Dave litman likes to keep a low profile. An innovative giant of the tech boom of the 1990s and a pioneer with his business partner Bob Diener in the online travel and hospitality industry, Dave started a low cost airline business in 1984 that grew into a consolidation operation. wholesale multi-million dollar airline tickets. In 1991, he and Bob founded what has become hotels.com, to finally sell their stake in the company in 2004.
Today CEO of Travel finance network, the Texas resident spends some of his time working with Chabad representatives on the strategic development of data-driven decision making. In cooperation with Chabad on Campus International, it has launched an initiative that will allow it to accurately measure the ROI (Return on Investment) of its programs.
LI: How do you see yourself, a remarkably successful entrepreneur, compared to Chabad and the shluchim who are in the business of counting souls?
DL: I am an investor in the Chabad business. Of course, I want a return on my investment. But unless someone can tell me what the back and forth is, I don’t know. So I started to mix the lessons I learned in business with the lessons of Chabad. It was the start of the measure.
What first brought you to Chabad?
DL: I connected with Rabbi Zvi Drizin in 2004, just as he moved to Dallas. Zvi focused on young Jewish professionals, and I quickly realized that Chabad attracted more young adults than any other organization in town. I have seen the advantages of the Chabad model.
It’s different from synagogues and temples membership models where you pay membership fees – like a subscription model – and go to services. In the Chabad model, you have these very enterprising people going out and establishing Jewish communities. These people dedicate their entire lives to making the world a better place for the Jewish people. This is their main concern and it is extremely effective. It is a model that relies mainly on donors.
But as a donor-based model, it’s more vulnerable than a subscription model, isn’t it?
DL: Yes, so you need donor buy-in. There’s no better way to gain buy-in than to measure performance. If you can produce a report that shows your performance this year compared to last year, you can dramatically increase your donations and production. So it’s a victory for the shlou’him, for donors and for the Jewish people.
I believe that measured performance is improved performance. And to measure performance, you need to identify your target outcomes (i.e. what you’re doing) and you need metrics. You can’t hit a target that you can’t see.
Does the investment that Chabad will make, for example, in sending shluchim to an isolated town with very few Jews, make business sense to you?
DL: I’m looking at addressable markets. So for example, if you are in the middle of Manhattan and your target market is 50,000 people, I want to know, how many do you see? If you’re in Montana, where there are say 2,000 Jews in the state, and you hire 1,500, you’re probably doing better than Manhattan, which gets 5,000 out of 50,000.
Measuring, collecting, monitoring and analyzing data are things that the shluchim, who usually carry the weight of their communities on their shoulders, have not been able to afford to focus.
DL: Yes, so we have created a portal that makes it accessible and easy for them. We started with a handful of Chabad reps, and as he grew we brought him to Chabad on Campus International. We have now launched a pilot program with around 30 Chabad centers. My business partner Bob Diener is funding the development of proprietary software that will allow us to deploy it more widely in all Chabad centers. I think we will have a strong turnout.
In the future, what does Jewish life in America look like to you?
DL: Things are changing and becoming more dynamic in different places. Texas is now the largest migrating state, and over the next thirty years it will likely overtake California in terms of population and economy. Chabad is sensitive to these demographic changes in the United States. Jews leave Illinois, New York and California for Texas, Tennessee and Florida. And Chabad is in a good position to take advantage of it.
Chabad is the bright spot for the future of Jewish life in America. He is vibrant, young and energetic, and he is essential to the future of Judaism in America. I want to see it continue to grow and measure that growth every step of the way!