Dynamic Duos: Mates who started their agency in a lounge room with no funding

In this week's Dynamic Duos, Bench Media co-founders and co-CEOs Shai Luft and Ori Gold discuss their decade long relationship.

Shai Luft:

Ori moved to Australia after we briefly met a few years earlier but we didn’t really know each other that well at the time. Shortly after he arrived, we went camping together. I remember telling him about the Aussie outback, snakes and spiders though he seemed unphased by it all. He is not easily intimidated! I instantly made it my mission to make him like it here so he would stay long term. Little did I know at that time just how much time we were about to spend together…

When we started catching up for lunch during the week we found that we were frustrated by the same things we saw in our marketing jobs: lack of accountability of media agencies, lots of smoke and mirrors and low technical and analytical depth in digital campaigns. Ori suggested we start our own company to solve this problem for advertisers which seemed to me like a terrifying but also exciting idea at the time. I had two toddlers and a cushy corporate job but he managed to convince me to give it a go. I remember thinking about starting a business together and then just going “well, if not now, then when?!?”. We started out with no funding working from my living room for the first year or so but we quickly knew we were on to something when we started talking to advertisers that saw the gaps and felt the pain.

Ori is an entrepreneur at heart, he is the kind of person that when he has an idea he just goes for it and makes it happen. I tend to be much more conservative and am in the weeds thinking about the details. I think that’s what makes us such good partners and friends. He pushes me to do stuff that may seem a bit crazy to me (like starting a business!) and I look after all the details like hiring people, creating processes and managing payments. I’m fascinated by consumer behaviour and what motivates people to buy products. I love figuring out the messages that drive them to take action and unravelling the hidden triggers and crafting marketing strategies that resonate to change mindsets.

It’s hard to believe that we started Bench 11 years ago. It feels like it was yesterday but we’ve helped hundreds of brands and agencies to create better digital campaigns over that time and worked with some incredible businesses to help them grow. We’ve been through lots of wins and challenges as with any business journey but we always try to understand each other’s point of view and work through it together.

One thing we definitely share is trust in each other and I think that is the one foundation that has to be strong and always present between any business partners. We also have no ego when it comes to our work together. Over the years we’ve evolved our roles depending on the focus of the business and it’s always been about what is genuinely the best outcome for our clients and teams rather than chasing any superficial things.

Ori comes from a very strong engineering and technology management background so he’s always looking to create technology solutions to marketing problems. It never ceases to amaze me that, even in this day and age, marketing is still predominantly viewed as an art rather than a science. The reality is that it requires a delicate balance of both. While big ideas are undeniably powerful, they need to be tested and refined based on insights and data. It’s somewhat akin to the two of us—blending the perfect mixture of art and science.

Ori Gold:

The very first time I met Shai, I was playing guitar at his wedding! No, I wasn’t working as a wedding singer – I was dating his first cousin, who later became my Aussie wife and led to me emigrating to Australia. But it was after I moved to Sydney from Israel that our friendship really formed.

I was a wide-eyed immigrant when I arrived in 2010, still learning to drive on the left side of the road and understand Aussie idioms and strange cultural practices like beetroot on burgers. Shai had already lived in Australia for years, first as a traveler, then as a university student at UNSW and was at that point already an established marketing GM.

Discovering that my CV meant very different things in Sydney was a reality check for me. For example, my army experience as a commander in a special force IDF unit or the work I’ve done in a highly classified homeland security agency for a few years was something that Israeli employers understood and respected. Here in Sydney, it meant nothing. I needed to build myself from the ground up in a completely new culture and environment. But I knew what I could bring to the table – the Israeli digital first savviness of the tech ecosystem and the growth mindset of Tel Aviv’s booming adtech industry.

I saw Shai as an older brother, with the unique perspective of being an Israeli in Australia. We immediately found common ground. I was head of marketing at eToro and Shai was GM at GoTalk, with our offices right near each other. We would meet once or twice a week for lunch in the city, sharing our frustrations about the lack of accountability and accessibility in advertising which ultimately led to ineffective marketing activity and the waste of ad dollars.

Together, Shai and I embarked on a mission to reshape Australia’s digital media landscape. We envisioned a future where data and analytics mingle effortlessly with audience targeting to deliver business results. We wanted to open up the digital ecosystem so every marketer can easily navigate it in real-time. Our secret weapon? A bespoke tech solution, engineered to bring this bold vision to life.

We have a great synergy between us, he being really interested in human behaviour psychology and what makes people tick. In contrast, I have a go-getter, technology-first approach for how to solve problems effectively. I’m good at macro big-picture thinking, while Shai is a details man, figuring out logistics and how to execute those ideas, so we make a great team.

Don’t get me wrong, we get on each other’s nerves sometimes! I’ll come to him really passionate with a big vision, and he might very rationally resist the feasibility of it. But that’s the beauty of a strong friendship, where you feel comfortable challenging each other’s boundaries, pushing each other to be a better person and ultimately overcoming challenges together.

Shai and I have been leading an incredible team at Bench for 11 years now. We are constantly fascinated with the changing digital landscape, especially in the last four years, with the sweeping digitalisation of all channels and mediums. There’s so much potential!

I couldn’t ask for a better partner to navigate this complex domain, and we’re excited about the potential of what the future holds.

Shai on Ori:

Most memorable moment with Ori: From a business point of view I would say being together at our first (of 3) Deloitte Fast 50 award nominations. It was a really great experience being there and feeling like we’ve finally made it.

Best word to describe Ori: Powerhouse.

Most annoying or endearing behaviour Ori has: He has the biggest and loudest laugh I know that reverberates throughout the office and always puts a smile on my face when I hear it.

Ori on Shai:

Most memorable moment with Shai: When Covid hit the world and Australia I distinctly recall the overwhelming fear that gripped us as we faced this unfamiliar challenge. Navigating our company and supporting our people became paramount, and it was during this time that Shai’s remarkable character shone through. With daily conversations and unwavering pragmatism, his compassionate nature became evident, leaving a lasting impression on me.

Best word to describe Shai: Astute.

Most annoying or endearing behaviour Shai has: Shai has an incredible ability to spot a good deal. Whenever we chat, he always has a clever suggestion on how to get the best bang for your buck, without compromising on quality. It can be annoying at times, but I can’t deny the amount of time and money he’s saved me with his advice. It’s seriously impressive!

If you and a colleague would like to submit your story to Dynamic Duos, please email Lauren at lmcnamara@mumbrella.com.au. 


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