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An Entrepreneur from Birth Takes on the INSEAD MBA

Silicon Valley-born Jonathan Levi is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. He shares some of the lessons he’s picked up along the way!


Thu Oct 18 2012

Jonathan Levi’s first business took off at age five. He sold handmade crafts he’d made with his neighbourhood friend. Needless to say, it was not a roaring success, but its failure and the subsequent failures of other businesses have taught him many lessons.
Now, an INSEAD MBA candidate and an angel investor in fields ranging from health to education, Jonathan, 25, shared with us some of the key lessons he picked up from running his previous businesses. We also couldn’t resist quizzing Jonathan on why someone who has been doing business all of his life decided to get an MBA.
Failure is the first lesson Jonathan shared with us. He considers it to be one of the key lessons of being an entrepreneur. “For me, failure is the best indicator of future success”, he said."I always try to encourage people to fail harder."
After the failure of Jonathan’s crafts business, his next serious ventures were a web design agency and then a mobile DJing service, in middle and high school. However, neither of these businesses took off until he mastered a second lesson: only start a business if there’s a problem to solve.
It took Jonathan a while to figure this out, but once he did, things were a lot more smooth-sailing. He started his online BMW upgrades business and ran it for nearly eight years throughout high school and college. 
From 2004 to 2011, Jonathan guided the company's sales and marketing, orders operations, strategy, and direction. Jlevi StreetWerks grew from a US$1,200 investment into a US$2.75 million industry leader, and one of INC's 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America.
In 2011, Jonathan oversaw the negotiation of an acquisition and its transition to new ownership.
The third lesson Jonathan shared with us is making the most of learning opportunities. It seemed to the outside world like he was doing pretty well but he decided to study for an MBA to improve his skill set. He said, “The reason for the MBA is that I believed I could certainly learn to do things better”.
Jonathan studied at University of California-Berkeley and majored in Sociology, but also took business courses at the Haas School of Business. He enjoyed every class he took at Haas and realized that some things, like Finance and Accounting, were better learned in a "safe" classroom environment.
He had originally hoped to get his MBA from Stanford GSB but was won over by INSEAD after meeting with some impressive alumni during the application process.
“After that, I secretly hoped I wouldn’t get into Stanford, because the truth is that Stanford is not super-exciting for someone who has spent their entire life in California.
"I had also made the decision to live as an expat in Israel, and INSEAD represented a commitment to become truly global and living my life overseas. The people here are absolutely amazing. Just as an example, I have a classmate from Liechtenstein. It's a country of only 36,000 people and one of them sits in front of me every day!”
The MBA courses are coming in handy for Jonathan. He’s still getting through the core courses, but he’s found Finance particularly interesting. “I used to run my business proudly proclaiming that we were debt free, but recently I found out we were missing out on things like the interest tax shield, leverage and other significant benefits. One hundred per cent equity finance is actually really foolish, it turns out." 
Alongside his MBA, Jonathan is currently running Lucid Path Consulting, a company that offers affordable consultancy and software development services to small businesses.
He is also a board member and angel investor to several companies including KUTOA, a company that makes delicious health bars in order to help feed malnourished children; Coursemodo, an interactive learning platform designed to empower educators and increase classroom engagement; Notewagon, a peer-to-peer learning platform that connects university students together in a marketplace for lecture notes and revision materials; and WisePricer, an easy-to-use tool that helps small- and medium-size companies track and monitor successful online retailers and re-price in real-time.
We asked Jonathan if it was easy to be an entrepreneur and he admitted to us that there was no straight answer. “In some capacity, it's the hardest work you'll ever do in your life. In reality, though, it doesn't feel like work when you're passionate about an idea, and nobody but you is expecting results. One thing is for sure, once you've been an entrepreneur, you can't go back to the real world."
Jonathan also told us that new entrepreneurs can tap into a wide network of support. Jonathan’s family members advised him a lot, but he also found the support of other entrepreneurs to be a tremendous help. “I think we entrepreneurs have a great understanding amongst us. The more experienced ones are always eager to help and mentor. Many people helped me up, and so I’m also happy to help. I think of it as paying it forward.”, he said. “Take advantage of people in your field. They want to help you. A lot of them are also angel investors who might be looking for new projects to get involved in.” 
Finally, we asked Jonathan why exactly he does what he does. His reply? It's all he knows - and it is a tremendous blessing to live in a generation where we can do, be, or create anything we can imagine. 
Read more about students, alumni, and programmes at INSEAD here
Click here to learn more about Jonathan