kept getting brushed off. I was trying to pitch my company’s software to a large US-based carrier, and I knew that our product was a perfect fit for their needs. 

I called and called but could not get a meeting set. I didn’t have anyone in my network to make an introduction. I was in charge of US operations and my counterparts were halfway around the world in Israel. I needed a way to open the door. 

Eventually, I called to let the potential client know I was in New Jersey and that I’d be in their lobby for another meeting. I said I’d love to say hi for five minutes, though I wouldn’t actually have more time than that because I had to run to a flight after. They said they could meet for five minutes. 

After I hung up the phone, I bought a roundtrip ticket. I flew all the way to the east coast to go to their lobby and meet for five minutes. Luckily, they saw the same thing I did: that our enterprise software would make their business run better. They became a customer for life. 

I knew once they let me get a foot in the door, I could open that door. Getting there took a little bit of chutzpah—that Israeli combination of audacity, nerve, and boldness. 

This same chutzpah is what helped propel me to break barriers throughout my career, including becoming the first female commander of F-16 pilots in the Israel Air-Force Simulator, starting my own business, and completing an ironman. Though Israelis have long valued chutzpah to grow businesses and succeed in unlikely circumstances, anyone can draw on it to drive their careers forward. Young professionals, in particular, can stand out in their professions by harnessing chutzpah. How? 

1. Understand that it’s OK to Fail 

Big risks often don’t scale, especially in the beginning. You might put yourself out there in a big way and fail a dozen times before you see results. That’s OK. Of course, when you take calculated risks, be sure that your team will understand and stand behind you. If I had flown to the east coast and not landed the client, I knew that my company would still be supportive of me taking a risk to land such a big, important client. 

2. Know Your Value 

When you take bold steps to further your company or career, you still need to be true to your strengths. I know that a risk that will put me in front of a client will go far, because I know that I excel when meeting clients face-to-face. Pinpoint your strengths and have the chutzpah to stand by what you do well, while maintaining respect for your company’s culture and procedures. This also means that you have to truly understand the unique value of your company’s products and services. Without this foundation, anything new you accomplish won’t be sustainable. 

3. Be Open to Reinventing Yourself 

I have worn a lot of hats over my career—engineer, technical sales leader, product manager, public speaker, investor, entrepreneur, writer, and more. Changing your career path requires a thoughtful strategy for how you talk about yourself, leverage your networks, and work toward your new goals. I know from personal experience, and from helping dozens of individuals propel their careers, that you can reinvent yourself quickly—even in 30 or 60 days—if you really know what you’re doing. But really going for it takes hard work, guidance, a healthy dash of chutzpah—and being open to change. 

Taking calculated risks and keeping a growth mindset are incredibly important at all stages of a career, including earlier stages. That’s why next week, I’ll be speaking to young professionals at the Israeli-American Council’s EDGE Summit on Sept. 5 in Los Angeles. At a time when millennials are searching for opportunities to take their careers to the next level, speakers including myself will show them how to harness the inspiration of Israeli entrepreneurship, innovation, and yes, chutzpah to succeed. 

Success isn’t a straight line. You will sometimes fail. You must know your strengths, goals, and network. You will change along the way. But with a deep understanding of the value of entrepreneurship, innovation, and chutzpa, anyone can leverage their strengths to bring their career vision to life.


Ilana Golan is General Partner at Homrun, a first-of-its-kind network-based venture focusing on accelerating the growth of Israeli startups in North America. She is also a member of the Forbes Business Council.