Brandeis International Business School

‘It’s always about helping others’

Ohad Elhelo ’16, MA’17 on what motivates him, the future of work and how Brandeis changed his career

Ohad Elhelo '16, MA '17 is the recipient of the 2019 Brandeis Alumni Entrepreneurship Award.

Ohad Elhelo '16, MA '17 is the recipient of the 2019 Brandeis Alumni Entrepreneurship Award.

It’s a question every entrepreneur inevitably asks themselves.

“Building a company or organization is hard,” said Ohad Elhelo ’16, MA’17. “When you’re just starting out the challenges are steep and you’re left asking: ‘Why am I doing this?’ The answer must be substantial — something that moves you, something so meaningful that you just keep going.”

For Elhelo, who arrived at Brandeis University and Brandeis International Business School as a student five years ago by way of Israel, the answer is simple.

“It’s always about helping others,” he said.

That’s the driving force behind Our Generation Speaks, the fellowship program and incubator Elhelo founded for emerging Israeli and Palestinian leaders. And Elhelo says it’s the inspiration behind his newest entrepreneurial pursuit, a venture capital-backed mobile app called Delegate that he co-founded in 2017.

On April 1, Elhelo will receive the Brandeis Alumni Entrepreneurship Award at the Innovation in Israel: Economy and Society conference. Presented by the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship, the honor is given annually to a Brandeis alumnus that best exemplifies an entrepreneurial spirit and independent thinking.

During a recent interview, Elhelo touched on his latest business venture, the future of work and what it means to be honored by his alma mater.

How does Delegate work?

Delegate is a technology company that offers a “chief of stuff” service for people who want to live less stressful lives. It’s already quite common for people to delegate chores like house cleaning, laundry, etc. But the same isn’t true for many other tasks. For instance, a busy executive might have a jam-packed work schedule. But he or she must still find the time to call their cable company, hire a contractor for a home renovation or schedule a judo class for their son. If an hour of their time is worth, let’s say $50, why spend it on the phone with customer service or reading online customer reviews when there’s someone else in India, East Jerusalem or the Philippines willing to do it for much less? Delegate offers our users piece of mind that these tasks will get done — and get done well — while simultaneously providing new opportunities for employment to people living literally anywhere in the world.

What makes your startup different than others in this space?

Startups are typically very lean — they want to do one thing and be the best at it. But this doesn’t work for time-consuming personal tasks because your to-do list might consist of getting a refund from your airline, paying a medical bill and finding a new dog walker. As a company, knowing how to do so many different things is extremely complicated. That’s where machine learning comes in. We’ve translated the human gumption required to tackle these tasks and broke it down into a series of actions, which we basically use as building blocks. One action can be, “pick up the phone and call the business” or “compare prices.” String enough of these actions together and you have a useful protocol specifically aligned to the user’s needs, which our assistant-partners around the world can follow to meet their expectations. We’ve learned there are great similarities between different tasks — for instance, one is made of actions six, nine and 12, while the other is made of six, 12 and 15. With machine learning we train our algorithm to recognize this. The result is we no longer need to rely on experts or specialists in certain types of tasks. We just keep improving the building blocks so that every time we complete a task the entire system gets better.

How did Brandeis International Business School prepare you for this role?

I was inspired by my professors — people like Chuck Reed and Ed Bayone who have accomplished amazing things in their careers. They dedicated time and insight to help me learn how they think. At some point this left me with the belief that I can accomplish great things as well. I also enrolled in all the entrepreneurship classes Brandeis offers. The guest speakers and networking opportunities were phenomenal. I was exposed to so many great entrepreneurial minds and learned as much as I could from them.

How does it feel to receive the Brandeis Alumni Entrepreneurship Award?

Brandeis really changed the trajectory of my career. Before I arrived, I expected to do well in school, to land an internship at a big company and build a career in consulting or finance. But when I started attending classes, when I met my classmates, when I felt the spirit of the school — the spirit of making an impact through social justice — I really recalibrated the course of my life. I realized there is an ecosystem out there focused on helping others and making your community better. And Brandeis has played such a huge role in helping me establish Our Generation Speaks. So it's just very rewarding to be recognized with this award because Brandeis means so much to me personally.

What’s next for Delegate — and for you?

I’m thinking a lot about the future of work. When I was an undergraduate at Brandeis, CVS had employees stationed throughout their stores. But when I go to CVS today there are very few employees and a lot of machines. We’ve all seen the reports about how automation will eliminate jobs for millions of truck drivers, and how millions of other jobs face similar threat in various industries. It’s going to be an uphill battle and the frameworks we use today to define work are already changing. So it’s my hope that Delegate will play a meaningful role in this new ecosystem by empowering people who want to work with opportunities to earn an income regardless of where they live. I feel like it's a great time to really focus my efforts on building something scalable.

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