Six years ago I landed in Tel Aviv with no job, no idea about the country at all, and not the faintest idea about what I was going to do to earn money. I was a total outsider – British, not Jewish and no idea how to speak the language.
I knew that Israel was famous for successful startups (Waze being the most recent) and having cutting edge R&D centers of many of the world’s largest companies, such as IBM, HP and SAP to name a few.
I started with learning Hebrew and enrolled on an intensive course studying 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 5 months. Outside of this, I got a job in a start-up in Tel Aviv working after Hebrew school until late at night which was my first real introduction to the ecosystem.
I went on to work in a medical device company but eventually after about a year in the country I decided it was time to break out on my own and I co-founded a marketing agency that specialized in helping Israel start-ups and high-tech companies market themselves abroad.
Over the next few years I met and worked with hundreds of start-ups and high tech companies and learned a lot along the way. I heard and saw many different start-up ideas, some of them I thought were amazing but didn’t have a good team in place, some had a great team but a weak idea and then, a little over a year ago, I met someone who I truly respected as a business person and had an idea that really spoke to me as a small business owner.
I quickly agreed to became one of the co-founders of Zoostr, a SaaS start-up that provides a free to use business software for micro & small businesses in India for finance, marketing and CRM.
I’ve found that Israel and India are pretty similar in some respects when it comes to the whole start-up world. Both are quick to accept new people, have a tough environment to operate in and have a natural flare for business and innovation – it’s a case of getting on with it despite the obstacles of your environment.
Israel has the highest density of tech start-ups in the world and they consistently attract more venture capital than anywhere else in the world. There are more companies on the NASDAQ than any country outside the U.S., more than all of Europe, Japan, Korea, India, and China combined. So why is it? Why does Israel have such a flare for start-ups and what can you learn from them?
A bit of History
To understand the Israel start-up world you have to understand a bit of history. Israel started as one big start up when lots of people came to settle here more than 60 years ago. There wasn’t a lot of anything back then, no natural resources to speak of and in order to survive they had to be extremely innovative, especially in agriculture. So they acted, in a way, like a startup –bootstrapped, with a passion for an idea and just worked extremely hard at making it work.
Along the years, this constant need to adapt & innovate or die grew an inherent culture and mind set of “we can do it”. Whereas in most countries people may stop at the thought of doing something like start their own business because it seems very risky. In Israel this attitude is much less prevalent.
Israelis who create start-ups or work in start-ups tend to have similar traits – confidence, tenacity, determination, passion and curiosity. They have a habit of making things happen fast and you’ll probably hear something like “Don’t worry about the detail, just get on with it. We’ll work the rest out as we go along.”
There is a very famous saying in Hebrew which you will hear a lot – “Yiyeh B’seder” which translates as – “it’ll be ok”. Challenges or obstacles just seem smaller or non-existent to most Israelis. They just give it a try and think “Yiyeh B’seder”. These two words explain a lot about the psyche of a start-up founder in Israel.
Another famous word in Hebrew is “Chutzpah” which is tough to explain but is another important element in the success of a lot of start-ups. It is a mixture of having the guts to try or the nerve to do something that others would consider impossible or foolish plus disregarding the rules with a certain type of arrogance that is unique to Israelis and which is less negative than the word arrogance implies.
So what can you learn from Israeli Entrepreneurs?
David & Goliath
Learn to be excited and not scared by the whole David and Goliath situation. Have a passion for taking on the industry giants and take market share from underneath them. As a startup you are agile and have the ability to move and make decisions very fast. You should be dancing around large corporations who are slow, sluggish and can’t match you for speed. Use this to your advantage.
Tackle challenges head on. When you are up against the wall and it seems the fight is lost, innovate your way out of it. Try 20 things in succession and jump on the one that has the headroom to work. Israelis are very good an innovating when the pressure is really on.
Don’t fear change
Don’t fear change. Learn to thrive on constant change and uncertainty. Use it to your advantage. If you are an Entrepreneur then change IS your business. As soon as things haven’t changed for a while, start wondering why and look to how they can!
Don’t be satisfied
Don’t be satisfied with anything. Always question the status quo, your product, the market, the competition – everything. Break things down and make them better. Have a belief that it can ALWAYS be better.
Learn to network better
Israelis are exceptional networkers. Everybody knows someone who can help and it’s perfectly ok to go and ask for help. But this works both ways – you need to go help others out also. It’s this “we’re in it together” approach that brings big benefits for all involved.
At the end of the day, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to succeeding as an Entrepreneur. It’s a mix of hard work, tenacity, passion and a healthy dose of luck and having the right idea at the right time.
You can learn a lot from Israeli startups and likewise they can learn a lot from Indian entrepreneurs!
[About the Author: Spencer Waldron is the CMO of Zoostr.com, a free to use SaaS for micro and small businesses in India. With Zoostr you can create price quotations, invoices and purchase orders, as well as track payments, create SMS marketing campaigns and schedule meetings. For a free account click here.]
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