Joanna Landau – Founder and Executive Director of Kinetis

[quote style=”boxed”]Network. I was fortunate enough to be born into a family that has a great network, but I never took advantage of it. Once I found my passion, I just went full force and now I will meet almost anyone who is like-minded – you never know where it can lead you. I also found that you don’t need to start off with a network (like I apparently had), you can just make one of your own. If you have something interesting to say, if you’re personable,  good at listening and passionate about what you do, people are happy to introduce you further.[/quote]

Joanna Landau was born in London and made aliyah with her family when she was 5 years old. She returned briefly to the UK to complete high school at Carmel College in Oxfordshire. After serving in the IDF as a paramedic, she studied law at Cambridge University where she earned BA and MA degrees. Joanna also holds an MBA, cum laude, from the Herzlia Interdisciplinary Center in Israel. Joanna’s family has been philanthropic in the UK and Israel for many years and she takes an active role in this activity in Israel. She has worked as a lawyer in the high-tech industry and established two Internet startups based in Tel Aviv. In November 2009, she founded Kinetis, a nonprofit, apolitical grassroots organization promoting the recognition of Israel, at home and abroad, as a vibrant source of creativity and innovation. She lives in Tel Aviv with her husband and 3 children.

What are you working on right now?

At the moment I’m working on Kinetis’ work plan for 2012. We are moving from early seed startup phase thinking to a more focused and aligned strategy and implementation. This means making some important decisions, such as giving up on some ideas and clarifying others.

Where did the idea for improving Israel’s image come from?

Well, I can’t take credit for it being my idea. It was something that had been bothering me for a while and when I decided to do something about it, I looked for innovative ways of approaching the subject. I didn’t want to do more of the same. It appeared to me that what was being done up until that point, commendable as it was, simply wasn’t achieving the ultimate goal we were all hoping for. So I met as many people as possible from the area and finally discovered this idea over a dinner in 2008. At this dinner, I heard about a completely different way of looking at the issue and I learned the term “nation branding,” which started in the 1990’s (not in Israel) and now many places are doing it. The basic concept is that just like a product or a person is a brand, a place can be a brand, as well. Since the 1990’s many places around the world – cities, regions and countries – have been crystallizing their brands and points of difference and communicating that offering very clearly. The terms used are nation branding, country branding, place positioning, soft power and so on. Pretty much every place you’ve been to has undergone, is undergoing or will undergo some form of branding effort. Some examples are Paris = romance, New York = temptation (the Big Apple), Las Vegas = Sin (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas) and Australia = no limits/open. So if everyone else is doing it, why not Israel? The fact that this process had already been done and a very clear strategy for Israel had been developed using the services of a London-based place positioning agency, was very appealing to me. Plus, the strategy that Israel = creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship resonated with me immediately. Needless to say, I believe that approaching Israel from a marketing and branding point of view and implementing niche-marketing methods are the missing components in Israel’s public relations activities. I’m not saying that political advocacy is unnecessary; far from it. I commend anyone involved in it. I myself prefer to tell Israel’s story that I live and know: it’s about us, the Israeli people. And it’s a story seldom told or experienced by others outside of Israel whose only understanding of this country and people is through the very narrow context of the conflict.

What does your typical day look like?

I work at Kinetis, the nonprofit grassroots organization I established to implement the strategy as a civic movement (independent of the government’s actions), full-time. A typical day can consist of meetings with new people who have approached us with an idea or a suggestion to cooperate or a staff meeting to discuss the latest developments in the various departments of the organization. We all proactively seek out expressions of Israel’s DNA – anything creative, innovative, energetic or inspiring that Israel has to offer. We don’t think innovation is just about high-tech or technology, we have discovered it everywhere in Israel. So it’s enjoyable, as well. Imagine, amongst all the negativity surrounding us from within and without, we are able to focus on positive, exciting and uplifting manifestations of creative energy in Israel on a daily basis!

How do you bring ideas to life?

We have 2 channels that we work on concurrently. On the one hand, we want to expose what Israel has to offer. Global research shows that very little is known about who the Israeli people really are and what Israel represents besides a place of conflict. We, the Israelis, are convinced that the world perceives us as a Western country, similar to any other European or American state. But this is not the case; after years of focusing our communications efforts on proving that we are justified or right in our political policies, all that is known about Israel relates back to the conflict. And whether you agree with Israel or not, that entire context is a turn off. In a sense, most people’s perception of Israel is Israel = bad news. What we want to show Israel in another context. We don’t claim there is no conflict, we don’t believe in “Israel Beyond the Conflict,” because that doesn’t really exist. But we do believe that there’s more to Israel than just the conflict. We want to show it, expose it and share it with the world in order to generate an emotional connection necessary to relate to Israel and its conditions. We have a program called Vibe Israel in which we identify leading global bloggers who write about areas in which Israel has a competitive advantage and we invite them to a free weeklong trip to Israel. It is a bit like Birthright, but for non-Jews. The trips are tailored to the subject matter and we don’t do any political advocacy; we find it is unnecessary and inherently subjective. We tell our guests that if they want to know about our politics, just ask the Israelis they meet during the week. Then they discover, contrary to what they originally thought, that we are not all one type but rather there is a great degree of diversity in Israel, even in political opinions. We have brought 2 groups so far (mommy bloggers and design bloggers) and we have 2 more trips planned for the first quarter of 2012 (social entrepreneurship and classical music). We plan to do at least 10 trips in 2012. These bloggers have access to hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions of people who discover Israel through them. We find that on average, 40 blog posts are written by the group of 5 bloggers; so the exposure is very impactful.

The second channel is education (although Vibe Israel is also educational, in a way). We have developed a fully accredited academic program that we began in November 2011 at the Porter School for Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, entitled “The Sources of Israel’s Creativity and Environmental Innovation in Israel.” Inspired and endorsed by the book Start-Up Nation, we present Israel from a bird’s eye view, asking questions: why is there so much creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship going on here? Is it a coincidence that so many visionary people stem from the Israeli environment? Or perhaps there’s a model here that can be taught abroad at business schools (Israel as an innovation-based economy), sustainability faculties (Israel is a leader in technological solutions for environmental challenges), fashion, culinary or music departments (Israel’s multiculturalism creates very unique fashion, music, food, etc.), and so on. We find that our course revitalizes national pride among the 100 students who sign up, which is equally important. We are also considering implementing the program in additional institutions of higher learning in Israel. Thus far, we have adapted the program and taught it at a high school. As part of the curriculum, we took 70 kids to Google’s headquarters in Israel so they could see that their environment spawns technological breakthroughs that we all use every day. We are also developing a program for the Scouts and others. As far as I’m concerned, this kind of approach should begin at kindergarten age and form part of our national narrative in the formal and informal education system. In the long-term, we plan to develop this model to be taught abroad and in that way bring Israel to the awareness of students from around the world within the field that interests THEM, rather than as a response to an attack on Israel, on campus or the like.

3 trends that excite you?

  • Bottom-up rather than top-down: today we are witnessing the trend that change can be achieved bottom-up by the will of the people, and not just by politicians or people at the top of the decision-making pyramid. For someone who runs a grassroots organization, the timing of this trend has been crucial and makes it easier for me to convey my message.
  • The Facebook Revolution: whether the revolution is truly a Facebook revolution or social media merely provided a platform for the revolution to take place (such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, etc.), social media represents a whole new medium of communication for Israel. Since we focus our work on niche marketing rather than general messaging about Israel, the fact that we can reach those niches using social media represents a huge opportunity for my vision to turn into reality.
  • The growing trend of people in Israel getting pretty fed-up with tried and tested leadership: this sounds more like something negative than positive, but it excites me because it will build to a point when people will demand something new: new leadership, new ways of managing the country (locally, nationally and internationally) and new social contracts. Yes, it can turn into something negative, but I very much believe we will – together – be wise enough to turn this trend into something positive.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I never had a really, really bad job so I can’t comment.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Not much. At first I consulted with people A LOT! At the time, I felt like I was treading water but now I know it was a necessary stage in developing and implementing the idea. When the idea started presenting itself, I decided to take a lot of risks and I think that was the right thing to do. Looking back, whenever I tried to play it safe in my life, I’m not sure it served me that well. Worst-case-scenario, you fail and start over. Big deal. Israel is the sort of place where you can fail and start again and still save face. I love that about this culture.

Perhaps I would improve my ability to judge people and their abilities to contribute to the process. My British manners don’t allow me to be rude to people, so I’m always very welcoming of anything and anyone because I don’t want to offend. But once you know what you’re doing, you should really just move forward and believe in yourself. Constantly listening to other people’s advice can sometimes lead to lack of confidence in the legitimacy of your choices. That’s not healthy when from the outset you’re doing something which goes against conventional thinking. You have to believe in your vision and know that your faults are secondary to your passion and ability to turn your vision into reality.

The other thing I would do differently is listen more to my gut. When I started Kinetis, there was a specific project I wanted to implement. Deep down I knew it wasn’t powerful enough to make this thing fly, but I held onto to it because I didn’t want to admit failure. When I finally let go and put it aside, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Listening to yourself is very important, but also know what you’re good and not good at. For example, I’m not a great judge of character. If  I only listened to my gut feelings about who was right and not right for this project, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far. Because surrounding yourself with the right people is the most important thing, if you’re not good at judging people then don’t assume your initial opinion is the right one.

What is the one thing you did/do as an entrepreneur that you would do over and over again and recommend everybody else do?

Network. I was fortunate enough to be born into a family that has a great network, but I never took advantage of it. Once I found my passion, I just went full force and now I will meet almost anyone who is likeminded – you never know where it can lead you. I also found that you don’t need to start off with a network (like I apparently had), you can just make one of your own. If you have something interesting to say, if you’re personable,  good at listening and passionate about what you do, people are happy to introduce you further.

Tell us a secret…

After I had my third child at age 35, I went through a kind of midlife crisis, but in a good way. I evaluated what I had done up to that point in my life, where I wanted to go at the end of the journey and I discovered my passion. It also had a lot to do with going on a diet and losing over 15 kg. – that had a HUGE impact on my ability to pull things off. It may sound superficial, but I am a strong believer in making changes on the outside as much as on the inside. It’s like when you put on a decent suit, high-heeled shoes and a bit of make up, you feel much better about whatever it is you want to convey than if you turn up in your regular every day clothes and sneakers. In both instances, you’re conveying the same message, passionate though it may be, but somehow whatever it is that you’re saying doesn’t have as much impact. So I wouldn’t down play the importance of investing in yourself as much as you invest in your idea. You are the channel through which your idea is conveyed and if you don’t mirror your message in the way you appear, it can sometimes be a stumbling block. If I wasn’t energetic, optimistic and outgoing, I don’t think I would be much of a poster-girl for Israel in representing those values.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It was the first book I read when I discovered I was a passionate person but didn’t know what I was passionate about. The book led me on a journey of self-discovery (I also did some coaching, which can be very helpful when done well) and now I know what I’m passionate about and my life has changed because of it. It’s a small book. Half of it is about the author’s experiences in the Holocaust and how he discovered  people’s ability to survive and thrive in spite of them. The second half is about his own passion, a psychological theory he developed  just before WWII started called logotherapy. This was the passion that kept him going through Auschwitz, and he later published it. It is short, succinct and very meaningful. I would also recommend The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, but I guess that’s not a very original response.

If you weren’t working on improving Israel’s image, what would you be doing?

I would establish a place positioning consultancy. Since becoming involved in this field, I’ve discovered that I understand the subject matter very well. I even gave a lecture to the Michigan House of Representatives entitled “Repositioning Michigan: Israel as a Case Study.” Place positioning/branding is a very specialized field; one which few know much about, certainly in Israel and I love the mix of business, economics, marketing, branding and social psychology that it entails.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Sorry, I don’t know enough about following people on Twitter. I did interview Tim O’Reilly once, he’s the guy who coined the term Web 2.0 and is at the forefront of understanding the trends related to the Internet. The interview was about creativity and innovation and he’s a very interesting person to listen to and I guess, to follow.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I laugh out loud all the time and at many things. Having a strong and developed sense of humor is essential for any entrepreneur. You have to be able to laugh at yourself, and at experiences, but not too much at others though.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Moran Samuel. She was an inspiring professional basketball player who at the age of 25 suddenly suffered a stroke in her back, leaving her paralyzed. That didn’t stop her from finding another sport she could excel in and becoming one of the best rowers in the world. I heard her speak to our bloggers on a recent Vibe Israel tour. She was so inspiring that she’s worth hearing. Her entrepreneurship is perhaps not your typical kind of thing but the triumph of her spirit required a great deal of self belief and a vision which is akin to the type of qualities entrepreneurs need to have in order to succeed against the odds.

Ten years from now, where do you see Kinetis?

My vision for Kinetis is that it will become the leading civic organization promoting Israel (not conflict-related) through a well-funded and professional agency that also receives local and national support. I would like to see partnerships with like-minded organizations around the world that also want to be involved on a civic level in improving Israel’s image through implementation of our branding strategy. Kinetis can serve as a hub for such organizations and build coalitions that will make this whole process much faster and more powerful.

How do you manage your passion for your idea and your obligations to your family, particularly as a mother?

To be honest, I think that’s perhaps the hardest thing in this whole process. I’m torn between my workaholic nature and my desire to be a good mother and have a happy family. If anyone has the right answer to this conundrum, I’d love to hear it. Now that Kinetis is becoming more well-known, I’m being invited to speak in places around the world and I can’t do that too often or for too long because I refuse to be away from home for more than a week or so. As a man, maybe I’d feel less guilty about it and Kinetis would be further ahead in its timeline, but I’m also proud to be a woman and a mother–and I’m willing to juggle both. I think women bring something special into the entrepreneurial world so it’s a price I’m gladly paying. But I won’t deny that it is a game of compromise, like anything else.


Kinetis Website:
Vibe Israel blog:
Kinetis on Facebook: Kinetis
Vibe Israel on Twitter: @vibeisrael