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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Startup life: It’s a family effort

One month into the summer vacation and the kids are pretty busy. They keep themselves occupied, they don’t get bored, and they seem to be really happy with their freedom. I get to see them during meal times mostly. They don’t complain, yet I can’t escape the guilty feeling that’s creeping on me: What a terrible mom, not dedicating quality time to my kids during their summer vacation.

At the height of it, when I finally decided to take an hour off emailing and social networking to play a board game with my 9 year old son, he accepted me with a hug. Enhancing that guilty feeling.

But they know, and I even heard them explain it to their friends, that their mom is working, working really hard, working a lot. Sure, mom is at home, but mom is in her study, and shouldn’t be disturbed.

So it’s not only me paying the high price of a startup set up. Not that I ever believed it was only me. I can safely say that I am lucky my family accepts my crazy work hours and supports the startup effort.

The Mad Hatting Pioneer

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Success? What is it?


Amidst all the attention and hard work I almost forgot to be excited about the launch of my very own startup. I didn’t dwell on what it means, or what it might bring, on terms such as success and failure. Until yesterday, when I received a very surprising phone call.

A TV researcher was on the line. She told me of a TV series they are just beginning to produce, that will attempt to explore the question of success, what is it and how to achieve it.

How or why did she land on my phone line I have no idea. She mentioned being referred to me, but wasn’t quite sure if she should be talking to me as a representative of the successful female, or about motherhood, or education, or entrepreneurship.

Am I successful? I asked myself. Is there really an absolute “successful” definition?

I think people are rarely an absolute success. They could be more successful here and less successful there. When we talk about successful people we usually add another description – like, a successful business man, a successful artist, a successful student.

To make it even more confusing the TV researcher mentioned that the “Success” series is produced following a previous production of a series discussing “Happiness”.

Success and happiness are entangled and interdependent, yet in the western society we often let financial criteria interfere.

So I asked my kids what is success? My daughter said success is achieving things you want, goal by goal. My son said success is when you achieve happiness. The little one just said I hope I will succeed in saving wildlife.

I guess it’s all of those, really. Each goal I achieve makes me feel successful and happy. Each achievement makes me hungry for the next goal. Happiness can be a goal in itself, with different ways to achieve it.

And success in school? Well that’s a whole separate discussion.

Why am I “doing a startup”?

The past two weeks have been the busiest I’ve experienced. Well, no wonder: I’m launching a startup. Hadn’t expected it to be any different.
And as I am doing my work, including among other things constant research and networking I ran across Dave McClure’s blog post titled “Why NOT to do a Startup — becuz yer Gonna FAIL. (spend more time with your kids)“.
It’s got McClure’s presentation on the topic from the Seattle Startup Day. I watched it twice, and tested myself on the question of to do or not to do, or: why am I really doing it?
Here’s the presentation:

so why am I “doing” a startup (and planning the next one, or two)?
1- My correct reasons:
Because I am pissed whenever I approach online shopping
Because I have to solve some problems there
and yes, some fear is fueling my drive for this startup (and a lot of fear regarding the next one)
2- The unreasonable:
I live in a nice apartment, raise 3 happy kids and a hubby, and am a trained, professional, multi tasker: I have to be, because I always look beyond and watch for the wider contexts.
3- I’ve re-written the business plan so many times, to a point where I’d let the product and the customers interact with the business plan to make it true and dynamic as a good business plan should be.
4- My idea is GREAT! But I haven’t settled for my own view about it. I tested it on a wide variety of contacts, some less closer then others. Most comments are “Are you sure this wheel hasn’t been invented yet?” and “Let me in!”.
5- The idea was born as an awesome solution for the shoppers. But I was constantly aware of the fact, that if sellers interests aren’t met there will be no value in this solution. As I recruited my co-founder, a seller among other things, I’ve discovered this in fact solves a real problem for sellers too.
6- Leader or a looser? I must be some sort of a leader, if so many people recognize me in events or venues and contact me to help them solve their problems or answer their questions. I’m always happy to help, open to discuss anything and eager to learn from everyone.
7- My pitch is short and to the point. I don’t need a presentation (though our video clip is really cool!). I hope I’ll raise money to get out of bootstrapping and to -…
8-Recruit a full team!
Between us, the two co-founders we’re a tech, brand and GUI expert, and an international marketing, communications, social networking and biz dev. But to make it work we’ll need a full team of experts, each a master of his or her area.
9- Hopefully we will be able to establish a company based on care and generosity. It’s all about the people. First and foremost. People make the company, and not vice versa.
10- Can I sell or market? Marketing and communications strategies are my forte. Yet, even within marketing, you need the help of experts. No one can be an expert in everything. Recognizing this, and not trying to be a “know it all” is one of the keys to a successful startup. At least from my experience.
11- Oh YES! I want to change the world. Step by Step. Some steps will make more noise then the others. I fear this is only my beginning, because once you’ve liberated the startup bug, ideas will keep flowing.

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