Jerusalem: Hi-tech capital of the world

Hillel Fuld, a respected blogger and chief marketing officer of the Jerusalem-based Zula mobile app, is passionate about helping the tech ecosystem thrive in the Holy City, and Israel at large.

Hillel Fuld at Google headquarters in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: HILLEL FULD)
Hillel Fuld at Google headquarters in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: HILLEL FULD)
Hillel Fuld is passionate about two things – startups and the State of Israel – and he spends some 16-plus hours a day marketing both to global audiences.
“I don’t sleep very much but when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Fuld, who moved from New York to Israel in his teens some 21 years ago, is chief marketing officer of Zula, a mobile app that integrates communications from different platforms to help teams communicate efficiently. Located in Jerusalem, Zula’s management encourages him to support other startups in addition to representing the company.
“In 2014, it’s understood that a company that just promotes itself is less effective than when someone is evangelizing and helping the industry thrive,” asserted Fuld. “It’s all about providing value to the industry while concurrently elevating the Zula brand. It’s subtle, but effective.”
For almost seven years, Fuld has blogged on his twin passions of promoting start-ups and helping the Israeli ecosystem thrive. His tech ’n’ marketing blog covers a wide range of tech issues from mobile apps to what’s trending in the digital world, and includes interviews with people who have inspired him from different fields within the technological world.
These include such luminaries as Guy Kawasaki (formerly of Apple), Vic Gundotra (formerly of Google) and Dennis Crowley (Foursquare). He also guest blogs at a number of sites that attract millions of readers, and is a contributor to the Huffington Post.
Over the years, Fuld has made a name for himself in the tech industry. “It wasn’t deliberate, I didn’t set out to do this, but it’s come to the point where hundreds of start-ups were reaching out to me for my advice.”
“The foundation of my marketing strategy is relationships,” explained Fuld. “Whether tweeting or building relationships at international events, I reach out to people and ask to interview them. I don’t think I got one refusal in all this time.”
He continued, “I love meeting young entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they are building and help them any way I can, whether it’s introducing them to investors or members of the press, or giving them marketing advice.”
WHILE PEOPLE associate Israeli startups with vibrant Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituah, Jerusalem is emerging as a serious contender as a center for hi-tech innovation. Fuld attributes the vitality of the Jerusalem hi-tech scene primarily to the involvement of the capital’s mayor, Nir Barkat. “Barkat is very bullish on technological innovation and he pushes innovation in the city aggressively, both financially and emotionally.”
Jerusalem today hosts numerous accelerator programs and hubs, centers that enable entrepreneurs to develop their innovations by providing them with, inter alia, workspace and meeting rooms, high-quality connections, legal assistance and access to mentors, investors and venture capitalists.
One such hub, Jerusalem Venture Partners, was founded by Labor MK Erel Margalit. People, Ideas, Community, Opportunities (PICO) is another that aims, according to their website, to strengthen the network between creativity and entrepreneurship in Jerusalem.
“It’s early days, but there are about 50 start-ups in Jerusalem right now, and they really stand out,” said Fuld. “For example, one Jerusalem-based start-up called Lightricks developed a mobile app called FaceTune, and it’s currently the bestselling paid app in the App Store.
“I have no doubt that if the trend continues like this, Jerusalem will be equal to, if not surpass innovation in Tel Aviv,” he asserted. “Jerusalem has so much to offer in terms of culture, history and demographics.
It’s a very exciting city and we’re at the beginning of the big shift towards becoming a hi-tech city.”
Both the Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sectors are also active in the Jerusalem hi-tech revolution. “PICO introduced me to an Arab entrepreneur in east Jerusalem, a forward-thinking guy who is pushing innovation. There’s also an ultra-Orthodox presence in Jerusalem start-ups, no doubt about it,” said Fuld, citing two companies with haredi founders: Webbing, a start-up for interest-based networking and Glide, which developed an app that speedily delivers and receives video messages.
Other Jerusalem-based companies include Zuta Labs and Umoove; both are enjoying a lot of success. “Both have very exciting and challenging technologies,” said Fuld. “When the founders went to raise money for Umoove, a mobile app that tracks eye movement, they internalized the feedback they got and are now repositioning the company to focus on medical research. Right now, they’re in the process of releasing a mobile application that diagnoses medical conditions through eye-tracking.”
ZUTA LABS is one of the fortunate startups supported by Steve Wozniak, who backed them on Kickstarter. Wozniak – one of the legendary founders, together with Steve Jobs, of Apple – visited Israel during the recent war with Gaza, much to Fuld’s delight and excitement. “I’d already interviewed him for my blog a few months earlier,” said Fuld, “and when I heard he was going to visit Israel, I emailed him and asked if we could meet for coffee.”
The meeting took place in the lobby of Wozniak’s Tel Aviv hotel, from where Wozniak was treated to the quintessential Israeli experience of the wailing siren and the race to the hotel’s bomb shelter.
Fuld related how Wozniak and Jobs were like brothers in the early days, when they worked out of Jobs’s garage. “He told me an amazing story of how one day a kindergarten teacher came to their garage and asked if they’d be willing to donate an Apple 1 so she could teach the children about computers.
And Jobs said, ‘Absolutely not.’ His focus was more on advanced education, college, etc. Wozniak tried for three hours to convince him to give her the computer, but Jobs was adamant. So Wozniak put his hand in his pocket and bought the computer he had built to give it to the teacher.”
A DAY after our interview, Fuld was scheduled to meet with the Israel Defense Forces’ head of social media, for his feedback on how well Israel marketed itself to the world during the war.
“I think they did some fantastic work,” said Fuld. “But the message still needs some tweaking. The focus shouldn’t be on the barbarism of Hamas – the world doesn’t need to be reminded that they’re terrorists. We should be giving out positive messages that emphasize how we’re giving humanitarian aid to the Gazans, that we’re not at war with the Gazan people, and how we’re doing more than any other army in the world to prevent innocent deaths and casualties.
“Hamas is very focused on pictures, some of which are false, to get the world to sympathize with them. Well, a picture is worth 1,000 words and we too should be focusing on visuals, not of victims of terrorist attacks, dead people and blood, that’s not what we do, but on photos of how soldiers help Palestinian kids, for example. We have to erase the impression that Israel is a barbaric country, and show that we are the most humanitarian country in the world.”
When Fuld reaches out to major players across the globe, he endeavors to remind them that the country they might perceive as primitive and guilty of genocide is the same Israel that is a technological superpower. “They don’t make the connection,” he said. “I’m very vocal in promoting Israel and interconnecting the country and the innovation.
Some investors are very anti- Israel and I would never recommend that start-ups take money from these guys. And at the end of the day, if they don’t invest in Israeli start-ups, they’re the ones that lose.”
Regarding the future of Israeli hi-tech, Fuld predicted that Jerusalem will eventually become another hi-tech capital, alongside Tel Aviv. “It’s not an impossible dream to believe that Jerusalem is going to be a world leader in technology.
Although Tel Aviv is currently recognized globally as a leader in technology, all elements of the ecosystem, innovation, funding, venture capitalists, etc.
are now also focusing specifically on Jerusalem.
“Two years ago, Israel was known as the start-up nation and everyone was focused on making exits and selling companies. Today, Israeli entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are focused on building billion-dollar companies. I think that in the future, we’re going to be seeing a lot of Israeli billion-dollar companies.”