Chapter 4. You can do business in the army too!
In the summer of 1997 I graduated from university and received a degree in mechanical engineering. I was 20. It was time to enlist in the army, not for a period of three years, but for six years. If you are studying at a university before the army - you must give it six years of your life.
Of course, I knew about it in advance. But when I started studying at university I was 16 and had to either wait two years and enlist at 18, or go to university and then enlist, but for a double period. Of course, preference was given to university studies - then the service would have looked quite far and 6 years did not seem so scary.
True, I did not want to enlist, but who asked me what I wanted? The law is the law. You must serve in the military. Do not want? We'll make you. By force.
In general, in any so-called democratic state you can do and say what you want and there is an illusion of freedom of choice.
You have the right to choose secondary things - which books to read, which computer to buy, which tea to drink, but you have no right to choose the main things - you can not choose not to enlist, you can not raise the children in your method and not send them to school, you can not choose not to pay taxes, you can not not pay Social Security, even if you do not use their services.
This is what is called democracy, the "freedom" of choice ... to do what you want, but only within defined limits. It is very similar to the freedom of prisoners - you can do whatever you want and walk where you want, but only within the confines of the prison.
Without asking my will and opinion, I was drafted into the army. To the Navy. In Haifa. The base was in the Bat Galim area. By the way, an amazing place. Two minutes and you are on the pier with a spectacular view of the endless blue sea.
A new city. On my own. Since I was an academic officer, I had the right to live in a base or rent an apartment and live separately. Of course, I chose a free life. Much better to live in your own apartment - you can do whatever you want, especially at night :)
But living in an apartment requires a lot of money - you have to pay rent, buy food, pay for travel, etc. I was by no means ready to accept my parents' help. I had long been accustomed to earning on my own.
The army paid me $140 a month. That money was not even enough to rent a one-room apartment.
Three soldiers - me, Yevgeny Milstein and Alik Wertman, rented an apartment together right in the center of Haifa, in the heart of the Hadar neighborhood. It was a cheerful, juicy, colorful street. Hundreds of shops, thousands of people - everything was breathtaking and lively. Something like Dizengoff or Allenby in Tel Aviv.
Army life began. Every morning we drove from Hadar to the base in Bat Galim - in the evening at 5 o'clock - home. Every day - back and forth.
In the evening there was nothing to do at home and I wandered around the city. I wandered all the big and small streets of Hadar - I looked at all the shops and small and big offices - I was looking for ideas of what could be done to make money for a normal life in the military era.
Anyone who has served in the military knows that during service you are not allowed to do business. A soldier has no right to start his own business. But that did not stop me. What can they do to me? fire? Lower my rank? Put in jail? I'm not afraid of any of this. It is much scarier to survive six years with a salary of $140 a month.
One day, Yevgeny and I walked down to Bat Galim, to the base - we did not always have money for travel. On the way we passed a printing house. I peeked inside for a moment - there was the smell of freshly cut paper, the smell of paint, the buzz of printing presses. I was very intrigued by what was going on inside and went in the door.
I was fascinated and watched how one giant machine prints business cards, the other cuts them, and the third packs them in packs of 100 units.
The landlord approached us and asked, "What do you want, guys?"
I was interested in how much it costed to order a business card. After that I became interested in the manufacturing process, who designs them, how the printing process works. In short, I went into the printing house for a moment and got stuck there for two hours.
I lit up. All the way from a printing house to the base I drove Yevgeny crazy with my new dream - making business cards. I had no idea where to start, but I really wanted to try this business.
When we arrived at the base I was reprimanded for being late and I was detained at the base for two days. Two days of hard waiting. But my brain was boiling! I did not care about the reprimand. I was already completely engrossed in thinking about the new idea. I knew what I wanted to do and built plans on how to start the business.
I said "Let's get started."
Key 8 to Success
"Let's get started" is my favorite phrase :) In fact, I did not start my own business with the words "I can! I will do it! I will achieve that goal!" as they used to say in business seminars and write in business books. I always started with these words: "Let's start, let's try and see what comes out of it." Every time I want to start something new, I say that phrase to myself. It works for me like a magic kick :)
Immediately after I got out of captivity, I did not go home, but flew to the printing house to find out all the smallest details of the printing and production of business cards.
The owner of the printing house told me I needed to bring graphics and design and he would print anything - whether it's a single business card or a package of business cards.
"What do I need to do graphics?"
I asked. He says "a computer
Oops ... I did not take that into account in my grandiose plans. I do not have a computer. In 1997 personal computers had only just entered the market and were very expensive. One computer could have cost $4300. I did not have such money.
I started running from bank to bank, to take out a loan. But for a simple soldier, no bank will give a loan. Especially for starting a business. Bankers scolded me as a mentally ill child and sent me away, compassionately: "Boy, go serve in the army, what computer are you talking about? What the hell did you do?!"
Of course, neither Yevgeny nor Alik had that money. We were the most ordinary soldiers.
Several days passed. I kept searching for where to get money for a computer.
Friday arrived. On Fridays, my parents would come from from Ashkelon to visit me in Haifa. They would bring homemade food and snacks. Mom brought lamb chops dipped in juicy sauce, her most delicious chocolate cakes - all that can’t be bought in stores, for any fortune in the world.
In short, the parents had arrived and we are sitting in my rented apartment, eating the ribs with sauce. In between I told my Dad: "I want to start a business - to make business cards, but I do not have a computer and I do not have the money."
In those days Dad's store somehow always managed to survive. There was enough money to support a family, but there would be no surplus left for the son's craziness.
Dad said nothing, as if he had not heard what I said. In the evening, my parents returned to Ashkelon. Two days later Dad came back with a computer, a scanner, a printer and a huge 21-inch screen!
I was happy :) I went crazy with joy! I can do graphics! I can make business cards! There it is!
It was only after a few years that I found out that my dad had taken out a loan and bought the computer in 18 installments, to give me the opportunity to realize the idea. Thanks dad!
This is it! I had a computer! There was only one small "but" left ...
I had only ever seen a real computer at the university, in Be'er Sheva, and it was a small "Mac" with a square black and white screen. But here I have a big computer with Windows!
In short, for about five minutes we searched for the power button on the computer. We finally turned it on, but we had no idea what to do with it! Yevgeny did not know and neither did Alik. We looked at the computer like we were stupid and looked for which button to press so that business cards and graphics are made automatically :)
After spending the whole night getting to know the computer, we found three programs - Word, Excell and PowerPoint. Since PowerPoint was the only software that could do anything with pictures, I started making the first designs of business cards in PowerPoint.
Anyone somewhat familiar with graphics can understand what a nightmare it is to do business card design in PowerPoint, in Windows 98. We had no idea about having professional software like Photoshop and Corel Draw.
Key 9 to success
It does not matter how you start - straight, crooked, in PowerPoint, producing business cards with your legs, cutting them with your hands. The main thing is to start. After that life will show you the right direction. With each new step you will gain more experience and the results will be better.
I had a computer! A tool that can make graphics. I learned how to move pictures in PowerPoint. There was a printing house that printed business cards. There was free time after the days in the army. It was possible to connect all these resources together and I could do business!
I went to the printing house, took two hundred different business cards from them and went on a tour of Haifa's stores.
I would go into all the stores, meet the owner and at the end of the time I would ask, "Can I have your business card?"
They would give me their business card. I would not tell them anything beyond that and I would go home. At home I would make new graphics for business cards, print it on a printer and the next day I would go back to store owners and tell them, "Look at your new business card, this is how it can be."
I was not a professional graphic artist, I was not a certified designer, but I learned in each business card what should be written and where it should be written, how to make a logo, what type of font is better for what text, etc. I needed to get to know Photoshop and Corel Draw urgently. I bought some books on these programs, delved into it and studied them.
Usually, stores had very simple and miserable business cards, on plain paper. You would show them two hundred beautiful business cards I took from the printing house plus their new business card, and say, "You too can have such a beautiful, decorated business card, with lamination. Order 1000 units. It's not expensive."
Out of 10 stores, 7 would say "Okay, make it for me."
The design was ready, there was no need to convince them, to beg and tell them what I was doing and what their business card would look like - I would just bring a ready result. It was very impressive to them.
If the customer refused, I would leave with him his new business card and say that if he regrets, he can always contact me. They would often call after a day or two and order the business cards.
Key 10 to Success
It is very difficult to persuade a customer to buy a product. It is much easier to sell if you show your customer a ready result. Are you a business consultant? Show the customer what you do. Are you a masseuse? Give the client a ten-minute massage, delight them so that they howl with joy. Do you teach music? Do not present certificates, just sit at the piano and play. In short, do not tell - show!
Regular business cards cost $35 per 1,000 units. I sold mine for $100, because the paper was better, the design was juicy and new, and the business card was double-sided - on it we printed calendars, advertising text about the company, coupons and promotions.
On one day I would close 7-10 orders. Once a week I would run to the printing house and hand over the design for printing. The business progressed at a tremendous pace. The method was simple - take a regular business card, improve it, show the owner, offer him to buy it and take the money. I have his business card, he has my money. Everything is as usual :)
I was in a catastrophic time crisis. I would leave the base at five in the evening. Until I got to Hadar - another half hour. The shops are already closing at eight o'clock in the evening. Even if I had left the base earlier, I would have had at most only three hours of productive time.
I earned more then our base commander. I made about $7000 net income per month. Huge money for a soldier who works three hours a day. But I can get more! If I only had a full day free, or at least half a day!
All evening I ran and collected orders and at night worked on the business cards, to get them to the stores the next day. I went to bed at five in the morning and in the morning I could not physically get out of bed. I started after regularly being late to the base. They would call me from the base, angry at me, threatening imprisonment and detention. Once every two weeks I was punished at the base. It had already become a habit.
At one point I decided to ignore the military. I hung up the phone so they wouldn't wake me up and stopped going to the base in the morning. As I would wake up in the morning, I would run to the printing house, deliver the orders and only at noon would I get to the base to show up and check the box.
At one o'clock in the afternoon I would leave the base, collect orders and hand out ready ones. I would leave the base cheekily and without permission.
My commanders were tired of fighting with me. When they would see me, their mood would drop: "Again him?! Again wars with him? Enough, enough ..."
My direct commander no longer saw any point in fighting me - you can scare a person who is afraid of you, but if he is no longer afraid and does what he wants, then what is the point of scaring him?
We had a friend agreement - he does not touch me and in return I stand at the base, signal presence and do not poison his life. If it was necessary to report to the base, if there was urgent work or an audit - he would call and warn me in advance.
By the way, in the army, as an academic officer and mechanical engineer, I was involved in testing ships. After repairing the ship, one must check the stability of the ship on the waves, on the first voyage.
There was nothing difficult and sophisticated about this test - I had a device with which I measured the stability of the ship. If the data exceeded the allowable value - the ship needs to be returned and repaired again. My whole test took less than half an hour. Could have done by any other soldier. To perform the test, it was not necessary to study at the university for five years.
When I was supposed to go check out the ship, the commander would call me and I would immediately go out to sea. We would usually stay at sea for 4-6 hours. The ship inspection took about half an hour, but I would get permission and spend the rest of the time on board. This is the only thing I got an amazing pleasure from in the army - sailing in ships, watching sunsets and sunrises, enjoying the blue horizon, listening to the sea and the sounds of the waves.
My commander was relaxed that his soldier was working, and in return I would get free time for business. By the way, my commander was an amazing guy. Hanoch Aharon and Nitzan Shaked (base commander): If you are reading these lines, thank you for not poisoning my life in the army!
The last day in the army. Farewell Party.
Yevgeny Milstein, Nitzan Shaked, Eli Shavit, Tal Rubinov, Hanoch Aharon.
One day the commander called me and said I needed go on a voyage. I arrive at the port, boarded the ship and heard a colonel saying the voyage will last 8 days because the ship will undergo military training.
What?! 8 days?! 8 days I can not earn?! 8 lost days?! 8 days, when customers are waiting for me, when I promised them to bring them orders and instead, like an idiot, I have to sail on a ship ?! My part in checking the ship lasts only half an hour! What will I do there 8 days?!
I have gathered my courage and I told the colonel that I will not set sail. He almost fainted. He did not expect to hear this from a junior officer.
I told him: "My test lasts exactly half an hour. I do not understand why I have to take a voyage of 8 days, for the sake of a half hour's test? Accompanying us is a bee (a small ship that takes people who must return that evening) so please bring me back too."
"You will not go back anywhere and you will sail with us for as long as I say!"
I realized that he was trying to show his importance and to start explaining anything to him - it would be completely useless. But I did not intend to sail for 8 days. Even if I got an order from a very respected colonel. Even if I had to get a heavy punishment.
Then I told him, "Either you bring me back to base in the evening and I check the ship, or I do not go out with you, and you check the ship for yourself."
The colonel steamed angrily and exploded: "Who are you anyway! Who gave you the right to talk like that to a colonel!!"
And after that moved on to the curses and insults.
The whole ship crew gathered around us and everyone listened to him shouting at me and cursing.
While the colonel was threatening, raging and cursing, I asked the ship commander to let me have a soldier to teach him how to work with the test device. Within a few minutes I explained to him how to work with the device and how to measure the stability of the ship, and I turned around and left the base.
The colonel kept screaming and promised to put me in jail, and that I would have to spend the rest of the service there.
A week later I was invited to a meeting by the Navy Commander of the Northern Region, his name was Cheney. He invited me to his office and we had an interesting conversation:
"Before I invited you here to meet me, I made inquiries - who you are and what you are. I've talked to your commanders and I know you have not made life easy for them. What's wrong with you? Why can you not serve like everyone else?"
"I think the army is a prison. What else to call a place you are taken to without asking your will and you are forced to do what you do not want to do? Not only did they give me three years for nothing, they added another three years to me, just because I went to university."
"But military service is your patriotic duty!"
"Patriotism is not expressed in sitting in a stuffy office and carrying out idiotic orders of the commander to move pieces of paper from place to place. As a free person, I can bring more benefit to society than heating chairs in the military."
"You want to say that our citizens should not make an army? So who will protect the country?"
"I do not speak on behalf of everyone. Everyone has the right to choose his own path. I agree that all Israeli citizens must go through the army. We live in a country where we must be able to possess weapons and defend ourselves. But to learn how to possess weapons and understand how the military system works - one year is quite enough. To take six years of my life without my consent is rape. Look for other slaves."
His gaze darkened for a moment as he looked at me and paused for a moment, before continuing:
"The colonel complained about you. I questioned the ship's crew and they said he did not behave nicely. In fact, you could go down and talk, but the colonel felt hurt. He was not supposed to behave like that. I understand he was wrong, but if I scold him, he will lose the ranks. Therefore, I must rebuke you - you have nothing to lose. You'll be in jail. But do not worry. Once you get in there, write a pardon in my name and I will release you two weeks later. Furthermore, I will help you get rid of three more years of regular military service. I understand that you have decided not to serve in the army and that this is not your way."
I had signed up for six years of service and I really did not want to do them. I knew I was facing a tedious war with the military to break free. No one easily erases three years permanently. And suddenly Cheney himself offered me to shorten the service - fantastic! Of course, I agreed to be imprisoned for two weeks and admit that I was guilty of an incident with a colonel. Of course, then, I still did not understand why Cheney decided to release me from my debt to the military. It was only later that I found out.
We agreed on that.
I made designs for business cards and gave Yevgeny and Alik tasks - they had to go to all the customers and say that Eli would not be available for two weeks, take payment from them in advance and bring the designs to printing houses. They agreed.
Three days after talking to Cheney, I reported to the military jail. Immediately after I was put in jail and given a bed, I asked for paper and a pen and wrote a pardon.
It turned out that being in the military prison - was quite simple and convenient. Officers sit there separately. They are not forced to clean and are not woken up at six in the morning. You can sleep as much as you want, you can do whatever you want. There were only three detainees in the officers' prison. We watched TV all day, played backgammon, read books and slept - I got a kind of vacation from the army :)
Just as Cheney promised, two weeks later I was released. When I came out of prison and returned home, Yevgeny and Alik met me. I asked them: "How are you? Did you go to meet with the customers? Did you hand over the work to a printing house? Where is the money from the orders?"
Yevgeny and Alik lowered their eyes in guilt - nothing was done. They feared the wrath of the army like wildfire. They did not want what happened to me to happen to them.
I do not blame them. I can understand them. They did not grow up crazy like me. Their mothers probably said to them: "You are good Ashkenazi children, stay away from this crazy criminal Eli, who does business in the army and sits in jail!"
I urgently called all the customers, apologized to them and immediately went to the printing house to deliver the orders. I kept fiddling with the business cards for a few more months, until the subject became routine, and as usual, I lost the desire to continue with it.
In addition, many competitors have already entered the market and offered the same product as me. They started lowering prices - they sold 1,000 business cards for $40 - $60. The profit kept getting smaller. But I do not like to work for pennies.
Key 11 to Success
Some people like to work hard and get little. They are the majority. They are confident that the money can only be earned through hard work. But working hard and getting a little - is boring. Therefore, after eating the cherry and also the whipped cream - one should proceed to the next topic and not get stuck in one place.
Until I was to released from the army there was a year left. I did not want to return to the military regime - my independent life was good and I did not want to sit back in the stuffy office and engage in paperwork.
I kept checking ships and enjoying the cruises at sea. I moved into a separate apartment, without Yevgeny and Alik. I had enough money left and I could afford to rent a separate apartment.