Before the age of ten, Yoni Assia was working in a computer store. By his teens he was writing programs in a language called Magic (also known as UniPaaS).
At the same time he was studying the markets and trading stocks for his own personal account. After studying physics and electronics, he did his national service as a computer programmer in the intelligence corps of the Israeli Army, which has a worldwide reputation as a nursery for technology entrepreneurs.
Upon leaving the army, Yoni co-founded CDRide in 2003. The start-up developed a system that would film people while they were on roller-coasters and then wirelessly relay the footage to a booth where it could quickly be edited and sold to the customer.
TV stations would later use similar technology to provide close-ups of extreme sports, such as snowboarding. Soon after its launch, CDRide won several big contracts, including one with Paramount. Yoni would spend “several years travelling around the world, rolling out our technology in theme parks”.
He was still interested in the stock market. So by 2007, he began to pursue an idea he had of making the stock market more accessible. From his own experience he knew that small investors and day traders liked to have lots of stock market data at their fingertips.
However, some of the most popular platforms weren’t particularly user friendly. He and his brother, Ronen Assia, who had a degree in industrial design, founded eToro, with the aim of combining the detail of the top platforms with a simple, intuitive interface.
Initially Yoni tried to incubate eToro while still remaining at his job with CDRide. He had previously done a degree in management and computer science with the Open University. But he realised that building up a new firm while in a full-time job was a step too far.
Looking at both firms, he estimated that eToro had a lot more promise and decided to leave CDRide. He was proven right when it was eventually sold to Kodak for a relatively modest sum.
Yoni admits that there were several false starts. Initially he and his brother thought that the key was gamification (making it more like a computer game). However, they realised that investors and traders wanted something that “was simple in the sense of being straightforward, not in the sense of being stupid”. So they changed tack and focused their energies on allowing investors to keep track of, and share, their portfolios.
As a result, the number of subscribers to eToro has consistently grown at a “triple-digit rate” to 3.5 million users in more than 140 countries. Last year it passed the milestone of 50 million cumulative trades.
Yoni thinks that this willingness to try new ideas, even if they aren’t always successful, or, as he puts it, the “dare to fail”, is key to eToro’s success. He urges entrepreneurs to take risks, “even if other people tell you you’re crazy”.
Of course, a key part of this is the ability to change course once it becomes apparent things aren’t working. He estimates that between 50% and 90% of the new ideas that he and his brother have come up with have ended up being either modified to some extent, or scrapped altogether.