LinkedIn was nice enough to remind me that I just completed my fifth year at Waze. Good looking out, LinkedIn. That was very nice of you! Although I’m no Leslie Knope when it comes to dates, I’m pretty good when it comes to remembering important anniversaries. My friend Jaime just celebrated the fourth anniversary of having me at his wedding. So there’s that.
I began with Waze in 2012 and over the course of my five years I have changed roles, moved cities, traveled the world and oh yea, been part of an acquisition.
My time with the company has been an unforgettable experience. But putting this experience to words is often difficult. For nothing I say will ever do justice to the lessons and challenges I’ve experienced during my career with Waze. But lately I’ve found an outlet that can make reflecting on the last five years somewhat possible.
I’ve always had a theory that soccer explains the world, or at-least my world. It’s not a very sound theory, but it’s gotten me by for the past 29-years, so please bear with me. The sport has long served as a common language, a “ballet of the masses” if you will. And perhaps by analyzing Waze through a common vernacular, I will be able to explain. But first, a primer.
As the son of Mexican immigrants, I grew up playing soccer. My cousins and I used to make anything a futbol pitch, be it the front yard, the parking lot and at times, the kitchen (sorry grandma). Soccer was a part of my upbringing. It was as much a part of my life as church or family carne asadas.
Perhaps the first real heartbreak of my young life was when I moved away from the sport. Despite my best efforts and years of playing, I probably wasn’t going to play professionally. It was a painful realization, but one that I’ve managed to cope with over the years (Thanks to the FIFA series). Though I’ll never become the next Hugo Sanchez (sorry dad) my love for the beautiful game remains and my sentiments can best be described by the words of the late, great Uruguayan author and activist, Eduardo Galeano:
“Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.”
Soccer is a beautiful orchestra, a sort of poetry in motion that enthralls millions of fans across the globe. And for the last several years, no one has played more beautifully (click if you want a nice way to spend the next ten minutes) than FC Barcelona.
I’m well aware that “beauty” is subjective. Though not everyone is a fan of the Barça style, I think we can all agree that FC Barcelona has been one of the most successful sides for the better part of the last decade. In June 2015, FC Barcelona, then managed by Luis Enrique, clinched its second “treble” in team history. By defeating Juventus in the UEFA Champions’ League Final, the team claimed the League, the Cup and The Champions League. They are the first team in history to claim two such “trebles”
Thus, by exploring the similarities between FC Barcelona and Waze, I will be able to finally put into words what I’ve been struggling to adequately communicate for the past five years. The two have more in common than you think, and both have become cornerstones of communities around the world.
More Than You Think
FC Barcelona’s motto has long been “Mes que un Club” or More Than a Club. It’s not just a football team, but also an institution of culture and history for the Catalan people. For the uninitiated, Catalunya is a an autonomous region in Spain. It has it’s own history, culture and language.
Like most regions of Spain during the authoritative rule of Francisco Franco, Catalunya was forced to distance itself from all signs of nationalism. As such, the use of the Catalan language was banned in public use, the senyera, or national flag, had to be taken down from public buildings and Football Club Barcelona changed it’s name to the Castilian (IE, Spanish) Club de Futbol Barcelona.
More so than ever, the club became a symbol of resistance. The football stadium became one of the only places where people could speak Catalan. As the years went on, the club evolved into a symbol of Catalan sentiment and unity. Being a member or “soci” of the club wasn’t so much about being a football fan but more of belonging to the community.
What’s fascinating about the club (and the city) is that it serves as the most visible and staunch symbol of Catalan nationalism (the club wore jerseys, inspired by the senyera, on their national day, la diada, in September of 2014), history and culture. It’s the local club for a once provincial city.
Yet despite its provincial qualities of humility, teamwork and effort, FC Barcelona commands a cosmopolitan and worldly appeal. According to its official website, the club boasts 117 million fans around the world, making it not only one of the most popular teams, but one of the most popular brands in the world.
The team, like the city itself is a paradox. It manages to be both provincial and cosmopolitan. It’s just another way that FC Barcelona is “mes que un club.”
Waze may have begun as an app. But over the years it has become a tool and resource for cities and communities around the world. With our data and the power of millions of Wazers, we can work hand-in-hand with our global partners in making our cities safer and more efficient. And in times of crisis, the community can make a difference. In November of 2012, we received a call from FEMA. Cities on the east coast were heavily damaged following the appearance of Hurricane Sandy, and government agencies were working around the clock to provide relief to affected areas.
One of the biggest challenges they faced was knowing where to send petrol trucks. Since many gas stations lost power during the hurricane, there was no way of knowing what stations were in need of fuel. FEMA asked if our community could lend a hand.
Within an hour of connecting with FEMA, our team set up a simple messaging system asking users to leave messages near the stations, letting us know what the fuel levels were like and how long the lines were. We then relayed hundreds of these anonymous “map-chats” back to FEMA and The White House. With this data they were able to better manage the distribution of petrol trucks, targeting the stations that needed them the most.
We were able to play a small role in the relief efforts because of our community and our reach. It was a testament to the power of crowdsourcing. As Di-Ann Eisnor, Head of Growth, said at the time: “Everyone was just helping each other out. Things can change when people are involved in massively-scaled crowd participation.”
Resources, technology and scale allowed us to react quickly to the events of November 2012. But those same assets can help us be proactive as well.
In early March of 2015, we announced that we would begin notifying Wazers of nearby Amber alerts. Julie Mossler, Head of PR said, “Waze was built on the premise that we’re all in this together. Our users are communicative and engaged in their communities–an ideal group to assist during an Amber Alert.”
The recurring theme in both of these anecdotes is the sense of belonging. Before being a startup or an app, Waze is a community, a community of people working together to improve the quality of our cities. It’s our users whom organize themselves, begin editing the maps and contribute other invaluable data to the app. Without a community of passionate individuals; I wouldn’t be typing this article from the Google (or anywhere, really) office.
The one unwritten rule of hiring at Waze has always been “No Assholes.” We look for selfless, hard-working self-starters. Mark Campos once brought on-board a temp to help with design work. In giving her advice he said, “the way to succeed at Waze is to keep your head down, work and let your work call attention to yourself. That’s it.” The advice seemed to stick, because after three months, Erika Lehmkuhl became (and still is) a full time Wazer.
There have been a few instances where we’ve ignored our own rule and hired people who were more worried and concerned about themselves than the collective. Even then, management has always been quick to act and cut the problem before it affected others.
The credo of selflessness and teamwork at Waze starts at the top. Amir Shinar, and Ehud Shabtai, our CTO, worked together at a previous company. In fact, Amir actually managed Ehud. One of our VP’s of Engineering sold a company prior to Waze and was so intrigued by what Ehud and Amir were doing that he came back to the working world. Many people would think so highly of themselves that they wouldn’t return unless the title matched their resume. But Tal wanted to get involved and help in any way possible.
When I first began at Waze, I would write to Tal whenever I encountered a bug. And whether it was Friday afternoon or Monday morning, Tal would always help in the situation. Here’s a guy who in most companies would have me go through two or three people before speaking with him. Instead, he selflessly looked to help wherever he could.
Tal’s example is the standard across the board. You’ll never hear a Wazer say, “That’s not my job.” We all look to help if we can, and if we cannot we’ll send to someone who can assist. It’s been the Waze way and one that Noam Bardin, our Chief Wazer and CEO continues to promote; The whole is more important than the self. What’s good for Waze is good for the individual.
There are many other examples across the Waze spectrum, superstars at every role, and the best of the best working together to outsmart traffic and make our cities smarter. But don’t get it confused; in a team of stars, we have no egos.
At the beginning of the 2014/2015 La Liga season, Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff criticized the signing of Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez, saying that; “In signing him, the club are showing a preference for individual genius over a team that plays great football.”
One could see how adding another star to a lineup of prominent players could cause problems. After all, the team already had Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr, the Brazilian captain. How would the three gel?
But Johan Cruyff was proven wrong. The trio combined for over 100 goals in their inaugural season together. In addition, judging from these numbers, it’s clear the three help one another and set up each other for success. Many believe that Messi (and rightfully so) is in the best form of his career. But as Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone points out, FC Barcelona is more than just Messi.
“Barcelona are a unit and in that unit, the individual talent of Lionel obviously stands out – but he wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of his teammates.”
For example, it was interesting to note that in a 6-goal rampage against Getafe in April 2015, whomever scored assisted in the following goal.
Goal 1: Messi (penalty, no assist)
Goal 2: Suarez, assist Messi
Goal 3: Neymar, assist Suarez
Goal 4: Xavi, assist Neymar
Goal 5: Suarez, assist Xavi
Goal 6: Messi, Assist Suarez
(Thanks reddit/r/soccer for compiling the info!)
Messi is the world’s best player. Neymar is fourth on Brazil’s all-time scoring list at only 25 years of age. And Luis Suarez is considered by many to be one of the best forwards. And while they’re a team full of stars, they have no ego.
In May 2009, FC Barcelona defeated England’s Manchester United 2-0 to claim the UEFA Champions League crown. In addition to their victory over Man U in Rome, the Catalans won the Spanish Cup and The Spanish League to claim their first “treble”. It was a historic and rare feat, one that had only been done four previous times since 1967.
Barcelona’s lineup that evening in late May featured an eclectic mix of superstars, international champions and unproven youngsters.
The midfield was anchored by Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta who were less than a year removed from helping Spain claim their second Euro Cup. Upfront, internationally renowned Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry lined up with Lionel Messi (who was then on the ascent to becoming the best player in the world) to lead the Catalan attack.
Three unproven youngsters would also make their mark on the match. Gerard Pique, then 21 and Sergio Busquets, then 20, would get be a part of the starting eleven. By the time the final whistle blew, 21-year-old Pedro Rodriguez would make an appearance as well.
At the onset of the 2008-2009 season, Pique, Busquets and Rodriguez were unproven and unknown commodities who had been a part of Barcelona’s famed La Masia Youth Academy.
Gerard Pique, who began his career in the FC Barcelona youth ranks, had just returned to Catalonia after spending four so-so years at Manchester United. Pep Guardiola brought him back to serve as a backup defender. But an injury to starter Gabriel Milito in the early part of the season forced Pique into action. Over the course of the season, Pique would go on to establish himself as one of the best center backs in not only Spain, but in the world.
Pep Guardiola took over FC Barcelona’s senior team prior to the 2008/2009 season. He had spent the 2007/2008 year managing Barcelona’s reserve squad, aptly named, FC Barcelona B. It was with the B squad that he first took notice of Busquets and Rodriguez. So it only made sense that he took the youngsters with him once he was at the helm of the senior squad.
Busquets played so well in his debut season that he made Yaya Toure, one of the best holding midfielders in the game, expendable. Pedro Rodriguez didn’t have as much of an immediate impact as Pique and Busquets, but he still played in 14 games that year and slowly saw his responsibilities increase with the team.
The three players would go on to be a part of the Spain teams that won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euro Cup in 2012 and would play together at FC Barcelona until Pedro left for Chelsea in the fall of 2015.
Perhaps in due time they would have gone on to become stars, regardless of whether or not they got playing time that fateful season. But the opportunity handed to them in 2008 put them on the fast track to success with both FC Barcelona and the Spanish National team.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another club that puts such an emphasis on its youth players. La Masia, as the academy is known, has produced an impressive alumni list. Pique, Busquets and Rodriguez weren’t the first to blossom after being introduced as unknown and unproven graduates. I mean, it was more than ten years ago that a 17-year old, shaggy haired, Argentine named Lionel Messi scored his first goal for the club.
I’ve written extensively about my beginnings with Waze and how fortunate I am to be a part of the team. But Waze is filled with many more impressive stories about opportunity. I wasn’t the first unproven youngster to come from the Waze La Masia, so to speak, and I certainly won’t be the last.
Mikhel Davé, 24 at the time, started with Waze a few months before I did. He was working as a research assistant at Stanford when he began applying at various tech companies around Silicon Valley, including Google. He had heard about Waze through our former head of PR. While his interview process at Google lingered on for months, he received an offer to join the small US Waze team in Palo Alto.
Mikhel was supposed to help in QA. But with the rapid growth of both the app and the Ad Platform, Mikhel found himself building out our Operations Team and laying out the vital processes for adding brands to the Waze ecosystem.
During the nascent years of the Ad Platform, Mikhel WAS US Waze Ops. He faced more stress and took more heat on a daily basis than most people experience in a given month. And he approached those challenges in a thoughtful, logical and thorough manner.
While Mikhel and I were just getting started with Waze in Q2 of 2012, Mark Campos was ready to come back. At only 22 years of age, Mark began freelancing with Waze while he was still in architecture school in late 2011. By the time he graduated in May of 2012, Mark was ready to get called up to the senior squad.
Noam Bardin once called Mark “one of the smartest kids he’s met” and it’s not without reason. While Mark began working in data visualization and design, he eventually made his way to the Go-To-Market team, lending his expertise and insights in guiding the development of the Ad Product. He now sits at the crux of business insights, data and product specialty.
I always joke that besides being co-workers, we’re co-friends. And that extends to not just the three of us, but to the whole Waze team. We’ve gone through alot together, and over the years visiting different offices (be it Mountain View, New York or Tel Aviv) doesn’t feel like going to work, it feels like visiting family and coming home. And it’s a sentiment that was cultivated by our leadership, the same managers that gave many of us our first opportunities.
Of course I know I’m biased. I work at Waze, I love Waze and I follow Barcelona and I love Barcelona. We’re probably not as similar as I’d like to think we are. Furthermore, I’m aware that I’m conveniently ignoring some of Barcelona’s recent misgivings, such as former President Sandro Rosell’s exit or the club’s recent transfer ban. When I shared this article idea with a co-worker, his reply was “dude, you really want to make Waze a soccer team, don’t you?”
Well yes, but that’s beside the point. Drawing this comparison helps me put to words what I couldn’t describe otherwise: what it’s like being part of the amazing team at Waze. How do you recount what it’s like to be on a 6am video call to announce that you’ve been acquired? How do you describe the ups and downs of working at a startup? How do you put to words the feeling of knowing exactly what to do in one instance and then fucking it up shortly thereafter (one of my managers calls that “marriage”)?
It’s hard to convey that because most people don’t know what it’s like. But I believe that soccer is the universal language that makes sense of most things. And FC Barcelona, being one of the most popular teams in the world, is something that a lot of individuals can relate to. Whether you’re a Catalan nationalist or a Korean businessman, chances are you know or you understand the context of soccer and the club.
I know my comparison is imperfect. But if this analogy allows me to somewhat and put to words what working and being a part of Waze has been like, then I don’t mind. Just like FC Barcelona is more than a club, Waze is more than an app.