Yoav Shapira

After helping prepare HubSpot for an IPO and tackling emotional well being at Happier, Yoav Shapira’s ambitions have grown even more: Now he wants to break down the digital divide and fight poverty at a global level.

To that end, this week Shapira is joining Jana Mobile, a company that has built a rewards program to help consumers in emerging markets lower the cost of mobile airtime. He will be the company’s new vice president of product.

Jana claims to be the world’s largest rewards platform. It works with global corporations to run promotions and trials that reward consumers with mobile airtime in emerging markets. The company also has an opt-in program for consumers to earn mobile credits by completing surveys and accepting targeted offers from Jana-partnered companies.

Last summer, Jana announced a $15 million strategic investment from Paris-based Publicis Groupe, a global public relations and advertising company. Prior to that, the company had raised close to $10 million from Spark Capital and a handful of other investors.

Bringing Shapira onboard is a major coup for Jana. Shapira is widely regarded as one of the best product managers and developers in Boston; it is no secret that he has been highly sought after by some of the city’s biggest and most buzzed-about companies for a long time.

Shapira is in such high-demand because he is one of Boston’s most interesting innovators. He played a key role in the initial growth of HubSpot, as one of the company’s first employees, before helping build Happier.

At HubSpot, he led some of the company’s most important divisions as the vice president of engineering and later as vice president of platform strategy.

Shapira took a year off to travel around the world before returning to Boston to advise startups.

At one point, Shapira considered returning to his native Israel, but was convinced by Nataly Kogan to join Happier as the company’s chief technology officer. At Happier, he helped build one of the more interesting locally developed apps, a social platform that allows user to share their moments of joy in order to improve their emotional well-being.

Shapira said that the opportunity to work with a consumer-facing startup was something that initially attracted him to Happier and, also, led to his move to Jana.

In Jana, Shapira has an opportunity to help build a technology that is putting money back into the pockets and bringing access to the web for the emerging global “middle class.”

Shapira said the opportunity was compelling on a number of levels, particularly in terms of the company’s vision: Paying billions of people (“with a ‘B’,” he noted) a dollar or two for installing an app or taking a survey.

“To these people, $1 to $2 a day will lift them out of poverty,” he said.

Shapira said that the challenge of working for a globally-minded startup was also a draw.

“This is also an entirely new demographic for me [to work for], as a product person,“ he said. ”Can I put myself in the shoes of, say, someone living in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa? Can I design a compelling user experience for them?”

“From an engineering perspective,” he added, “[Jana] has way bigger scale.”

Shapira specifically pointed to the difficulty posed by developing for “technical integration with hundreds of mobile phone operators around the world and users with some really dumb phones all the way to really smart ones.”

As for Happier’s future, Shapira believe that the company’s shift to offer “courses” could pay off big time. He also said that Happier is one of those local startups that is attracting a lot of interest from recent college graduates.

Leaving a “West Coast” experience

Happier, Shapira said, is part of a class of startups that can offer what he called the “West Coast-style” startup experience. What he means by that is that it is a company that is consumer-focused, has energetic leadership, and is working to innovate social media.

After helping build the local tech scene’s marketing giant, HubSpot, and creating what could be the next training ground for social media/wellness app entrepreneurs with Happier, it’s a good development for Jana that Yoav Shapira is joining their fight.

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