Interviews

Actionable advice from businesses in heavenly startup hotspot Tel Aviv

12 min read

28 September 2015

The burgeoning startup scene in Tel Aviv is taking the world by storm. The Wall Street Journal has recently named Tel Aviv as one of the top two most innovative cities in the world.

As well as being home to an array of creative entrepreneurs, this tech hub provides the perfect environment for businesses to grow through venture capital, seed funds and accelerators. Tel Aviv is also home to events such as the Start Tel Aviv competition.

In order to find out what makes Tel Aviv thrive, and to pass on some of these learnings to UK entrepreneurs, we’ve spoken with some successful Tel Aviv startups to share the local experiences that can be adapted for Britain.

First up we have insights from Allon Gladstone, the co-founder and COO of hereO, developer of a watch created specifically for children aged three and up, which contains the world’s smallest real-time GPS location device.

What made you decide to start the business?

The idea behind the business is pretty clear to anyone who is a parent – knowing where your kids are. The epiphany happened during the Nottingham Festival in the UK where Daniel, my partner, was in shock at the amount of young children strapped to a child-leash by their parents. He must have seen hundreds that day. At the same time, Daniel’s brother was locating his girlfriend using Google Latitude on their Blackberry. That’s when he thought, why not use the same technology like Google Latitude in a wireless leash?

When he got home he started researching the industry and was surprised how many products were available that claimed to locate a child (child trackers) but none fit an actual child. The next day he called me and Gill, and we started the company with the goal of creating a child tracking device that children will want to wear and parents will actually use.

How would you describe the startup culture in Tel Aviv?

The Israeli startup culture is just that, it’s a culture that revers startups. Every person here, from the guard at the front desk, to the cashier at the grocery store – all have either a startup idea or experience of a son making millions selling his company.

It has become so engraved in Tel Aviv that being a start-apist (Hebrew for a person in a startup) is more revered than being a doctor or banker. People in the TLV startup landscape know each other, either from a previous venture, or through one of the dozen meetings organised each week for startups by different startup centric organisations.

For example, in my IoT (Internet of Things) focused group, I have two-three events every day I can go to, most are free or very cheap to attend.

Read more guidance from experienced entrepreneurs:

How has this culture benefited the business?

People in Tel Aviv are not afraid to try a new business. Having a worldly and educated population concentrated in one city helps. Of course the money made from previous “exits” (sale of a company) helps fund the new generation of startups. The “can-do” attitude of people helps drive companies to success.

For example, while looking for an app programmer I was quoted by an Asia-based firm for 30 programmers needed. I completed it in Israel with just two local programmers.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

I would divide this in two.
1. Conventional company challenges, faced by all business worldwide. I would say that product delays due to a multitude of reasons such as design flaw or government requirements have been our biggest challenge because it affects our cash flow. Managing our cash burn rate is the biggest challenge, every product delay means more cash burned.

2. Tel Aviv specific challenges, which only TLV based businesses go through. Because we are in an environment where the start-up culture is so strong, it can be difficult to differentiate ourselves.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

There have been too many important lessons learned to choose just one. I would start with – believe in all the clichés you hear about starting a business or achieving success in life. I think that a good work environment is a productive work environment.

Choosing the right people – your partners, employees, banker, even customers, is key to a positive work environment.When everyone enjoys and believes in what they are doing, likelihood of success increases tremendously.

What advice do you have for UK entrepreneurs looking to start a new business?

Just do it. Failure will only make you smarter for your next attempted venture.

Continue reading on the next page for advice from an engineer turned entrepreneur who helps game designers to generate revenue by connecting them to users.

Next we have advice from Gur Dotan, engineer turned entrepreneur, and co-founder of Soomla, which assists game designers to connect them with users and monetise their products.

What made you decide to start the business?

SOOMLA’s journey began three years ago my two cofounders and I noticed inefficiencies in the way mobile games were being developed and monetised. Free-to-play was on the rise with in-app purchase as the leading monetisation strategy, which rendered the mobile gaming market to be ultra-competitive.

Developers without multi-million dollar budgets weren’t able to distribute and monetise their games at scale. The technology and data analysis was being developed by each studio without any collaborative learning from each other. We decided to build the GROW data network. Through this data sharing platform we are collecting a lot of data about gaming patterns. The end goal is to be able to predict users’ game genre preferences and in-game preferences.

With advanced data analysis and machine learning we are capable of answering questions like what virtual goods people buy in games, how likely are they to purchase something, and how much time will they spend playing different game genres. That will allow us to solve app discovery and monetisation which are the biggest problems of the mobile ecosystem, and to capitalise on that solution.

Our data products are based on the SOOMLA open source framework, a full technology suite which interweaves in-app purchase, level design and social sharing to create engaging and monetising games. Today the framework is backed by a thriving community of worldwide developers, all sharing the same goal of standardising mobile game development.

How would you describe the startup culture in Tel Aviv?

The Tel Aviv startup culture is based on creativity, innovation, and a strong flavour of Israeli “Chutzpah”. The startups here aren’t afraid of a challenge or failure. They are hell-bent to change the world or die trying to, and this ethos is what drives so many people here to go down the entrepreneurial path.

Also, the city of Tel Aviv helps foster this mentality by providing free WiFi all over the city, hosting various conferences and organising countless meet-ups. Currently there’s also a push to make the foreign work visa process easier for everyone.

Toss in the pleasant weather, endless bars, world class restaurants and a beautiful beach boardwalk, and I’d say this is startup heaven.

How has this culture benefited the business?

We aren’t afraid of making bold moves. We trust our employees to set the highest goals and to get their work done. It’s about achieving goals and giving employees the autonomy to reach those goals in the most creative way.

We value technology and actively promote our open source code as part of the transparency we believe in.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

Our biggest challenge was to achieve initial scale of developers using our platform. To solve this, we’ve leveraged our free, open source technology to attract game developers who shared the same values as we did.

We’ve also employed lots of content marketing efforts focusing on content deemed valuable to our target audience.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Don’t be afraid to push the envelope. If you have an idea and believe it can benefit the industry, then go for it. We believe in the lean startup approach, so create your MVP, get it to market quickly, collect feedback and re-iterate. Focus on learnings all the time.

What advice do you have for UK entrepreneurs looking to start a new business?

The one thing that sets successful companies apart is the ability to adapt. Realise your strengths, what the trends in the industry are and then move in quickly on the opportunities as they’re created. When something’s not working for you, don’t hesitate to pivot your company.

Kat Kynes is a copywriter for Lottosend, which enables users to play lotteries from around the world online from desktop and mobile devices.