Naji: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership and love. I’m Naji your host for this episode, joined today by Alon Shklarek serial entrepreneur investor, and a serial entrepreneur. Alon has founded co-founded and invested in over 25 businesses across 16 countries. Whether it is duct plexus, the largest Indian doctors platform that solves thousands of patient cases every day, or sky plastics, a leading European recycling company that recycles over 100,000 tons of plastic waste every year. All his companies are focused around leading with purpose and impact as active impact investor. Alon directly supports and mentors selected social entrepreneurs and is an ASN member of Ashoka. The words leading social entrepreneurship organization. Besides a teaches leadership and entrepreneurship as guest lecturer at MIT. I am so humbled to have you with me today, live from Vienna.
Alon Shklarek: Well, actually live from Boston. We’re actually not far away. I’m actually, oh, you here. yeah. I’m I’m at MIT. Well, I’m, I’m really pleased to be here. We’ve been working on that date for quite some months now. So it feels like finally we’re, we’re getting together.
Naji: Alan, I would love to hear your personal story. Uh, what took you from to Syria, entrepreneurship, and more specifically your passion for healthcare and social entrepreneurs
Alon Shklarek: Well, you know, so, uh, I, I guess I’ll start by saying, I, I made it a whole three months as employee, uh, many years old and luckily realized very quickly that this wasn’t the right path for me.
Right. And mainly. It was because I predominantly had to do stuff that I thought to be wrong, uh, and that went against my beliefs. And, um, I think when I reflect on that, I was lucky to have had a mentor back then that asked me a really interesting question. And, you know, remember I was really young, like 20 years old and the mental.
Asked me a question that had a very deep influence on my life, which I realized only later. And the question was what makes you tick? And he told me that I can take as many days or weeks or month that I needed to answer this question, but the only guideline was the answer could only be one single word.
Um, and you know, if you think about that, what makes you ticket? Like, what is it that gets you up in the morning and makes you excited and, and what is the energy really that fuels your life? And, uh, you know, one word is really hard, you know, is it harmony or independence or love, you know, speaking about your, uh, your, your podcast.
Uh, and so it, it took me really quite some time. Um, But I understood that what really makes me tick is, um, freedom and that in order to get that freedom, I would have to be able to, um, follow my passions and my purpose. And I can’t. Follow someone else’s passion and purpose. Um, and that is really what got me into starting my first company, because I, I really felt this is what I wanna do.
And this would give me the freedom of, um, you know, turning my passion into, into a business that really, uh, would improve the world. And, um, So 30 years later when we, you know, we’re sitting here, I’ve founded co-founded and later on invested in quite a number of businesses. And I guess I, I, I should put a full disclosure here that I do enjoy making profits, but not in isolation.
And I always try to focus on businesses that do some good in the world. Uh, although I have to say, I never had a word for that. Um, it, it, you know, and. That’s why I really love the fact that in the past few years, the word impact has become mainstream has been coined and then become mainstream. For me, it was a little like, uh, you know, loving a avocados just for the way they taste.
And then, uh, um, basically learning they’re actually called super foods. And, uh, so my super, my entrepreneurial superfood is impact. And that is at the core of, of really, uh, everything I do. And I. Also interesting is looking back is my most dismal failures are actually with businesses that didn’t focus on purpose and impact.
So it’s really no purpose, no passion, no passion, no success. Obviously no impact, and it sounds like a tourism, but it it’s one that I hold very dear.
Naji: I, I would love to hear a little bit more stories about the different companies that you co-founded and the massive impact you actually have through each one of them.
How, how did you end up in having social impact in healthcare specifically? You built one in, uh, in India. We talked about last time. Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit the stories and kind of the common thread of all the companies you’ve built or you helped build, uh, across the word.
Alon Shklarek: Yeah, so , so first of all, uh, it’s never alone.
It’s never me alone. It’s not the story of a guy that of, uh, has all, all it himself. It’s always with people it’s the co-creation of impact and, and, you know, coming back to that purpose. Element. This is so important because when you find people with a shared purpose, it’s like compounding your energy.
It’s not one plus one is two. It’s actually much more than that. But back to your question on, uh, you know, we, it really, and I’m sorry to, uh, disappoint you. There is no strategy in my entrepreneurial journey. Really? There is none. Uh, it’s not like a fund that has a focus. Okay. We are a healthcare fund. It’s really.
I guess the best way to describe it is when I see a problem, I start a business period. Like when I, when I see a problem that really touches me or I care about, I really want it solved, I think about, okay, how can, the only thing I know is building businesses, how can I actually use that knowledge and that, uh, uh, power that I.
To actually address that problem. And it’s, it’s, I think it’s coincidental, uh, to be very honest, like I, I, I get to some kind of, um, you know, problem and I dig into it and I I’d love to get into the detail and double click on it. And, and that’s something leads to the other, uh, specifically about healthcare, like 12 years ago.
And we started, um, in Germany, we’ve actually built the largest Germans, uh, German, uh, doctors network. And then we went on to India and actually a few years ago we started in Latin America, uh, which goes very well. And the, the idea was that it’s, you know, It is really interesting if you look at, uh, doctors are the, at the heart of a healthcare system and every single dollar that exchange, uh, hands in the healthcare system is because of either a therapeutic or a diagnostic decision of a doctor at the core really that’ll simplified, but still, and.
You as a patient. And we all know that ourselves or family member, someone that we love when they have a problem, it, there is a lot of luck involved, whether you get to the right doctor, even if it’s a specialist and very well known, you really need. Uh, to, uh, you know, be lucky to get to the right person that knows exactly, uh, how to, how to diagnose the right thing.
And I’m sure you, I mean, you come from that field, you, we all know these stories. Like it took three years to finally find something or in more, you know, sad cases where you don’t find the right approach. Uh, and on the other side, you have that collective knowledge of all doctors. Around the world. And if we could actually link that together, Wouldn’t that be wonderful.
So that was the problem I tried to address. There is a patient with a problem and it’s absolutely coincident whether he sees a doctor that actually can help him or not. But for sure, out of the 10 million doctors we have in the world, that will be someone that we would have seen that already or whatever.
So how can we get that together? That was the idea. And, uh, what I love about that idea really is that what we. Achieve this to make it free for, uh, patients free for doctors it’s completely free. And the only way actually that business is monetizing is by aggregating and anonymizing, all the data that we generate on a daily basis, through all these conversations and actually making meaningful insights for the healthcare community out of that.
And I think that’s great. It’s win. Win-win.
Naji: Oh, that’s that’s great. Uh, and as a founder and investor, you know, of several other companies, what are the key capabilities or traits you look for in leaders you recruit or interpreters who invest in?
Alon Shklarek: Hmm. Uh, well, they they’re quite some, but I think authenticities is probably the first thing. I, I, you know, I, I look for. Because, um, you know, we, we live in the world where everybody tries to. Make us be something else than we really are. I mean, it starts with all due respect to all the parents out there and my parents and everyone, the parents have a very clear view of what their kids should do very often.
And then the teachers. And then if you join a company, I mean, there’s the whole world constantly tries to make something out of you that you’re maybe not. And that you. Focusing on, on what you really want and what your purpose is when coming back to that purpose. Uh, part that is something I really look for first.
I’m not sure it’s a capability really. Uh, but, but that, that would be one. And then one thing that I really, uh, specifically look for and I try to. You know, also train myself all the time is, is listening and it may sound super simple. Uh, you know, okay. That’s clear everybody is listening, but I, I, I talk about a specific way of listening.
It’s listening to understand rather than to reply. And, and that requires a lot of training. If, if we think about it very often, it’s, we’re in a convers. The moment someone opens his mouth and starts to talk to us. We already think about what want to reply in training yourself to really listen, like until the end, and really try to get to the bottom of what others are saying.
That’s a really important leadership capability because it helps you to make sense of the world around you. It helps you to build relationships. Uh, it helps you find new ways to address problems. It helps you to drive diversity and differences of perspectives. It helps you actually bring out the best in others because you give them time and space.
Uh, so I, I guess if I have to choose one, that’s like my core, uh, key that I would look. Those are great.
Naji: I, I so agree with the listening, right? Like taking this offer the yes. And, and really looking at how you can build on someone else’s, uh, proposal every single time. Yeah. Uh, I, I also remember, um, in the, in the class I had the privilege to be in where you, you gave us, uh, a talk, um, on entrepreneurship, the framework you shared with us.
I still remember it had teams in the center and you talked a lot about the purpose. First for this team. Uh, and it was really intriguing for me because many times we’re focused on the product on the problem. We want to fix the solution, the, you know, the invention that we have, but really focused on teams and purpose.
Can you detail a little bit more, your thoughts on this?
Alon Shklarek: Well, you know, Of course they’re, you know, a great team with a really bad idea will also not be successful. Let’s be clear about that. So, you know, level playing field, we are talking about comparing good or okay. Ideas with potential. With other good or okay.
Ideas with potential. And then the team is really what makes or breaks it, uh, very obviously. And, and the connection between team and purpose relates a little bit back to, uh, what I, what I, um, a few minutes ago is around understanding. And compounding the energy that is created by really, um, focusing on what makes you tick.
So if you know, a team of founders meet at MIT where we met too, and, uh, um, you know, the dorm room type of startup, but then one, one of them really. Pursues that startup idea, because he deeply cares about for example, healthcare and improving patient outcomes and the other one really. Um, and, and I I’ll I’ll use that kind of little extreme example really just wants to, uh, join that startup because he wants to get rich really fast.
Now, if. If these, if the purpose or if the drive and the motivation behind why people are doing it are not compatible very, very quickly. Those teams usually, uh, you know, just fall apart, uh, or in even worse cases, you know, when it falls apart quickly, that’s actually good because then you can move on, but very often it’s kept together and it’s under the surface.
It actually, uh, you know, explodes at the wrong worst possible, uh, uh, time. But I think having alignment around purpose is, is so important because building a startup is so hard and you have so many, uh, setbacks and, you know, you take two steps, forwards, three steps backwards, and you always need to. You know, take hold problems every single day and only having that glue between the people that you really understand why you’re doing that.
You can remind yourself about it. That is really what, what will get you, uh, to the finish line really?
Naji: Any story about a social startup you want to highlight today,
Alon Shklarek: Yeah, there there’s so many, I, I don’t even know where to, uh, honestly, that’s it. It’s like, you know, I have three kids, um, it’s like asking me, you know, you have to pick one.
I, I can’t , you know, there there’s so many incredible, uh, incredible social entrepreneurs now. And yeah, it starts with what is really a social. Social business. And may, maybe I’ll use that even though it’s not a real answer to your question, but it, I really believe, um, social business is not about not making, making profit.
It’s it’s really about, uh, because profits are not bad, you know, if you think about money, The question about it is where does it come from and for what are you using it once you have it? So as long as your business model is focusing on, uh, uh, you know, on, on, on revenue streams that are actually not, uh, not having giving any concern, social, uh, um, concern and you’re using the money wisely, I think you can think about being a, uh, a social business.
I actually think every single. Company, every single one, uh, can have a social fo social impact, focus, or impact focus, whatever you do. Let me give you an idea of, uh, an example of one company, uh, that, that, that, that I built in the additive manufacturing space. So it, it really. We, we took that company from a more or less bankruptcy situation and they were, um, building, uh, projectors for a movie theater.
There, there is no, there’s not a lot of social impact there. Right. And we transformed the company because it’s the same technology that is at the core for, uh, 3d printing technology. So if you think about a projector for a movie, it is a light source that goes through an electronical system and then the light hits a screen.
And that’s what you see in the movie theater, 3d printing, same principle. You have a light source, goes through an electronical system. And then it hits liquid polymer and where liquid polymer, oxygen and light meat, the polymer cures. And this is how you 3d print. Uh, and so. The interesting thing was switching kind of the whole company’s idea to a more Futureproof, uh, industry than movie theaters.
And then again, no impact there, but then using our competence in really high precision 3d printing to look at organ printing. Uh, and I’m not sure if I used that example in our class, but just for, because I think it’s so interesting today, if you think talk and it’s healthcare related. So if you think about lung transplants, for example, it’s done by, uh, growing lungs in special pigs.
And then when you need the lung, you kill the pig. You need to chemically wash the lung, uh, because it is animal DNA. Of course, then you’re enriched with human DNA and then you’re actually implanted, uh, into the patient’s body. Of course, many complications, et cetera. It’s not humane obviously for the pig.
I mean, it’s not nice to kill animals, et cetera, et cetera. What we are looking at is trying to actually. Uh, lungs for transplants, uh, and we are pretty close to, to, to getting there. And this is J just, if you think about it, if any single business, I think that you have, you can think hard. Okay. How can I impact the world and how can I use what we do best in this company to actually make the world a better place.
Now is jokingly. Maybe you can’t do that. If your idea is. Build Tinder for cats. Um, but for any other business, I think you can have impact.
Naji: I love it. This is such a powerful example. I, I will give you now one word and I’d love to get your reaction. First is leadership.
Alon Shklarek: Um, well, my reaction to one word, it’s kind of it’s it’s, uh, I. My first reaction to it is that it, there is a myth that good leaders are super humans. That is, that is my first reaction. You know, there is, uh, Very often. And I think it changes, but especially if you look a few years back, we always had that.
Or a lot of people had that feeling that leaders know, have all the answers and, you know, they know everything best. It’s actually the opposite. If anything, the advantage great leaders have over others is that they know that they don’t have it all figured out. But, uh, They actually, um, see the advantage in having others around them that are better and more diverse.
And that leadership is a team sport. Maybe that’s the answer. My, my, my reaction to the leadership is leadership is a team sport. What about entrepreneurship? Um, yeah. Entrepreneurship is about turning your passion, uh, into businesses that improve the world. And entrepreneurship is definitely not, uh, owning a business that, that, you know, And a lot of people think about it this way.
Uh, you know, being an owner is okay, that, that you own a business entrepreneurship is about really understanding what you care about. Uh, you know, showing up, standing up, speaking up for what you care about, inspiring others to follow you on that path and turning your passion into, uh, into a business. And you could do that as an entrepreneur, too.
That’s for me, all the Impact impact, uh, making the world a better place, very simple. And, and, and it needs to be measured as a side comment. All of our, uh, companies we have actually, we, we define. What the actual impact is and whether it is, you know, uh, number of people that have access to, uh, uh, medical, uh, medical information or whether it is the millions of pounds of recycled plastics.
I mean, whatever it is, we actually measure that on a day by day basis on the dashboard. And we always look at how are we doing in creating that.
Naji: And that’s super powerful. I imagine for, for all the stakeholders you have, right. Your employees who wake up and see the impact that they are having on the word, but also all the different stakeholders, the customers, patients, et cetera,
Alon Shklarek: it it’s really, it’s really help.
It’s really powerful. And you know, that, that, you know, management quote, what, what gets measured gets done? Uh, uh, I mean, that’s not for me. I think it’s Peter drer if I’m mistaken, obviously, but, uh, it’s not only about getting. That purpose piece, it helps you align and curate the right people around that.
Cause you know, if, if it, if it’s so clear, what is the center of your universe? The stars that rotate around that center usually gravitate towards that thing. And that’s why it’s so powerful.
Naji: The last word is spread love in organizations
Alon Shklarek: Well, I, I, I’m not judge. I’m not judge Clooney, but my answer is what.
You know, what else would you wanna spread? You know, stress, anger. I mean, of course we need to spread love. Uh, what else really? I mean, if you think about that, you know, what makes you tick and the energy that you have really that gets, gets started in the morning and, and excited for what you can achieve.
And that day. The, so the, like the, the common ground for all of these are love because without love, you know, uh, you’re not touching the hearts, uh, of people and you’re, you’re not going anywhere without love.
Naji: This is so powerful. I, I love it. What else? any final word of wisdom for healthcare leaders around the word?
Alon Shklarek: I think a great leader, uh, is. Someone that is barely noticed. You could say where like, if, when things are done, the team actually is proud to have done it themselves. Uh, a little bit about like poor leaders, I would say 10 and average leader explain and. Good leaders demonstrate that great leaders inspire and they do that, not by being super humans, but by helping all others around them to be the best versions of themselves.
Naji: Thank you so much, Alon, for being with me today and having such an amazing and inspiring discussion.
Alon Shklarek: Thank you. Well, I thank you. It was really, I enjoyed it. The love.
Naji: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.