Israel and Silicon Valley have had a symbiotic relationship for
Israeli startups export hi-tech products and technologies to “the
Valley,” and American companies send back money and stock options. But money
gets spent, and stock options have a way of evaporating before they’re vested,
what with all the ups and downs in the market these days.
lasting is the knowledge and intelligence the American “daddy” sends to its
Israeli “child,” which in short order is transformed from a startup into an
The stateside parent company sends some of its people
over to learn the magic of the technology it has acquired, and they get together
with the folks in the new Israeli subsidiary and trade ideas.
intermingling can lead to even bigger and better ideas and new technologies,
resulting in a new startup and a new round of buyouts.
between American and Israeli tech people is important not just for the
germination and development of new technologies.
For Israel, it’s an
important part of the country’s hasbara, helping others to understand Israeli
society, the country’s problems and needs.
It’s not necessarily about
politics, but about showing off the “other side” of Israel, the side beyond the
conflict. In other words, the human factor is as important an aspect of Israeli
hi-tech as the technology part.
That human factor, in fact, is attractive
in and of itself, and it’s become a major reason for individuals and families
from the US and Canada to make aliya. Many of the professionals who come with
their families to work in Israeli hi-tech end up working for American companies
when the startup they work for gets bought out – and ironically, some of them
actually get sent back to the States for training or even an extended work
For many in hi-tech, getting assigned back to HQ in Silicon
Valley is a dream come true, something they would never have been able to attain
had they stayed in Teaneck or Toronto.
But what about people who already
live – or work – in Silicon Valley? In Talmudic style, we pose the question: If
a hi-tech worker’s dream is to end up working for a Silicon Valley company – or
even in Silicon Valley – does it not stand to reason that someone working in
Silicon Valley already would want to remain there? Of course, Zionism, love of
the Land, and other ephemeral concepts play into the decision to make aliya –
but hey, we’re talking a Silicon Valley job here! Though these opportunities are
few and far between, for many, making aliya trumps working in Silicon Valley.
Among those who made the decision to come to Israel is a young man named Ben
Lang, who not only worked in Silicon Valley but actually ran not one, but three
Internet startups. Not only that, he managed to get The New York Times upset
enough that they threatened to sue him. Now he’s living in Israel, and is
already working in the hi-tech industry here.
Note: Lang is all of 18
years old – and will be joining the IDF in March! It’s pretty unusual for
someone with a running hi-tech business to voluntarily give it up and serve in
an army – any army – but Lang is a rather unusual individual.
example, he spent last summer in a program for young hi-tech entrepreneurs (the
Teens in Tech Incubator program), which took place in Silicon Valley – spending
a total of $250 all summer to support himself! “I attended plenty of events,
where there was always something to eat, plus I had a relative in the area, so I
was able to eat more or less for free.” Clothes – at least Tshirts – were never
a problem either, since many of the companies Lang visited as part of the
program lavished participants with shirts, hats, and other
Lang was in the program as a result of his startup
“I started my first online business when I was 14, selling
things on eBay,” Lang said.
“A few years later, I started EpicLaunch, a
popular blog for young entrepreneurs. And, I started a site called MySchoolHelp,
where high school students can share notes and help each other on
That idea, said Lang, came about when he was still in high
school (Ramaz School in Manhattan), when he realized that students could make
use of the notes they took to help kids coming into the class they just took,
instead of throwing them away. And as a result of the incubator experience, Lang
has a third startup, ClassParrot, which lets teachers send notes and messages to
students’ phones and devices without revealing either’s phone numbers to the
other, thus preserving privacy on both sides.
Perhaps his most
interesting adventure so far was an attempt to circumvent the paywall that The
New York Times put up this past year for its online edition. Readers are allowed
to browse 20 articles a month, after which they get a message that if they want
to read more, they need to subscribe.
“The system they use is pretty
simple, and just checks cookies,” said Lang, which gave him the idea to develop
a web program for browsers that would simply erase the cookies.
the word, he bought a domain name called “FreeNewYork- Times.com,” which raised
the ire of the folks at the Times, who threatened him with all sorts of legal
pain if he did not “cease and desist” from using their good name for his
“0They sent a letter out the day after I bought the
My hosting service took down all my sites, and I was out of
touch for a couple of weeks. They worked pretty quickly,” he said.
now, Lang is working at a site called Wibiya (recently acquired by Conduit) here
in Israel, and recently cofounded yet another site, Innovation Israel, which is
an evangelist site that promotes great Israeli ideas. But all that will come to
a screeching halt in a couple of months, when Lang enlists in the
“If I had stayed in New York, I would by no means have been
obligated to join, but I felt a necessity to give back to Israel,” he
“It was extremely difficult leaving Silicon Valley, a haven for
startups and entrepreneurs, but I know that joining the Israeli army is the
right decision,” he added.
“Decisions are always tough, but in the end
everything always works out.”