Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict


November 2010

Regrets? Na… not me.

Why didn’t I do my first startup 14 years ago? It was shortly after ICQ was launched that I had my first “big” startup idea. It was a couple of years after I acquired my degree in marketing and left print journalism in favor of the internet. I had a 6 digit ICQ ID which I was very proud of. I thought the ICQ technology could be easily adopted for advertising and sales: let people sign up to get news and updates from their chosen brands and sellers. I even found the perfect name for this startup: Lemino.

I toyed with the idea for months. Drafted business documents. Began creating a system flow. Then I met with a seasoned entrepreneur, at the time “between CEO jobs”, hoping to recruit him and together build this company.

In retrospect – this was probably my major mistake. And it happened because 14 years ago, I was too young to realize it wasn’t a leader I needed, but a team. Preferably a technical one.

The idea melted away, I needed income and I abandoned it, along with quite a few good ideas that came before and after it. It took several good years of acquiring experience in several domains to realize I have what it takes, always had it. And it’s time to go swimming.


My 3rd Grade Entrepreneurship Workshop

Global Entrepreneurship Week and my invitation to join GEW-Israel partners have inspired me, among other things to hold an entrepreneurship workshop in my youngest son’s class of third graders. It was an amazing experience.

I’d like to share this report so you can take this workshop to your class, whether you are a teacher or a parent.

I have to admit I wasn’t quite sure how to go about this: what knowledge do the kids have to begin with? Those are 8-9 year old kids, from various socio-economic backgrounds, some are new immigrants or born here to new immigrant. How would language and culture differences affect their entrepreneurial skills??

Still, I came with one assumption: that all kids are born with entrepreneurial skills. Certainly in the 21st century, when in fact, anywhere you look, entrepreneurial skills are probably one of the utmost important set of skills needed for survival in their future.

I started by asking what entrepreneurship is and was rather surprised to hear a very precise definition: “to get an idea and do it”. Then we started to talk about where do ideas come from, and pretty soon they recognized problems, needs and wants. We agreed to refer to all of those as “problems which need solutions”. Then we started to talk about identifying such problems. I asked the children to think about problems in their classroom, at school, at home, in the country, in the world. The first student who spoke amazed me when she said the major problem in her eyes is “All those wars around the world”. The second student said he was “worried about the hole in the ozone layer” (A girl was startled and asked in shock “Is there a hole in the ozone layer?”). The third one (that’s mine) said that “animal extinction is a serious problem, especially the hunting of whales”. We went through other problems too – like kids who fight in the classroom and losing pencils. All very valid problems.

We started to discuss world peace. I wanted the kids to see that knowing of the problem is not the same as understanding the problem or approaching a solution. So I lead them in a discussion about what do classroom fights and countries fighting have in common. It was a great discussion leading the kids to pinpoint “communications” as the core of this trouble. Then we started to discuss various means of communications – to understand that different means are used to solve different types of conflicts. They agreed that “sometimes you need to talk face to face, and sometimes written communications are better.”*

We also talked about the hole in the ozone layer and preservation of the environment. The kids seem very aware of that. We discussed Shai Agassi’s “Better Place” as a fine example of entrepreneurship.

For the second part of my visit I have prepared two types of tasks. The kids divided into groups of 4-5 kids. Each group received 2-3 cards, each with a problem, a want or a need, and they had to discuss between them possible solutions. I didn’t want them to write it down, which was odd to them. I wanted them to concentrate on the thinking, but the kids, who are used to deliver some physical product, were handed papers by the teacher and developed unnecessary arguments about who’s going to write, which was a disappointing distraction in my opinion.

After they finished with this exercise I moved to the second one. I brought along a bunch of clippings from the daily newspapers of the last several days. I made sure I bring some from each section of the paper – including sports, arts, literature, health, hi-tech, education, finance and politics. On a one of the desks I placed cards with sentences depicting problems and or solutions. For example: “Public hospitals in Israel don’t have enough money”. “People love to play games and are willing to pay for it”. “Traffic jams are horrible, how can we solve it?”. “We have to study the earth to understand climate changes”. “We need entertainment”. “We like beautiful things”. I handed 2-3 stories to each group so they discuss it and try to recognize what was the problem and what was the solution. I thought for a next phase to develop the question of “is this a good solution? Are there any more solutions?”. After discussing the stories they were allowed to go check the solution cards to see if they got it or to find help to understand the context of the story they read.

The conclusion was lead by the teacher, who invited the kids to share their impression of the workshop. It seems like what the kids have enjoyed the most is to work in groups. The collaboration was exciting. I expected it. Which leads me to a problem I’d like to solve: lack of collaborative work in school and homework. But that’s a separate page.

*More About Communications and Facebook

During the conversation about communications I asked the kids to raise their hands if they have Facebook. I believe almost every one of the 30 students raised their hands. I asked them who had registered on their own, who had used the help of an older sibling, who used the help of a parent. About half of the kids registered with the assistance of a parent. A third used the help of an older sibling. The rest either did it themselves or with the help of a class mate. These are 8-9 year old kids. Most of them are registered for a year or more. When I asked one of the kids how he registered himself he said “that’s easy, just invent some email, pick a birth date that’s 100 years older then you and you’re in”.
After pointing out that communications is one of the biggest obstacles on the way to solve conflicts we talked about different methods of communications and discussed oral vs. written. At third grade seems like most kids initially don’t like to write. It’s slow and tedious. However, when I asked them about sending messages to each other on Facebook they woke up. All are using it. And other chat programs too. One student jumped ahead and stated “I never chat with strangers”, which got everybody’s approval (to my satisfaction). “Who are you chatting with?”, I asked. “My class mates”, she said. “But why chat with them in writing when you can talk on the phone or in the classroom?”, I asked. “It’s different; I can chat with many kids at once for example”. So we did a little demonstration. I picked a group of 5 kids to the center of the class and whispered to them “When I give you the sign you immediately start to talk about wearing a hat in the sun”. I gave the sign, they all spoke together and when I asked the other kids to tell me what the group spoke about – no one knew. I then told them and asked if this was in writing – would you know what the group was discussing? That got them to agree that in some cases written communications can be useful. “But if someone is angry with me and they remove me from friends on Facebook then I can’t chat with them”, said one child. His friend said: “So talk to him in the classroom”.

Confession of a Social Networking Discriminator

I’m a social networking racist. I admit it. If you’re not there – you’re not. As simple as that. As I start browsing for business connections for my new startup, either service providers, potential employees, strategic partners – you’ve got to have an online presence, and a maintained and updated one.

Too often I am approached or connected with people who aren’t. Not online, or not updated, or think they can maintain their anonymity in this day and age, and still be looking for a job in hi tech, internet or marketing. I almost think it’s ridiculous. It’s like looking for a job as a life guard when you can’t swim. Really!

Thanks -

The common argument I hear is “I’m entitled to my privacy”, “I am a private person” and the best is “I don’t think the world should know when I have to go…”. -which proves my point exactly. These are not sentences a person who knows a thing or two about social networks would say.

For the benefit of those who don’t understand it yet, but want to, here are some replies and tips.

First of all – people can preserve their private lives to themselves even if they have a Facebook or Twitter active accounts. It’s your choice what you put up and what you don’t. You really should avoid reports on “when you have to go” – because no one cares.

Second – if you have any professional value, then you have content to share, and hopefully a valuable one. You don’t have to open a blog,  just join the conversation, one way or the other.

Joining Social Networking Stages
1. Share Knowledge You Came Across
Being a professional persona I bet you are exposed to professional knowledge which you can share. Assuming you haven’t started to write articles and blog posts yet – start by sharing links.
2. Share Your Opinion
Share comments on items you read. You can actually post your professional opinion on market news, even if you read them offline. Just don’t forget to mention what you are referring to.
3. Get Knowledge from Others
Look at other professionals in your area and see what links and opinions they are sharing.
4. Share Information by Others
If those links are valuable – then share them with your friends and followers too (retweet/share).
5. Converse, React
Reply to those who shared knowledge with yours, or with thanks. Don’t forget to reply to those who replied to you or thank your retweeters.

Privacy Preserved
All of those have nothing to do with your meals, children, spouse, sleeping habits, entertainment preferences, religion, or any other personal information which you would rather keep private.

Your online presence is yours. So avoid using the photos of your children instead of your own. Show online a simple photograph that would help potential business contacts find you in events.

Choice of networks
The most popular networks for business networking are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. There are other social networks of course, but I’d like to review my own choice of how I use those:

1. LinkedIn is a networked résumé. It is based on the same Curriculum Vitae one might submit when searching for a job. So it’s an important network to be on, but it’s beneficial only if you make sure your CV there is really kept up to date. Another benefit is the ability to collect recommendations from people you worked with in the past – colleagues or clients. These are usually traded for your recommendation, but do reflect positive working relations. You will eventually decide which connection you’d want to make on each network. On Linkedin I’d start with people you have worked with or done business with. This can evolve later to potential employees or partners. Remember the main benefit of connecting to someone on Linkedin is to be able to connect through them to someone else, who might be a useful connection. Obviously, in a similar way, you should be able to help your contacts connect through you.

2. Facebook can be both a work tool and a personal tool. You can use it for both; you can group your business and family connections in two different lists and choose which items posted are exposed to which group. But for those who fear the leak of their personal information let’s just discuss the business use.
Facebook is an excellent communications tool. You start by connecting to your business contacts, colleagues or clients and begin by following them. Except for links and updates that they share, some might be more interesting than the others, look at groups and pages they join and of course – events.

Groups and pages are in fact smaller communities within Facebook with shared interests (I’m referring to professional interests). Some of these groups meet on various events, which would give you a perfect opportunity to meet with those colleagues of yours and expand you networking relationships beyond. Who would you connect to on Facebook? For me Facebook is rather personal so I try to limit my connections to people I’ve met or done business with or am already connected and familiar with over a longer period of time (for international contacts). When people who I don’t know ask to be friends with me on Facebook I will try to find out what is their interest. I would rather offer my personal email for assistance, than add them to my list of contacts. By adding them to my list of friends their updates are in my feed (are they interesting connections for me? Is their feed relevant?), and also they get updates from me on their feed (do I want to share with them?). The other suggestion I make to those who want to follow my updates – is to follow my twitter.

3. Twitter is a different platform. It’s the easiest and in a way the smartest tool of all. As a default your twits are public. You can make them private, but what’s the point there? Quoting someone smart – “it’s like going to a nudist beach fully clothed”.
So what is the business use of twitter? It does 2 main things: on the first level it allows you to gather professional information from your preferred sources – be it your colleagues or international bloggers or any knowledgeable sources who are sharing their wisdom on this platform. If a couple of years ago I needed to perform a daily search to find my most relevant news items, then today I get the most relevant items from my preferred sources, which already sorted a lot more than I could have scanned.

The second use of Twitter is to get your word out there. Use it when you feel ready. As stated above, social networking is a conversational tool. You join the conversation when you have something valuable to contribute, and you follow simple rules of courtesy towards your connections there.

To social-net or not?
This is an existential question especially if you are in marketing or marketing related industries and in the internet related industries too. I feel this is where markets go to. If the masses could have influenced the choice of logo of the Gap (just an example), then anyone ignoring social networking in today’s world is attesting to their staying behind.

The Mad Hatting Pioneer

Having to write and re-write executive summaries, business plans and a variety of texts for various uses doesn’t leave much time to blog. The micro blogging going on Twitter is a consolation prize, but it’s not as good as a full text blog.

I am now officially wearing the hat of my own company’s CEO. All through thinking and working towards the official launch of the company no one was wearing any hat. The hats were all lying around, waiting patiently. It’s time to start wearing some now.

All this hatting business reminded me of this hilarious scene of the “39 Steps”, where two actors switch between several roles, represented mainly by – hats. Establishing a startup you get to feel exactly like that on a daily basis:

It’s pretty easy to list the major hats in every hi-tech startup. You’ve got the CEO hat first, then the Technical hat or product hat, then the marketing hat. In between there’s an operations hat, and a financial hat, and an HR hat and the other hats, that are hanging just underneath those heavy hats, on the same crowded hat hanger.

When you’re bootstrapping the founders of the company have to divide those hats between them. It’s a very exciting time when a CEO gets to be also the VP marketing, Chief Financial Officer and Human Resources manager, and the President is in fact the Chief Operating Officer, the VP R&D, the Chief architect and Designer and, in our case, location’s fault, he is also the VP Business Development.

In a way it feels absurd. We’re at the point where we have the biggest amount of work to perform – creating the system, developing it and marketing it. Yet, this is the point where we have the least amount of resources to perform all these tasks. So it’s up to us to be fantastic hat jugglers.

It’s not easy to juggle all those hats. These can be stressful sleep-deprived times. Yet, to be perfectly honest, it’s also a lot of fun and excitement. The feel of generating something totally new, the feel of pioneering, of having to do with just what you’ve got, and still make it happen.

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