Catching Up with Alum Max August about Tech and Moving His Office To Israel
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
We sat down for a quick chat with Thrive Alum Max August of New York, currently living in Israel. Watch the video for a fascinating conversation about Max's experiences in the finance and tech world, his study abroad journey to Tel Aviv on Thrive, and some cool insight into what it means to spend a semester abroad in Israel.
Can't watch a video? Catch the full conversation below!
Rabbi Isaacs: Hey everybody! This is really so exciting to be sitting here, actually in my house right now, with one of my favorite- you know, all are my favorite alumni but one of my favorite alumni, Max August, from Spring 2019 at Tel Aviv University. So exciting to have you here, Max.
Max: Thank you, Adi!
Rabbi Isaacs: Very, very nice to have you. What are you doing here? What are you doing here at my house, Max?
Max: Yeah, so I moved to Israel three and a half weeks ago, and I'm here…
Rabbi Isaacs: Hold on a second, back up a second, you graduated from where?
Max: I'll take a step back. So my name is Max August. I grew up in New York City and I studied economics at Harvard undergrad. I came abroad to Tel Aviv University in Spring 2019 and was fortunate to be a member of the Thrive Study Abroad program.
Rabbi Isaacs: The feeling is definitely mutual
Max: And then I graduated college in Spring 2020, right as COVID was starting, and joined a growth equity firm in New York called General Atlantic, where I focused the last couple years on our investments in Israel. And then due to a mix of begging and the company sort of being open to it, they asked me to relocate to Israel in December of
2021, so I moved here three and a half weeks ago!
Rabbi Isaacs: Wow! General Atlantic has an office here in Israel?
Max: So they didn't, but we actually just opened one. I was fortunate to be the first and currently the only member of the team here in Israel.
Rabbi Isaacs: Wow. Why would General Atlantic want to open up an office here in Israel?
Max: Yeah, it's a great question. I think it's the Israeli tech ecosystem. It’s really
booming, so General Atlantic is a later-stage-focused investment firm. So there's venture capital, there's late-stage private equity, we sort of sit in the middle. We focus on writing bigger checks of, sort of 50 million-plus, and if you look at the number of late-stage funding runs over the last 10 years in Israel, it's really gone like this (motions upward).
So one of my favorite statistics, not to get too mathy here, but one of my favorite statistics is that if you look at the number of 100 million funding rounds, so how many Israeli companies raised over 100 million dollars on funding from 2010 to 2018? There were two a year, two companies raised 100 million dollars. In 2019 there were five, everyone thought that was crazy. In 2021, any guesses how many there were? 75 companies that raised from Israel! 75 Israeli companies raised 100 million dollars, so I think to go from 2 to 5 to 20 up to 75 in just a few years, it's a pretty extraordinary thing.
Rabbi Isaacs: So do they see that number continuously doubling?
Max: I don't know if it will continue growing at that rate but I think we see a ton of opportunity here and we've now made eight investments in Israel and hopefully it's just the beginning.
Rabbi Isaacs: Wow. Very, very exciting. Just from a perspective, you're, how old are you now Max, 24?
Rabbi Isaacs: So for a 24-year-old, I would assume that like, the epicenter of finance and social life, and everything, is in New York City so why would you move here?
Max: Yeah, it's a great question. Again, I'd say a few things. First is, growing up I felt very American. I grew up in a Jewish family, we had Shabbat dinners occasionally. I didn't go to a Jewish school, I didn’t go to Hebrew school, and so I think growing up, my identity was very much American. I grew up in New York, in the city, and then when I was in college, I think my Jewish identity started becoming a lot more central to my identity.
So over the last few years– and Thrive Study Abroad was a significant portion of how that shifted, but over the last few years, my identity has shifted so much that I feel like my Jewish identity in many ways defines who I am as a person. And certainly, America is very important to me and has and always will be very important to me, but I think there's something very unique about living in a Jewish state.
I could take a step back and think about the fact that over the last 2000 years, Jews have been wandering the world, trying to find a home, and now we're sort of the lucky generation that gets to just jump on a plane and come here. Assuming COVID regulations don't stop you.
So that's one piece of it, but from a social life, from a professional business life, I think there's never been a better time to move to Israel and to move to Tel Aviv in particular.
I just saw in 2021, there were record numbers of people that made Aliyah, and so from a social life experience, it's just such a unique community, it's a mix of Israelis, internationals; every night I feel like I go out and I meet someone from Brazil, Mexico, France, the UK, and it's just an amazing social experience.
And from the professional side of things, I think what's also amazing is now you have this booming tech ecosystem that is, you know, desperate to hire international students or post-grad students who want to come here and work.
I think for me what's been really exciting is, I think for the first several decades of Israel's existence, you really had to be in many ways a sort of a Zionist pioneer to want to move here. Or you had to be motivated, you know, deeply by religious causes to want to live here. But now I think what we're starting to see is people are moving here for a career opportunity and I think that's one of the most exciting things and I think it's when we're just starting to see Israel now sort of, I believe reaching the next stage of its growth as a country, where people are moving here not just because of Judaism or Zionism, but because there's amazing professional opportunity. So for me, it's a mix of all, sort of, three buckets.
Rabbi Isaacs: And you’re not just living here, you're actually creating that for us as well.
Max: Absolutely. And I feel like part of the reason why I’m so passionate about what I get to do every day is that it's not just investing in random cyber security or a Fintech company, but it's creating jobs in Israel, helping build the next generation of big companies to come out of Israel.
Rabbi Isaacs: Cool, amazing! So let's shift for a second to study abroad in this amazing story. And I really, really want to hear more from you, but about studying abroad, so just reminiscing a little bit. If you’d have to pick out, you know, one experience, what kind of highlights what Thrive and the study abroad experience did for you?
Max: Totally. If I may, I might just go one step forward, which is not just Thrive, but the question of going abroad.
I've been one of the biggest proponents of studying abroad. I remember when I started college, I was, you know, I only have four years, I want to stay on campus. This was important to me, and then I think by my Junior fall, I decided that I really wanted to study abroad and it was clear that I wanted to study abroad in Israel. And I remember I went into the study abroad office at Harvard, and I told them I wanted to go to Israel and they, you know, they didn't quite laugh, but they were like, are you sure, you know, we never really have students go abroad in general, and in Israel…
Yeah, and I can confidently say now, just a few years later, that it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made, for a whole bunch of reasons. And so I’ve been the biggest proponent. I think I have many, many students who come to me, somehow they just they find me, asking, a) should I go abroad and b) should I go abroad to Israel, and I think it's an amazing opportunity to get away from campus life, to meet new people, to grow as a person.
And I totally understand, empathize with the fact that many students now haven't had, you know, a sort of a natural college experience, but what I would just say is, I think very few times in life you get to take a step back from the daily routine and come leave the country, and in this case, come to Israel. And so I think what I would say to all those people is if you just stay on campus, you know, you might find yourself on campus for four years and then you start a job in New York, and then you always say, oh, well, I can maybe go to Israel later, maybe I can go somewhere else later.
But I think now is such a unique time in your life where you can take five or six months, you can meet hundreds of new people, you can grow as a person, and so I'm just the biggest proponent of studying abroad in general. And then maybe I'll talk more about Israel now, which is why I came here and why I would recommend coming here.
And I think I’ll start with Thrive, because for me that was, you know, really the most important part of my experience. So I think with Thrive, I would say first and foremost is the people. I think when you go abroad anywhere; London, Sydney, you know, you're sort of in somewhat of abroad community, but not really, and I have many friends who will go abroad to these places and they'll have a great time, but they'll leave and maybe they made, you know, one or two friends; maybe they met some people in their program, but there was no real sense of community. And so for me, part of what was really unique about Thrive was that I met an amazing, amazing group of people who are still some of my closest friends today.
And of course, I got to meet Rabbi Adi Isaacs! You know, to think that just a couple of years later I would be coming to Jerusalem, and my first phone call was to Rabbi Adi to host me…I think these relationships are meaningful, they're important and I can't speak about them enough.
And then just more broadly in terms of the program, I think again what separates coming to Israel from any other place, is that you can really learn more about who you are in many ways, and learn more about Jewish history and Jewish learning.
And so for me, again, I grew up in a home where I would say Judaism was somewhat important, but I don't feel like I really knew what Shabbat was. I don't feel like I really knew anything about certain Jewish history or Jewish learning, and so through Thrive, whether it was the weekly Jewish learning or various Shabbatons around the country, I got a chance to really understand and start the journey of understanding what Judaism means, and that's totally changed me in terms of my daily and weekly observance.
So now I'm proudly observing Shabbat, which is a crazy step forward! My family thinks I'm crazy that I turn off my phone. My colleagues at work think I'm crazy, but I don't think I’d be able to get through my week now without knowing I have that break for Shabbat, coming Friday afternoon Friday evening.
And then again, I think it's just the experiential side of things, so again, you can go to London, you can go to Paris, you can go to Sydney, and you can have fun, you can travel and whatnot–you do all that when you come to Israel by the way too- but coming to Tel Aviv and doing Thrive, you get to experience what it's like to do, you know, 24 hours of IDF army training you get to go to Jerusalem-
Rabbi Isaacs: I'll show you his pictures maybe a little later!
Max: Yeah, you get to go to the north, to the south, you get a break from the partying and having fun in Tel Aviv, which is honestly very important to the abroad experience, but you get a sort of more complete experience. So I'm here by choice. We weren't even planning to do this video because I was here just as a friend, but again, I can't speak highly enough both about the Thrive program, but also about studying abroad.
Rabbi Isaacs: Yeah, thank you so much for your time! And now we just heard the sound for Shabbat, so we're gonna end right now. Shabbat shalom to you, and Shabbat shalom to everyone!