“I’m not a big fan of being singled out as a female entrepreneur,” says Eynat Guez, the only woman who heads a hi-tech unicorn in Israel. “I have talked a lot about my experiences creating a start-up and giving birth and having kids, because it serves a bigger purpose of helping other women entrepreneurs, and encouraging women in general to pursue their dreams. I see the purpose it serves, but I don’t like being categorized.”
A fair request, but after Guez’s company, Papaya Global, raised money at a valuation above a billion dollars in March, it became hard not to put her on a pedestal. In a year where Israel’s hi-tech industry soared into the stratosphere, Guez took a unique place at the table.
Israeli hi-tech companies have raised a whopping $15 billion in investments in the first eight months of 2021. For comparison, Israeli companies raised $10.5b. for the whole of 2020, which was a record amount then. Israel now has about 70 “unicorns,” private companies valued above a billion dollars, and about half of those joined the list this year.
When Papaya Global, a company providing simple international payroll management solutions, said in March that it raised $100 million at a valuation of more than a billion dollars, all eyes suddenly focused on Guez. She had signed those investment agreements just weeks after having her third child. But the 41-year-old Guez took it all in stride.
“I try not to make it looks like everything is amazing,” Guez says. “Building a company requires a lot of sacrifices and hard choices. But I think that just raising the discussion, speaking about being pregnant and leading a company, having babies and still achieving the company’s goals, is important.
“My husband is in charge of the day-to-day operations at home, and our children – aged four, two, and eight months – know very well that Papaya is my first kid, not my fourth kid. I work from the time I wake up until 1 a.m. most days, but I try to spend high-quality time with each kid, even if it’s only a half-hour or an hour. I don’t think I’m great at life balance, but we make sacrifices along the way.” After she finished her army service, Guez began her career in positions with companies in Africa and China, but she always dreamed of creating a start-up of her own. She launched Papaya in 2016 with two partners, without raising any funding.
“The first two years were a nightmare,” Guez recalls. “We couldn’t convince any investors to believe in us. This was before the pandemic, and they would say that a global payroll solution wasn’t solving a real problem in the market. So we had to focus on selling to customers from the beginning. The company grew organically, and we scaled quickly. Now, Papaya has nearly 300 employees in six countries, and we don’t have trouble reaching investors anymore. We are hoping to finalize another round of funding very soon as well.”