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The founder without a fear gene

Shai Agassi has often stirred things up – first as a startup founder, then as an SAP executive board member and more recently as a pioneer in electromobility. His next major breakthrough appears to be just around the corner: He will be giving a glimpse of this at the CeBIT Global Conferences.

11 Mar. 2015
Shai Agassi

He has started up several companies, served as an SAP executive board member and gone through insolvency despite having a leading-edge idea: At the age of 46, Shai Agassi has experienced more things than most people would in a lifetime. So it goes without saying that he must be full of entrepreneurial spirit, courage and self-awareness. For the Israeli-American entrepreneur, risk appears to be a foreign concept. "Some people say I'm missing the fear gene,”" Agassi remarked in an interview with the New York Times . Idan Ofer, an earlier business partner, sizes Agassi up as follows: "He has very high self-esteem and sees himself as a globally recognized figure." Being named one of the world's 100 most influential businesspeople by TIME Magazin e presumably did nothing to diminish his sense of self-confidence.

Multimillionaire at 33

Even as a boy Agassi loved computers and learned how to program them at an early age. At the age of 14 he persuaded his father Reuven, an Israeli officer, to buy him an Apple computer by promising him ten percent of all future profits from his software development. In the Nineties Agassi launched four software startups. The most successful of these was TopTier Software, whose main product was a portal which helped companies organize their internal information flows. That was his breakthrough: In 2001 the then 33-year-old Agassi sold TopTier Software for 400 million dollars to German software giant SAP – not before nailing down a seat on the company's executive board. Agassi was responsible for the company's technology strategy, but remained operationally active in software development. His next goal was to become CEO of SAP, but in 2007 the reigning CEO Henning Kagermann extended his stay by two years. In response Agassi resigned to pursue his own projects, founding the electromobility firm "Better Place". The idea for the new company came to him in 2005 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That year the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, posed the question: "How can we make the world a better place by the year 2020?" Agassi thought to himself: "By having people renounce the use of petroleum for individual transportation in favor of renewable forms of energy." The vision of Better Place was to build an infrastructure for the mass operation of electric cars. Instead of charging electric batteries for several hours, Better Place wanted to let car owners swap out those batteries in a matter of minutes. Better Place set up its own battery swapping stations in Israel and Denmark, and Renault produced the corresponding electric cars. But ultimately the idea was unsuccessful: Public reaction was lethargic, and in 2013 Better Place declared insolvency. Agassi had already resigned from the company's executive board in 2012.

Let yourself be chauffeured – electrically, of course

After that he was basically out of the spotlight. But Agassi wouldn't be Agassi if he didn't have a new idea in the meantime: At the beginning of 2014 he founded the energy firm "Newergy" with his father Reuven. Although the company's purpose has not yet been officially announced, the name would indicate it involves renewable forms of energy . The Israeli business newspaper Globe surmises that the company is probably dedicated to electric mass transit. This supposition is supported by Agassi"s most recent Linkedin article , in which he explains his version of the mobility of the future: "Mobility is going to become a service… As fleets of autonomous electric pods carry people from point A to B, most people will prefer being chauffeured over owning and operating a car." So, Shai Agassi continues to insist on bold visions for the future.