Jeremie Berrebi and his business partner have been called the most active angel investors in the world. For several years now they’ve invested a minimum of $150,000 a week in one or two startup companies. Today, their fund, Kima Ventures, has a stakein more than 250 companies located in 29 countries, including Pakistan, Australia, and Norway.
Jeremie, 35, lives in Bnei Brak with his wife and their 10 children, and has achieved a remarkable degree of success while maintaining a strong adherence to Torah. The Jewish Press recently caught up with him to discuss his life and outlook.
The Jewish Press: Give us a little biographical background.
Berrebi: I was born in Paris in 1978 and lived there until my aliyah in 2004. My parents were traditionalists; they kept kosher at home but not complete Shabbat. Now they are fully observant. I entered an Orthodox school, Ohr Joseph, when I was six years old. My school was haredi but the students were not. The school did an excellent job instilling yirat shamayim and Jewish pride. I became fully religious a few years before my bar mitzvah.
I discovered the Internet in 1994 when I was 16 years old. I was always a real geek, spending most of my days and nights on a computer. I became a French IT journalist when I was 17, wrote a book about Compuserve when I was 18, and left school to join ZDNet France as an editor. At that time, I was one of the top ten Internet specialists in Europe and still only 18.
I launched my first company when I was 19, in 1997 – Net2one, a precursor of Google News – and sold it in 2004. At the same time I began studying more and more with a lot of rabbis from many affiliations, haredi to Mizrachi, and that is when I really discovered the value of high level limmud.
Eventually I became a super-active angel investor after a conversation with my old friend Xavier Niel. [Editor’s Note: One of France’s wealthiest men, Niel is the founder and majority shareholder of Iliad/Free, France’s second largest Internet service provider, and a co-owner of the newspaper LeMonde.] In four years we have invested in more than 250 startups and continue investing in two or three startups a week.
I’ve lived in Bnei Brak since 2008. I identify as haredi, learning in the morning, working in the afternoon and evening.
What are the main qualities you look for when considering a potential investment?
First, we want to be sure that the company is answering a real need; that the company is solving a real big problem. By that definition, we can outright reject 90 percent of projects. Then we look at the team, and check quantifiable measures of key performance indicators (KPIs) and traction once a product is already launched. That’s it.
Do you ever find it difficult to walk away from a business you’ve invested in when it isn’t working and hitting your expected targets?
It’s very difficult – though a lot less than before. But you know, failure is not always a bad thing. I failed with my second company, which launched in 2005 and closed in 2010, and I can say that this failure was a good thing for me. I live in Bnei Brak, have a wonderful job, and spend time with my children. We know that God is controlling everything. We just have to have great bitachon and let Him drive.
Google wanted to buy my company in 2007, but that sale would have required me to live in Haifa. I could have been a lot richer in monetary terms had I gone through with it, but I don’t want to live in Haifa.