Navigating Cultural Differences with Yael Kahn

Jordan speaks with Yael Kahn about the nuances of working in cross-cultural business environments and the importance of embracing a new perspective.
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Have you ever been fully immersed in a new culture fundamentally different from your own?

Yael Kahn, Senior ISV Partner Development Manager at AWS, joins Jordan Greaser, RevOps Therapist and CEO and founder of Greaser Consulting, to talk about the nuances of working in cross-cultural business environments.

On today’s episode, they’ll exchange stories that show the importance of embracing a new perspective when working with people in different countries.

Jordan  00:00

Hey crew, this is Jordan, the owner and CEO of Greaser Consulting on this episode, we have Yael coming in from AWS, Amazon Web Services, based in Israel today, has lived in 50 different countries or visited I think she said 50 different countries. Specifically worked in Germany and Berlin for quite some time. And we really just talked about like culture maps, the differences between different cultures and thinking about working through that in a business setting. How do you interact? What are some of the challenges that come up? And man, did I have fun with this episode. I love thinking about just the international markets, the, the I don’t want to say clash of cultures in a negative sense, which is the the fun, just things that happen is different cultural identities and peoples come together the challenges and triumphs and everything else in between. And I think we’re actually going to plan to have her back. This one’s a little bit more just about what was it like, and the next time we talk with Yael, we’re planning to talk more, a little bit more tactical about how do you actually break into these markets cross-culturally and what are some tactics that work and don’t work? So stay tuned for part two of this episode, it’s gonna come quite a little bit down the lines. But for today, lean in, enjoy and have some fun. 

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Jordan  01:40

Hi, everyone. I have Yael with me today. Yael, can you introduce yourself?

Yael  01:46

Thank you so much. Hi, my name is Yael Kahn. I’m based out of Israel, in Tel Aviv. I’m a partner specialist. Nowadays, I’m working at AWS, Amazon Web Services. I’m a business development specialist. Like the business, industry startup ecosystem. I’m also a yoga teacher. And I’m also, I like to dance. I’m professional Gaga, international dancer. I’m a professional sea swimmer, and volleyball player. I love nature, like hiking cultures. I’ve been traveling more than 50 countries around the world. I speak fluent three languages. I understand five languages. And I think that’s all for now.

Jordan  03:00

So professional swimmer, professional volleyball, five languages. So definitely an interesting life that you have lived, right.

Yael  03:13

Yeah. So in terms of languages. Yeah, I mean the first languages I learned, of course, it’s Hebrew. But my grandfather’s and mother, they, they spoke German with me. Unfortunately, they passed away when I was very young, nine years old. And in school, of course, we, we studied English, and also Arabic. You can choose in Israel, high school, if you want to learn to study French or Arabic. And then I was in a special unit in the army. Where we also study Arabic. It’s very similar to Fauda, actually, the founders of Fauda. So I’m familiar with, with the actors and, and the director. Yes. And then I had a dream to, to move to Germany probably will speak about it later on. But I decided that I’m going to have a fluent German, and it happened after a year and a half. And as well, I traveled for a year and a half in, around the world. And I also, I learned Spanish. I was living in Argentina for a couple of months. Yeah

Jordan  04:38

So we have the international woman of mystery on the line today to talk about business development and hear the story and… What I think’s interesting is, you talked about it wasn’t until you were nine years old that you had use your grandparents that were speaking German to you? So that actually kind of gets us to the point of the conversation today that we’re going to talk about your journey of how, you know, you’re from Israel. You’ve lived in Germany, you’ve, you’ve worked cross culturally, and all of this. Was that drive to go to Germany, did that stem all the way from, you know, just your experience with your grandparents and kind of wanting to tap into that in some way? Or, or is that like, totally unrelated? I’m going off the wrong side here?

Yael  05:30

Yeah. I mean, I, it’s an interesting story. So I’m like, I’m a third generation of an Israeli family. Half of my family are from Germany, half are from Romania. And I visited Berlin in 2010. I graduated from the university, I study industrial management engineering. And I got a position at HP as a part of the sales university. It’s, it’s a special program for young graduated engineers, who are looking for next position, career development in sales. And I had six weeks, so I decided to visit Berlin to go to school to start learning German. And I fell in love with the city. It’s the first time I remember I had a red suitcase.  I got out of the train. It was a crazy shoe store. It’s the hype of Coatesville. Well, all the hipsters, and I felt like at home, and I said, Oh my God, that’s an amazing feeling. What is happening to me, and yes, I have German roots, and I have German passport. But it was my first visit in Berlin. So yeah, so and I come back to Israel after six weeks, working for HP for two years, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Berlin. So I visited Berlin, and I work with some of that. HP partners from Berlin from Germany, and, and somehow I made it happen to move to Berlin. In end of 2012. I was working for HP for as a business development sales representative, it was actually my first position in a huge cooperate. Before HP merged the two division of compute and printing. I work for Indigo. It was the first 3d comp the first week, 3d division for HP. Very interesting time in the world. And yeah, and I convinced my managers that it’s time to move, and I made the change in my life. I focused on Israel, South Africa, Middle East, Turkey. And, and I, I wanted to discover Germany. So I moved to Germany and we have, we had an agreement that I am going back to Israel after six months, and it was middle of Christmas, that I decided, I remember I decided to live in Berlin, and to leave HP, and to join a fresh young startup who just founded focusing on testing QA testing for Android 2012. So there was nothing, so like nothing online or any kind of only like physical labs that you can basically fix your mobile. So that was a really big change for me. First winter in my life. Think about the Israeli winter. And nowadays we’re in middle of December, and it’s like I mean to, to convert it to a fahrenheit. Now we are around 18 degrees. So I don’t know exactly how many Fahrenheit, but it’s not very cold. So coming to the Berlin winter, to minus 10, snow and dark that’s the most challenging part and to start working for a German startup, German culture and starting from scratch so I build the sales and the marketing unit for the startup. And also, to be honest to say goodbye to the HP colleague was also very challenging and to start something completely new.

Jordan  10:06

So for our, you know, American base, 18 Celsius is about 65 Fahrenheit. So you’re nice and balmy, off the Mediterranean there. And that’s, I mean, that’s what I want to talk to you about, though. I mean, living. Berlin, first of all is like, even though it’s a German city, and I don’t want to say even though Berlin is kind of its own animal, right? Compared to some other German cities, and whatever, it’s this really kind of unique place in Germany itself. But what I want to know is, like the confidence that you had to just kind of keep going there, like as a technically a foreign worker in Germany. I mean, did you have any hurdles? Or any just like difficulties kind of working with some of the locals? Or was it like, “Hey, you’re doing a fantastic work with your job, come on in.” I mean, what was that process? Like kind of assimilating in, to this German culture with, like, different expectations? Different ways of potentially operating? 

Yael  11:08

Yeah, that’s a great question. Yeah, it’s a completely different culture. In Berlin, it’s very international. It’s like Tel Aviv in Israel, or New York in the state. But it’s, yeah, I mean, I was based in Berlin, but I work with all kinds of German customers. And also European customers, and sitting with the CTO and CEO and doing like market analysis, learning how German thinking. And also, I work with very young guys who just graduated from university and I came with experience of corporate. So it took time to create really strong engagement and trust between us. If I’m compared to Israeli in Israel, it can like between Israeli it can come after two weeks compared to, let’s say, Swedish, German, or West European countries, it takes time like it, it can take months to, to work on. So yeah, so we analyze the market together, we went to different conferences, exhibition, and we really learn what I bring, from my culture, from my experience, this openness and straightforward thinking, and the value proposition of the product. And, yeah, and also thinking about long term strategy, which is a very German, very typical German way of thinking. So it was very, very interesting. And I really appreciate the culture because they are very, they’re very structured, very organized. What is very, let’s say, compared to Israel, Israeli startups, are like, really fast thinking, thinker. They want to sell the product yesterday, right? That’s the mission. They want to achieve everything yesterday, and they have zero patience, compared to the German market, the German culture, like, “Hey, come on, we have time, right, we have the investment, we want to discover more. And let’s take the time.” So that’s what, any also in general, like what is also interesting about the German language that, when you speak German, the verb is in the end of the sentence. So it takes time to understand that you have to learn how to be patient, to let the person finish the sentence to be able to understand what he’s going to tell you.

Jordan  14:14

So I’d imagine that you know, just starting into this environment was that like at first was that a little frustrating to sort of work through like, “Come on, guys. Let’s get going. Come on. Come on.” Or were you like listen, you got off at the train with your, you said your red suitcase, and you’re like, “Listen, I’m assimilated, I’m in.” 

Yael  14:37

Yeah, so both. Like those figures kind of like sometimes I’ve said “Like guys, come on. We don’t have time, we are a startup. We want to show some results, right and we have the drive. So please follow me.” But on the other side, hey, Yael we’re in Germany, so you know, it will take time to, to engage with those like we focus in the beginning on SMBs and ISVs. So I mean, of course, it depends on the persona, but it also takes time to start letting the company test your solution and provide you feedback. So yeah, it’s, it’s kind of vice versa. And it was super interesting. Lots of excitements. And, yeah, and I must say, I also, I read the ‘Culture Map’, have you heard about this book?

Jordan  15:40

No, tell me about it.

Yael  15:42

So ‘Culture Map’ is, I think the author is Swedish. And it’s a book about, Erin Meyer, yeah, that’s the author. It’s a smart analysis about more than 50 countries around the world and culture to like to translate how Swedish or people from the Netherlands, German, Israelis, Americans, Indian. How they will express themselves, how to translate their business approach, for example: Dutch they’re very direct and also German. And I mean, by the book, the author mentioned that, for example: The Dutch are very aggressive, and the Germans are very slow speakers, and, and Indian, they will always ask you, what is the next step? So really interesting book I really recommend for people who works with international businesses. And it helps you really to map it’s kind of value cluster of how to color the pattern of different cultures around the world, based on their scientists actually, of cultural evolution. Yeah, so I read the book, and it helped me to understand because Europe has like, it’s a hub of culture. And you meet, like so many countries in, in one. I remember the Mobile, the Mobile Conference, which happens once in a year in Barcelona, and you meet so many countries in Europe and so many different customers, I remember, we started testing our product with Sony. So the headquarter was in Sweden, but they had also some developer from Spain and Portugal, and Germany, and Poland and from Russia. And each like, each unit has different kind of strategy and state of mind. So it was very, very interesting. You wanted to ask me something?

Jordan  18:07

Well, I was just going to talk about the culture piece a second. I remember I lived in the Kurdistan region of Iraq as a teacher for a while, and I lived in a, so I’m in Iraq, but in a Kurdish region, and I was living in an Assyrian village, right? So I’m like three layers in. And my wife and I invited one of the older gentlemen in the village over for tea. And I remember inviting this guy over for tea, and we gave it to him. And there’s these little round cups and whatever, that aren’t that big. And we filled it up, handed it to him. And he looked at us, slapped the table, pointed his hand right at us. And he goes, “How could you disrespect me like this?” We’re looking at each other. We’re like, what are we, what do we do? And he said, you know, he’s looking at two hands pointing right at the cup. And he goes, “This is a disgrace. Why would you do this to me?” And we’re like, ‘What do you mean?” And he said, “You don’t know what you’re saying to me?” And we just said, “No, what, what did we do?” And he says, “You didn’t feel the tea all the way to the top” And we said, “Well, yeah, we don’t want you to spill the cup when you go to drink it.” And he goes aw “Well, in my culture. When someone comes to your house for the first time, you should actually fill the cup up and it should run over just a little bit. Because that’s to the level of respect you have for the person it’s full and running over. But when you put it below that means I don’t respect you get out” And he said, “I thought you were saying you don’t like me, leave” and we’re like, “No, we just, we didn’t want you to spill the drink.” And so I know that’s just a like a personal thing, and it’s real small, whatever. But you know, even living that sort of just normal experience and the clash of cultures and whatever. Like you could see how hairy you know, business culture can be, how different that, for example, you’re thinking, hey, German crew, let’s get moving. And they’re thinking, well, no, let’s be thoughtful and analytical here, in like, there’s an opportunity to really grow and learn and see the world as a kind of a better picture. But if you’re not, like sort of gracious and cautious to keep your eyes open, you can end up just fighting all the time. Right?

Yael  20:25

Exactly. So I mean, for my experience major elements of cultures are like symbol, of course, languages, norms, values, and artifacts. And you really, it takes time to learn the norms and, and the values of cultures. And it’s very interesting, and it’s very different from each culture. But that’s a great story. Thanks for sharing. That’s a really interesting story.

Jordan  20:56

Yeah, it got me. But did you, this is just out of curiosity, you read about that. That sort of culture map that you’re talking about the different. Are there any regions that when you were reading about the way they operate from a business standpoint, you’re like, oh, that would be really, really different than the Israeli way? Like that might be a little hard to work with? Not that they are hard to work with, but just culturally, that would be a huge difference for you.

Yael  21:24

Yeah, I mean, the, I can say about the German, I mean, that he I mean, it’s not only about the book it’s also by experience. That if you decide to go on one way, on one strategy, with one vision, you’re not coming tomorrow morning to the office and say, “Hey, let’s change it, let’s, I mean, let’s go to a different direction”. “Let’s collaborate with different stakeholders with different personas.” No, you decided you’re going you discovery, you test the water, and you have to be consistent. That, that’s, that’s about German, you need to be consistent, and also about Swedish. That’s what the author said about the book. And, and within them, for example, he mentioned that there are lots of analysis you need to bring to be able to convince businesses. And, and for example, in businesses like he mentioned that Indian and Israel is a very competitive market like and competitors from like Russian that are very lax, or Polish people and as well, America. But he also reframes Americans as also very competitive market. Because with American, the main culture is poor. 

Jordan  22:50

Watch out, watch out. 

Yael  22:53

Like baseball, it’s, it’s the main things now. And now with the, with this, with the soccer games currently, and next week is ending. So it’s a very interesting topic, probably. I mean, I can share that my colleagues every day, they mention something new about, about the new winner for today, and who is going to win tomorrow, and how you can discover lots of nuance, between the players also, like with Morocco, and Spain, and Brazil, and Portugal.

Jordan  23:29

So I know, I know, today, you are back in Israel. You’re still working with the German market, but like, after this experience, of like, getting to really lean into this other culture, and kind of living their breathing, the air, they’re working there, etc. In the, in the richness of, of just this multicultural and I know Tel Aviv is multicultural as well. But is it, is it, was that a difficult decision to decide to come home? Whenever you have this sort of vibrant international feel to what you’re doing? Or that, you know, because Tel Aviv is pretty International, maybe it’s not a big deal.

Yael  24:10

Tel Aviv is international, but it’s not so international as Berlin. I think about Israel is, is a multiple, but it’s very isolated, right? I mean, Berlin is the hub of I hope that no British will hear what I’m saying. But Berlin is the hub of Europe. And so many people like to move to Berlin in the last like couple of years. And yeah, it was not an easy decision. I moved like in really the beginning of Corona. And it was to start like building a new network and to get into the Israel ecosystem, startup ecosystem, which is completely different from the German ones. It’s as much bigger develop, it’s insane. Think about 2020 How many Israeli startup were acquired? There were like more than 35. In six months, it was insane time. Yeah, and I was very happy to find myself with Amazon Web Services. It’s a very well established corporate. And before what I did in Berlin, in Germany, I establish a partner, system integrator partner for Amazon and basically established the German market for them and the Nordic market. So I learned what is the AWS market from the outside as a partner and to join was easier for me in Israel, to bring the values and the lesson learned as a partner. And yes, it was not an easy way, it was not a soft landing, let’s say. It’s Israel has been changed a lot, I was living in in Germany for eight years. And to come back to and it was completely like a new country. Even the, I couldn’t understand the slang the new slang, of, of the local Israelis. But yeah, but it was a shift. It was, it was interesting, again, to, to learn new things to learn a new technology in eight years, the ecosystem has been changed a lot. And there are like so many new hubs, innovation centers, and also the German market, lately, in the last five years, invested. Many, like in many startup in many hubs, like in Israel in Tel Aviv. So it was a kind of nice combination to bring my value proposition with the Israeli customer. So I started to focus on Israeli market and South Africa. And now I’m also leading the dark region, that is the German, Austrian and Swiss. And, and there is a very interesting interlock between Israel and the Israeli and the German market, because we are both very direct, but we have different rhythm of business, and it makes it seem like we are completing each other. And you see more and more German corporates, investing in Israeli companies, for example, I can share that, for example, Volkswagen, invested in a new tech hub. It’s called Connect, and also Porsche, and, and Deutsche Telekom, and T-Mobile. So slowly, more and more hubs are coming, are popping up in Israel with new culture, mixed culture.

Jordan  28:15

Well, I’ve known that about, or at least what I’ve heard about the German market is that the German appetite for risk previously seemed to have been pretty low. But in the last few years, especially, there seems to be a bigger drive to invest, raise capital, try to innovate and do some things differently. And it sounds like you are actively living in that right now.

Yael  28:39

Yes so, let’s say the business relation are very formal, and reflect like the German values. In order to, as I mentioned, to be more organized, and to take better decision, and also the decision making process is held at top of companies in a different way than Israel is. But yeah, I feel like I’m the bridge. And I’m kind of the mediator who is connecting between Israeli companies and German and also nowadays, when I’m working in a very international team, it’s, it helps me a lot to create better communication style and business launches. I mean, what do you mean about risk. So like, I feel like, also like taking old fashioned or let’s say ISV- Independent Software Vendors today that are still running on, on-prem and to bring them to a digital transformation, to be able to open themselves to the cloud. And it’s kind of a risk also from cost and also from security. And they see the change in the world that slowly more and more companies are moving to the cloud, right? Like this is like 80 percentage of the, of the businesses today. Like, companies are running on the cloud even more than I think 85 percent. That’s what I saw as a report in the last, in last November. Yeah, so you see, like more German corporates taking more risk in investing in their in startup in general, not not an Israeli also German startups and understand that there is a need for more innovation for, for new ideas from the, to modernize the application in the, in the corporate and to, to, to bring new ideas and new innovation. So that’s a very interesting change in the world. And that’s also related to, to what my experience and what I’m happy about. That I kind of when you move to a new country, you can really kind of invent yourself from an, a new life like a new character, and to be the person you would like to be. So that was a very interesting also experience from, from a business aspect to bring the values that you learn from your culture to a new culture.

Jordan  31:31

Well, I’ll just be upfront, I’ve, I’ve always been a little jealous of countries that are across the pond. And what I mean by that is, in the US here, we’re such a big country. And right to the north, we have Canada, and then right to the south, we have Mexico, but we don’t have all these other countries, like really closely bordered with drastically different cultures and all of that. And one of the neat thing about being involved in the European market, for example, is you go into any office in any major city in a European nation, and you’re immediately going to have people from everywhere, because they’re tapping into all the different markets that are really close. But there’s that like, sort of rich, cultural, cultural difference. And so it’s neat to hear how, like, even in your story, you know, Israel, like, there’s still that connection and that change. And I think, and again, I might be selling myself out a little bit too much. But I think that’s one of the I actually think that’s one of the advantages. That like you all have is, it can be hard, right? All these cultures being really close together, is as you are well aware, right? That can cause challenges. But at the same time, like the richness that you can glean from that, like, just, it’s a little bit harder, in this massive, you know, US country that’s just kind of isolated from everywhere else. But I don’t know if you have any final thoughts on that. And then we’ll go ahead and round out. But that’s my two cents.

Yael  33:04

I mean, I see that change and work with, with many Americans in my team. And I see that, like, I see the difference between Canadian and North America and like guys from Dallas, for example. Compared to California or Chicago, it also depends on the weather, either the weather makes us like more close or more open. But by the end, I really like are you familiar with the book, ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz? Have you heard about this book?

Jordan  33:41

So you’re educated, educating me to the four agreements?

Yael  33:45

Yeah, so that, that book, it’s about it doesn’t matter which country you coming from? Or where are you? There are four agreements that you should remember. And I like, I would like to, to mention them. So one is “Be impeccable with your word.” So be accurate, and always be aware of what you’re saying. It doesn’t matter with who are you talking? Where are you staying? “Don’t take anything personally.” “Don’t make assumption” And “Always do your best.” Right? So those I really agree with those four agreements, agreements of life. And I’m taking this book with me to every meeting every new adventure. And in every new country, and I, I really am wishing myself to move to a new country in couple of years, because, because I love it. And it’s great experience also for kids, for self development and for languages and for cultures. I mean, the Israeli weather is the best, but still.

Jordan  34:56

Well you can’t, all those countries that are hanging out around the Mediterranean it’s hard. That’s, it’s hard to argue with you. It’s hard to argue with you. I’ll give you that. But listen, thanks for coming on today. I appreciate just your perspective cross culturally, and then even just as a, you know, business professional in general. For those of you that maybe don’t know Yael, haven’t followed her, haven’t worked with. What you should know is she’s always top of the class, does fantastic work. And so just really respect your opinion on things. So thanks for being willing to come on. And looking forward to see where you end up in a few years.

Yael  35:35

Thank you, Jordan. And it was, it was really nice experience working with you shortly with that, Outreach. And yeah, and about, and to focus on lead generation business together.

Jordan  35:52

Yea, good times. I’ll see you later. 

Yael  35:55

Thank you.

35:56Hot dog. That was a great episode. Thanks for listening. If you want to learn more about Greaser Consulting or any information you heard on today’s episode, visit us online at Be sure to click the Follow button and the bell icon to be notified on the latest here at RevOps Therapy. Thanks and see you real soon.

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