Sharon Savariego, VP Product Innovation at Gong.

"Keep your mind healthy. Startups die when their founders burn out"

Sharon Savariego, VP Product Innovation at Gong, discusses her early years as an entrepreneur, moving to Silicon Valley by herself, and how she ultimately arrived at the Israel-based conversation analytics unicorn

Sharon Savariego, VP Product Innovation at Gong, was one of the first Israeli female entrepreneurs to move to the valley and build her company. “I was 26 when I moved and the Israeli community there was mostly couples with young kids, so I was very lonely. There were many challenges such as basic personal issues like visiting doctors, looking for an apartment, grocery shopping etc. Also professionally, finding an office, hiring employees, relationships with customers and investors, even building a network - everything was from scratch. The challenges were even harder as back in 2006 I still had my R&D and product teams in Israel and managing remote employees was not yet mainstream."
Originally from Rishon Lezion, at the age of 12 Savariego relocated for three years to Brussels with her family. She recalls the experience as a formative event in her life. “When you throw a kid into a new environment that is outside their comfort zone - to a new school, speaking a new language, it opens their mind and makes them more resilient. I found I could adapt better to change and challenges."
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Sharon Savariego, VP Product Innovation at Gong
Sharon Savariego, VP Product Innovation at Gong
Sharon Savariego, VP Product Innovation at Gong.
(Sharon Savariego)
Savariego's road to Gong, the Israel-based conversation analytics unicorn that raised funds at a $7.25 billion valuation in June 2021, was far from direct.
Upon her return to Israel in 2001, at the age of 16, Savariego founded her first company which offered fashion catalogs online. “These were pre-ecommerce days and the need was there. My father was my first investor and gave me NIS 1,000 (approximately $290) to build my site.”
Following her studies in diplomacy and international affairs at the IDC and participating in many delegations abroad, Savariego realized the need for a solution for maintaining relationships between participants following events. “I started thinking that community managers will become a critical part of every organization in the future and community managers need an SaaS solution just like the rest of us. However, at that time, it was unconventional.”
Savariego later found her co-founder and founded Mobilize. “We worked on it for four months until we got a tip from Eden Shochat (from VC firm Aleph) who said that if we want to fundraise we need to be full time at the company. Eventually we did it. When I quit I had major debt, I even had to sell my car to fund my life.”
Following a meeting with Gil Ben-Artzy from UpWest Labs, Savariego moved to Silicon Valley, eventually raising a $1.5 million Seed round. Following their A round ($7 million) and an economic downturn in 2017, the company needed to pivot. Savariego mentions that it had strayed from their original vision and that it was something she needed to fix, eventually merging with a private equity fund. “I stayed on for three more years and passed the torch. A year ago Eilon (Reshef, co-founder of Gong) reached out to me and I was happy about it."
CTech's She-Inspires series follows the stories of various female leaders in Israel. The interviewees hail from various sectors: some work at high level positions in large organizations, some are founders, and some are key players in industries aimed at changing the world for the better. The goal is to learn where they came from, where they are going and how they are bringing inspiration to an entire sector making its way towards a glass ceiling just waiting to burst.
Did you ever feel different as a woman in the industry?
“There are small things that make it difficult,” Savariego explains. “For example, other CEOs could meet investors at bars in the evenings. My relationships needed to be over morning coffee making it hard to bond.” However, she states there are also pros. “I was very much the front woman. I was well known as a woman, especially in consumerized SaaS.”
How do you juggle family and a demanding career?
“I personally don't believe in work/life balance as people perceive it. I don't believe in giving 50% and it’s not possible that at any given time you are your best at everything.” Savariego's approach is more about dedicating a substantial amount to one or the other during different periods. “I disappeared from the industry for three years. Investors asked where I was and said they missed me. I built my track record and now I am back, I have a good career and reputation, I was focused on my family and my choice at Gong was balanced.”

What tip would you offer to other female entrepreneurs?
Savariego begins by stating how important a support system can be. “Build a list of ten people you can go to for assistance and the first three should be support for your mental health." Second, Savariego lists trusting your intuition. “If you feel you should not be working with someone then don't. If you want to fire someone, fire fast. Everything else will work out." Finally, Savariego lists what she calls “urgency bias” as something to be aware of. “Don't be afraid that you aren’t working fast enough. Keep your mind healthy. Startups die when their founders burn out.”