Dr. Noam Wasserman // Dean of Sy Syms School of Business, Yeshiva University

Dr. Noam Wasserman, who heads the Sy Syms School of Business for Yeshiva University, has studied the successes and failures of thousands of startups. It took a while to pin him down for our conversation, but it was well worth it. 

Dr. Wasserman authored the bestselling book The Founder’s Dilemmas and is a major resource for startup advice—specifically, how to avoid the common mistakes that startup founders make. Having collected data on thousands of entrepreneurs in the course of his research, Dr. Wasserman has a unique perspective and deep insight into what works and what doesn’t when founding a business. Hint: despite our natural hesitation, having tough conversations from the get-go is key. 

In addition to serving as the dean of Sy Syms, Dr. Wasserman hosts a podcast called “The Founder’s Dilemmas” with Charlie Harary. He is also a strong proponent of developing students who use their Yiddishkeit to set a guide frame, ultimately making them more successful businessmen. 

Dr. Wasserman has counseled and assisted hundreds of entrepreneurs in starting their businesses with the right mindset, setting them up for success. The concepts and knowledge that he imparted over the course of our conversation can be applied to any business setting, and even to our personal lives. 


I was born in Washington, DC, where my father was finishing dental school. I was his graduation gift. When I was five days old, my parents left for New York for my bris. My zeidy, Rabbi Morris Wasserman, was a rav in a small shteibel in Brooklyn and the mohel for all his grandsons.

“My father was drafted into the army during the Vietnam War era and was stationed in Columbia, South Carolina, where my brother Ari was born less than a year after me. My father completed his residency in the army, and when he finished, my parents took a trip to Los Angeles, fell in love with the community, and decided to move there. That’s where I grew up; we moved there when I was three years old.

“Interestingly, we have some rabbanim on both sides of the family. My mother’s grandfather was Rav Moshe Mashbaum, a rav in Poland.

“I went to Hillel Hebrew Academy for elementary school, and for high school I went to YULA (Yeshiva University of Los Angeles). For my last two years in high school, I learned in the beis midrash program with iluyim like Rav Zvi Teichman and the rosh yeshivah, Rav Shalom Tendler. 

“Torah is a very strong component of my life. I am on my third Daf Yomi cycle and am learning two blatt a day—what I call a “Double Daf”—so I can finish the cycle next Rosh Hashanah, which will be the 100th anniversary of Rav Meir Shapiro’s founding of Daf Yomi.

“When I was in seventh grade, my father got an Apple II Plus, which sat around the house for a year. One day, I was sick at home and opened a programming manual. I spent the next five years on that computer. For two summers during high school, I worked at a radiology lab, programming a three-dimensional display of CT scan slides.

“After high school, I learned in Yeshivat Sha’alvim in Eretz Yisrael before going to the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied computer engineering. Interestingly, when I got there, there was hardly a minyan of frum Yidden, but by the time I graduated, we had a beis midrash and multiple minyanim. 

“At my core, I’m an engineer, but I had some early ink-lings that I wanted to combine it with something else. I experimented with some dual-degree programs at Penn and ended up getting two undergraduate degrees, one in computer science and engineering and another in business from the Wharton School, a combination they called management and technology. That required five years in college. At Wharton, I studied corporate finance and strategic management. I figured that learning leadership and business skills would be an unusual but powerful combination with engineering.

“For three summers during college, I interned at the Aerospace Corporation doing programming. Someone once kidded me that I was a rocket scientist.

“I got married two days before I turned 21 and two years before I graduated college. My wife had just finished her first year of medical school. 

“We moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, and I landed a job in Washington, DC, working for a company that did management and technology work—both front-end business-process design and back-end system implementation. Generally, when a large company needs a management strategy, it hires someone to do a comprehensive analysis and leave them with a thick binder of instructions—a binder that collects dust on a shelf. Then either the company needs to implement the system itself or it brings in an implementation firm. I loved doing both parts, and I also saw how I’d learn more by seeing firsthand the challenges of implementing my recommendations. It’s a different experience when you’re the one to implement them.

“I found a firm that did both ends, and we were on projects from beginning to end. 

“My first division was doing something that was important work back then: converting paper processes to electronic ones. My first project was for the Federal Aviation Administration, the government body that regulates and licenses airplanes. We redesigned the process where they assign and track N-numbers (the equivalent of license plates) for every airline in the country. We took their paper-based system, eliminated the paper, and designed a more efficient process to track it all. A year later, they needed someone to lead the project, and I became a project manager.

“Our FAA client was based in Oklahoma, but I only had to travel there twice. When I interviewed for jobs right after college, I made it clear that I didn’t want to travel. That was because of Shabbos and Yom Tov, and I had also just had my first child and didn’t want to be away from home all the time. Some prominent companies told me not to bother looking for a job in their travel-heavy industry. That was one of many gam zu l’tovah developments, because I found a smaller and more entrepreneurial company that wanted to accommodate me, and I was able to do higher-impact things there that I could not have done in the prominent companies.

“Soon after that, a technology called Lotus Notes came out. It made it possible for multiple people to collaborate, even if they weren’t located together. I realized that its built-in collaboration capabilities could enable us to take projects that used to cost ten million dollars and do them for a tenth of the price. 

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