I’ve always been fascinated by Israel’s success.
According to Bill Gates,
this tiny country has, “relative to its population, done the most to contribute
to the technology revolution.” For starters, there are more Israeli companies on
Nasdaq than all of Europe combined. A pretty impressive feat.
So how did
Israel do it, surrounded by enemies? Why did Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s book
The Start-up Nation inspire our British company to leave London, a major
financial center, and relocate to Tel Aviv for awhile? In this post, I want to
share some of my own experiences about what has contributed to the “economic
miracle” of Israel.
1. Israel’s immigration and assimilation policy I’ve
seen such a diverse cultural mix of people. Waves of emigrants from as close as
Tunisia and as far as Australia.
Only last week, I went to a start-up
networking session with no few than 21 countries represented. The “Start-up
nation” has created a melting pot of backgrounds, thought processes and
This has been made possible by Israel’s open door immigration
policy. On the news, I see campaigns galore with agencies and ministers bending
over backwards to bring new immigrants to the country. Politicians even run for
election promising how many new immigrants they’ll bring to the
2. Role of the military A sense of mission is key to building a
great team. This applies to any aspect of life, from successful marriages to
start-ups. In the army young 18-year-olds put themselves on the line, while at
the same time gaining solid leadership and mentorship experience.
example is my good friend Or Hillel, a young entrepreneur who by the age of 22
had already sold his first online business. Or told me, “They took me as a kid
at the age of 18, got me to think by putting me in tough situations where I had
work as part of a team to survive.
It helped see the reality of the world
through the eyes of an army soldier. This helped me become creative about
dealing with tricky situations. To be an entrepreneur you need to be innovative
and the army was a great breeding ground for this.”
Going to the
workplace later in life breeds more mature, smarter entrepreneurs. I’m a firm
believer that the military link between study and entering the fierce world of
business is a valuable one. When looking for team players, I can only see it as
beneficial to hire a member of staff who has previous experience in sacrificing
himself or herself for a bigger cause.
3. Startups – ethos of
survivability Israelis continue with their work and entrepreneurship even in the
most trying of political situations. No doubt, there are problems here. The
existential threat may always hamper the ‘Start-up nation’ from reaching it’s
However, most of the start-ups I’ve met in Israel work
worldwide. Clients overseas want goods shipped. Entrepreneurs don’t have the
privilege of saying “there’s been a flare-up, we can’t supply you.”
week, an entrepreneur named Haim Ben-Ami summed it up perfectly. He said,
“Israelis need to stay in the game and keep in the competition every day.” This
creates a sense of resilience and not wanting to give up.
We go back to
my friend Or, who recounts that during basic training in the army he was only
allowed one hour on the phone per day. Or remembers, “I had clients consistently
calling in from the US. The first five minutes was always to my family to tell
them I was OK. The rest of my time was spent with clients who had no idea I was
in basic training. I simply had to portray an image of business as
4. Power of old-fashioned chutzpah I’ve learnt that chutzpah goes
a long way toward business success. Part of showing chutzpah is not taking no
for an answer and doing whatever it takes to achieve your goal.
Israeli family teach their kids at a young age, “don’t be a frier,” i.e. sucker.
As one of my local suppliers puts it, “if you stand in line and follow every
instruction to a T, you won’t get far.”
At conferences, I’ve seen young
Israelis with little business experience not being afraid to approach top CEOs,
venture capitalists, and talk with them on an equal footing.
countries, this may be considered rude. As an entrepreneur, I’ve certainly
learned from Israelis that to get something you need to be audacious and
5. It’s OK to fail Most start-ups fail. Whether you are in
London, Tel Aviv or the Silicon Valley, the odds are against
Israelis know that they may fail, but the vast majority have the
perseverance to try and try again. If a first start-up fails, they won’t lose
faith in their entrepreneurial DNA.
I’ve noticed that entrepreneurs in
Israel proudly “entrepreneur” on business cards. In most cases, it’s as
prominent as the name of the company they founded.
At first, this shocked
me. I then dug deeper to find out that being an entrepreneur is a pretty trendy
In the past, you might have pleased an Israeli grandma
by telling her you were a lawyer, doctor or accountant.
However, in 2013,
it’s trendy and accepted to be an entrepreneur in Israel. Grandmas proudly tell
other grandmas that their son is an entrepreneur. Playing it safe doesn’t have
the appeal it once had.
6. A resilient and ambitious nation For me, it’s
crystal clear why Google, Microsoft and Intel see Israel as a key base for
research and development.
Despite the country’s existential threat, the
one thing I can truly say is Israel has an incredibly resilient
I’m so proud my team has got to see this story of innovation
and entrepreneurial success with their own eyes.
We’re better, stronger
entrepreneurs for the experience.
Thank you Israel.
The author is
managing director of Global Currency Partners Ltd (My Currency Transfer).