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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Business

Age of No Age

It must have been one of the strangest days in my life.

Met a 20 year old entrepreneur. Thought about how society’s age discrimination stands in the way of any successful partnerships between such young entrepreneurs and those who are twice their age. Then read about another entrepreneur who is doing a crazy thing: he wants to build his founding team based on 5-6 people who are all 35 or older. Yea, that’s right. He appreciates experience. In the world of “20 under” . Whatever happened to my “40 over 40” survey?

Should age become an obstacle? Should it be a consideration at all in the world of entrepreneurship? Personally I find that age is one of the last things I check for when a candidate applies. The relevancy of experience is much more important. Not to mention your online presence.

A couple of weeks ago I posted an ad on Xplace for a technological partner to join my startup. I made sure what I wrote is pretty clear. It’s a person, not a company, it’s a partnership, not a service, and it’s pre-funding. All of the replies I received except for one were from companies or freelancers who didn’t bother to read what I wrote, or decided that perhaps if they send me their lovely price proposal I will give up on a partner and come up with funds. Hmmm. But what made it even worse was the way some of these people responded: They didn’t bother to present themselves, their curriculum, their experience or portfolio. It was a “one-line-proposal” in the form of “tell me more about your project”.

Sorry, but I don’t get it. Or rather, I do get it. This is why these people are having trouble getting a position. Not because they are young or old. Because it’s all about how and what you communicate. We live in an age and a professional environement where age has the least significance it ever had. Whether you are 20 or 60 if you have a valid idea and you know how to communicate it – you have a chance at success.

So back to the 20 year old. This was a delightful encounter. I don’t know if something ever comes out of it. I offered my help as a mentor in marketing and business strategy aspects through the wonderful Tomorrow Israel  project started by my friend Nir Kouris. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the more mature entrepreneurs, acknowledging where his knowledge is insufficient and needs help, respecting his team say in any involvement of third parties. A refreshing look on a traditional line of apps. And a general impression that working with this entrepreneur (note I’m not calling him “a kid” or “a young…”) – working with such a person would be great.

What about the Team?

I started to write this blog post about team work. Then I restarted it. I wasn’t always a team player. When I started my career, a young and daring journalist at the age of 15, a journalist was in most cases a solo flyer. I was a journalist for 15 years. Most of the time it was indeed a solo performance. When I ejected from print journalism to the online technology world I started to discover team work.

Investors often tell you that when choosing whether or not to invest in a startup they look at the team harder than they look at the idea. Yea, showing off with a shiny new prototype is impressive, but if the team is a screeching machine, then no thank you. Better luck at your next meeting.

And team work is indeed key to success. In a good startup you’ll have several founders, each assuming responsibility on another domain. While in many cases each member of the team can probably do more than just his or her own job, and at the early stages – that’s what they have to do, it’s critical that every member of the team is the chief of another domain. Has the last word in this domain. Not the only word, the last word.chess-set

This distinction is important: early on the team all share the exciting notion of creating something new. They all pitch in. They all have a contribution to the production process from planning to execution. But in each area there’s supposed to be the top decision maker of the arena: one person decides over technology, one person deciding over design, one person over business strategy. Even if all team members have degrees in programming and business, each member must honestly acknowledge which is his or her area of expertise. Where they would be better than any other team member. And that’s your domain.

This mastery is of course accompanied by a lot of ego. Which makes it hard to listen to other people’s opinions or advice. But if you’re truly an expert – then you will embrace the fact that every input can enrich you and benefit the greater good of the venture you’re all producing.

Which takes me back to school. So the high school typical behavior I’ve encountered so far, through my kids mainly – is that in each group there’s one who does all the hard work. Well the easy work too. In fact, why bother, when there’s one in each group who really cares about the grade? Unfortunately I’ve seen this attitude drag into college, first degree studies. There are those who care about the grades, so why bother contributing to the shared project? In further studies I’ve also encountered the complete opposite behavior, with similar non-team-work results: condescending team members competing with each other on their status within a team, all in the name of credit and prestige.

Do education systems give it another thought? Do they know how important is the ability to work within a team? The whole deal: contributing, learning from each other, sharing ideas, feeding the team, respecting, communicating politely and efficiently, putting your ego aside. And enjoying it.

I sincerely believe that if tests where replaced by projects with correct guidance and supervision – we’d be looking at better chances for all those future team members. There’s a limit to how far you can fly solo and without wings.

Hats Seeking Heads: Partners Needed

The hardest thing when founding a startup is to build the founding team. Some lucky entrepreneurs cook their startup right from the beginning through brainstorming with others, and voilà – team! But there are many entrepreneurs who come up with an idea and then start looking for their partners.

The relationship between cofounders is a lot like the relationships between spouses. So you’d want to make the right decisions and make sure you work great together. I recently read an amusing article on Inc. magazine suggesting a camping trip to test potential partnerships. I will be perfectly happy with testing the waters in an incubator or accelerator too. I don’t really feel the urge of eating dust in the desert. The thing is the article is about choosing your partner, assuming you have a pool to choose from. It’s not about finding them.

And finding partners is tricky.

So I started off with one potential partner, then a second one tagged alone, the first one said he is not seeking any active role in the company, and his job will probably be done before the production begins. The second one seemed promising as we met a couple of dozen times, but his availability seemed limited, until he finally admitted that assuming the risks and responsibilities of setting up a startup isn’t really what he is looking for right now. And woops! I have one and a half advisors, but no partners.

I advance in very little steps towards developing my own product, or at least its offline test version (I am not a programmer), but the search for co-founders is a real distraction:

hats

Can’t raise money to pay for the development of the product if there’s no team to meet the investors. Investors, as we all know, invest in people first, ideas second.

I can’t recruit developers if I can’t pay any salaries.

Risk assuming entrepreneurs who are looking to join a startup based on someone else’s idea are nowhere to be found here, in Israel. People either have their own idea or they expect salaries pretty much from the start of the startup. And the investors keep expecting established teams and launchable products (if not launched with traction…).

But keeping an optimistic and keeping an open mind I’ve met several great people over the last few weeks. One of them actually gave me several ideas about other less common founding models: for instance, to have a potential team ready to meet investors and declare their intention to join the startup as soon as funds are there to cover their costs is one of them.

Does it really work?

The Curse of Traction

02-06-2013 11-53-54
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/traction

“We would need to see a product/evidence of traction in the market before discussing further”. You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur if you haven’t heard this sentence before.

But there are companies in need of funding even before there is a product which can attract any traction. And long gone are the days when investors could expect entrepreneurs to work on developing, launching and marketing their product, then growing its traction – for periods of time ranging from 8-18 months, with no income what so ever.

So whenever I hear this kind of sentence, especially after my first introduction was “there’s no product yet and I am not looking for funding yet”, I get upset. Why did that investor ask me to send him my introductory papers, if this is the reply I get from his assistant or partner or co worker? What kind of a conversation is that?

It makes me feel the venture capital industry is getting older and bored. Remember “venture”?

Here’s from The Free Dictionary:

  ven·ture  (vnchr)

  n.

  1. An undertaking that is dangerous, daring, or of uncertain outcome.

  2. A business enterprise involving some risk in expectation of gain.

  3. Something, such as money or cargo, at hazard in a risky enterprise.

It’s the “risk in expectation of gain” that has kept the VC industry going. It’s pretty obvious most investors would do anything to reduce their risks, leaving fewer investors to support younger riskier startups. Pulling out the “traction curse” whenever they want to simply say – `hey, we have less riskier businesses standing in line for our money, why should we gamble on you?`

I have a split loyalty here:  I am married to a VC man, yet I am trying to found a startup. So I totally get VCs wanting to cut down their risks and go for surer promises. Obviously if I have a product, it was already launched, I am gaining traction – then I am a safer bet than the entrepreneur I am right now, with a brilliant idea, that needs funding to pay programmers to start developing the product that only I am sure is going to be a hit.

So?

I guess I will just have to dig deeper. I know that out there some investors who are ready to put their money in early stage startups are still looking for great opportunities. It’s going to be a long and hard search. But I know they’re out there and I will start looking for them when I am ready to start looking for funding.

And as for that VC who sent me the automatic traction curse, I think that when I have a product and traction, you’d probably be at the bottom of my list. Simply because I prefer investors who communicate and listen, not just tell.

Just for fun, here’s a song I heard this week, and really listened to the lyrics. I call it “The Entrepreneurship Hymn”. What do you think?

 

Graphic Designers, Start Up!

Why is it so rare to find a startup founder who is a graphic designer?

Are graphic designers not entrepreneurs? This couldn’t be accurate as so many of them found their independent studios. But it seems like they are avoiding the startups world. And it’s especially notable in a country titled “the Startup Nation”.

I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to recruit a graphic designer, illustrator or even an art director to join our startup – in vain. . It’s an amazing startup with a big promise to change the way kids learn and perceive learning, or knowledge. I had no trouble “selling the idea” to several amazing artists.  The 3 designers that seemed to be into it got as far as a second work meeting before they announced the project will demand too many hours for them to commit to.

What do you mean?

When you join a startup you make a commitment. That’s what you do. Like the programmer who joins a startup, like the marketing or bizdev or product person or community manager who joins a startup. Yes, you join a company means you make a commitment to work for this company. And when it’s a startup doing its early steps this means you give it the hours that you have after your day job, until funding is in and you can fully dedicate yourself to that same startup you joined.

That’s what people do when they join a startup. Why not graphic designers?pencil_carving_by_cerkahegyzo

 

I’ve been trying to crack it. One artist told me “Graphic designers are one of the most exploited sectors there are. People are always asking them to do a “quick design”, with a promise to compensate retroactively or with company stock options, but at the end the stock options are worth nothing, or the company didn’t raise funds, and so we don’t get paid. Experienced designers are familiar with this pattern and will not repeat this mistake”.

“Wait”, I told her, “you can say the same thing about the programmer who coded for hours, and days and weeks and might or might not benefit from the startup – if it gets on.”

“Yes, but it’s not really the same thing”, she said, “Graphic artists are usually paid less then programmers and so they are forced to get more after-hours projects to survive. If they will not get paid for their after-work project, their financial stability is hurt”.

I was willing to go with this theory until I found out this is not really the case. The gap between the salaries of a programmer with 5-6 years of experience and a graphic designer with the same number of years is not that big. It seems to me programmers are simply more the types who would take on a risk. And graphic designers underestimate the risks in running a services firm.

“The simplest answer. Designers are trained to be agents. In almost every environment we act as agents in service to someone else. Even internal corporate design departments usually act as an agency whose services are rendered at the bequest of others” writes on Quora Dave Malouf, a professor of Interaction Design at the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, GA and a current co-founder of a startup.

That’s an interesting concept really. “…designers are more visionaries than they are executors”, writes James Sinclair, a Business Growth Consultant, “with all of the skills and talent and understanding they bring, without someone to place constraints, it will never ship.”

But that brings me back to square one: when invited to join a venture, an idea you really like, why are graphic designers so reluctant to join?

The Twists & Turns on a Startup’s Way

I thought I was ready to meet with two of my first choice investors and introduce them to my fresh startup, as a decision has been made to change the whole plan. Take two giant steps back and revise.

I’ve been working on my new venture for the past 4 months. Along the way I partnered with a CTO so I am not entirely alone, although I’m full time here and he is still employed elsewhere. The direction was clear and precise and we need this funding urgently, so my CTO can work full time, along several more team members. But when the time came to prepare for investors I did it. We did it. We started to question and doubt everything: I started to ask myself the toughest possible questions. I re-examined my model, crucified the creative ideas, criticized the result – that Game Design Document (GDD) we’ve been working on and decided I wasn’t pleased enough to take it up with investors just yet. It might have been good enough to get some production budgeting, but it’s not good enough to win an investment. Too many holes.

It often happens with startups. I know so many stories of a startup that started with one idea and diverted to another direction along the way. Reasons may vary. Although it has tremendously slowed us down, or rather sent us back, I am happy we have found this diversion now, rather than in another 10 months for example and after we has spent a lot of our investors’ money.

Not many people can afford twists and turns along the way. I really like the story of Paypal, which I got to hear from Max Levchin, one of the cofounders, at a GarageGeeks event in Holon some 3 years ago.

Fieldlink is the company which later became PayPal. It was founded by Levchin, an online security specialist, and Peter Thiel, a hedge fund manager at the time. The two met in 1998 when Levchin approached Thiel in New York for financial backing for a company that would develop a system for transferring money using such wireless devices as cell phones and palm pilots. Levchin and Thiel joined forces, obtained $3 million in backing from the Nokia Corporation, relocated to Silicon Valley, and opened Field Link, which produced encryption software for handhelds. Unfortunately, the idea did not win a lot of popularity. So the founders decided to go towards another direction, with another name, Confinity. In October 1999 it launched PayPal, a service by which money could be sent electronically by handheld devices. PayPal didn’t get much more than Field Link.

But the real twist happened a little later, when the two partners realized that there is not yet any means for electronic payment online, while ecommerce is booming around. A payment system tailored for the web, they realized, is something the market not only lacked, but needed urgently. And the rest is really history, as Confinity was acquired by X.com in March 2000 and the company that was created then, Paypal, was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in stock.

May more entrepreneurs do wisely and gain big.

The Pitch & The Name, The Chicken & The Egg

Last week I took a rare drive to the TechAviv Founders meetup at Herzliya IDC. Not a drive I take lightly, mind you. But a rare opportunity with the kids taken care of, my lift both ways arranged, and enough coffee to keep me alert at the hours which are correctly referred to as “twilight”.

It was a great opportunity to meet with the community of entrepreneurs and investors I am proud to be a part of. Was nice to meet old colleagues, some new ones and of course Yaron Samid, who first introduced this meetup as a guest in a meetup I organized some years ago (continues here ).

Dave McClure gave a great talk and conversation around pitching. It’s great to be able to practice your pitch in a sympathetic environment, and get a really useful feedback to help you improve.

I was surprised though at some of the pitches, not to mention company names I heard during the evening. It took me right back to my consultancy days, when most of my business was creating names and doing renaming projects for startups and helping them create their pitch and communications strategies.

Name Thy Baby

So let’s start with a name. Or – let’s not. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about naming companies and products is that too often people come up with a general idea for their startup and their second step is immediately to name it. As if this baby, if not named immediately, will never learn to walk. They take great pride of the name they have created, sometimes they sound prouder of the name then of the business.

But a better way to do it is to use a temporary name, working title, project code-name and delay the naming until you are sure of your markets, your business model, your marketing & communications strategy and the overall terminology your business is going to use. Not to mention languages. Lots of Israeli entrepreneurs assume English automatically – but that’s not necessarily your target audience or all of it. If you might be targeting more than English speaking markets, beware embarrassing mistakes like “Pajero” “Pinto” “Mist” etc.

It’s almost a chicken and an egg question, only people here are so certain the name comes first. It shouldn’t. Your pitch should.

The other thing I noticed about the recent names I heard was intentionally using misspelling or a mixture of words one simply can’t spell from hearing only. Be very careful about these inventions. You might be a tech genius but when it comes to naming, using an expert could be the wisest and most cost effective move you can do at this very early stage in your company’s life. 

But this is really just the tip of the iceberg. You can look at a sample process here or look for more great tips on Google.

Pitch At All Costs

It might be that 15 years as a journalist in print journalism made me very efficient with words, especially crafting headlines that can tell enough in a limited number of characters and leave enough mystery so the reader continues reading. But this is exactly what you should do when you are pitching your company to an investor, partner, employee or supplier. Don’t attempt to tell the whole story. One of the main things to remember of course is who your audience is.

Take the same news item and compare the headlines it gets on various media. The differences result from the audience a medium is directed at. The same goes for pitching. You should always prepare a set of pitches for potential audiences. Not totally different pitches obviously, but different ways of saying the same thing.

To make sure you are using the right pitch – prepare before you go to an event where you might meet Dave McClure, for example. There’s enough information online about him and what he is looking for. So if this guy is looking for companies with traction – and you have traction – then grab his attention with his declaration of interest. Not with the fantastic and original un-spellable name of your company, nor with the story of what it is you do – that does not belong in a pitch.

And just for the sports – if you want me to draft some sample pitches here for you – I dare you to send me a paragraph (up to 3 twits long -520 characters) – and I’ll do my best. First 5 to send me (comment on this blog post) –win.

Analysis of a Failure

Closing down. Shutting the doors. Dissolving. Folding. Gathering. Saying goodbye. Wrapping up. My startup of the last 2 years, Saveby, now belongs to the past, or to the future of someone else. All this silence on my blog recently is due to the fact that I find it is so hard to say the words, reveal the truth, admit a failure.

Although, some good may actually come out of this failure.

We gave it our best, my partner and I. We believed, and still do, in the power of the crowds in ecommerce. We still believe that buying is an action carried out by a consumer, and shouldn’t remain a re-action to a merchant’s action, as it still is today.

But what we believe in, or how fantastic is the system that we’ve built or the patent we designed, is irrelevant to our decision to quit.

Recently I had a conversation with one of the top entrepreneurs in Israel: an experienced, seasoned, diversified and daring man. He has closed his startup just a short while before we have decided to part from ours. It was a funny meeting, in a way. Me, mourning the loss of a few tens of thousands of dollars that my partner and I have poured out of our pockets into this startup, and him, counting a loss of several tens of millions of dollars put into his startup by a lot of good investors. I thanked god, at this stage, that I haven’t lost anyone else’s money.

But we spoke about the analysis of failure. Things look so much clearer when you look back on them. There are some mistakes you know you have learned from, and other mistakes you know you can’t always avoid. Still, next time, you’ll be more aware of the dangers.

It brought back a conversation with one particular VC who said how they prefer to invest in an entrepreneur who has experienced failure, as opposed to one that has only experienced success.  “Those who have failed will always analyze what they have done right and what went wrong. Those who have succeeded could be just lucky”.

So, we were not lucky. One mistake I feel that is particularly important to share is that we believed the further we advance without the involvement of strangers’ money, the better chances we have of getting any investment and a good valuation.

We should have known better. Get investments as early as possible, even if those are small and expensive –will cost you a large percentage of your startup. The further you go on your own the bigger is the risk that you will run out of funds before you reach your goal. Which is basically what happened to us.

The other very important thing we learned is that it is better to recruit active partners, who would be in it for the long run, then to hire freelancers who are in it – best case scenario – for some stock options. Depending on freelancers or outsourcing is really dangerous. Although, I recall, our search for a third cofounder took too long and was unsuccessful. Should we have waited longer? I don’t know.

But depending on outsources is that sort of mistake which is hard to avoid. At least I am now better aware of the danger in it and would manage it differently next time.

Yea, I’m right back on that horse.

Stay tuned.

Share a Little Happiness

A surprise trip to the US, to New York and San Francisco, has changed my plans for this summer. Between my daughter’s dream to go to the Roger Waters concert “The Wall”, her being invited to a Thiel Fellowship (20 Under 20) summit in San Francisco and my desire to meet more of my education related contacts worldwide, my husband has surprised me with a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, in the form of a flight ticket to the US with my daughter.

This was a different travel for me, as I didn’t have too long to schedule meetings, and I found myself having a relaxed time between just a few meetings. I even had time to play tourist in California for 3 days, experience Couchsurfing for the first time ever at the house of Hillary and Marcus in Santa Cruz and drive to Monterey and Carmel.

Since I am developing a new startup now, that has a lot to do with knowledge and curiosity, every little thing plays a part in creating an inspiration. A friend has suggested I look at Couchsurfing when I had trouble finding accommodation for our stay in the West Coast. He did not know how wonderful a suggestion I found it. My favorite kind of tourism is People Tourism. The kind of tourism that allows you to meet local people, talk with them, spend time with them, and learn about their places through their eyes. You learn about the problems and challenges, as well as advantages and “secret best”… And it’s always a great opportunity to make new friends.

Sharing Ideas & Inspiration
Sharing Ideas & Inspiration

Couchsurfing is a term used for people moving about from one friend’s couch to the other. The company, however, started as a tourist service in 1999. Wikipedia tells that The Couchsurfing project was conceived by Casey Fenton in 1999. “According to Fenton’s account, the idea arose after finding an inexpensive flight from Boston to Iceland. Fenton randomly e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay. He ultimately received more than 50 offers of accommodation. On the return flight to Boston, he began to develop the ideas that would underpin the Couchsurfing project.”

Obviously the immediate reaction I got from my closest loved ones was “they must be serial killers”. It made me wonder why would people perceive Couchsurfing hosts as more dangerous than, say, AIRBNB hosts? I think that the fact that people open their house to perfect strangers and on top of it do not ask for a financial compensation – that, apparently, is perceived as an act of a crazy person, there for leading to the perception there are social deviations on Couchsurfing.

Think again.

In a way, Couchsurfing isn’t that different from Wikipedia. People sharing knowledge – people sharing their roof. In fact, on so many of our daily surfing we share. We share our lives on Facebook. Our thoughts on Twitter. Our photos on Instagram. We share our travel plans and experiences and reviews. We share entertainment and games. We share shopping experiences. We share, reach out and touch strangers and, well, it feels good to extend the human touch.

Now back to work on my new venture. Sharing learning.

What’s Next?

This must have been the most confusing time of my life. A decision to move on is not an easy one. Friends, colleagues and relatives kept advising me to take a vacation. But for me, a vacation is something you go to from a workplace, and get back from, to a workplace. If it’s from nothing to nothing, then it’s probably not a vacation. And for me especially: I need to be constantly busy.

So I started by listing all possible future plans. All those ideas I’ve been shoving under the bed, hiding in the drawer. Every urge that was swept aside. I let my passions carry me to better places, called my imagination free and came up with at least one or two really good ideas every day, and probably some weird and not so great ideas too.

In the meantime my ever so clean and organized study became messy. Really messy. Tons of papers, notes, post its, receipts, notebooks, business cards from all over the world, pens and pencils, reading glasses, a broken netbook that needs backing up before sending it to be fixed. A long long list of things to do that keeps getting longer. On my desktop tens of incomplete blog posts, started just like this one, but never ripened to be presented in public. Another list that is not really getting shorter of people to call, schedule meetings, bring up to date.

I respond to event invitations, but rarely gather enough energy to go. What will I say? What shouldn’t I say?

I need time to heal, apparently.

Image from enterpriseirregulars.com
Image from enterpriseirregulars.com

Saying goodbye after almost 2 years isn’t simple.

It’s as complicated as finding the next focus at least.

Launch: The Entrepreneurship Challenge

“Entrepreneurship is like a religion for you, or a cult”, I was recently told. And since it is really a bit of my religion I wasn’t sure if this was meant as a complement or an insult. I decided it’s a complement and I am all for missionary activities.

One of my favorite missionary activities is The Global Entrepreneurship Week, referred to as GEW and titled “Unleashing Ideas”. The next one is happening in just less than 6 months, November 12, 2012.

I intend to be ready for it with my contribution titled “The Entrepreneurship Challenge for High Schools”.

The GEW was started in 2007, by 37 countries, of which only 18 were hosts to entrepreneurship activities. A year later about 3 million people took part in the GEW events at 77 countries. It’s been growing ever since. Activities are directed at promoting entrepreneurship and bringing it to all populations, including rural, remote and to those sectors which do not excel in daring like, embarrassed to say, women.

At about the same time the GEW has started, I began working on an idea to establish an elementary school for entrepreneurship. I started with thinking of our neighborhood school. The idea was not to replace the curriculum, which is not really possible, but rather to access the curriculum through the entrepreneurship way of life, this mode of thinking. Unfortunately the idea could not take off here, despite real enthusiasm by the city’s education department, due to frequent management changes at the school. In the years that have passed my youngest left this school in favor of our city’s Waldorf Education School. My older son is now graduating this elementary school, and will be going to the Thelma Yellin National Arts High School next year. And as my first born is now graduating high school I began looking at high schools as another good target for my missionary activities. And so the High Schools Entrepreneurship Challenge is born.

During the coming Global Entrepreneurship Week I will present diversified challenges that can only be solved using entrepreneurial thinking and doing to high school students. Those students will have to build teams to take on the challenge of their choice. Each challenge will have a mentor or advisor to guide the young entrepreneurial team through. They will have 3 months to work out their solution and by February 2013 will present their suggested solution, demo, and prototype or business plan.

Don’t you think it’s a better method to appreciate learning than PISA???

To make it happen, I need your help. I need people who are willing to join me and start by collecting problems, wishes, hopes, dreams and, well – challenges, from all sectors – private and public, government (local\national\global), health, arts, sports, hi tech, low tech, agriculture, environment and social, transportation, security, education, games and entertainment – in short – all sectors that can contribute ideas or challenges. Better collect those challenges with mentors, but I will need volunteer mentors as well. So if you are a developer, business men, investor, lecturer, researcher, activist – a person who is a doer – you can become a mentor.

I intend to introduce the challenges to participating high schools in November 2012. If you are connected to any high school, anywhere in the world, that wants to demonstrate its students’ abilities and achievements – make sure they are listed as a participating high school and that the school representative contacts me.

Students will be able to browse the challenges online and teams can apply to take on a challenge independent of their high schools too. But I much rather have schools and lots of students participating. The bigger the networking around it is – the better.

By February 2013 all suggested solutions will be presented (even if they’re half baked). Any team with a feasible solution is a winner. Well, as a religious fanatic I can say, every participant really is a winner.

I am still unsure about what to do after that. Some solutions might be interesting enough for the industry to choose to continue working on, in collaboration with the students. Some would be pursued by the student teams themselves. I am pretty sure I don’t want to announce “winners”. Though “outstanding” would probably be evident. The real world would know which solutions are winning. I would like, however, to announce winning schools – those will be chosen based on number of participants in the challenge and demonstrating original thought and application abilities.

What do you think? I’m open to suggestions.

The Linkerview: Booth babes? Really??

Primesense just came back from one of the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshows, the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas, and my friend, Iris Finkelstein-Sagi, the Director of marketing for the company posted a link to the following article, titled: “2012 CES Booth Babe Problem Highlights Women’s Perceived Role In Tech – Let’s Fix This”.

She is a real tech lady with a nice track record in the business. PrimeSense, of course, is the company that developed the technology behind the Kinect — yes, that high tech device that takes nice credit for the top sales of XBOX in 2011.

I also watched the linked BBC report and I need to ask: Booth babes, really?

Yes, we hired ’booth babes‘. It first came up within the need to hire people to demo the product. We didn’t consider them ‘booth babes’. We weren’t looking for models in bikinis to demo our new User Experience. We had a list of requirements and we looked for the right people to be presenters at our booth. One presenter had to play games which included jumping up and down and moving a lot – so obviously this had to be someone who could still look good when jumping up and down and young enough to be able to do it all day. We had a little controversy about what this person should wear and the discussion on this topic was almost surreal. I think we would have been as uncomfortable discussing it if we were hiring men, but we ended up hiring 2 women.

So why did you hire women? And what did they wear?

Well you hire women to meet the expectations of the market. The two girls we hired wore regular, nice clothes. Not ‘sexy wear’. But for us – it was easy. We had 4 more presenters in our booth, hired by our partners. 3 of them were a little more controversial. Our partner Bodymetrics lets you virtually try on clothes, in the comfort and privacy of your home, in front of your TV screen. Obviously for the technology to properly map your body you need to be minimally dressed. They now offer it to 3 types of female body shapes, so they hired 3 female models, one for each body shape, and dressed them in tight Yoga outfits. It wasn’t sleazy or anything. Another partner, Visikord, offers an interactive dance app, and they hired a dancer to demo the product, which was also a big hit.

So no sleazy or sexy outfits, how did it work for you?
We were surprised by how many people came to talk to the booth babes about the products, choosing them over the company representatives wearing formal company tags. Not to mention the sheer number of people standing around just gawking at them.
You know, we invested a lot of energy thinking about ways to attract people to the booth. CES is a large event and we had to compete for visitors’ attention. The Kinect is famous enough for people to look us up, but it turns out all you really need is a couple of models and you’ve got people crowding around you all the time. People walk for miles in such shows. There is so much to see. They stop where they see something nice, pretty, and attractive. Apparently that’s all you need, no special effects

How do you explain this phenomenon? After all this is supposed to be a professional tradeshow.
I find it really crazy. We should definitely do some scientific anthropological research on this to better understand what is happening to people when they see ‘booth babes’. We also have to ask where to draw the line. Some presenters really appeared in sleazy outfits. Not appropriate for a professional trade show at all”.

Excuse me for stating the obvious, but aren’t most visitors males?
In this show yes, probably 80 percent of the visitors are men. But I read a thought-provoking question in one of the articles relating to the booth babes: If we turn it around and take a show where most visitors are women and companies use male booth-babes, would it have the same effect? I wonder.

Did you ever consider hiring one female and one male to demo in your booth?
Actually it never came up. Bodymetrics, for instance, is currently only targeting women. And all the solicitations I get from marketing companies and models agencies offering their services for the show – all relate to women. The option to hire a man never came up. During the show we did a lot of social media efforts, and had a lot of Twitter and YouTube coverage. One tweet I remember specifically said “PrimeSense booth babes are the best”. That was the only thing he said.

Strange?
More like shallow”.

And we said that’s a professional show?
It’s gotten better over the years. It used to be worse. The whole ’trade-show models’ industry has declined over the past few years.

So your link said “let’s fix this”. Do you think we can?
What needs fixing is the presenters’ image of themselves, and the image of women in tech. If they think that the only reason for a woman to be at the CES show is if you’re a ‘babe’, this is disturbing and demeaning. I think in most cases we have reached a point where it is not so sleazy any more. Maybe the next thing would be to change the term we use. As for the industry – it is characterized by fewer females. Fewer women play games than men. When it comes to purchasing a flat screen TV, at best the man will probably look into the tech aspects and the woman may look into the design. But the majority of tech gadgets are male oriented.

I think the balance may actually change in the future. When I go to a high school I can’t say female students have fewer smart phones then male students.
Right. Personally I like gadgets as much as the next guy. I’m not as gadget-crazy as a lot of men I know, but I do like this industry. That’s why I have been in it for so long. Things do change over the years. Gadgets are getting friendlier and simpler, more natural and intuitive to use and less black and geeky. It is reflected in the design trends. We do think of how to fit our product in the living room and make it appeal more to women. Wii brought gaming into the living room, making it friendly and accessible for the entire family – it’s not just geeky kids and hard-core gamers anymore – its whole families, women, grandmothers etc. Microsoft took this one step further with the Kinect by really thinking about turning a gadget into something as natural and intuitive as possible – so EVERYONE can relate to it.

How was the self perception of your ‘booth babes’?
Well they earned a lot of respect from our team, for beating all the Fruit Ninja records. I think they were proud to be representing a company who attracted so much well-deserved attention at the show – for the product, not the external trappings.

The Age Of Hiring

Yesterday a job fair for the 60+ took place in Tel-Aviv. They say it’s a first. I read the story by Guy Grimland on The Marker (Hebrew) and all I could think of is how quickly we’re all getting there. To this age.

A year ago I founded a startup company with a partner who is 8 years younger than me. Recently we started to browse around for a technical partner to join our team. The oldest applicant we had was 52 years old. The youngest was in his late 20’s. Both had interesting résumés.  I can’t say it didn’t cross my mind that a 50 plus might be too old for a web startup but I quickly pushed this thought aside and decided the right thing to do would be to talk to both.

I was very impressed with the older applicant. Clearly his knowledge and experience have given him a lot of confidence, enough to be open to various ideas, tools and consideration. He has this authoritative tone needed if we want him to lead a tech department, yet seemed attentive and kind. It was the younger applicant, who despite a very impressive résumé, clearly a smart and talented young man, seemed simply cocky. Someone who wasn’t going to be a tremendous joy to work with.

It got me thinking again about the topic of age discrimination. Especially in high tech. VCs cannot tell me they are not influenced by the age (as well as appearance, and sometimes sex) of entrepreneurs presenting to them. There’s a very well known angel investor in Israel who would rather not talk to any entrepreneur who is over the age of 30 (especially if it’s a woman), and who is pretty proud of enjoying his version of “child labor”. His excuse is: young people (preferably before family-stage) are independent and can slave around the clock until they reach their declared goal. Older entrepreneurs might actually care about other things too.

But it’s the richer world that makes a smarter entrepreneur. True, you don’t need the richer version for every venture, but it can surely help. So looking at building a founding team I think there’s something smarter in diversifying not only sex, but also age.

School Year, Fall 2011

This September is very eventful. The ongoing social demonstrations and protests across the country continue. The school year opened. The Palestinians intend to declare their independent state. A game, from Israel, “Shaker” won Techcrunch Distrupt in San Francisco. Saveby has launched and running a successful alpha version. And by the end of the month we, that is myself, hubby and kids, are on our way to a first ever family vacation in the US.

There were so many topics to write about, I just kept starting and never got to finish any of my posts.

New School Year
My eldest daughter has started her last year of high school. All education revolutions we are talking about for the past 3-4 years will have no effect on her. I just hope some changes will happen before her future born kids will begin their own schooling.

My son started 8th grade, which is the last year of elementary school here; next year he is starting high school. This year he will choose a high school, and hopefully will be accepted into any program he chooses. Isn’t that what parenthood is all about? Opening as many options to our kids? This year is so crucial that we have jointly decided to give Ritalin a chance. A bit sad, in my view, that a child needs to be sedated in order to make it through a school year. But the effort to keep up without it has become a real burden. Grades are just too important this year.

My youngest joined a new school this year. For him we chose a Waldorf Education  school, fortunately not too far from home. He is still hanging to his skepticism about “any school ever fitting” his state of mind regarding education.

Shaking Disrupt
I was very excited at the winning of Shaker at the Techcrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Not only because it’s one more representation of the startup nation, coming from Israel, but because it is a game.

The gaming (not to be confused with gambling) industry is moving forward big time. From the launch of Maple Story, to the launch of Q2L, a public middle school in NYC dedicated to games and game development, and now the winning at Techcrunch of an entertainment feature. Not technical, not tool, not another commercial innovation – all those are great, and fantastic, and every new idea is exciting, but the winning of this game puts another crown on the head of this industry. “People want to have fun”, I told a colleague who was wondering about this choice. “And it’s time we acknowledge this need across the board. From the obvious social networking, to other aspects of life, like education systems (yes, that again) and you know what? even health systems. We Want Fun!!”.

Shaker holds a tremendous promise and great potential for many other industries, way beyond Facebook. I really hope I get to meet with these guys soon and share some thoughts with them. Congratulation Ofer Rundstein, Yonatan Maor and Gad Maor.

Saveby a Totally Different Way
Saveby is my own startup, on which I am slaving for the past year with my co-founder, Yoav Perry. After a lot of research and development we released our alpha version and sent out alpha codes to willing participants across the US.

Saveby is the self-service group-shopping platform where parents from across the web -who are interested in the same product, band together to get it at group discount. Merchants accept these group offers to get volume sales.

Saveby is NOT another daily coupon, local deal or private sales site. It is not a middleman, haggler or merchant. It is simply a platform where parents can form or join group offers for the things they want -and have quality merchants accept their offer. Saveby is free to use. Payments are processed securely with PayPal. We really aim to disrupt current ecommerce by finding a real way to restore the power of the masses, the shoppers, to their hands.

Merchants are only happy to participate: “it’s our turn to sit back and relax and get best deals offered into our inboxes”. So this can really be the breakthrough ecommerce needs now. If you want an alpha invite too – let me know.

Launching the alpha isn’t a simple task. And it is especially complicated when half of the company isn’t located where the market it. But that’s how things are at the moment, while we’re still bootstrapping.

The idea about an “alpha” stage is that it isn’t perfect. Our alpha testers are people who have agreed to help us make the suit fit better. They take the time to share their feedback with us, make suggestions, try it and of course – tell others about it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank some alpha participants for taking the time to go over the system with us: Josh Becker @DadStreet, Jim Turner @genuine, Amit Knaani @amitos from Vikido and BabyFirstTV, Aparna Vashisht-Rota @parentella and many more. I hope to meet face to face with some of my favorite parent bloggers during my visit to the US (starting next week) and introduce the system to more alpha testers. Next stage will take us to a full commercial testing.

A First Ever US Family Vacation
Vacation? Now?? Indeed this sounds strange. Who has the time to take a vacation during an startup launch?? Well, apparently we do. Even startup founders need to take some time to breathe and relax and renew. My kids and hubby deserve some quality mom time. Of course this cost mom a lot of hours in planning, reserving, ordering, arranging (getting a house sitter…)… And did I mention I intend to use some NY time to meet with my favorite business and blogging connections face to face? Let me know if you want in my schedule, between a sea of museums my kids (yes, it is them) insist on visiting. Oh, and recommendations are welcome.

Reply: Why Index believes Israel is about to have its moment

I read the GIGAOM article titled “Why Index believes Israel is about to have its moment” by Bobbie Johnson yesterday and started to write my comment, when I realized it’s pretty long and should be posted on my own site too. So…

It’s true. Israel is about to have its moment.
It does not have a deep culture of UI and design and is traditionally technology lead. So much so, that if you are not offering a big tech invention (preferably the scope of the wheel…) people hardly perceive you as an entrepreneur, and would be skeptical about investing. Well, at least that was the case until recently.
Almost a decade too late concepts and web ventures have started to gain some acknowledgement, but as mentioned in the GIGAOM article, web entrepreneurs have had to move to the US to build their company.
Sad and a bit strange too, considering the development in communications and access. One of the things Saul Klein of Index Ventures said at a recent conference in Tel Aviv is that entrepreneurs don’t have to think relocation so quickly, and if they do, then a midway – like the UK – can sometimes be better than all the way to the US, especially if you intend to go global, beyond the US market. He also mentioned a CEO who traveled to the US once a month, if I remember correctly, and people in the US west coast he met with regularly were not even aware of the fact that he wasn’t based in the US.
What??? Really?
Yes. After all there are phones, email, Skype…
Still, there are challenges in running an international web venture from our small country, 7-hour time-zones apart from the east coast. I know. I am facing those challenges daily, though thankfully I have a NY based partner. That does not prevent the question from popping at every meeting “so, are you planning to relocate?”.

But Israel is about to have its moment, I say. It is. People won’t have to relocate to run their businesses. Companies will always need local marketing people at every market they’re penetrating, but there is no real excuse for managements to relocate into those markets.

As for the question “Can a home market of just 7 million people ever be big enough to support multinational internet businesses? Is Israel, which exists in its own political and geographical bubble, able to play host to all this?” – Israel can play host but not because of its 7 million people market, nor location, obviously. It’s the state of mind that provides the nurturing environment entrepreneurs need to grow a multinational internet business. It’s the spirit that has always existed here, and is now gradually shaking off the 7-million-people & geographical-constraints thanks to open and thick worldwide communications and social media.

A couple of years ago I attempted to establish an elementary school for entrepreneurship in Israel. I believe in entrepreneurship as a state of mind. I believe that directing kids at thinking entrepreneurship can prevent violence and bullying and promote creativity, learning and happiness, as in being self content. Looking around me there are so many broken systems, in Israel, in its neighboring countries and around the world. Only entrepreneurs can really make a difference, create the change. Being an entrepreneur you take responsibility over your own destiny, you give birth to ideas and do what it takes to execute them. You learn to collaborate and appreciate others, and the diversity around you. I promise you I am not taking it too far when I say that I believe entrepreneurship can bring peace. And so, yep, Israel is about to have its moment.

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