During Di-Ann Eisnor’s interview at the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival, journalist Kevin Maney mentioned Eisnor’s philosophy that there are two types of entrepreneurs.
The first type of entrepreneur, the more traditional one, is bred for the industry. They attend business school, they have the right network, and they succeed with the tools given to them.
The second, while lacking the formal training, has no choice but to solve the problems placed before them.
“I’m the latter,” Eisnor said.
Eisnor joined Waze to lead its global expansion. Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app that uses real-time traffic updates to provide users with quicker routes.
Looking back, it would’ve been hard to predict that Eisnor’s career would end up where it is today. She came from a family of truck drivers in southeast Massachusetts, in a neighborhood where access to arts and innovation was scant.
She pursued an art degree from NYU in the ‘90s, and although her classes didn’t provide much in the way of technical entrepreneurial training, she developed a mindset there that still sticks with her.
“My first year, one of my drawing professors had a sense of teaching new ways to think,” Eisnor said. “The approach was that any way you’re used to thinking, there’s an alternative.”
Whether it was drawing from the top of the World Trade Center for perspective, or heading to the morgue to work on drawing figures, Eisnor figured out how to find new solutions, both in art and, eventually, her entrepreneurial career.
After school, she co-founded Platial, a user-generated website that allowed people to map the things they cared about: photos, videos, local architecture, food, etc.
A few years later, she ended up accepting a job with Waze, which at the time was based in Israel, to integrate the platform in the U.S.
“Social mapping is interesting, but it didn’t solve a core problem; it wasn’t a tool,” Eisnor said. “From an intuition perspective, I knew there’d be multiple large opportunities [with Waze].”
Eisnor claims one of her biggest talents is her ability to bring the right people together – to be a bridge builder that puts all the necessary people in the room. She enjoys collaborating with people who challenge her, and using those interactions to learn the technical skills that she missed in school.
In choosing her team, she said it’s crucial that everyone can fight well together.
“When starting a company, there’s so much passion involved. Can you debate and fight well with people? Can you convey points in a way that allows people to listen and make good decisions?”
Despite putting a solid team in place, as always, challenges arose. As Waze gained traction, news broke that Apple would soon be releasing a GPS that would surely bite into the startup’s market.
“I was freaking out,” Eisnor said. “But big companies tend to fail themselves. They make their own mistakes. So we said, ‘Let’s just focus on building our own company.’”
Apple’s rollout was far from successful, and in Tim Cook’s apology to his users, he told them to use Waze instead. That resulted in a massive wave of new users.
“A time of adversity turned out to be incredible,” Eisnor said.
Another opportunity came knocking during L.A.’s “Carmageddon,” a span when highway construction threatened to lengthen the city’s commute. Eisnor and her team made a video detailing how to fight the traffic, which found the eyes of the ABC News head.
The studio invited them in to guide viewers with the app live on air, and Eisnor jumped at the chance. Now, 250 stations around the world use Waze’s data, as well as citizens during times of crisis, police vehicles and emergency responders.
In 2013, Waze was bought by Google. Since the acquisition, the team has grown 400%, and the user base has multiplied tenfold. Currently, Eisnor is exploring which domains the app will expand into next.
With an art degree, a promising team and a decade of entrepreneurial experience under her belt, Eisnor is ready to take things further.
“I come from a family that really doesn’t have a lot. I always say that I stand out in Silicon Valley because most people have gone to business school and had more traditional upbringings,” Eisnor said. “You have to be creative about finding solutions to problems, and that’s why I do what I do.”