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From the Israeli army to Silicon Wadi

(Image credit: / Pressmaster)

There are countless ways my mandatory army service has shaped who I am today and helped me to start a successful business. Here are four of the most significant.

After high school, every Israeli has to serve in the national army. In fact, Israel is a country where the entire society is built upon the army experience.

Some people are drafted into infantry and artillery units to bravely defend the front lines, some are drafted into the air force and navy to protect the country by sea and sky, and some are drafted to the spokesman and educational units to provide critical communication and training.

I was drafted to an elite intelligence unit, and the experience was life-changing, to say the least.

At just 18 years old, the experience I got in the army was incomparable to any other place in the world.

On one hand, it definitely influenced my personality and who I was as a person. After dealing with extreme life-saving situations, I matured quickly and my outlook on life vastly changed. On the other hand, the experience greatly influenced my professional career path and gave me a clear glimpse of what I might like to do in the future.

1. I learned how to work under pressure

A lot of pressure. I was recruited to a unit where we had to work under incredibly tight deadlines to deliver complex products. And in the army, many of the situations we dealt with were a matter of life or death, so we had to be very focused on what we were doing. There was absolutely no room for error because any mistake we made could have severe consequences on other people's lives.

This ability to work swiftly and accurately under pressure has definitely served me in business. Managing a company requires you to make many crucial decisions, and make them relatively quickly, every day. From decisions regarding how to invest funds, to how to change the product or marketing strategy, swift yet accurate decisions are must as an entrepreneur.

As an entrepreneur, you also have to learn new subject matter and adapt very quickly. Every day I encounter unfamiliar territory, and I have no choice but to master new skills and subject matter with speed. I also have to adapt to changing priorities. Anything can take precedent at a moment's notice. Balancing important meetings with clients, partners and investors, urgent deadlines and emerging crises, all while making sure the company stays on a stable course and is financially sound, requires a great deal of flexibility and calm under stress.

2. I mastered the ability to work innovatively and independently

Founding a business and starting a company required me to exercise this very same creativity. When you start a business, you have to find the direction, motivation and inspiration within yourself. There's no one on the outside telling you what to do, or how to do it. You have to test and try without guidance, you have to see the next steps and put them into motion and you have to envision the final product before it even exists.

From what you see on TV or in the movies, you might think of the army experience as being very robotic and tightly controlled, but my military experience couldn't have been more different.

The unit I joined actually functioned as a small startup and incubator within the army. We had the most creative minds, a vast budget, and the best equipment you could ask for. But beyond that, within our team, we were encouraged to work independently and constantly strive for innovation. We were even given the freedom to create and develop other projects that, although not specifically requested, would benefit our team.

3. I acquired valuable professional skills

During my service we received incredibly extensive training. I took courses and gained a world of knowledge in the fields of graphic design, programming, user experience and product management. But the learning wasn't just theoretical -- I gained so much practical know-how as well. At a very young age I was tasked with leading major projects and managing huge budgets, and that experience definitely prepared me to join the workforce.

My real-life job experience undoubtedly taught me a great deal and equipped me for my current role, but ultimately, my army service was the foundation for all of it.

4. I gained an invaluable network

 With this shared experience, there's a great deal of camaraderie and mutual help between startups and larger enterprises in Israel. This has been incredible as a startup founder and it's made it much easier for us as a small, budding startup to secure meetings with the executives of larger, well-established companies. Because many founders have served in our same units, there's a vast network of highly accomplished army alumni that are willing to invest their time and energies in us.

This is one of the less obvious, yet most important outcomes of my service, and it has assisted me tremendously in starting my own business.

While you're in the midst of serving in the military, you are conscious of all the hands-on skills you're gaining, but you don't necessarily grasp the importance of the built-in professional network you'll have when you get out.

In Israel, most of the founders you'll meet have served in elite intelligence units in the army. And it's no surprise, given the entrepreneurial spirit instilled in us during our service. In fact, the founders of some of today's most successful tech companies such as Waze, Wix and CheckPoint are all intelligence unit graduates.

5. Pride in your country and pride in your business

Serving in the military instils a great deal of pride. You give back to your country and you get so much back as well.

I've felt a similar sense of pride in creating a business that provides such a valuable service for so many people. Some of our customers seek out our service to access their favourite content and feel more at home while living or traveling abroad; some turn to our service to ensure their valuable privacy and security online; and for some who live in closed societies, our service is absolutely crucial, offering them online anonymity, open internet access and the basic human right of freedom of expression.

Sagi Gidali, Co-Founder and CPO, Perimeter 81

Sagi Gidali is CPO and co-founder of Perimeter 81