Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Yoav Shapira, SDM '05: From SDM, Around the World, to Happier.com

By Tom Kadala

Yoav Shapira
SDM alum Yoav Shapira is the type of person everyone would like as a friend, advisor, and colleague—especially when deciphering, debugging, and deploying a complex software development project. He is an engineer by training and a manager of talent at heart.

Shapira's pursuit for a graduate degree began after working at a biotech firm in Boston. At the time his goal was to complement his management experiences with proven academic theories.

In choosing between a masters program from Harvard or MIT, Shapira rationalized his decision in favor of MIT's SDM program as the one offering the best of both worlds, engineering and management. The SDM core course requirements were relatively few, which enabled him to customize his program by giving him unprecedented access to MIT's School of Engineering and Sloan School of Management, as well as to courses at Harvard. He could take the classes he had always dreamed of, with professors he had often read about, and with a cohort of early-to-mid-career professionals that matched his brilliance and his passion for learning.

Shapira's all-time favorite systems thinking course at SDM was 'The Human-Side of Technology' taught by Senior Lecturer Ralph Katz. "I simply loved his class and enjoyed every minute of it. The professor was awesome and my peers were amazing," he said. Initially Yoav thought that after receiving his master's degree he would return to his former life as a software engineer. To his surprise, however, SDM unleashed his inner curiosity as well as a hidden, burning 'entrepreneurial bug'.

"I was supposed to return to my company after the SDM program but instead wound up joining a tiny startup called HubSpot with a group of Sloan students I had met in one of my classes," he explained.

Shapira grew HubSpot's software development team from a staff of four in 2006 to 40 by 2010. The team is now closer to 70. "There was no easy street here. Every month was a flog until 2008, when the firm reached a critical threshold of about 1,000 qualified leads." From then on, signup numbers began to grow exponentially and the number of company employees overall grew from a handful to hundreds.

Shapira's SDM education and his instinctive management abilities aided him in the unduly task of hiring and managing multiple teams of software engineers. "I hired engineers who were open-minded and could work in an agile environment", said Shapira. His management style earned him high marks among his peers for always mentoring, challenging, and nurturing with contagious enthusiasm and passion. His secret was simple. He would offer suggestions then step away to give his talented engineers the space, time, and confidence they needed to come up with their own solutions.

In 2012, Shapira left HubSpot to fulfill a lifetime dream—a trip around the world. During his one-year tour, he visited Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, India, Israel, Turkey, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Iceland, and England, meeting with MIT alumni and other like-minded individuals who shared a passion for making the earth a better place.

Shortly after returning from his world tour, he was offered the CTO position for another startup Happier.com. With the HubSpot experience fresh on his mind, Shapira felt confident and ready to take on this next entrepreneurial challenge. "This venture will be different from HubSpot," he said. "Happier.com is a purpose-driven startup based on a lot of scientific research into human psychology and related behaviors. We all have things that make us happier, and most of us don't do enough of them. Can this product help? Can we put more smiles on more people's faces? I'd love to try. It is a life-long dream that truly defines me."


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