The guy knows almost everyone in Israeli hi-tech.
Hillel Fuld is a “macher,” which is Yiddish for “a man who arranges, fixes and makes connections.”
Fuld does exactly this between entrepreneurs and deep-pocketed investors.
A quick perusal of Fuld’s hyperactive social media reveals interviews with star venture capitalists such as Marc Andreessen and Apple founder Steve Wozniak, along with post-meeting selfies taken alongside entrepreneurs who are Israeli household names.
Fuld is an axle, among many others, in the Israeli wheel known as the “Start-up Nation” – home to some 5,000 start-ups and with the third most number of companies listed on NASDAQ after China and the US.
Functioning as a gatekeeper of sorts for the local ecosystem, Fuld has screened thousands of Israeli start-ups, offering a stamp of approval along with unsolicited advice and mentorship.
He has taken advisory roles at around 15 companies.
“He knows the start-up scene in Israel better than probably anyone else around,” said Fitness22 co-founder Benny Shaviv, whose start-up has racked up millions of dollars in downloads of smartphone fitness apps. “He is an amazing connector that opens doors for multiple startups with investor, partners and reporters, and does it all just for the sake of doing it.”
What makes Fuld unique is that the man doesn’t ask for compensation in return. He advises start-ups and tailors their public look without requesting a quid pro quo, an unconventional business strategy.
“I built my entire career out of being a ‘freier,’” Fuld said, using the Yiddish word for sucker.
“People say giving in business is good for karma. I say it’s good business. If you facilitate success for others, you go down the road to success as well.”
It’s up to the start-up or company to oblige and repay the favor – which often does not happen.
He’s playing a long-term game.
“With this company in Silicon Valley, for example. I love the company... so I helped. For a long time [years]. Had I asked for something up front, it would have been different. But I did my thing, didn’t ask for anything, and they reached out years later and made me a very generous offer in [vested] options.”
MEETING WITH Fuld, 39, in the Jerusalem offices of Hometalk – an Israeli start-up which has become the world’s most popular home improvement space for do-it-yourselfers – Fuld speaks a mile a minute, gesturing in your face and sounding off.
Residing in Beit Shemesh, the kippa-wearing Fuld made aliya at age 15 from the United States.
He served in an artillery unit in the IDF, then got his bachelor’s degree in political science from Bar Ilan University. Today, he’s married and has five children.
The start-up guru started his career writing for Comverse, a pioneering Israeli tech company focused on telecom software. He segued the “dry” writing gig into a popular blog.
Today, Fuld is a strategic adviser meets marketing guru meets PR specialist, along with dabbling in journalism and video- blogging.
Such skills are a boon for tech geeks who can code and tinker algorithms but who may not be the most personable characters.
When pitching to investors, Fuld’s smooth talk can save the day.
“He’s not one of those people who just talks the good talk,” said Amir Mizroch, the communications director at Start-Up Nation Central, an NGO which connects multinational companies and foreign investors to Israeli start-ups. “He does talk the good talk; he’s an excellent speaker. But in his case, he’s very deeply interested in tech...I would call him a connector, an enabler.”
Some problems that Israeli investors face stem from Israel’s blunt-talking business culture, which lacks the diplomatic finesse expected in Europe and the US. Virtually all Israeli startups seek to sell their products abroad, given the relatively small size of the Israeli market. That forces bumbling geeks to have to clean up their act.
“The difference between sales and marketing, the fundamental difference, is one word – one word that does not exist in Hebrew. Subtlety. Sales is direct, marketing requires subtlety,” Fuld remarks. It’s a catchphrase of his, signaling that Israeli entrepreneurs often don’t tell the underlying story behind how and why the product came to be, along with who they intend as a customer.
This is where Fuld enters the picture, helping Israeli start-ups scale to the larger and more complex European and US markets.
Despite the moniker of “Start- Up Nation,” previously fledgling start-ups are now seeking to scale-up and expand in Israel and abroad, leading Fuld to start a new trend of “unicorn nation.”
(Unicorns are start-ups valued at more than $1 billion.) “I’m seeing more and more companies that don’t have an ‘exit strategy’ but are looking to build large sustainable businesses in Israel... There are more and more unicorns in Israel,” he said.
“This is a very positive sign of maturity, a sign that we are perhaps graduating from ‘Start-up Nation’ into something greater.”
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