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Connected World

Earlier this summer, before the rockets and sirens, I had the privilege of moderating the Startup Nation 2.0 panel at the Herzliya Conference with a host of panelists I know and work with, including IDC’s Prof. Yair Tauman and Prof. Ron Shahar, also Shai Agassi and Yanki Margalit and someone I met in the context of the panel, Prof. Daniel Zajfman, President of the Weizman Institute of Science, in Israel. The main topic discussed was what Israel’s tech and startup industry will look like in the near future and beyond.

IMG_1529The panelists gave insights to what they think is essential in order for the eco-system to flourish. Prof. Tauman, also Zell’s academic director, the new Dean of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship and someone I consider a mentor, noted that one of the major problems Israeli startups have is scaling. But easier said than done, right?

Shai Agassi, always the creative big picture thinker, suggested creating a fund to help Israeli companies grow to mature stages. The intent would be to invest enough money in Israeli companies allowing them not only to develop on their own but to acquire companies of their own, even from abroad and to import that talent and IP to Israel. For example, help Waze fund an acquisition of a navigation app and grow the company here in Israel instead of being acquired and exporting the IP (though in the case of the Google acquisition of Waze the employees stayed here for at least the short run).

Yanki Margalit followed on that theme, no stranger to big picture thinking and creativity, and in his characteristically optimistic note, focusing on encouraging the import of more talent to Israel to create a flow of minds in and out, creating value and positioning Israel as an important international innovation hub. Actually, Shai and I are working on doing just that with an innovative new program at IDC where Israeli students will join forces to tackle global grand challenges. Stay tuned…

The idea of a global world with integrated and shared knowledge rings home with me and I continued on that track recently at a conference organized and curated by my dear friend Maya Elhalal with Prof. Dan Ariely. The meet up was called Bubbles, a first of its kind approach to sharing content in bursts of thought provoking ‘bubbles’ and interactive and engaging panels.

10495058_1468412450063400_8747371149522266404_oMy three-minute ‘bubble’ challenged that the threat of ‘brain drain’ may not be the threat it is made out to be; in particular as it relates to entrepreneurship. What is so bad about having Israeli entrepreneurs out there in the world creating, developing, growing and scaling companies? Sure they pay taxes abroad, but many have the R&D for their companies located in Israel, not to mention the hundreds (literally by some count 282) global technology companies with R&D facilities in Israel (from Google, to Samsung to GM) that Israeli innovation able to lure in country…providing those always mentioned taxes, and more importantly employment, innovation (with spill over impact) and the means for many budding entrepreneurs to gain domain expertise and experience. These same entrepreneurs, like Dan Ariely himself, often give back by coming back for visits, participating in conferences and sharing knowledge gained, by investing in the eco-system, in local companies, in VC funds, in real estate and philanthropy…and by being ambassadors for Israel abroad. No better time than now, to feel just how needed those ambassadors abroad are.

2014-08-18 08.55.47Even in times when Israel (and Israelis) feel beleaguered and alone, we are always part of a connected world. Last week on my way back home from family time in Los Angeles where I grew up, I got tagged on a fb post, and to my surprise challenged to the Ice Bucket Challenge by none other than, a partner of mine to all kinds of mayhem, panels and events, faculty at Zell and an alumnus of the second Zell class, Eyal Gura. With little time before the flight I took the challenge (had my son pour a bucket of ice cold water on my head), donated to the worthy cause of ALS research and joined a network of people across the globe (among the challenge participants including celebrities, athletes and entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg who challenged Bill Gates for an instructively original version), and in particular back and forth between Israel and US (Amir Shevat at Google in California challenged Eyal in the first place) and I in turn challenged my good friends Maya, mentioned in this post (who spent time in New York and moved back with her entrepreneur husband to raise their gorgeous family here), my adopted daughter Natasha Shine (herself from London and California) and my partner in TEDxHolyland, Hanan Kattan, a Palestinian from Jordan living in London. All three accepted the challenge! and passed it on to the connected world.

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The Zell Program Jump Starts

I have been making it a habit to give out copies of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In to strong women I know to help bolster and empower them above and beyond their existing natural talents and strengths. The book tackles the particular situation of talented and ambitious women, that somehow underestimate themselves. The book certainly resonated with me and the many women I have come to know in the Zell program.

It spurred to give them copies, but also more importantly to get more women to give the book to! I have asked myself often why more women do not apply…Sheryl Sandberg poses some interesting data to suggest that women tend to undervalue themselves in view of set criteria and do not apply for positions unless they meet all 100% of the criteria, whereas men don’t seem to have this problem (of course this is a gross generalization and gender is not only sex based). The data for applications to Zell certainly reflect this: far more men without the required qualifications (whether, grades, experience and even the prerequisite finance course!).

At the Google for Entrepreneurs Trailblazers Summit this Fall, they announced that there would be an initiative to tackle this particular phenomena and get more women to apply for entrepreneurial programs. When the application to participate in the program came up, I and many of the partner organizations here in Israel applied. The 40Forward Initiative is the result and we were chosen to participate, along with our Israeli buddies the Junction, Siftech, Campus for Moms, and the Elevator and UpWest Labs to try to increase enrollment in our programs by 25%. Each has taken the initiative in its own special direction (see UpWest Labs blog post), but we plan on holding a joint event for all the partners in Israel in the summer!

Funding in hand, a bunch of us brainstormed together one night (Michal Waltner from Google, Liraz Sharabani from Zell and Nitzan Cohen-Arazy from the Junction) on what the best use of the funding would be. We decided to focus on communication skills as the crux of being able to empower women to ‘lean in” and step up to the challenge.

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We enlisted Abigail Tenemaum, Zell faculty member and communications skills expert who serves as an official TED speaker director-coach to create specially tailored workshops for this endeavor.

Next I reached out to the deans at IDC Herzliya and the leadership of the IEC, IDC’s student run entrepreneurship club many of whom I know in my capacity as the executive director of IDC’s new Adelson School of Entrepreneurship and asked the to refer us to the best and brightest women they know. We sent them personal invitations to our special event.

The “Zell Jump Start” event kicked off a special pre program workshop to encourage women to apply to the program. The Kick off event set in the beautiful new offices of the local headquarters of the Palo Alto venture capital fund, Innovation Endeavors, where Zell alumnus Daniel Goldstein is the community curator, took place against a beautiful sunset.

zell_89The event had a great turnout including representatives from Innovation Endeavors, Zell faculty, members of Zell 13, and over twenty-five prospective Zellot women. The event began with an introduction by me about the program’s application process followed by Adelson School of Entrepreneurship Partnerships Director and Zell alumnus, Liraz with a personal story about her experience in the Zell program and a motivating talk to embolden the attendees to take the challenge and apply. The first part of a two-part workshop followed. Abigail led the workshop sharing some tips for effective messaging and communication in an interactive and highly engaging workshop with smaller follow up sessions at IDC.

 

and the impact? Well, the cards are still out for the final tally, but so far so good, the amount of applications by women doubled! compared to last year. Computer science student women candidates tripled (but in general we saw an increase in CS student applications, which we are thrilled about). Stay tuned for the final numbers…

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Zellots Zellots everywhere…From Dublin with Love

Last week at the Web Summit in Dublin a cohort of Zellots descended on the event…so many a reporter took the bait (initiated by Hagar Rips of Zell 8) and interviewed a bunch!

Yonatan Raz Fridman, Zell 8 as well…and the founding chairman of the alumni organization, called the Zell Alumni Network wrote a post that I would love to share:

From Dublin with Love

In January this year I took a flight from Tel Aviv to London to build Kano Computing. this was after Liat Aaronson and Dror Ceder (Zell 7) introduced me to one of my co-founders. Before that, I had the privilege to work at Keter Plastic, where I succeeded Nimrod Bar-Levin (Zell 4) as executive assistant to the CEO of Keter. In between these two events I had the real honour and fun to build the Zell Alumni Network, but it would never happen without the help, support and partnership of other Zellots – Uri Haramati (Zell 5), Liat Mordechay-Hertanu (Zell 1), Vicky Halfon (Zell 9), Daphna Giniger (Zell 8), Yoni Blau (Zell 7), Liraz Shaarabani (Zell 7), Dror Ceder (Zell 7) and many others – all with the immense support of Liat. So as you can see, for me Zell is not just a program, it’s an ongoing experience.

Last week I attended the Dublin Web Summit for the first time. As I was just arriving, I noticed the Zell gang in prime time, on all fronts - Eyal Gura (Zell 2), venture partner at Pitango VC participating as a judge in one of the competitions; Zohar Dayan and Yotam Cohen (Zell 9) with Wibbitz; Liat Mordechay-Hertanu (Zell 1) with 24me; Hagar Rips (Zell 8) with Yadwire; Uri Haramati (Zell 5) with Yevvo; Offir Gutelzon (Zell 2) with Keepy; Natasha Shine-Zirkel (Zell family) with Rounds; and myself (Zell 8) with Kano. More than 10% of the Israeli startups attending in Dublin are Zell-related. Yes, we all got used to the good publicity and feedback that the Zell program receives across Israel, in business, community, institutions, corporates and investors. All those who need to know about the Zell Program and its alumni – know.

Liat, Uri Hagar and YotamDublin

However, there’s much work to be done to strengthen the ties between alumni, build sustainable relationships that will lead to business opportunities on top of the immense collegiality we feel just by being “Zellots”. With that in mind, let’s enjoy the statistics of Dublin:

* more than 10% of Israeli startups in Dublin were Zell-related.

* 3 out of 30 finalists in Dublin were Zell-related.

* 3 out of 8 Zellots in Dublin were women.

Offir Dublin

What does it mean?

Diversity is key

A lot of people have a very clear perception of what makes one an entrepreneur, and what needs to happen for someone to be one – i.e. you “have” to start early, you “have” to start it yourself, you “have you “have” you “have”. So let’s look at the people involved in this story to understand diversity: Among the 8 Zellots in Dublin, we have Zellots who started a business immediately after graduating from Zell (Eyal, Offir, Hagar, Zohar, Yotam), Zellots who worked in corporate for several years and then started their first startup company (Uri, Liat, myself), Zellots who build a company, sold it, and moved to new things (Eyal, Offir), Zellots who started their company abroad (myself), Zellots who raised venture funds from global investors (Zohar and Yotam), ventures with a women-Zell-founder (Liat), Zellots who joined existing startups as leaders (Uri), and more.

* Coordination is necessary

I mean, seriously? it’s almost a crime that I had to discover so many Zellots in Dublin without knowing about it before. It totally makes sense that such a powerful network (that was asked to be interviewed and share the Zell-Dublin story) to be more coordinated so we can empower each other and tale our collective to the next level (someone said small Zell pavilion next year in Dublin?..)

* Uniqueness is in reach

People love stories. we all do. with less than 250 members, the Zell collective is probably one of the most special networks in business in Israel but also now expanding slowly into new territories (Kano, Formlabs, Gogobot and more, are all UK and/or US based Zellot startups).

* The Opportunity is real

Yes, it is. Not just for our own collective, but the for the broader collectives we are all part of, and every Zellots is part of another collective. but in order to make a big impact on our external collectives, we have the opportunity to focus, nurture and empower our Zell collective, one that can take a random Dublin summit (as big as it is) and make sure that we all get the attention, help each other, connect and introduce, cheer. We have a common faith – it’s one that is driven by building meaningful companies, creating real value for people, and show that Israel and Israelis can build great companies, now and in the future.


EyalDublin

The Zell Entrepreneurship Program will soon celebrate its 13 years birthday. An achievement that is beyond the dreams of anyone that was involved in its inception. The fruits of that inception are only now starting to reach their time. They blossomed throughout the years, nurtured by the leaders of the program, supported by Sam Zell and empowered by its extraordinary alumni network.

Dublin was a milestone, and an important one, but it’s over now. The Zell collective of the future should look at this milestone and dream big, and being a Zellot means executing on our dreams. Period.

Yonatan Raz-Fridman

Zell 8, 2009

Co-Founder <> Kano

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trailblazing for Ideas

“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? Or an intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea takes hold of the brain it is almost impossible to eradicate…”

Such says Cobb (Leonardo DeCaprio) in the movie Inception (and a friend explaining her rash return to Israel this year). The notion of the omnipotence of an idea is rampant. But any experienced startup entrepreneur knows that while ideas can certainly be powerful (addictive even), they need to be taken in stride. Ideas are a dime a dozen…execution is the bottom line.

I love the quote though, because there is a power to ideas…a magic to them… ideas worth spreading is the tag line for TED.com and the premise of their experiment in brand extension called TEDx. TEDx are independently organized events using the TED model of talks in 18 minutes or less. I was fortunate to be involved in one of the TEDx events last week in Israel, called TEDxIDC. Dreamed up, initiated and executed by two IDC students and a cohort team of IDC student volunteers (including a Zellot), the focus of this TEDx event was social responsibility.

TEDx

 

Coming literally days after the boisterous and lively festival of events that is DLD Tel Aviv, TEDxIDC managed to pack a punch with ideas on ventures, programs and initiatives young people have created, founded and brought to life to make Israel and the world a better place…and just to prove how contagious ideas are, two of my students from Technische Universitat Darmstadt, who came into town for the DLD events, stayed through the TEDxIDC event and were inspired to start planning a TEDxDarmstadt event!

Ideation Cultivation

In any event, with the Inception quote on ideas is how I started my talk on Cultivating Ideation at the Google for Entrepreneurs Trailblazers Summit, an event bringing together 100 partners of the Google for Entrepreneurs (GFE) programs including accelerators, entrepreneurship programs and entrepreneurial outreach programs to share insights and best practices and learn about the incredible offering this powerhouse organ within Google Ventures offers the entrepreneurial community.

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Trailblazers Summit…Now that is an Idea!

An experience in many senses, GFE went out of their way to create an atmosphere for sharing and learning. It was great hanging out with old friends, getting to know some newer friends and meetings tons of new friends of which I am sure much collaboration will be born of it. The lectures and workshops combined community driven talks about the incredible and diverse programs people are working on Lemonade Day (entrepreneurship for kids through lemonade stands), Blackbox (a two week accelerator bring together entrepreneurs from all over the world to Palo Alto), Astia promoting women in entrepreneurship and P@sha (an entrepreneurial center in Pakistan); and  great talks by Bill Marris of Google Ventures, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins and the amazing and inspiring Megan Smith of Google X.

The thing about ideas, like resilient, contagious parasites,…is their vitality and ability to change, grow and adapt. It is a mistake to get attached to them, because an idea is never the same day in and day out…its power is in its adaptation. Take for instance the Zellots of the Zell 13 class: Ideating away…some have changed ideas like a fashionista changes her wardrobe…but there is a link or tie between idea and idea…even if in a different space altogether, the process of ideation is a building process and once developed, can continue to grow. As they trudge through ideation frustration (which shortly gives way to a November crash ripe with team splits and idea changes)…To them I can say, be boldened by the fact that ideas are mutable and salient, be humbled by the fact that even when you find what you think is a great idea, that too will change and transform…

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New academic year…new Jewish year…Zell (in 2012-13) in a nutshell

As we near the end of another Jewish calendar year, its always a great time to take stock of the year that passed.

Zell 12 completed “Zell Live” or their magic (and sometimes manic) year and graduated into alumni status (finished their studies at IDC Herzliya as well). A few ventures continuing in one way or another, but the cards are still out on which will weather the storm and reality check of real world entrepreneurship or what I call the ‘August Test’ when the alternative cost of being an entrepreneur (i.e. being unemployed) becomes significantly different from the year past.

Two of the ventures had live working products by the end of the year: Repstamp and Payground. Repstamp is now seeking to raise funds and Payground being put on the back burner. Fandome is also seeking funding and completing its alpha and Naked Caps is working on its prototype product. Supplime, Farmbow and Feedeo have disbanded and laid their ventures to rest. Some of the Zellots are looking for work in start-ups, starting internships, back to where they worked pre-Zell or otherwise trying to chart their new course in life post Zell. One even joined municipal politics!

Concurrently, Zell 13 kicked off after a challenging three-month application process starting with a grilling online application including open questions, CV upload, venture proposal submission and two letters of recommendations sent to us directly by the recommenders, followed by a faculty interview, four alumni interviews and an interview with two members of the advisory board. A group of 37 candidates were invited to take part in the summer induction program, or “SIP” of Zell. A chance for the program to get to know them better, for them to get to know the program better and to get to know each other better.

One of the highlights is the Idea Fair, where the Sippers present potential venture ideas to firends of the program, faculty, mentors and alumni (here Ofer Ben Noon with just returned Zell 5er Gili Haberman)

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The program finale is also the final cut and the kick off of Zell 13, the thirteenth class of the program. 22 Zellots in all were chosen and with overlap: 9 Computer science, 7 women, 1 Heseg scholar, 1 professional musician, 1 scuba instructor, 10 IDF officers (no pilots but two IAF elite unit commanders), 3 RRIS (International School) students, an Olah from Holland and one from the US, many with start up experience or their own businesses and 7 of them finished their studies and are staying at IDC for a fourth year just to take part in the Zell Program…

Our alums are doing amazing things with their ventures with some great developments: Zell 11’s Feex raised a 3 Million Dollar round and Roomer 2 Million; Zell 10’s Segoma launched their diamond imaging product at the Israel diamond exchange, Boaz Bachar raised money for his new venture in agriculture; Zell 9’s Bizzabo raised a round and opened an office in NYC, Wibbitz launched their new mobile app and were listed in Fast Company start ups to watch for and Shmuel Rubashkin’s EasyBox just closed a strategic partnership deal with FedEx; Zell 8’s Arnon Harish and company ironSource has relocated offices to accommodate their 170 employees (and growing!). Yonatan Raz Fridman of Zell 8 has relocated to London with his new venture Kano Computing (my son is testing out their first generation product!) and Moran Nir also of Zell 8 and Funkkit is brewing her next venture (stay tuned); Zell 7’s Wibiya growing at Conduit; Tal Siach of Zell 6 and Visua.ly is making more and more info-graphics and expanding to video (see the Zell Impact Info graphic); Zell 5’s Espresso Date was sold; Offir Gutelzon of Zell 2 launched Keepy in NYC, and Oded Poncz also of Zell 2 launched Ubimo, which just raised first round of funding (from Pitango, where Eyal Gura is now venture partner) another fine example of Zellaboration; speaking of serial Zellaborators, Yaron Carni of Zell 2 has grown Tel Aviv Angel Group and is partnered with Google’s Campus Tel Aviv (so are we, see our clip) and now raising a new fund called Maverick Ventures. From Zell 1: Ori Zaltsman’s Gogobot is growing fast in Palo Alto and Liat Mordechay’s 24Me launched in Techonomy from Israel and making waves on the AppStore’s top apps list and TechCrunch…and a new Zell first: Eyal Yaacov’s Somoto went public!

Entrepreneurial mindset is not just for start ups and we have some great developments in the corporate world: Matan Parnes of Zell 2 has become General Manager of PayPal Israel and head of Advanced Fraud Sciences, Paypal’s R&D Center (note both of eBay’s R&D arms in Israel are headed by Zellots), as noted above Eyal Gura of Zell 2 has joined Pitango Venture Capital as a venture partner and Aaron Dubin of Zell 11 as an analyst; Eze Vidra, who heads Google’s London Campus will be extending his reach to Europe, Maya Cohen is expanding PowerMat’s reach as director of Duracell PowerMat Ecosystem, and Ido Dotan of Zell 12 is directing the young voters for the Bielski campaign for Raanana municipality…and that is just the short list!

We have two grads starting at LBS in London (and in fact the alumni group in the UK is 7 Zellots strong, just had dinner out in London with a few), five grads presently at IDC’s MBA, two at Kellogg Recanati, one at Booth and one at Stanford.

It has been a great year and I am looking forward to an even better one, filled with good health, strong friendships, personal fulfillment and entrepreneurial dreams… Go Zell 13!

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“We will always have Chicago…”

From the iconic Casablanca quote, the Zell 12 class, no matter where their dreams will take them, “will always have Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and NYC…” or rather will always have the memories of this memorable study trip to the US. This June, another cohort of Zellots took their suits, decks, one pagers and bulky luggage, including a year’s worth of emotional baggage to head for the program finale abroad. Two weeks of action packed company visits, condensed classes, presentation events and eye opening experience.

The trip started June 1 at Ben Gurion, where one of the teams prepared flight kits for the journey including eye covers for the flight, needed toiletries like bandages and pain relievers a personalized shot glass and a bag.

We flew to Chicago via NYC and got a chance to get to know the Windy City and the University of Chicago Booth School of BusinessThe students took a specially designed modular program in commercializing innovation and entrepreneurial marketing strategy at Gleacher Center and visited Harper Center at the Hyde Park campus, where Zell alum Anat Kramer Godfried arranged and led a tour and campus visit.

We also met Sam Zell, who heard the ventures and were hosted for an incredible dinner thanks to Zell at the Waldorf Astoria arranged by his colleague and ‘fairy god mother’ to the program, Ellen Havdala.  In Chicago we were hosted for dinner by chairman of the Chicago chapter of American Friends of IDC, Andrew Teitz in his home and Lowell Kraff for a Chicago traditional deep dish pizza dinner in town. Lowell and his partners at Trivergance, who last year awarded an US$18K grant to Zell 11′s roomer, this year chose three runner ups and the competition continues…

From Chicago we headed West for two days of Palo Alto and San Francisco where we visited eBay, hosted by Amit Menipaz and Han Yuan, arranged by Zell 9′s Ron Gura of the Gifts Project turned eBay Israel Innovation Center, great talks, swag and tour of the e-commerce giant. From their my cousin Johnathan Podemsky hosted us at LinkedIn, where he is product manager. There we got a taste of the behind the scenes behind Search plus a cool map of our LinkedIn profile connections! We also visited Zell 1 alum, Ori Zaltzman at Gogobot!, used Innovation Endeavors hosted by Dror Berman and Anat Binur as a basecamp, visted and lunched at Googleplex, arranged by Amir Shevat of our partner Google Campus TLV and hosted by Martin Omander, who is a tour guide in disguise of a developer relations guy and Lior Ron, who always makes time to hear our venture ideas.

We visited Facebook, hosted by Dan Barak and got to hear about how Face.com founders are fitting in after relocation; we visited Kenshoo and heard about the amazing growth of that company from Sivan Metzger. We got some much needed down time plus lunch and ping pong at Auttomatic, with Raanan Bar Cohen, a connection initially made by Eyal Gura, Zell 2. We visited Ido Leffler who told his incredible story about the founding of Yes to Carrots, another visit arranged by Zell alum Assaf Wand, Zell 1 of Sabi who I got to spend some quality time visiting with his growing family on the weekend. 

Speaking of the weekend, while the Zell Gals stayed to network and enjoy a delicious meal in Palo Alto, courtesy of Amit Adamov’s planning, her brother’s cooking and the generous hospitality of Lior and Mimi Delgo, get a group mani-pedi, a speed boat ride on the bay…and generally get to check out San Francisco, including the bars at the Castro…The boys went to Vegas! No pictures from there…

Our study trip was not without extra-curricular activities  including a pub crawl in North Beach with my college buddy Andy Rogers (same one who took the gals on the boat trip round the bay) and a beer meet with Upwest Labs current wave in Palo Alto.

We did come to work though and in addition to an endless amount of pitches throughout the trip we also presented the ventures at TechAviv Palo Alto and New York, where Naked took the Palo Alto crowd and RepStamp in NYC in the TechAviv Zell StartUp Competition.

From there, we took a red eye to NYC, a beat up bus and crazy bus driver to Boston, where we spent a whirlwind day, the highlight of which was visiting Nathan Linder of Zell 2 at the MIT Media Lab…and then returned to the NYC. More company visits including Estee Lauder, BBDO, G&G, Goldman Sachs and of course our advisory board member, Yaron Galai at the new OutBrain offices and a visit with newly relocated Yair Goldfinger of AppCard hosted by Mark Gerson at Gerson Lehrman Group (with much thanks to Or Benoz of Zell 11 for arranging the visit, less so for arranging our bus to Boston but mostly for a great Saturday brunch in NYC). We had the pleasure of visiting Bizzabo‘s new offices in NYC and tour the WeWork space with Alon Alroy of Zell 9. Also had an amazing visit to the World Trade Center visitor’s center, arranged by Offir Gutelzon of Zell 2 and now his newly founded venture Keepy. Offir was the star alumni this year, joining us in Palo Alto and New York!

And we could not finish the incredible trip without a closing Friday night Sushi dinner at Idit Harel Caperton’s wonderful home with the most wonderful view and the most gracious hospitality. 

For the film version created by the insanely talented Yoav Artzi, see The Zell 12 Trip. None of this would of course be possible without the generous support of Sam Zell, IDC, our fearless Zell team of Dana Barda Malka and Liraz Sharabani (and my dear husband Oren, who holds the house together and takes great care of the kids).

…and now Zell 13 in the works…

 

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Perspectives…

Have finished three books of late that are worthy of sharing. The first a read for the literary soul in me, was Casual Vacancy by J.K.Rowling. If you are convinced as I was that she is a master fantasy storyteller, than this latest endeavor of hers proves she is simply (though there is nothing simple about it) a Master Storyteller. Thinking back I would argue that what makes the book an incredible read is her depth of characters, or the fact everyone has their own truth and it has many facets. Just when you think you feel something about someone she throws in a different angle and you see that person in a different light.

The second, of the modern Israeli investigative journalism genre, called Ze’elim, was given to me by Boaz Shedletzky and autographed to me by the author, Omri Assenheim (the two of them by both of their counts are very good friends). As a disclaimer I’ll say that I do not read much in Hebrew in the limited time I have to read, I prefer the easier (aka lazier) route, plus since I read mostly on my Kindle via iPad, that settles that on the language end (aka there’s some justification for my laziness to boot!). However, having an author sign a book and dedicate especially for me, gave me more than impetus to read in the language of the Hebrew Man and I am very glad for it. The book deals with the most controversial and tragic military accident in Israel’s history (and regrettably there were a more than a few). The writing is clear, concise and intelligent. Similar to J.K.Rowling, there is an understanding that different people have different ways of seeing the same event. Their perspective is a function of many things and shapes their outlook and their actions and justifications for things.

On that note but in a totally different way, the third book, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In-Women, Work and the Will to Lead talks about modern feminism through the perspective of her own experience both professionally and as a mother. She offers herself as a role model but recognizes that there are different individual considerations and perspectives to work life balance and professional attainment as a woman.

She also highlights effectively the different perspective of men and women to similar situations. She states ‘multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually was and that most men judge their performance as better than it actually was’ (p.29) ‘even worse, when women evaluate themselves in front of other people or in stereotypically male domains their underestimations can be more pronounced. Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same question and she will attribute her success to external factors’ (pg. 30).

The three books have a common thread in a sense. The idea of many faceted truth or truth being defined from the perspective of one’s own experience and the need for openness and agility in considering those perspectives.

Entrepreneurship is like that. An entrepreneur often has a perspective of reality that is different (and it needs to be to be innovative and disruptive) but needs to relate to the different perspectives of customers when developing product and features (what do people need) business model (what will people pay for) and distribution (how will people engage).

Was in Cape Town on family vacation (the flight time alone offering explanation of my having finished reading three books!) and thus have had a lot of opportunity to think about different truths and perspectives in a broader political sense as well. Nothing like spending time in a complicated place to reflect on the complicated place you come from.

This has gotten me thinking…Our ability to be agile in perspective and thought, to see beyond our view of things and understand others has implications beyond politics (whether South Africa, Israel or Pagford) and business (whether climbing the corporate ladder as a woman or a man…or creating a viable business of one’s own). It is needed everywhere. It is essential in this ever globalized, ever rapidly changing world. It was always essential but now even more.

 

But is it being taught? Apparently not. Thomas Friedman, one of my favorite writers considers what education is and what it should be and I think it is spot on. Agility in thought, critical thinking, broad perspective and an open mind to difference, diversity and change.

Now back to work…Zell 13 applications all in. We have a record number of applicants…will have a tough time ploughing through the different perspectives offered for why each and everyone should be part of the next class of twenty.

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The Powers that B

One such Power of B, as in B for Building a Story, that start-middle-end of a telling that evokes the desired response from the listener, is clearly of the utmost importance for an entrepreneur. If you are not totally convinced, I am sure Kirby Ferguson’s recently added piece on the Future of Storytelling with Paul Zak (scroll to the bottom of the page for the second clip), will make you think twice. The clip is evocative and telling… and highlights how essential the structure of a story is to the art of story telling. The clip revisits  Gustav Freytag’s Dramatic Arc of narrative, beginning with exposition (or background), then rising action, climax, falling action and denouement (French for final action). It builds on this Dramatic Arc as the essential framework which makes for powerful storytelling. Freytag’s anti-semitic leanings aside, he clearly tapped into something that neuroscience is beginning to be able to explain today, ergo: That we are somehow wired to hear out a story when a certain dramatic sequence is followed.

True for the entrepreneurial pitch in much the same way: First, exposition, or some back ground to lay the foundation of the story –what you do, the team with the qualifications to pull it off; then rising action, the need or pain in the market, the incredible opportunity based on research done and minimal viable product tested; then climax, the solution and secret sauce to make it work and why this is going to be a game changer; then falling action, who and what is already out there, how the problem is being solved today, competitive landscape, differentiation;  and then the dramatic conclusion, or denouement, the business model and how this idea, once executed by your team, will tap into this amazing opportunity in the market, make loads of money and change the world.

Undoubtedly powerful, but not the only Power of B.  Speaking of Business Model, that other Power of B, of no less importance, and arguably without it, there is no story to tell… is the power of the business model. Often ignored, or offered as a laundry list, a generic slide that could work for any venture…the business model is in my view the essence of the whole thing. It does not mean the business model will work from day one, it does not mean it will not change as reality kicks in when a venture gets off the ground and runs inadvertently into its actual users, it does not mean it is full proof; but from my experience, when you consider the business end of your business and it doesn’t make sense (or ‘cents’ and many of them), there will be fundamental problems with the viability of the venture that no amount of story telling will be able to overcome in the end. I don’t just mean revenue model. One of our Zellumni, Dror Ceder recently shared with me a page from hackpad.com, the ‘smart collaborative documents’ site. I found the collaborative page, started and moderated by Fred Wilson on Web and Mobile Revenue Models, truly instructive and thorough. Great place to get analog ideas for different web revenue models. But I don’t mean only that. Those are more the means to the end, rather the essence of that end. Though sometimes confused, raising money is not a business model either… I mean the business reasoning behind the idea of the venture in the first place, the synergy or combination of need, solution, opportunity with an underlying economic rationale, that if it works, will yield an optimal use of resources for optimal economic benefit (ideally happy customers, fairly compensated employees, a good rate of return for investors, economic reward for founders).

I’ll give an example, removed from time and place, but the analogy is clear: I recently got an informational booklet circulated by our village municipality in honor of the 80 year anniversary of the founding of Ramot Hashavim. The circular includes minutes of meetings from the first board meetings and other related documents, like the call to action published by the founders of the village to enlist investors and the first settlers to the village (users and investors all in one). Translated from the German, the documents include the underlying business model for the whole endeavor. There were many villages founded at the time, but the founders clearly found a business model with differentiation: The founders learned that 100 million eggs were being imported per annum, consumed almost entirely by the then Jewish population at the time of 600,000 persons. The local supply produced only 1% of the demand. Eureka! an economic opportunity and one that solves a real problem for the German immigrant population arriving in Palestine…the ensuing business model was as follows: German immigrants to Israel at the time were professionals and merchants, unfit for most agricultural work, but in need of homes and occupations; raising chickens was agricultural work with relatively little need for training and physical ability; there was a growing population of egg consumers and very mitigated local supply of a product with limited shelf life and relatively high fragility…in a nutshell (or eggshell rather), the underpinnings of a successful entrepreneurial venture.

As the circular notes though, with the first egg came the problem of how to market it…which leads to a whole other topic and a separate  issue beyond the Powers that B, which I could call the Power of D (as in distribution… and go-to-market)…

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The thing about ideas…

Ask one of the Zellots today, and they will invariably tell you that finding a great idea for a startup is probably one of the bigger challenges. There is the fundamental question of what exactly a good idea is, never mind a great one. Is it one that VCs will invest in? is it one that makes money? is it one a great business can be built around? All valid questions…and then the matter of finding that idea.

I would argue that there is a fundamental flaw underlying that fundamental question…and that is, the notion that an idea can be detached from the problem it is trying to solve. As I see it in the context of venture creation, it is less about the percieved value of the idea and more about addressing a real need…(ideally that someone would be willing to pay for). Ideas will invariably change, pivot and be fine tuned to unrecognisable form as the underlying assumptions of those ideas are tested and validated…(or not)…and then implemented and retested.  The real birth of an idea is not a Eureka moment, but a process. When Ron Gura of Zell 9 started the Gifts Project the idea was group gifting initiated by the receiver of the gift (think: “I want an iPhone5 for my birthday, who wants to chip in?”), after getting something out there, Ron and team realised users were not so comfortable asking for gifts, but the more relevant need was to get groups together for someone else’s gift? (eBay thought so too, and acquired the company a year and a half ago).

Understanding (and then addressing) a real market lacuna, consumer pain, unmet need or inefficiency and considering a variety of solutions until one is found to have a real value proposition (through diligent customer discovery and dogged validation), that is how a good idea is born. Paul Graham shared some thoughts on this that are well worth a read.

As he notes in the article, organic idea generation is preferred, but not always an option. Inherent to the Zell program, a year long venture creation program that boasts its open approach to venture creation, its flexible structure and focus on what is right for each team and their venture, that even with all the fexibility and adaptive framework, in the course of a year each team will need to come up with an idea to work on (or it would not be a venture creation program?). Idea on demand is a challenge and some students complain to me that they feel it can constrain creativity.

My experience at Zell and other entrepreneurial venture creation platforms is that constraint is actually helpful in the entrepreneurial process, and in ideation in particular. Its a matter of being on alert for real needs. Another Zell 9 venture, Bizzabo chose their venture idea on a deadline. They were actually researching another idea at a tradeshow and realised the need for networking at conferences and business events.

It is also a matter of using your available resources at hand, like experience, domain expertise. At Seedcamp Paris this week, where I was a mentor, teams probably had the benefit of organic choice rather than on demand. The stronger ideas tapped into needs founders experienced in their workplaces (i.e. Unifyo) or used knowledge and experience gained in previous work (i.e.in PR and media in Tint).

Whether on demand or organic, idea development requires jumping in the water and starting.  A good idea is really a good or valid need or customer pain, your own or one you know about first hand because you’ve serviced that space, one that exists in a growing market. If Internet, Mary Meeker’s year end Internet Trends presentation gives great insights into trends and market scope and at LeWeb, the Internet of Things was slated as the next place for great ideas…

That great idea…whether on demand or organic, it should provide great added value (even a bit at a time); it need not be alone out there (on the contrary, lack of competitors has its own pretty big problems); it need not be first; it need not have all the answers, features, water tight solutions. It needs to be able to change and adapt as it is validated. It needs be uncertain. It needs to be scary. If it weren’t all those, it would be a day job.

Happy Holiday Season!

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    Just what I needed, thanks a lot.

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New beginnings

The Summer Induction Program came and went…in its wake a newly hatched Zell class, Zell 12, or the 12th year of the program! Twenty two students from the faculties of law and business, economics, government, computer science, communications, business management and accounting have formed six teams and are presently ideating away! There are 6 women, 2 pilots, a professional basketball player, 7 students from computer science, of which four are experienced programmers, a former Israel national team gymnast, an Heseg scholar, five students technically finished with school and staying on for Zell, another brother sister combo (different teams) who share a Zell alumni sibling…plus a lot of motivation, drive and entrepreneurial spirit. See their bios on the Zell site.

Some more program news: Dana, our program coordinator got married this year and recently had a baby… mom and child are doing great! Liraz Sharabani of Zell 7 has stepped in to fill the gap during Dana’s maternity leave and get a chance to see the program from a different angle! Welcome Liraz, great to have you!

With Zell 12 in…(and after our traditional ZIZO (Zell In Zell out) event, we’ve sent Zell 11 out and about in the real world now…they had a great Zell year and developed some cool ideas in the program. One team, HocSpot had a working product launched by December. Two other ventures, BiggerGame and Crowdpic had working private betas by the end of the year, Gesta had a live public beta with real customers (of which I am proud to admit I was a satisfied one)…two teams were selected to compete and made it as finalists in SeedCamp Israel. HocSpot was offered an investment by SeedCamp and lool ventures, but eventually turned them down and disbanded. Feex secured an investment of 100K US and just moved into their offices, Roomer had great exposure in the US trip and even walked away with a 18K US$ grant, Spoteam is seeking funds, and TenFoot was selected to participate in UpWest Labs, the Silicon Valley accelerator for Israeli start-ups, Ori there now.

Zellumni ventures (ventures started on the program or by Zell alumni after the program) like Wibbitz (Yotam Cohen and Zohar Dayan – Zell 9) made news after securing 2.3MUS$ from Horizons Ventures and winning the UK Hub TeXchange competition, Bizzabo (Alon Alroy, Eran Ben Shushan and Boaz Katz – Zell 9) closed a second round with over 1MUS$ and launched a few months back, Overwolf (Gil Or and Uri Marchand – Zell 8) also making the news….and recently winning the StartTWS 2012 competition, also Arnon Harish’s (Zell 8) Ironsource moved into new offices on Rotshschild and have grown to 70 employees, Ori Saltzman’s (Zell 1) Gogbot got a new design…Eyal Baumel’s (Zell 8) Bites got back from UpWest labs, Karin Levi and Ofir Beigel’s (Zell 10) Weesh got back from DreamIt New York, Ohad Kedar’s (Zell 10) WeTrip is raising money, Segoma (Litan Yahav and Tomer Salvi Zell 10) secured financing and moved into new offices, and that is just the shortlist!

This past year was also marked by an incredible amount of alumni initiatives. Zell2Zell or Z2Z, an ad hoc bi-monthly peer group to share ideas, venture dilemmas etc. had bi- monthly meetings  Zell4Zell a monthly peer group meeting kicked off and started several groups Zell Gives Back kicked off activities for Zellumni giving back to the community by taking on the creation of a technological virtual playground at the Rogozin Bialik school. The Sippers, or Zell 12 candidates were enlisted to the cause and took part in the design and business proposal challenge during the summer, and now architects, who have agreed to take the project on pro bono, have started the planning. Next is fundraising!

Great new academic year, great new Hebrew calendar year to us all!

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