By Daniel Abrahams *
I’ve always been intrigued by the success of the ‘Startup Nation.’ In this post, I want to share my story. That of a British startup which naively arrived for three months in Tel Aviv and hasn’t looked back since.
Around February of this year, I asked Eze if he minded a quick chat at the Google campus cafeteria. It’s fair to say, this impromptu conversation helped change the course of both my personal and professional life. And without sounding too schmaltzy, we’re grateful for the wisdom of many of the Israel ‘advocates’ in the UK who helped make our dreams of traveling with our company a reality.
The Israeli startup community is: “Pashut Magniv” (simply spectacular). Every day, we are in awe of the talent, application & innovation from what I now consider the startup capital of the world. Your nation simply defies all odds. Your hummus is pretty magnificent too.
San Francisco, Hong Kong or Tel Aviv?
Our fledgling yet profitable startup MyCurrencyTransfer was based Google Campus, and we had the wild idea of travelling abroad. Three months, new environment, fresh perspective & different talent pool to immerse ourselves into. What could be better than that? On our shortlist of three, there was San Francisco, Hong Kong & Tel Aviv.
The first two were prohibitive due to timezone difficulties. It was too far from our brokers. By process of elimination & in small part due to my Israeli heritage, Tel Aviv won the day. We’d heard facts about the Israeli ecosystem: more startups per capita than anywhere in the world, more exits per capita, more patents per capita, more scientists per capita. So too, from simply reading ‘The Startup Nation’ – we were keen to learn more, more & more.
Initial meetings with Israelis in London were reflective of the Israeli entrepreneurial DNA. Every third or fourth sentence was about being ‘happy’ to intro me into X, Y or Z. Based on what we needed, it felt as though these Israeli advocates helped navigating us through a spider’s web of referrals to people that could tangibly help our move. From visa issues to workspaces on the ground, it couldn’t have been more helpful. And we couldn’t have been more grateful. I quickly found out that Israelis have a proactive appetite for opening up their black book, purely in the spirit of helping out a fellow entrepreneur.
Within nanoseconds of arriving in our shared workspace Techloft, two budding entrepreneurs approached Stevan & I. We were asked to do some user testing on their music app. There was very little by way of introduction, it was straight into it. We were blown away. Some may call it opportunistic. I thought it was great & representative of typical Israeli chutzpah!
In the first three days, we were invited to apply for a startup accelerator program in Boston. Within a week, we were out for drinks with the crew at Techloft. Within a month, we were being introduced to budding rails developers. Any fear of us being seen as ‘strangers’ in a foreign ecosystem were quickly dispelled. We were welcomed with open arms.
A culture of inclusion
For our non-Jewish members of staff, I was a little apprehensive. I couldn’t be totally certain how the expat integration would pan out. Thankfully, your people welcomed our people with open arms. Phil, our designer, within a week found a Church group in Jaffa that met weekly.
Within weeks, the whole team were making acquaintances in the startup community that we now call friends for life. Tel Avivians are extraordinarily open minded, and if you are in tech, expect to be invited for dinners & tiyulim ( short trips). If you’re a good person, you quickly enter the circle of trust. Tel Aviv has a ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude. It’s like one big kibbutz!
A diverse ecosystem
We learnt quickly that the Israel tech scene is a melting pot of emigration & assimilation. You only had to look around little Techloft to meet people from, amongst others: Israel (of course), the US, UK, France, Venezuela, Canada & Eastern Europe. All in a 2000 sq ft shared workspace. For me, this is the magic of Israel. Everyone brings their own ideas, opinions & ways of working to the table. It has a direct correlation to success and the ability to solve problems as a team. Fresh perspective breeds innovation.
Professionally, Israel ticks so many boxes you could possibly imagine as a tech entrepreneur. I passionately believe the soft skills you can learn from those who served in the army are vast. I loved trying to get into the minds of people who overcome limitations of a tricky geographical landscape every day. We had a great time brainstorming, validating assumptions & socializing with a vast array of talent brought in from all over the world.
The secret of Israel
My Israeli colleague Or hits the nail on the head. He explains, ‘‘Israeli grandparents are proud of their grandchildren, the entrepreneur. Afterall, he or she could be the next Waze! The British grandparents are proud of their grandchildren, the accountants and lawyers. Being prepared to take risks, fail & start again is so acceptable.’’ I’m told Israelis even print the word ‘entrepreneur’ proudly on business cards!
Chutzpah and fearlessness in Israel is on overdrive. It breeds a nation of go getters. With my own eyes, I’ve seen the average Israeli upstart at a conference go up to Yossi Vardi direct, deliver a 60 second elevator pitch, and ask for his number to follow up.
Eze, If there was one bit of advice I recall you telling me, it was ‘‘come back from Israel and establish a legacy with the Startup Nation.’’ We heeded your words of advice. From organizing mini meetups to hiring fantastic local talent on the ground, Israel has now become home to our first international office. Spitballing ideas from Israeli entrepreneurs helped us craft our latest innovation, CurrencyTransfer.com.
Personally, I have always flirted with the idea of making ‘aliyah.’ The flirtatious richter scale for Israel is now in overdrive. For me, Israelis match my own DNA, for better or worse. Israelis are overly direct (you talk ‘dugri’!), have stacks full of chutspah & a fiercely witty sense of humour. The weather is great & the majority of women are beautiful people both inside and out (yes Israelis female tech entrepreneurs, I am single and looking – @dan_currency).
From all the stats I read, I gather your academics too are world class. It’s not beyond the realms of doubt that I’ll apply for a part time MBA in Israel next year. All in all, I’m certain I would make a very happy Ole Hadash (new emigrant).
A final thank you
Thank you to all the Israeli entrepreneurs, both in Tel Aviv & London, for your words of support back in February. It’s no surprise the tiny nation you were born in, against all odds, has seen $5bn dollars worth of exits this year. You guys simply get it. I want to learn from the best. I want to be at the cutting edge of Israel innovation. In order to do so, I want to be in Israel more and more.
With special thanks too from Stevan Litobac, Co-Founder & Head of Product.
Daniel Abrahams * is the Co-Founder & Head of Partnerships at OPP award winning comparison websites MyCurrencyTransfer. Daniel and his Co-Founder Stevan will be launching their latest B2B innovation, CurrencyTransfer.com at Finovate in London on February 12.