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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Entrepreneurship

An Education Being

Wow. It’s been a very long time since I last posted. Muses were too busy learning new things. If you’d ask me what is the most important factor in any place I am committed to, as a work place or any venture I am assisting – it’s definitely being able to learn. Facing the new horizons challenges.

For the past several months I have assumed the role of an educator, working with The Institute for Democratic Education (IDE) in several Tel Aviv high school on innovative education, specifically introducing PBL – project based learning. Apparently sharing my knowledge is yet another passion I have always had. Only it took various forms across a diversified career.

Now it’s time for the entrepreneurial bug to kick in again. Taking a long and hard look at several education systems I realize that one of the things they have in common is grades. And tests. And final exams, under various names and titles. The other things they share is a diversity of students. This usually includes a group of self motivated curious  and self learnering students who are being slowed down, almost suffocated, when forced into this frame of grades and tests.dumbdown

I believe a school can accommodate the self learning students, in a way that will allow them to acquire education in a social environment of their peers, but without the limits, constraints and waste of time required by tests and grades.

One of the main things this school should present is the connection to the real world, community, both business and academic, and allow the students to try many directions at this fantastic age of high school, well before they’re into a selected degree or career. This obviously has to include free access to universities and their willing participation.

I am still exploring various models that already exist around the world and will be happy to learn about more innovative school models. Let me know about them.

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Startup Nation – Playing it Safe??

Had a very sad conversation yesterday with some people who are in the high tech and investments industries. I expressed my disappointment at the lack of technical-able people who want to join a startup. The reply was “apparently all startups that are meant to happen are to be started by technical founders”. And then “startups should always be about technology”.

This is a way reflects the traditional perception of VC investments in Israel.

As someone who comes from the marketing and business into the high tech world, and who has consulted quite a few technical founders of startups about their marketing and business strategies, I find this a sad conclusion.

A good startup team should have a great balance between the technical and marketing perceptions. A good startup idea will often come out of a great understanding of a market, its needs or problems and the way to reach back with a solution. Right there, in between understanding the problem and supplying the market with a solution – right there comes the technical answer to the problem.

I am not saying it’s impossible for technical people to see or understand the market. As it is not unthinkable that a marketing person will learn how to code or come up with a technical idea without any technical background. What I am saying is that each is best at their own specialty, and I don’t believe that “I’m best at everything” is a real thing. This is where ego replaces clear reasonable thinking. These are the replaceable CEOs.

What can be done to attract more technology people, software engineers and computer science graduates to entrepreneurship? It’s a big question. It seems like of all place, here in the Startup Nation, the concept is that programmers can get a great paying job so easily – that there’s no incentive in the world that would convince them to jump on some brand new startup wagon. Why take a risk when you can easily just enjoy life?

My guess is the economic situation in Israel today contributes to this state of mind. But then I am thinking about my parents. Both clearly with entrepreneurial traits. Only when they started their career it was all about job security. Not about hope or big plans or daring. I would think that as a country we’ve grown up and proved that taking those risks is often worth it. Didn’t we?

But above all, is it at all possible to convey to non-entrepreneurs that superb feeling you get when you are creating your own thing?? When you are making a dream come true? When creating a dent in the world we live in?

Now, if you still prefer to go back to safety, and never think you’re an entrepreneur, I urge you to dedicate a few minutes to watching this fantastic TEDx talk by a fellow entrepreneur, Cameron Herold, about raising kids to be entrepreneurs. Spoiler and disclosure: I never got an allowance.

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 do you want to do when you grow up?

And how can I, your mother, help you achieve it?
I’ve been toying with this discussion for the past couple of weeks, after being approached by one of the TV networks, who’re doing a series of reports on the topic. Tying education to it all brought them to my doorstep.

So I asked my kids this very important question. The 16 year old said “I want to eat”. A very typical answer from a 16 year old, who just wants to… well, eat. The 12 year old said “I haven’t got a clue”. The 19 year old said what she has always said “I want to be a physicist” which in her case means a lot more than a single occupation.

So what’s my role in their future? To open as many options as possible before them.
2008Feb-whales-sharks
Going a little deeper into the conversation, the 12 year old admitted he wants to save whales and other endangered species. Something he has been talking about since he was 4 years old. The 16 year old expanded to “I want to be happy” and then said that currently the 3 most important and enjoyable areas in his life are music, games and food and “I’d like to develop some concept venture to put all those together into the best hanging out place in the world”. And my oldest, in between tests and studies she’s developing at least 2 startup ideas, following the previous venture, Globalvert, an organization to push forward the study of Algae as an alternative energy source.

What we all have in common is entrepreneurship. The urge to solve, innovate, create.

Several months ago I met with a wonderful entrepreneur and a business man. After sharing his rather apocalyptic view about the deterioration in entrepreneurship and number of entrepreneurs he shared a plan he has of adding a set of topics to pre-school classes, to train the minds of the 3-4-5 year old and develop them into our future entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship is at the very basis of sustaining the human race, with the ongoing depletion of resources on earth”, he explained, “We are dependent on those who will become entrepreneurs in 30 years and their breakthrough ventures”.

I strongly believe in entrepreneurship and the need in entrepreneurs. But while he’d start with external enrichment classes, I would much rather work with the teachers and educators first. With the correct state of mind and a basic set of tools they can achieve much more than any fantastic “thought shaping” “mind developing” external content that hosts an hour a week.

This state of mind is the one I’m struggling for at home. Trying to keep doors open, or at least within reach. Keeping the creative vibe going. Being attentive to my kids’ interests and passions, putting those well ahead of any concepts of “should and shouldn’t”, but not striking off rules. And, not ignoring society’s high road called “schooling” although sometimes I wish I could.

By now I have a 19 year old student at a university, a 16 year old in high school and a 12 year old in elementary school. I’m counting 28 years in the schooling system as a mother. I must admit that even though all three of my kids enjoy what constitutes the best to elite schooling in Israel, I’m generally dissatisfied with the education system. It’s the same disappointing system worldwide but it doesn’t make me happier. As a parent I am doing my best to offer the widest possibilities to my kids. However, the schooling system limits them.

What’s happening to my brilliant girl at the Nobel Prize winners’ academic institute reminds me of what happened to my wide eyed youngest in first grade. From the shining smile, sheer excitement and hopeful dreams of knowledge and exploration down to a thin reality of memorization and teachers’ mind-reading. She might be better equipped today to deal with it, looking at it as just a phase to go through, it still feels like a system putting you down.

And so does the whole testing system I’m going through, for the second time as a parent, with my high schooler. “Teaching? I wish I could teach”, one of his gifted teachers told me, a fantastic creative and beloved teacher, “I’m not teaching, I’m prepping for exams”.

So back to “what are we doing to help our kids prepare for a vague future we have no way of predicting?”. One thing is for sure, 3 years wasted on test preparations hardly contribute to it. Education must develop a stronger affinity to the entrepreneurship state of mind if we want it to contribute to our future. To be blunt, for a period in history lead by the workmen, the manufacturing line approach to education was fine. For an era lead by entrepreneurs – education needs to be recreated as something else, something different, some fertile ground for budding entrepreneurs.

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.

Teachers: Innovate or Vegetate? (Or: Why teachers hold the key to society’s innovation)

On the road to innovation, success, evolution and generally doing good we have to go through the education systems. Where ever we are. Tomorrow’s innovators are being educated today. While Peter Thiel with his 20-under-20 Thiel Fellowship is doing a rescue operation to fish entrepreneurs out of the higher education system before is squashes their dreams and plans under frames and debts, I’m thinking that the only operation we can have for the younger students is recognizing that teachers today hold the key to innovation. I need to create a clear separation between innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s a factor of bravery, risk taking and daring in entrepreneurship that is not always present with pure innovation. Teachers can and must innovate all the time. They don’t have to assume the role of entrepreneurs. But it’s “innovate or vegetate” for them. Going out with my dear friend Miri to a bar the other night, we spoke about career choices. Miri loves being a teacher. It’s the only thing she has ever done and she’s one of the more innovative teachers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Without innovation – how could she survive around 3 decades of teaching science to middle school students? Day in day out, year in year out, same curriculum approximately. But she’s a master in improvising. She knows how to read each unique group of students, as well as specific students, and how to raise the curiosity and tease their own inquisitive minds into the same thing she’s teaching. They keep surprising her, and she keeps surprising them. Yet, teachers’ professional development is extremely weak in Israel. To encourage it the government with the teachers unions created a framework that recognizes specific programs or institutions as an official supplier of professional development. Going through any of those a teacher is then compensated financially for the investment. This framework created a terrible situation in which most teachers limit their quest to develop professionally to only these programs or institutions that will “pay off”. There goes innovation. An enthusiastic participant at Twitter’s #edchat I’m learning so much about education and educators around the world. It’s a sheer joy even if I am just a listener and not participating. I am not a teacher, and nobody pays me to learn education. But all of the participants, who are teachers and educator by trade don’t spend that 1 hour (sometimes 2 hours) per week in a multi-national conversation about education because they are paid to do so. They do it because they are passionate about what they do and they want to innovate and grow. They don’t want to get tired and worn, they want to keep the enthusiasm going on in their lives and careers.

teacherscollage
Why I think teachers hold the key to society’s innovation

Here’s innovation for you. These teachers are in fact cultivating tomorrow great entrepreneurs. When their students will grow up, I hope they can appreciate it. Because we hear so much about the successful entrepreneurs and their grand startups, but we rarely hear about those who showed then the way.

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.

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.

Creativity and Giftedness Year, and an Entrepreneurship Challenge

It’s the International Week of the Gifted this week, and we’re heading towards The International Year of Giftedness and Creativity. I like the tying together of giftedness and creativity. The government tests used in Israel to test kids for the special program for the gifted do not have room for creativity. They are mainly concerned with how high is the kid’s level is in math and reading comprehension. Creative giftedness has no room in those programs, and that’s a shame. Especially when you consider our country being titled a “startup nation”. 

As a team member of The Global Entrepreneurship Week I’m trying to tie giftedness and entrepreneurship together in a new volunteer project: The Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. I intend to launch it in November 2012, during the Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012.

It’s a simple idea really: collect challenges, problems, dilemmas, wishes, hopes, dreams – from business people, investors, government institutions, social and environmental organizations – and from the kids themselves.

Problems can range from the millennium goals as defined by the UN, to simple challenges like creating a new mobile game that does this or that, to wild crazy ideas like develop a floating school bag that isn’t so heavy.

I’ve seen young kids discuss the budget crisis in hospitals and alternative ways of solving this. I am pretty sure what they can come up with isn’t the same as what the experienced consultants suggest. I’ve seen other challenges like better design for schools, entertainments solutions in poor neighborhoods, scientific education in kindergarten, and musical education for the elderly. All are fantastic challenges and I can’t wait to see what kids will do to solve them and how many more gifted and creative kids we will discover in the process. No tests involved.

A call for challenges: at this stage, and until November, I am collecting ideas and also registering schools who want allow their students to participate. Please help by adding your challenge in your area of interest, from your own experience or frustration, either as a comment here or as a post it here: http://wallwisher.com/wall/echallenge and don’t forget to pass it along to your friends, colleagues and neighbors.

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.

What Will You Do After High School?

This question is bound to get different answers from people in different locations. In America kids will probably discuss the college they’re going to. In Israel, where we live, most kids will discuss the obligatory military service they are going to spend the next 2-4 years in, depending on the program or job they will be chosen for. College decisions arrive at a later stage for the Israel young people, normally into their 20’s. Well after the teen years are over.

In both cases society determines the route. Only for Israeli kids there really is no choice. It’s the law. In some cases kids are sent by the army to acquire academic education, and repay by a longer military service – served at a more professional job. Still, becoming an entrepreneur immediately after high school is a sweet dream.

Israel is often called “The Silicon Wadi”, referring to the Silicon Valley of course. I admit that after visiting the valley last month it seems like a pretty pretentious title to me. But statistically, after the Silicon Valley, Israel holds the highest rate of hi tech startups per capita and visitors get terribly enthusiastic about entrepreneurship in Israel. The spirit of innovation seems to be found everywhere. You go to any networking event and the adrenaline sky rockets.

Israel excels in startups, innovations and life changing inventions. ICQ and the IM technology must be one of the best known worldwide ventures. But there are so many other inventions, used worldwide daily – all developed by Israelis in Israel and I am not sure people are aware of their Israeli background. Intel’s Pentium chips, the cellular phones technology, Firewall, phone camera chip, voice mail, drip irrigation systems for agriculture, electric cars, solar power panels, Tzunami detectors, Given Imagine swallow pills for disease diagnosis, Baby Sense monitors for sudden infant death prevention, medical and aesthetic applications of lazer technology, the Copaxon – the drug that’s used to fight multiple sclerosis, from cardiac stents and eye stents all the way to seamless garments, and back to technology.

What’s going on in this country? Israel seems to have produced more scientists and techies per capita than any other country in the world. Same goes for Nobel prize winners. As Meir Brand, Google Israel CEO is saying here: “The foundation of Israel itself could be seen as an entrepreneurship project. The pioneers who came to build Israel from scratch they were real entrepreneurs”.

This foundation, along with that weird detour that takes kids from high schools and turns them into soldiers before releasing them into colleges and universities, probably plays a part in the end result for our tiny 7 million people country.

Still, having said that, times are changing. Being a mother now, just about to send my first born to the army, I would much rather that she be allowed to develop her world changing entrepreneurship venture right now. Who knows where her head will be in 2 or 3 years?

So I’ve started to develop a new plan: I am calling to start an entrepreneurship unit within the IDF. That military service has gone way past an army or fighters. I was a journalist in the army. My friend was a singer and entertainer. Another friend’s son is a trumpet player soldier. My cousin was a teacher during her military service and helped kids from poor areas get their high school diplomas. There are hiking guides soldiers who guide school field trips. The military service is about servicing the community you live in, more than actually fighting in combat (god forbid). So for this country I suggest a new unit. Let kid entrepreneurs develop their startups during their military service and optimize the contribution they make.

The idea popped in my head following the visit with the Thiel Fellowship – 20 Under 20 – in San Francisco last month. While Thiel wants to take kids in their teens and let them develop their entrepreneurial ventures in the Silicon Valley before they become college slaves, I think there are plenty of amazing resources here to take such kids, who are going to serve their community and let them develop any world changing or community affecting venture within their military service right here, in the Silicon Wadi. I believe mentors will be standing in line to donate their time to such a program. Not to mention what this can do to all communities throughout the country.

I challenge all politicians and wanna be politicians to make it happen and call on the high tech entrepreneurial community to join hands in making this vision a reality.

Why Don’t You Stop Out of College?

Several months ago I came across “UnCollge.org”. “UnCollege isn’t just an idea or a website. It’s a movement. It’s a lifestyle. We believe that college isn’t the only path to success.
UnCollege is a social movement changing the notion that going to college is the only path to success. We empower students to hack their education through resources, writing, and workshops. We believe that everyone can live an UnCollege life by hacking their education.“

As someone who is into the education revolution for several years now, I found this concept a real refresher. Once a high school diploma, now a college degree, it seems like modern society is creating these gates, or hurdles on the route to success. No matter how criticized are education systems and the ancient methods they deploy or how outdated they are, and how they frame the minds of the young and get kids into years of debts – all this does not matter. In today’s modern society education is still considered the one and only possible path to success.

Dale Stephens, at 19, established the UnCollege movement and has even wrote a book about it (to be published with Penguin next year), hoping to change this paradigm. Not an easy task if you look at any recruitment ads.

On his twitter page Stephens presents himself as a “20 year old Thiel Fellow”. That got me to learn about the “Thiel Fellowhip”, a program also known as the “20 under 20”.

This program and the UnCollege really convey a similar message. There are other ways to achieve and reach, other than college that is. Obviously having a Thiel Fellowship is a grand help.

The Thiel Fellowship was started by the billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel and his team at the Thiel Foundation – people like Jonathan Cain and James O’Neill.  They discussed the whole college debt situation during a flight somewhere, and how it prevents young entrepreneurs from pursuing their real life ambitions and ideals and decided to change that. The Thiel Foundation is to sponsor 20 entrepreneurs under the age of 20 each year, as long as they dedicate themselves to their venture for 2 years and not go to college during this time. In 2011 the first batch of fellows were chosen: 24 entrepreneurs in 20 ventures. Most if not all decided to “stop out” of college for this fantastic opportunity.

The real opportunity offered here is the Thiel foundation connections and mentorship network. Not that that 50K per year is underestimated. However this network of connections is mostly concentrated around the San Francisco Bay area, meaning these young people have to move to San Francisco and learn how to manage their independent lives by themselves. Often very far from their family and friends. Learning to cook or do their own laundry for the first time.

The 2nd batch of Thiel Fellows, the 2012 fellows, will probably be announced next week. We were fortunate enough to meet the current fellows, future fellows and the program’s mentors at the programs finalists’ events in April. The event won some coverage on PandoDaily by Sarah Lacy under the title “Is the Future of Tech in the Hands of the Extremely Young?“.  Thiel Fellowship is focusing on world changing entrepreneurs, though. Not necessarily tech. Research is another field Peter Thiel is into, but his “Breakout Labs” is a separate story. This focus on entrepreneurs is really important to better understand what it is all about and to question the UnCollege concept a little bit too. Entrepreneurs posses the qualities needed to get relevant knowledge and to do –  carry out a plan. But not every occupation can rely on an independent learning curriculum. Nor is this model applicable to every learner. Not to mention the employers.

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