I Will Not Support Y Combinator in Israel
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. So does Y Combinator’s Paul Graham.
It’s not uncommon to accept that an individual’s views do not reflect that of his employer. However, much as it would be unacceptable to separate misogynistic views of a founder from reflecting upon his company, I cannot separate Paul’s continued views about Israel from YC.
Paul has been making his views known via tweets over the past few years. Nothing new under the sun in this respect.
A couple of months ago though, I was connected to a YC partner, Michael Seibel, who is planning to be in Israel early August to spread the YC gospel. I was happy to lend a hand by organizing a meet-up at a local bar and getting the word out.
I am now rescinding my offer. I will not lend my hand to an organization who is comfortable with its founder criticizing a nation, while at the same time, pitching to incubate its best and brightest.
That’s just not going to fly with me.
Again, Paul is entitled to what I believe to be misguided and mis-informed opinions. Rightfully extending this forward, YC should not be entitled to an open-arm welcoming by the Israeli startup community.
Finally, I would like to make it clear that Michael Seibel has exhibited nothing but positivity, and while I believe this situation reflects poorly upon YC, it should not upon Michael.
The Day I Realized I’m Old
I’m of the age group in which when a woman sends you a naked picture of herself, you archive it. That’s because I’m of a generation which still has some grasp of ‘posterity’.
We remember Kodak being a film company… When every snap mattered. When each snap meant one less you had left in your roll.
I can’t recall the specific day last year that I realized I’m old, but it was the moment I understood that couples were using Snapchat for everyday communication, as opposed to the ‘obvious’ use-case of sexting naked photos to one another.
For me, every communication I’ve had with a romantic interest is archived. I don’t view them regularly, but I like to know they’re there. There’s something genuinely reassuring for me in being able to leaf back in the pages of my romantic history. The idea itself is more reassuring than the actual act.
Of course most of the romantic communication I’ve archived is not particularly interesting or visually stimulating… Looking at the last couple days of Facebook Messenger communications I’ve had with the extraordinary woman that has chosen to share her life with me, I see links we shared (like this one, and this one). But in between the ordinary, come the moments that cut like a knife, that stopped my fingers mid-tap, mid-click. Moments like these:
“There’s no joy without pain…
There’s no connection with no vulnerability…“
There’s no goddamn way I’d want a moment like that to disappear — to be ephemeral. It’s the glue between the risqué photos you send your lover when he’s on business abroad. The ones that he receives at the line for the TSA. The ones that make him want to fly back the plane himself.
The honest-to-god-truth is that my age impaired me from truly grokking Snapchat, which explains why I don’t even care to look at Slingshot.
Today, my age has become a critical factor in how I look at deal-flow that comes our away these days at Initial Capital.
Which brings me to Yo. I won’t get into whether I think this is an example of the ‘bubble’ we are in, or not. Rather, what I find more interesting is that to me, it brings more everyday value than the Slingshots ever will. Think about that… A single-button app can have more value to some users (my generation) than an ‘X-Killer’ crafted by the mighty Facebook.
One of the signs of an interesting product is when it polarizes. Yo certainly has that going for it coming out of the gate. I was brought into the fold a few months ago and have been using it since. Hand on my heart, it has more utility than most other products I use. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the wheel reinvented, but it’s also far less trivial than the cynical comments that have been hurled around.
Surprisingly, what on the surface should be a product I should dismiss because of its gross simplicity (stupidity?), I actually view as one of the more interesting products I’ve seen recently. Certainly not one, that as Marc Andreessen says as well, should be dismissed.
Must be an age thing.
"We The People of… Silicon Valley"
I surely didn’t mean this to be the post to follow the Clubhouse, in that by no means am I trying to paint SV in a negative light, but, well… I felt I had to get this out:
Hypocrisy. It’s become the tone du jour on my social feeds. It’s emanating from SV, and it breaks my heart.
It started with the harping on David Shing — Shingy, AOL’s Digital Prophet.
I should have written something then, didn’t, and that was a lapse in judgement.
It was painful and shitty to see so much mocking on my Twitter feed from folks in hi-tech (friends even). Folks, who I will put money down on, like me, got the snot kicked out of them for being dorks in elementary and high-school.
To mock a dude, who I should note, made completely valid and intelligent points on that MSNBC interview, because he looked funny, and didn’t have a lame-o title on his business card… What can I say… Real noble behavior 415’ers.
Then there’s the the pretentious position SV is taking on privacy, in particular, as it relates to to the NSA… What a bunch of horseshit this is.
Did I miss the town-hall meeting where we elected Larry, Mark and Dick to be consumer advocates? My god, I love Google, Facebook and Twitter, but let’s not be hypocrites… The best minds of this generation are building ad-tech that abuses users’ privacy. Lecturing the NSA on ethics strikes me as, to quote Joe Biden, “malarkey”.
Finally, now there’s blowback on Brendan Eich and his position on Prop 8… Little I can add to Arrington’s post. Again, the hypocrisy is oozing… Folks are pro diversity, as long as they get to define it, that is.
Ease-up on the Kool-Aid SV, ease-up.
Android & Me
This will come as a surprise but my primary phone is now an Android device. I know, I know… Unexpected, but true nonetheless.
My migration began a few months ago when I got a call from friends of mine, the founders of EverythingMe. They wanted me to come help with a few high-value projects. (In case you missed it, the first one was The InContext Conference.)
Over the years I’ve played with Android devices, but kept throwing them back on the table within minutes. This happened for two main reasons:
1. The hardware was cheap and lacked design sophistication.
2. As god is my witness, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the UX. I swear I couldn’t figure out how to operate those damn things.
Being an iOS boy I didn’t feel I had the necessary perspective to help a company so focused on Android. So they challenged me to migrate and to my utter surprise, it wasn’t as hard as I expected.
This will sound completely like astroturfing, but I couldn’t have done it without EverythingMe’s launcher. While it couldn’t solve the hardware issues, it did totally revamp the UX into a coherent form. One I could not only use, I actually started enjoying.
I can now share a couple of insights:
The first, Android has come a long way since it launched. Kit Kat itself is pretty good, and with a launcher on top, it’s makes for a pretty groovy mobile experience. Bigger screens aren’t all bad either.
The second, and to put it as bluntly as possible, if you are developing a startup or covering startups and don’t have a dedicated Android device in your pocket, you are negligent in your professionalism.
I know that’s a rather strong statement, but what I’ve discovered through my migration is my complete ignorance of the most widespread mobile OS. Put simply, Android matters. While it will likely never have the celebrity status that iOS has, it’s giving it a run for its money when it comes to consumer tech innovation, specifically, apps and services.
The hardware, I wholeheartedly agree is sub-par compared to the iPhone, but the big screens make-up for a lot of that and there’s no way around it, the back button is surprisingly intuitive.
To those wondering, I still do carry my iPhone, but it’s a secondary device. It’s usually in my bag, or back pocket.
If you’re feeling up to the challenge, ping me and I’ll try to hook you up with an Android device for a couple of weeks :)
Silicon Valley is rooting for Silicon Valley. And that’s Ok. For Silicon Valley that is. For the Clubhouse that is.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with Americans praising American innovation and entrepreneurship. Hell, my life has been shaped by American innovation and entrepreneurship. I love America! However, it’s one thing to root for the home-team, it’s another to strangle-hold mindshare.
The power that SV tech outlets are wielding these days for the benefit of home-town tech is no less than extraordinary. Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting it’s premeditated or evil. Responsibility also rests upon the readership who has (unwittingly) bestowed upon the SV press the ability to anoint kings and queens. Regardless, it’s happened, and continues to take a stronger hold every single news day.
Here’s an anecdote:
A while ago I wrote a story about Mobli and how I thought it was one of the more important startups to come-up to Israel. Inside TechCrunch the feedback was that it was too enthusiastic (skewed even) toward the company. And of course it was. First, I honestly found the company’s balls and vision fascinating. Second, as I was at their office that morning to hear about what they were working on, air raid sirens went off signaling a Red Alert (Israel was mid-skirmish with the Palestinians again).
As we halted the meeting to join the rest of the company in the ‘safe room,’ two rockets were intercepted by air-to-air missiles over the skies of Tel-Aviv. We could hear the thuds. (Thank you Iron Dome!)
As we were walking back to the CEO’s office, the parents, I among them, called to make sure our kids were OK. They were, and we continued the meeting without missing a beat.
If the point was lost on you… Rocket-science geeks made it possible for consumer-app geeks to continue designing, shipping code, to build — to connect people.
It was an Israeli entrepreneurial moment no SV writer can relate to. Hopefully it will remain this way for them.
This was most certainly not a regular morning in San Francisco. So this most certainly was not a regular SV story.
(Btw, Mobli went on to take on one of the biggest funding rounds in Israeli hitech history, $60M. No small change even in SV standards either, and I know for a fact that some outlets didn’t feel it was newsworthy. $60M!)
Juxtapose this with ‘It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way,’ a wonderful piece by Kim-Mai Cutler that was lauded by the SV echo-chamber. A wonderful piece, yet rather meaningless for the international readership.
Enter the Clubhouse:
Let me use TechCrunch as example because it’s actually done more for international startups than most: It began when Arrington was the first to embrace the international angle by bringing-in an Israeli correspondent on-board (me). It continues today with TechCrunch’s COO, Ned Desmond (a total gentleman), putting a lot of effort on taking TechCrunch international (Disrupt Berlin was just the tip of the iceberg).
Along the way the torch was held high by Mike Butcher (a true mensch) who’s been hustling the European scene, and so has (the lovely) Ingrid Lunden. Former TC writer Robin Wauters deserves his due historical credit.
But let’s call a spade, a spade.. The agenda is based in Silicon Valley, for Silicon Valley. While there are great people making a great effort, the mindshare and editorial are drastically lagging on the international front. I could argue to the determent of SV, but I’m more concerned with its determent on international tech.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading TechCrunch (of course), Recode, Pando and the like. Their editorial choices are perfectly legitimate. If they deem to report every fart coming out of Uber HQ, who am I to judge? At the same time — and it pains me to say this — the ability of international startups to get the attention of such outlets has regressed from hard, to dismal.
This is a touchy subject, but one that’s been on my mind this past year. Is this a problem? Depends who you ask. I have… And many, in Israel, Europe, Brazil, and I’m sure elsewhere, feel it’s an ever-growing one.
Is the solution more attention from the existing outlets? Is it a brand-new outlet dedicated to the international tech angle? Is it something else?
Please share your thoughts, here.
Why Box or Dropbox Will Likely Acquire AnyDo
I don’t have insider info, but if I were to venture a guess, Any.DO is likely on the short list of the corp dev’s at both Box & Dropbox.
If you’ve been following these two companies’ acquisition paths, you’ve noticed a similar MO… They’ve been bolstering peripheral products.
The reason is the dreaded ‘C’ word… Churn.
If you use either Box or Dropbox, you’d probably agree with me that it’s safe to assume they have (roughly) two user groups: Hardcore everyday users, and sporadic users — that is, folks that sign-up, install, but don’t engage with the storage product on a day-to-day basis… Folks like my dad who uses the free tier and who’s wallet Dropbox (in his case) can’t get into.
Products like email (Mailbox), and Word processing (Box’s Notes) are designed to maintain engagement for the core storage offering which is: 1) Totally unsexy, and 2) Totally forgettable.
What we’re seeing both companies execute is an ‘island strategy’ (although Florida Keys is a more appropriate analogy). Facebook is executing the shit out of it with Instagram, Messenger, Paper, and the app who’s acquisition will make every Jewish mother proud of her son even if he didn’t end-up a lawyer, Whatsapp.
Facebook gets that you won’t forget the core product —the brand — because you’re engaging with it in pieces. Divide oneself and conquer.
Which leads me to Any.DO…
If the idea is to maintain brand engagement through island products that induce engagement a few times a week (better yet, a day), then a To Do List is a no brainer.
With Any.DO, Box/Dropbox would get a team that seems to have the best execution on the market of a To Do list app. And interestingly, Any.DO itself is attempting an island strategy of its own, having expanded to a scheduling app with Cal. I’m sure they have another one or two Any-apps on the whiteboard for 2014.
I’ve always been bearish (frankly, even that’s sugar-coating) about Any.DO’s monetization potential. The numbers never added-up to me. That said, it’s been pretty successful at garnering the press’ attention. Couple that with a team that gets mobile, low (or no revenue) and fairly modest funding (in SV standards), and you got yourself a sensible acquisition strategy.
Feel free to chalk this up as armchair quarterbacking :)
Viber - The Early Stage Takeaways
I had the pleasure of meeting the Viber team about 4-6 months prior to launch. They called to consult with me on their product launch. To say that it went well is an understatement. In fact, it’s the only Israeli consumer product I’ve seen to experience hyper-growth.
If you’re an early stage entrepreneur, here are a few key points to keep in mind before hopping on the ‘we can do Consumer’ bandwagon:
1. Viber was a simple product, with a simple utility… The team was able to articulate and communicate its value and one ‘killer feature’: Free calls based on your phone contacts.
2. There were no extra features at launch. Phone calls. That’s all it did. Messaging (SMS-like) came in down the road. Sounds trivial, but it was an important decision.
3. Infrastructure: Not a secret, but not known by all either, Viber was a spin-off out of iMesh. This is notable for two reasons: First, the team was able to leverage iMesh’s P2P infrastructure, repurposing it for voip. Second, the private owners of iMesh were bankrolling Viber out of pocket, and in no small way… This was not a boot-strap operation. In fact, they were ready to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on paid media for the launch alone. The ability to pour money into the operation without the need to raise externally contributed greatly to Viber’s ability to scale the team and its user acquisition.
4. Viber was a great example of PR put to good use. Here too there are couple of notable points: First, upon my suggestion, Viber hired an effective PR team. Second, they didn’t sit back and let their PR team do something from nothing… That is, Viber kept provided their PR team a steady pace of traction and product news. Third, Viber’s CEO, Talmon Marco, was a great person to put in front of media. He’s professional, articulated, and kept delivering. This was a perfect storm for journalists.
Ground Control to Major Moishe
"Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go”
Allow me to be blunt, the ‘pivot’ is a lie. You have one shot to get into orbit, and if you screw the pooch, it’s splatsville.
If you’re a first-time entrepreneur you surely believe you can turn around your company if ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out. However, with very (very) few edge cases, if you’ve founded an early stage Israeli web or mobile startup you are better off embracing the notion that the ‘pivot’ is fiction.
The honest-to-god-truth is that if you intend to raise a Round A and haven’t achieved Escape Velocity six months before your seed funding runs out, you’re going to be pulled back by earth’s gravity. Your startup **will** close shop with no ability to do another raise.
This is why you have to be ready to ship your product out, and back it with paid distribution at the very latest, 3 months from closing the round. This means your product should be 80-100% complete when you start fundraising your seed round.
Let’s do the simple math:
- Payroll ($30K * 12 months) = $360K
- $7K (rent + everything else) = $84K
So, best case scenario, this leaves $54K if your total raise was $500K, and $306K if you raised $750K. Huge difference when you consider that the entire life of your startup rests upon your ability to spend these two amounts on marketing.
To give it a real go, your company must be spending $50-100K on marketing per month, from the third month. Otherwise, you might not have known it, but it was game over all that time.
If you raised $500K you don’t have money for even one good swing. If you raised $750K, all you got is one. Whichever way you cut it though, two swings you most certainly don’t have. And that is the pivot theory ball-game.
The point I’m trying to make is that ‘let’s just raise anything and start,’ and ‘$250K-$500K is just what we need,’ are fictitious operational scenarios. You’re dead before you started.
Make sure you have enough funding from the get-go, or don’t start at all.
Leaks: An Open Discussion
If there’s something to walk away with from last week’s posts about Israeli startup acquisition leaks, it’s that both sides have much to say on the subject.
Calcalist (which has found itself in the eye of the storm) reached out and invited me to come-in and talk with their editorial team on the subject. I replied:
As I said, I’m more than happy to sit with your Editorial team to discuss the issue.Also, I’m more than happy to have an open discussion at a venue where other outlets can sit and weigh in as well.
Leaks - The Prime Directive
Yesterday I posted my feelings regarding the Israeli press’ continued publishing of startup acquisition rumors.
My post drew feedbacks from one extreme, to the other…
There was Robin Wauters’ thoughtful ‘On Leeks and Family Matters.’ Meir Orbach was attempting to channel Will McAvoy with a comment on a Facebook thread that somehow drew a conclusion that not publishing acquisition rumors is fundamentally detrimental to ‘Freedom of Speech’.
There were also other less public feedbacks I received from investors and entrepreneurs, wishing journalists would be more responsible.
And then there were journalists that contacted me panicking from a potential industry ban upon them.
So all-in-all, a situation everyone involved would prefer resolved somehow.
From the investor/entrepreneur feedbacks I received, two solutions were offered:
1. Live with the status-quo. (Meaning, live with deals risked by leaks.)
2. Ban journalists and publications that publish acquisition rumors. (Extreme, but a legitimate response IMO if people’s livelihood is on the line.)
I would like to propose another solution, which as an homage to both PrimeSense and Gene Roddenberry, I will name as ‘The Prime Directive’:
Israeli startup acquisition rumors should be published only having been corroborated by three independent sources.
I believe this to be a fair and professional policy. It requires journalists to uphold themselves to a high standard, while protecting themselves, the startups, the employees, and the investors, from being manipulated by individuals with agendas (malicious, or otherwise).
As an investor, I can live with this myself. I expect other investors will as well.
As for journalists and publications:
It’s hard for me to foresee professional objections to the virtues of this approach.
Commercially, yes, the downside is that non-Israeli journalists and publications will reap the benefits of breaking acquisition rumor stories. That’s simply the price you pay for family.
I call upon Calcalist, GeekTime, Globes, TheMarker, Yedioth, and others to contact me and make The Prime Directive a reality.