What is it about the Israel-Boston connection that works so well in the world of tech startups?
Having grown up and spent much of my life in Israel, where I attended university, served in the military and launched three successful technology startups, I’ve had the distinct privilege of remaining in my homeland while pursuing my entrepreneurial dreams. And considering the thriving Israeli startup community – from our highly regarded research labs and higher education system to the world-class financing/capital resources and the plethora of technology talent – I have found Israel to be a great place to start a company.
As Noam Bardin, Google’s Chief Wazer recently pointed out on LinkedIn, as have so many others: “Israel is now the most likely place for people to start a tech firm: the country has an estimated 375 startups per million inhabitants versus nearly 190 in America.”
We were confident when we launched our second start-up here that we could quickly and easily build a world-class team of engineers and software developers. We were able to tap the fresh crop of college graduates, ex-military and experienced tech professionals working here, several of whom we’d worked with previously. Our Series A funding round was in May 2010, and by the end of the year we already had 17 employees. By August 2011, we were up to 23 people, almost all of which were in technical roles.
Equally as important as recruiting top talent was securing the requisite funding to get Zerto going, and this was also easier and more streamlined than in my previous efforts. Two of our early investors, Greylock IL and Battery Ventures, had established offices right here in Herzliya. While this was purely by happenstance, it was also helpful because we had direct access from the starting gate to Erez Ofer, a Greylock IL partner, and Scott Tobin, a managing partner at Battery who’d relocated here from the U.S. and had previously backed my earlier company, Kashya.
We recognized early that the U.S. would be our largest target market, so naturally we wanted to open an office where we had access to both customers as well as top talent for our sales and marketing teams. Boston proved to be the ideal location for our U.S. headquarters.
In theory, there’s not too much that’s similar between starting up a company in Israel and Boston. Israelis tend to be more laid back and nearly all have served in the military, often in highly technical roles. This experience often proves invaluable in helping entrepreneurs manage effectively and move quickly into growth mode. Bostonians often fit the East Coast archetype: sometimes provincial, often high strung, and in my experience, comparatively few have served their country. The differences don’t stop there. Everything from the weather (it is sunny and beautiful in Tel Aviv; Boston saw more than 25 inches of snow last year) to the cultural scene to the politics to the sports teams we follow – is markedly different.
But one common characteristic between both locations is our dogged entrepreneurial spirit. Israel’s tech community proudly refers to itself as “Start-up Nation,” based on an eponymous book that hails our entrepreneurial culture and notes that Israel has more NASDAQ-listed companies than any country outside the U.S. Boston is, of course, known as the birthplace of the American Revolution, and I have always had great respect for Bostonians’ tenacity and ability to overcome adversity.
One valuable attribute of sales professionals in Boston is their deep familiarity with selling into the area’s many large healthcare and financial firms. This is rich experience for startups focused on enterprise sales, and we’ve found that opportunities to sell to large enterprises are far better on the East Coast. I once received some sage advice from a man who told me to “fish where the fish are.” In terms of sales opportunities Boston has proven to be fertile fishing ground for us.
Another plus is employee loyalty. In Boston, there’s a cultural motivation toward long-term career planning and job stability. Many Bostonians spend five or even 10 years at the same company as employees move from entry-level positions to managerial roles. We aim to retain talent as we grow our company, and since starting our Boston office, our employees have invested in our vision, which has led to high retention.
Our decision to build a Boston presence paid immediate dividends on two fronts. We were able to quickly and easily recruit sales and engineering talent from the region’s deep reservoir of data center and storage industry talent. We also created and closed several deals with East Coast-based customers.
So, although in theory Boston baked beans and Israeli hummus do not often share the same plate, in my experience the two cultures blend quite well. For an enterprise-software company to thrive, both strong technology and access to the market are keys to ensuring success.
This post first ran in the Wall Street Journal.