Archive for Enterprise from Israel

Startups Need Stories

by on June 12, 2009 at 6:38 pm

The final panel at The Israel Conference crowded themselves onto the stage, three judges and five digital entertainment start-ups in a simulated Hollywood pitch meeting.

Photo of last panel

The most valuable lesson was the insight into how ideas are sold in the entertainment industry.  Apparently, the people who write the checks have attention spans that make Twitter seem like Tolstoy.   Or perhaps it’s just that in Hollywood pitching stories is the norm, so people need a narrative.

Like the rest of us, really.  When the judges looked bored their expressions were matched by the members of the audience.  One of the threads woven through the day’s panels was that we need to tell good stories.   The themes of Israeli character were brought up again and again, usually in the context of a story.  The conference included a surprise visit (and story) from Lou Lenart, one of the heroes of Israel’s war of independence.

Perhaps the most illustrative example on the panel was when Yosi Glick pitched Jinni, a movie search engine that helps you choose films based on search terms that have meaning and texture rather than flat keywords with no emotional content. Think – “I’m in the mood for…” instead of “Where are your action movies?”

Here’s how Glick, the company’s president, started: “I don’t know what movies my wife likes and I’ve been married to her for 24 years.  Plus I have no idea what her mood is.  So I have a challenge, because I want to save my marriage.”   His business idea was going to be the cavalry in his life’s own romantic comedy, and we were ready to buy tickets.

Shortly after he went to the slide presentation we started to get lost.  Most demos can’t avoid the PowerPointed details, but it all should feed the story – one of the judges, David Wertenheimer of USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, even suggested that he have some slides at the front and back of the presentation, at first fighting over a movie choice and at the end watching happily into the sunset. 

The other presentations are in streaming video available at the conference link above.  It’s worth a look, both for the content of the pitches and for the process itself.

Cathy’s Traveling Geeks wrap-up

by on May 21, 2008 at 12:00 pm

With the mental maelstrom sorted, I’m clear of mind enough to hammer out some final thoughts from my Kinnernet/Traveling Geeks 2008 adventure in Israel.

In the spirit of brevity (and clarity), I’m opting to embrace my not-so-inner-Virgo moon and clear out these last items in short order.

So fasten your seat belt, and perhaps keep a crash helmet nearby, as I whip through a series of powerful and impactful events:

Rogozin School
There is, at some point, a far more in-depth commentary from me about this visit. For now, however, I’ll defer to the words of my fellow TG, Robert Scoble because his truly touching post paints a lovely picture of our visit.

Peres Center for Peace
In December 2006, I had the pleasure of hearing Shimon Peres speak at LeWeb. He said that while governments might posture and make noise about peace, the truth is that it was up to the private sector to establish the infrastructure necessary to maintain and grow a peaceful society. That is what the Peres Center for Peace endeavors to do – bridge chasms between disparate groups by bringing the sides together to tackle common issues (education, agriculture, children).

Good Vision
Sadly I missed most of this presentation. As was the case with pretty much our entire week, we were running late. Based on an earlier version of our schedule, which showed Thursday afernoon open, I had arranged a series of meetings with entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv.

My TG colleagues who took part in these meetings each offered glowing reviews. But rather than try and paraphrase, I’ll point you to Renee Blodgett’s accounting of the visit.

Israeli Entrepreneurship – the Ladies’ Way
This trip to Israel brought with it several opportunities to meet a few of the powerful women rising in the ranks of this innovative community. Susan Mernit wrote a great post that captures the essence of how the woman who populate this incredibly aggressive and rapidly moving technology market manage to blaze trails while remaining utterly committed to forward movement of technology and in supporting other women in the market.

My last meeting finished up at about 7:00pm. The Traveling Geeks were to have one last dinner together, but unfortunately some pressing deadlines back in the States required that I work through dinner (since I’d spend the entire next day on the plane).

I sent the last email, got my bags pretty much packed, and that’s when I made a decision that, while perhaps not the most intelligent choice I’ve ever made, certainly was fun.

Our flight was to depart at about 8am. That meant getting to the airport by 6am. Which meant leaving the hotel around 5:15am.

“No problem,” I thought to myself. “I just won’t go to sleep.”

Oy.

While the tales of the evening are amusing, I have to think about whether or not they’re appropriate to share … (and of course if I have to think about it, that probably means the answer is that I shouldn’t).

But in any case … with the trip now in the rearview mirror and many adventures on the horizon, I conclude this last Traveling Geeks Israel 2008 post… and look forward to the future and more TG adventures!

Poor Valley Girl!

by on May 15, 2008 at 12:00 pm

In a busy day for tech news– with CNET getting bought, Carl Ichan is causing more troubles for Yahoo, and OF COURSE my book coming out officially– I hope someone will check out my latest Valley Girl column on BusinessWeek about Israel’s startup scene. As you know, if you read this blog, I spent a week in Israel in April and was a frustrating and enlightening experience. Sounds contradictory? Than it was an Israeli experience.

This was an incredibly hard column to write, because Israel is such a complex and contradictory place. At the heart of the column are a few questions for the tiny but very entrepreneurial country, which I think is at a bit of a crossroads: Will Israel always be Silicon Valley’s farm team or emerge as a tech hub independent of the Valley? Should it aspire to that? Can Israeli entrepreneurs make great Web entrepreneurs?

Take a look! Give my column some love!

Valley-Ho!

by on May 4, 2008 at 12:00 pm

If there’s one theme that I’ve thought about, talked about and written about the most over my career covering tech and finance it’s the debate of whether you need to relocate to Silicon Valley to be successful. In my case, there’s no doubt I’ve had a better career just by covering business in the Valley, so it’s hard for me to believe anyone who wants to profit from the startup ecosystem wouldn’t be more successful here. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of weak treatises that say Valley isn’t all that great, ultimately coming off either bitter or just naive, but here is a pretty nice piece arguing against Valley relocation. Although, I’m still not convinced.

The strongest point the writer makes is about the damaging affects of the temptation to bulk up on venture capital and not figure out a real business. There is a certain “Valley game” you can get sucked into that can cloud good judgment. Although, I think tying that to Web 2.0 is a bit misleading since the hottest Web 2.0 companies all bootstrapped themselves or lived on angel funding for most of their early days. And besides, really, isn’t knowing when to take money just a test of a good entrepreneur? Hell, I’ve been offered money to start a company before. It’s not access to cash that defines your worth, it’s the discipline to know if that’s the right thing for you and your business.

Per the point about it being harder to retain great people in the Valley, that argument can go both ways. Pro argument for the Valley: the Valley has more talent than anywhere else and they all know the costs and risks of being at a startup. Con: the best people always want to flock to the next hot startup. Personally, I think the latter is overstated. There are certain momentum seekers who will flock to the next pre-IPO name, but those are the people most entrepreneurs don’t want working for them, so actually that phenomenon can be a nice filter. After all smart people work at Mozilla, a company that has said it will never go public. Also, if startups are worried a hotter name will steal their coders, doesn’t that put a healthy pressure on startups to be the best they can. I just generally think competition is good for business. I guess it comes down to what you want: a nice business that might get acquired or to really build something big and lasting. If it’s the latter and you can’t make it in the Valley, are you really good enough to be a billion dollar company?

For good measure, here is a nice piece Evan Williams wrote about it earlier this year. As you’ll see he’s mixed too, but I think his story underscores the more practical point: There’s an undeniable correlation with being in the Valley and success, so if it’s easier why wouldn’t you just move? Evan also points out the social advantages of living in a place where there’s so much creativity and entrepreneurial spirit in the air. Indeed, that seems to be the part people outside the Valley miss. Because it’s one of those things you need to be around to understand. It is the norm to want to build something here– that’s incredibly powerful to entrepreneurs in other parts of the world who are used to feeling like outcasts or silly dreamers.

I’m thinking about this a lot today (while everyone else still seems to be obsessing about Micro-hoo!), as I finish up a column on Isreali entrepreneurs for BusinessWeek. I talked about this a lot over there: Whether all Israeli startups have to move their HQ to the Valley or not, so check out my column this week for more. Israel has benefitted greatly from this symbiotic relationship, but the question is whether it holds them back from being a true technology hub. One interesting note: the people who tend to argue you don’t have to move usually aren’t in the process of building a company. They have either already made their money (frequently, by relocating to the Valley) or are investors, attorneys or other members of the startup ecosystem in markets outside the Valley. In other words, there’s a logical argument that boosters of Atlanta, Austin, London or Tel Aviv can make, but when it’s actually your business and you’re the one trying to mitigate risk of failure, it’s another matter.

There’s something about it that’s like looking at a baseball team’s lineup in April. It could look like a killer team on paper, but somehow on the field they just don’t gel. A city could have every natural resource a startup needs, and somehow lack that cultural glue, support system or whatever you want to call it that is really the intangible reason people don’t leave the Valley once they are here. A lot about this in my book, and I’d love to hear thoughts from any readers once it’s out and I (hopefully!) have readers.

And with that hackneyed analogy, I am off to a Sunday baseball game! Any Israelis: send me some final thoughts before I file!

MIA Friday

by on May 2, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Apologies, dear readers. I have been MIA this morning. Pilates at 8 a.m. and then had to rush Mr. Vinnie to the vet for some issues you don’t want to know about….believe me. He’s going to be fine and actually got a gold star for losing another half a pound. The big fella — who is essentially Tony Soprano in cat form– is now under 20 lbs for the first time, since, um, he was a kitten, I think.

I also swung by the bank to deposit a very, very important check from Penguin. Important because it solidifies the fact that my book is indeed getting published in 15 days and important because it represents the down-payment on our new Victorian in the mission!! Yay!

So, as I get my late start to blogging, mosey over to TechCrunch and read this. Whether you care about technology because you are a rabid early adopter or a rabid stock investor, this is an important issue for you. I’ve only recently started to understand just how hard it is to move companies to the US– even from non-threatening places like the UK. (I mean what are they going to do? Charmingly mock us to death?) Between this and the H1-B Visa issue there’s just way too much of a disconnect between the Silicon Valley ecosystem that WANTS smart people with good ideas and the smart people with good ideas that support the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

Made worse by the fact that 50% of the congress doesn’t even have a passport.

Am I right?

MeeMix Changes Music Listening & Sharing

by on April 24, 2008 at 12:00 pm

I met a number of entrepreneurs and venture guys in Israel over the past couple of weeks. The Garage Geeks event was also full of start-ups. There are far too many to cover them all but I’ll be talking about the ones I most resonated with and would be likely to personally use over the next couple of days.

We also saw a few that are still in stealth mode so I can’t write about them yet, but as things develop, I’ll cover the ones that gave me aha moments. One is in the 3D space and tries to combine elements of SecondLife, SceneCaster and some of the sites solely dedicated to 3D online shopping.

As a lover of music and the Pandora concept, I was really impressed with MeeMix, a personalized Internet radio community, built to reflect and engage unique taste preferences.

MeeMix encourages users to saturate their personal spaces on the web with expressions of their own one-of-a-kind taste in music. Members communicate with a slew of other social networks and friend communities, by making live song recommendations on Facebook, posting favorit songs or reviews to Twitter, placing Mee Widgets in sites and blogs presenting Favorite Artist, Favorite Station or using one of their applications in Bebo, Facebook, Hi5, and MySpace to present their music style in local profiles.

Meemix_create_station_by_genre_peri

They’re unique in several ways. MeeMix looks at your invested user experience and adds a community nature to predict music you’d likely be interested in. Some of the other sites in this category that aim at taste prediction strive for detailed classification of music and rely mainly on musical attributes to estimate a user taste.

MeeMix tries to identify personal taste by giving the human factor more consideration and combining that with musical attributes. They are not interested in classifying all of the characteristics of a song but are constantly refining the attributes they classify to better relate them to a user preference.

Meemix_app

In contrast to competitors, if three members ask for the same artist in MeeMix in creating a personalized station, chances are that their stations will be very different upon completion. The reason will be the human factor. Their algorithm takes into account demographic and geographical aspects. If the same artist is picked by a 16-year-old girl from Minnesota and a 34-year-old man from Spain, their musical tastes are probably not similar and those their playlist will be comprised based on very different characteristics.

Their home page is pretty simple making it easy for people to get started quickly without a lot of effort or having to sift through a complicated set-up process. It almost looks like a search engine for music.

Meemix_intro_screen

It’s worth checking out and I’m sure they would love to hear your feedback. Below: me with their quick witted and engaging CEO Gilad Shlang after a start-up dinner in Tel Aviv.

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The Rogazin School Performs Miracles

by on April 22, 2008 at 12:00 pm

I learned of the Rogozin School through a bit of research and Yossi Vardi, an Israeli serial entrepreneur. Located in a dilapidated neighborhood in South Tel Aviv, I was fortunate to visit the school last week, which takes in children from all over the world.

Rogozin gets support from various sources, including the Jewish Federation of greater Los Angeles. Among their numerous efforts, the school is helping Darfur refugees escape genocide and start anew in Israel. Some of these children have never received formal education and have lost their parents.

While we didn’t have a lot of time with the children, I was able to talk to a couple of classroom instructors who told me a bit about the “day in the life of….” “Many fled from Darfur to Egypt and then to Israel,” says a ten year old Darfur refugee survivor.

Math and Hebrew are obviously part of the curriculum. Thankfully, so is artistic expression. I’m a huge believer in art therapy, particularly for those who have gone through trauma in their life, like every child refugee who has walked through their doors.

Below is a sample of their artwork (taken by JD, who also wrote a post about our experience there as did Robert Scoble – entitled hope: its very moving)

Kids_school_painting_taken_by_jd

Says one of the instructors, “they all find it interesting to meet each other and learn to live side-by-side, to live among each other as one. They have to maneuver within the polarity and those that make them feel alienated and rejected. This is a place where they can come, feel safe and accepted.”

Adds one of the children in a video we saw on-site, “It?s frightening to wake up every morning and wonder what will become of us.” One girl had always wanted to learn to dance, but she was “ashamed and afraid.”

They have children from 29 countries, some of them smuggled across the border. UnVC start-up founder Avi Segal is also involved with the school. Avi works ways to support children on an ongoing basis, as well as start-ups who need mentoring.

Avi says, “we are looking for ways and programming languages that make it really easy for young people to get into computers. The key here is to bring the same energy from our start-ups to young people. Giving back to the community empowers us, particularly when we work with children.”

Yossi pipes in, “There are seven different populations in the school — 726 students from age 5 to age 18. 65% of these kids come from single parent homes. Most of these kids don?t have a male figure in their lives.

Yossivardi_2

Yossi also talked about the importance of self esteem which is a key part of the program. “If they don?t have self esteem, you can?t sell them dreams.”

Cisco opened up a Cisco Academy, which teaches 10-12 year old kids network management, technical support and quality software control. After completion, the children receive certification. Six mothers have also graduated from countries as diverse as China, Congo, Phillipines and Nigeria and can now get jobs as technical support representatives. Additionally, scholastic improvement has gone up by 50%.

This school is not a school of any group or ideology and they support a “no child left behind policy.” It?s just a neighborhood school that happened to be in a poor neighborhood of Tel Aviv, yet today, it is a school of great dreams.

Apparently the city wanted to close the school three years ago. Thankfully, today the school is still ticking and miracles continue to happen between its four walls.

Good Vision has Great Vision

by on April 18, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Goodvision Yesterday, we hung out at Good Vision’s headquarters near Tel Aviv.

Hung out is more appropriate for this site visit since they brought in falafel pita bread wraps, an entirely different culinary experience than a falafel in the states, even New York.

Good Vision was the first Israeli consulting company to specialize in planning and managing corporate social responsibility proccesses in firms and governmental agencies. The organization is the child of Stanford graduate Ivri Verbin, who worked with Peres for six years as an economic advisor before launching Good Vision in 2002.

“I wanted to promote more ethical behavior in organizations,” says Verbin. Good Vision originates a diverse variety of projects, as the company?s extensive knowledge enables them to generate innovative navigation of funds.

Good_visions_gm_ivriverbin

The spirit of Good Vision is based on the belief that creating the precise collaboration between philanthropists and the community brings the best contribution to society as a whole.

Transition for people and communities is witnessed at three levels: the strategic level, the activity level and the level of media impact. They also do ethical programs within organizations and corporate governance, providing workshops for both management and the board of directors.

“We?ve been so focused on political issues that corporate social responsibility is fairly new in Israel. “Today, we are practicing and advocating for this philosophy in a number of international networks,” sats Verbin.

Good_visions_gm_ivriverbin_9

We also met with close to a ten teenager who have gone through Good Vision programs. In addition to sharing falafel with us, they shared their stories and their dreams, as well as the impact that Good Vision has had on them. It has helped them with management skills as well as self-esteem issues.

Two girls in army uniforms presented contageous smiles. One of them spoke of equality in the army and how the rules have changed in her generation.

Children_under_good_vision_directio

She remarks, “before, women were treated differently. Today, if we sign up for military service, we have to do our five weeks a year until we’re 45 — just like the men. Even if we have small children.” She beamed when she said this, but I couldn’t honestly tell whether she was beaming because of the fact that they now have the same equality or she was an eternal optimist. She had one of those faces.

Children_under_good_vision_direct_2

She was also so much fun to shoot. Women seem to be completely comfortable in front of the camera here. They know how to pose and more importantly, love it.

Children_under_good_vision_direct_3

Children_under_good_vision_direct_7

Children_under_good_vision_direct_5

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I wonder how this generation of women who sign up for the army will feel 50 and 60 years from now, after spending five weeks a year away from their small children and what the impact will be — positively and negatively, on the family.

In a few months, they will be launching Global Demos in Zurich. Says Verbin, “we are teaching young underprivileged children about science.” The “Science Van” is essentially science and environment projects on wheels.

They travel to a couple of areas per day, largely small towns that don’t have access to this level of expertise and training. Here, they have an open forum to not only teach kids about science, but to inspire and empower them into believing that they too could be a scientist one day. It?s a combination of education and self esteem building.

Other initiatives include cross pollination of ideas. “Because of globalization, we probably have more in common with each other than we do with our grandparents,” Verbin adds. Koldor organizes people to exchange mutual ideas across cultures.

He also talks about another web based organization that they are now involved in called Kavor.

Kavor educates children about a surgical or medical procedure before they go to the hospital. This non-profit prepares people in advance (nurses and doctors), and kids at home, where they feel safe. A ten year old is able to learn about procedures in advance so he is less afraid and more prepared when he gets to the hospital.

Verbin’s vision is a great one, something that Israel can really benefit from as such a young country in ways others will have to stretch themselves to “catch up.”

Us with their group below:

Children_under_good_vision_direct_8

Check Point’s Gil Shwed Believes in Israel

by on April 17, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Checkpoints_gil_shwed_10 Our group met with Check Point’s CEO and founder Gil Schwed today in Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan, the same stretch of land where the Barkats’ grandfather, a bus driver once grew tomatoes. According to Rosenthal’s research, he is nicknamed “Gil Gates” after successfully growing Check Point into a $20 billion stock market value company by 2001.

I shot a 15 minute video of Gil telling his ’story’ on a Nokia GSM video phone, but it sadly seems to have disappeared. If I can somehow reclaim the footage, I’ll post the video at a later date. Scoble also shot him in high resolution so if my raw footage is lost, you can watch the interview on Fast Company.com later this month.

Checkpoints_gil_shwed_6

One of the things that was an underlying thread throughout all of his business examples and recap of Check Point’s history, was his love of Israel and his belief that running a technology company here is easier than it would be in the United States. Easier and more efficient. He also brought up several other points.

Says Gil, “we?ve had an entrepreneurial spirit for over 100 years. My parents came here, trying to build something new. First agriculture, then infrastructure and today, technology. One thing that really helps us here is that we don?t have a local market.

What if we had started Check Point in Boston rather than Tel Aviv? Here, we think more globally. In the states, France and Germany, you have large local markets, which means creating and thinking in those languages and for those cultures. We are thinking of customers who are 6,000+ miles away from home.”

Checkpoints_gil_shwed_7

More than anything else, he stressed the benefits of building a company in Israel. “People are loyal here,” says Gil. “They are driven, think globally, and have a lot of passion. Because they are far away from the energy of Silicon Valley, they are focused on products and listening to customers, not the hype and latest trends.”

He thinks that being in an environment where a new trend born every few months is distracting. In Silicon Valley, there’s always a new trend and if people don?t jump on that bandwagon when it hits, they feel left behind. “Not the case here,” he says. “People work at companies for 3-5 years or longer and don?t feel as if they?re being left behind. They feel like they?re part of a group, a community, that they?re building something.”

In Rosenthal’s book, what it means to be an Israeli entrepreneur comes through as strong as it did today when we chatted in one of his conference rooms on Tel Aviv’s Ha’solelim Street. She describes him as a ‘boyish looking bachelor with cropped hair and John Lennon glasses.’ I didn’t quite see him that way, but I do think she did a great job of bringing his dry and serious wit to life.

During his interview with her, he noted that Israel is a natural for start-ups. Yossi Vardi feels the same way as does numerous other driven and successful entrepreneurs in this country.

Like Gil’s references today, he brought up the impact that immigration has had on business growth, particularly technology. He has immigrant mentality – strong, committed, loyal, passionate, driven and practical. I have read in a few articles that wearing black clothes is one of Gil’s trademarks, so I expected him to walk through the door wearing all black, and he did. Not surprising that he thinks wearing all black is “practical.” When you travel as much as he does, it makes sense.

He tells an amusing story of his resourceful mother in the book, an example from childhood that I resonated with. I think his mother and my grandfather would have really hit it off since my grandfather pulled similar stunts on a regular basis when I was growing up.

He recalls traveling around the country with her. “She’d see a dairy and stop and ask, ‘can my kid watch how you milk cow? She knocked on the door of Ha’aretz and asked, ‘can my kid see how you print the newspaper?’

It’s the best way to raise kids in my opinion. It gives children a sense of adventure and shows them how easy it is to create it. If it doesn’t feel right or you’re not sure, just ask. How will you know if you don’t try? I was raised that way but its no surprise since I was raised my grandparents, a generation behind most of my counterparts.

That generation is closer to the early immigrant mentality that Israel is experiencing today. It is during this stage of building a new country that great innovation happens. Passion and energy levels are high. There isn’t a lot of fear nor is there much complacency.

People hunger for growth and knowledge and with these characteristics, comes great things, like the amazing technology that came out of Check Point more than ten years ago and is being launched today in incubators and start-ups. Great innovation is coming out of kibbutzim as well but that’s another story to be told. Stay tuned. It’s a story that will likely bring tears to your eyes.

Gil Shwed and Checkpoint

by on April 17, 2008 at 5:00 am

While unknown by most American Jews, Gil Shwed is a role model entrepreneur for Israel. He is most admired because he founded and grew Check Point, the global leader in Internet security (think firewall and anti-hacker programs).

Gil spoke with our group in his office. Contrary to convention, it is no longer true that the best business model for Israeli companies is to base in the US and use Israeli engineers?this is a big issue here. Gil runs a global company with management both in the US and Israel. Israel is a very good place to start and grow a business and Gil feels he has fewer problems and disincentives in Israel than he has in Silicon Valley.

Gil is a global business leader and frequently commutes to the SF Bay Area fro business. He has created great regional wealth in both places.

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