Startup Stories: Yaniv Bernstein, Founder & COO at Circular

Yaniv shares his journey of growth, adaptation, and his mission to build an incredible business and organization that makes an impact in the world.

by hao-nguyen on January 18, 2023

Yaniv Bernstein is the founder & COO at Circular, a delightful subscription e-commerce, with sustainability at its heart. He also hosts a conversational podcast called The Startup Podcast with Chris Saad about startups, tech, product, and disruption.

From his background in Computer Science and search engines, to his decade at Google and leadership roles at Airtasker, Yaniv’s journey is one of growth and adaptation. Now, as the founder of Circular, Yaniv is on a mission to build an incredible business that makes an impact in the world. Join us as Yaniv shares his insights and lessons learned along the way.

Are you looking for a global startup or scaleup recruitment agency? We can help connect you with world class talent around the globe, get in touch with us today!

Hi Yaniv, great to have you on Startup Stories!. For those who may not know, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your career background to date?

Some people always dreamed of being an entrepreneur, or have been hustling since they were teenagers. Neither of those apply to me. 

I am a software engineer by trade. After doing a Computer Science degree at University of Melbourne, I ran headlong into the Dot Com bust. There were no jobs, so I ended up starting a PhD at RMIT University in the area of search engines. This turned out to be a stroke of luck: I learned a lot, had a good time, and saw my confidence grow. Instead of ending up at a local Microsoft shop, my expertise in search engines saw me graduate into a job at Google. In 2006 it was already a very large company, but nothing like the behemoth it is today.

I spent ten mostly happy years at Google, working across the Search, YouTube, and Maps divisions. I was surrounded by smart people and learned a huge amount about building high-quality software at global scale. But after ten years, my pace of learning had slowed and I was itching to spread my wings in a way that it was not possible to do at any large organisation.

After a short stint at another scale-up, I found myself as VP Engineering at Airtasker. The engineering team there has achieved an enormous amount, but of course when a new leader is brought in, that is usually because something needs to change. The engineers at Airtasker needed to adapt to operating with a larger team and at a greater scale. 

What was interesting to me was that while there was a significant technical aspect to my role, the real meat of the work was about people, culture, and organisational design: how we worked together, what we valued and rewarded, who we hired, how people were held accountable, and so on. As much as I loved the technical side, I found building and operating a high-performing organisation to be even more fascinating.

From there, it was a natural progression to broaden out my role from VP Engineering to COO: now, instead of working just on a single function, my job was to make sure all the functions at the organisation worked well together towards a common set of goals. I was fortunate to be allowed to expand in this role at Airtasker, and I learned a huge amount there.

When I left Airtasker, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I consulted, coached, and advised many startups and scale-ups. As I did this, I noticed so many repeated patterns, so many places where organisational failings held these companies back from achieving their full potential. And I realised I was not going to be able to help very much just as an advisor.

Finally, I realised that to manifest the sort of organisation I really wanted to work at, I was going to need to put my money where my mouth is: I was going to need to be a founder. When I met the rest of the founding team at Circular, I knew that these were the people I wanted to build an incredible business and organisation with. That was over a year ago, and we haven’t looked back.  

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your startup journey so far?

The answer is, as it often is, the tremendous people I get to work with. But that’s a boring answer! So here’s another thing I’ve found rewarding:

I love how “real” building a startup is. At larger companies, there are many layers of support and safety built into what you do. But those layers of cushioning also serve to dull your senses to the realities of the business at which you work, and all the things that go into making it successful. 

At a startup, there are no cushions. You are fully exposed to the realities of what it takes to succeed, and this rawness and danger sharpens your senses and makes you feel alive. It’s the work equivalent of doing an adventure sport!

How has Circular evolved since its inception? What have been some key pivots or changes you’ve made along the way?

Circular is still a young company, just one-and-a-bit years old. But in that time, we have gone through Y Combinator (a well-known accelerator program), raised significant capital from incredible investors, and gone from a handful of people to a little over 30. 

Most importantly, we’ve grown from nothing to well over 1000 paying customers across two countries. We’ve had to go from proof of concept to running a real and operationally complex business. Our aim has been to keep a culture of ownership and responsibility while thoughtfully adding those layers of process and infrastructure that allows us to serve our customers and keep growing to the next level.

We’ve not had to pivot yet! But of course, as an early-stage startup you need to always be alive to the possibility of major changes in direction. The most important thing is to keep an optimistic but unvarnished view of reality as you go on the learning journey. 

Can you walk us through a typical day in your life? What does your schedule look like and what are some of the most important tasks you focus on?

I’ve never had the capacity to work long hours. This has at times been a source of guilt and Impostor Syndrome, but you can’t fight your body! Instead, I try to make the most of the focus and attention I’m capable of. 

I am also an active parent of a delightful 8 year old, so it’s important to me that I participate strongly in her life. A typical day often includes school drop-offs, family dinner, family walks, and bedtime stories. My work life can be intense, but these other parts of my life are both a duty and a joy, and are not something I will compromise.

Typically I will work between around 8:00 and 5:00, then will do a bit of email/Slack and other catch-up work later in the evening. As a COO of an early-stage but growing startup my job has a lot of variety: I juggle hiring, management, strategy, people & culture, internal communications, planning, operational cadence, analysis, as well as the classic “whatever needs my attention” of startup life. 

Keeping myself from thrashing between all these things and staying focused on the most important tasks can be challenging. I am far from perfect in this regard, but I use three tools to manage my time:

A small Moleskine notebook. Yes, made of paper! I plan the most important tasks to be done at the start of each day and take great satisfaction in crossing them out when they’re done. is a calendar management tool that gives you floating 1:1s, integrates with task managers, protects focus time, and more. It’s the next best thing to having an EA, and I would be lost without it. Full disclosure: I am an investor in

A simple Pomodoro Technique timer that forces me to stay focused but then allows me time to recover.

How do you stay motivated and focused when things get tough?

I try to practice “caring a lot, but not too much”. You want to do everything you can to help your startup succeed, but most startups fail and as a founder you live to fight another day. The irony is that if you worry too much about bad things happening to your startup, you will fail to take the smart risks that have the chance to propel you to real success.

It’s important to give yourself a little distance and perspective, to see even tough and challenging situations as a puzzle to be solved, a challenge to be overcome, rather than a threat to your life and wellbeing. Keep your amygdala out of it! 

Are you looking for a global startup or scaleup recruitment agency? We can help connect you with world class talent around the globe, get in touch with us today!

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