It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since I started VC Cafe. It was December 2005 and I had been living in New York for over a year, spending my spare time on a startup in Israel. The concept of blogging was pretty new (at least to me) and I was curious to explore how it worked. Techcrunch was pretty unknown, having been started by Michael Arrington in June 2005.
A walk down memory lane
It’s funny how one thing leads to another when you put your mind to it. I saw an ad somewhere for the Israeli ministry of tourism, advertising the domain goisrael.com. Having moved from Israel a year before, I was constantly following the news on the holy land, and it was hard to find news about Israel that were not related to the conflict. Also, as an entrepreneur looking to raise money, it was very hard for an early stage startup in Israel to get “noticed” by an international news site, especially since we were just a bunch of kids in college.
The ingredients were then set for a perfect recipe. And so, on the 5th of December 2012, I started goisrael.blogger.com, but called the blog Venture Capital Cafe. My goal was to uncover early stage Israeli startups that were yet to be discovered, provide news about Israel that highlights the innovation that takes place there by young people after the army, and selfishly, keep in touch with the Israeli startup industry, keeping my options open in case my stay in New York didn’t last for long.
Everything was new and exciting – the discovery of RSS, Google Alerts, installing a counter on my blog and seeing where users were coming from was particularly exciting. Interestingly, while the number of users significantly grew, the main source countries remained the same: Israel, US and UK. VC Cafe experienced the thrill of getting to the front page of Digg, was featured by the Wall Street Journal, and ranked as one of the top 100 venture capital blogs (now by the way, VC Cafe is ranked as the number 16 top VC blog!).
Even experimenting with Adsense was a whole new world. Remember Mybloglog? A small startup that was later acquired by Yahoo, Mybloglog spread like wildfire – I quickly became addicted to analytics, trying to understand my audience and what posts were getting traction. There was also Technorati – to research fellow bloggers and raise to the challenge of increasing VC Cafe’s “Authority”, Technorati’s version of PageRank.
Moving from GoIsrael to VCCafe.com
Blogger was an interesting playground, but I thought it was about time to become a ‘grown up’ blog and move to my own hosted domain. So in 2007, VCcafe.com was born. Like going to the gym, I developed a routine for using my spare time outside of work for blogging, reading news, interviewing entrepreneurs and working hard to get ‘scoops’ – breaking stories before they hit mainstream media. I kept going at it for years, chasing stories, getting passes to conferences, subscribing to a bunch of newsletters and feeds, and self-labeling myself as a “Beta-Whore” – I would sign up for every product in beta or alpha out there, looking to understand how it works, analyzing the UI and always sniffing for the ‘secret sauce’ that made the startup tick. It was also great training for my job as Product Manager (I later became a Senior Product Manager and Principal Product Manager) as it gave me a wealth of ideas for user interfaces, flow and user activation and retention.
A few years and several hundred posts later, I hit a wall. I’ll tell you the anecdote that made me almost give up blogging altogether. Using a paid database service I had access to through school, I was able to identify an Israeli startup that raised funding for a social video product. The news hadn’t broken anywhere, and I took a chunk of my weekend to research the story. The startup had renamed, and the new website was ‘under construction’. Through Google, I was able to view the cached version of the site, and write a story with the new brand and screenshots before it went live. As a courtesy, I emailed the founder (guestimating his email address using info@ webmaster@ etc) to let him know I’m about to publish the story. He called me right away to congratulate me on my reporting skills and asked if I could wait 48 hours since there was an embargo on the story before they go to press. He assured me that I’ll be the first one to publish. 24 hours later the story was posted on TechCrunch. It was a slap to the face. How could he lie to me like that? And why did I spend all that time only to be second.
The incident made me re-think why I was blogging in the first place. Was I trying to become a journalist and break stories, or was I in it to help startups and founders grow? Later on, the founder admitted that TechCrunch told him they will not cover the story unless they’re breaking it, and for the startup, getting on TechCrunch is like a right of passage, a milestone you can show investors on your board meeting to show the ‘success’ of your launch (never mind that there’s an infinite cliff a few days after the post). I dusted off concerns motivated by my pride and decided it was time to rethink VC Cafe. Covering news, as a labor of love, was too exhausting. It meant there was no letting go. Two weeks without posting, and you miss the biggest deals in the industry. But I wasn’t getting paid, and realized that the goal was not to break stories, but to help startups. That takes me to the third stage of VC Cafe.
Moving from Reporting on News to Writing my Own Opinions and Advice
Since starting VC Cafe I had moved from New York to San Francisco, and then to London. I was managing senior product managers at AOL Europe, while completing an Executive MBA at London Business School, which helped me exercise my writing muscles. So despite juggling a job, graduate school and a life in a new city, I kept going with VC Cafe on my *now significantly reduced* spare time.
An addition to how I envisage VC Cafe is a positive development in the blogging and academic coverage of the startup scene in Israel. When I started VC Cafe in 2005, there were no sites that wrote dedicated, professional coverage in English on Israeli startups. Now there are several blogs dedicated to Israeli startups, exclusive meetups and even a best-seller book, The Startup Nation.
Reporting on the news can be very exciting – my favorite thing about it was making the logical connections between companies, people, technologies. But it was essentially the business of recycling: whether it’s press releases or some newspaper’s article, the level of originality and creative thinking was left for the one conclusion paragraph in the end of the post, or by doing a good job researching the competition and tracing the founder’s path that led them to this point. Writing my own thinking meant having a voice, but it was also big risk. What if I sound like an idiot? Can I take the criticism? or even worse, what if no one cares?
I decided it was time to move away from pure ‘news’ to fulfilling my goal with blogging – helping founders grow and sharing some of the advice that I’ve learned along the way. I chose to tackle the questions that every founder struggles with at one point or another – how to find a co-founder, introduction to growth hacking, how to create a purple cow product, steps founders should take before talking to a VC and many more. I’ve never looked back. I’m still interested in covering great Israeli startups and success stories, highlighting Israel’s ingenuity and innovation, but I also increasingly see VC Cafe as a resource for those same Israeli founders. So VC Cafe gives a voice for Israeli startups and also tools, tips and advice.
It’s been seven years since I started VC Cafe. I want to thank you for your readership, for your views, visits and clicks, that kept me motivated to keep writing, for the love of it.
Here’s for another Seven years!