Note:This is an evergreen article and e27 thought readers would enjoy a second look. It was originally written in February, 2017.
Much has already been said about the advantageous and unique qualities of the Startup Nation by commentators who have extensive knowledge of the industry, and these played into my admiration of the startup workplace. The following thoughts exemplify what stood out from my personal experience and indeed, served to reinforce the underlying principles critical to the country’s success.
Willingness to delegate responsibility and accept high risk hiring offers
The general appetite for risk taking in startups also extends to hiring. As someone with entry-level skills in the type of assistance I provided, I presented a real risk to founders considering the time they invested in me, or if they relied upon my potentially poor advice. In my offers of free help, this was most evident. This did require some supervision and time sacrifice on the behalf of the founders, which was greatly appreciated, but I was then able to contribute to startups at minimal cost to them.
If I had made such offers in the Australian business environment, it would most likely have been rebuked or left unanswered.
Founders were also happy to consider how they could delegate responsibility based on pitching to them why what I was proposing to do could address undefined business needs. In this sense, I was grateful for startup founders’ willingness to take a chance on me and chart my own course, for without it my internship would not have been as meaningful.
This ability to place greater trust in junior team members ties into the looser hierarchy of the Israeli ecosystem, which is commonly cited as a driving factor of its success. Expertise was also developed independently by way of allowing this kind of autonomy, meaning professional growth was more self-perpetuating rather than top-down driven.
Accessibility and responsiveness
In Israel, gatekeepers were practically nonexistent as was the feeling that you couldn’t approach someone because they were above you and you weren’t worth their time. With a receptiveness to potential value of any worth, emails were replied to within at most half a day, and when they could not be, commitment of when a reply would be made was always delivered. If people preferred contact by other means, they’d also let you know, while accelerating communications channels without being left uncertain as to how to proceed.
Perhaps the best example of this was when I wanted to speak to one of Israel’s most prominent startup commentators, Hillel Fuld, for research for another article I was drafting. Within twenty minutes, he remarkably made the time to get on the phone and answer all my questions there and then, before proceeding to recommend who else I should get in touch with on the topic. Hillel obviously feels the same way about others in the ecosystem, having recently written this post regarding the selflessness of those in it.
When I had to follow up, on the rare occasions it was needed, it was also much more effective because of an acceptance of chutzpah (of which the closest English equivalent is audacity). This greatly facilitated the ease and timeframe of various dealings.
The same went for voicing a concern. I did not have to worry about the perceived consequences it might have. Rather, it helped me earn respect for asserting myself. If you wanted something, there was no social fear of being direct about it, cutting away second guessing and roundaboutness by getting straight to the crux of an issue. This contrasts with Australia, where there are certain conventions and niceties to be followed, which while in some cases are necessary, can often prolong decision making.
Openness of networks
Not only where those in the startup scene easy to reach, they were also more than willing to make introductions and add value in other ways, whether their positions were junior or senior with years of industry experience. In a multiplying effect, through one or two meetings, I was able to gain the contact details of various important figures. These suggestions were generally offered without asking, usually followed by the question of “How can I better help you find what you’re looking for?”, with everyone I met with trying to tailor their connections and suggest where there might be another line of enquiry worth pursuing. It was not transactional in that it didn’t create the expectation of immediately returning a favour, thus creating social capital in the process. This is not to say in Australia networks don’t operate in similar ways in terms of exchanging value, just that it is harder to access people at all levels of seniority.
Although typically emphasised as a negative trait that’s seen to be somewhat nepotistic and in some cases legally questionable, “combinas” refer to the Israeli method of bypassing roadblocks through personal connections. Transplanted into the context of innovation, however, and done without ill intent, it only seems rational that Israeli startups would want to maximise advantages by leveraging their networks and not following conventions or supposed best practices. Instead they work on devising creative solutions that can derive more value. It also serves to reduces the burden of bureaucracy often affecting corporates’ swiftness to act.
Israel’s small size and close knit mentality in this regard, like that of most startups within it, are extremely advantageous. Testament to this is alumni networks of Israel’s various military units, particularly tech centric ones such as Unit 8200. Almost all networking circles, as a result of this, have a close degree of overlap and the majority of the industry have mutual contacts which they cross-leverage to become prolific startup professionals. Throughout my time, I witnessed examples of combinas that didn’t cross any ethical boundaries and were in themselves ingenious.
Although they will not fit exactly within the regional environment, I will personally look to adapt these insights and mindsets when I return to Australia early this year.
The article First Person: What it is like working for an Israeli startup first appeared in Geektime.