Discovering The Start-up Nation


Last week I visited Israel to attend the TAU Innovation conference in Tel Aviv to meet some existing and new clients as well as find out why they have been labeled the Start-up Nation.

So, here’s a brief summary of my visit.

An overnight five hour flight from Heathrow to Tel Aviv gets you there bright and early, arriving 5.30am local time – they are only 2 hours ahead of BST.

The plane was full of a mix of families, ultra Orthodox Jews and business folk from around the world. Yet this is a country the UK Foreign Office states ‘there is a high threat from terrorism’ which is not something you share with the family before you leave! However, when staying with a good friend who is Deputy Ambassador for the UK in Israel, I felt my safety was relatively assured.

As you’d expect, upon exiting the plane you suddenly become aware of how warm it is as well as the vibrant mix of people visiting. A well organized airport, Ben Gurion, named after Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, welcomes you along with the security questions about why and how long you plan to stay, where are you going and who are you staying with. Contrary to rumour, and with some relief, they do let you in with stamps from Egypt and UAE on your passport and no visa is required.

So a few facts about Israel for the uninitiated:

  • Capital is Jerusalem with Tel Aviv being the financial and technology hub
  • Declared independent in 1947 and has a population of 8.5 million with approx. 75% Jews and 20% Arab
  • Its neighbours are Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt
  • It has a very complex history which has created a multitude of tensions
  • Shekel is their currency and Hebrew is their language

The slightly quirkier facts include:

  • Voicemail, was also invented in Israel
  • The first anti-virus was developed in 1979 in Israel
  • In 2006, Israeli innovation saved Intel with the introduction of the Core Duo processors
  • Four young Israelis developed the technology for AOL Instant Messenger
  • After the U.S. and Canada, Israel has the highest number of companies listed on the stock exchange

‘No natural resources so Israel had to innovate’

Having dropped my luggage off at my friends apartment my day started off with a business networking event at the Hilton Hotel, Tel Aviv with ambassadors from the US, Hungary, Canada, Australia and Peru talking about their initiatives to foster start up links between Israel and their countries. Daniel Shapiro the US ambassador in Israel summed up why the Israeli’s were so innovative by highlighting that human capital and diversity is key to their success and that, with no natural resources, Israel had to innovate to succeed in a global market.

Global PR through piggy backing other events

Day two started with a presentation from Motti Peer, CEO of Blonde 2.0, talking about using other events wisely to promote your own launch. An example of this was the launch of an app called Whiplr for those with ‘kinky tendencies’. Their main PR launch for this app was 14 Feb 2015 – not for the Valentines coverage but piggy backing the launch of 50 Shades of Grey. This generated an enormous amount of joint coverage for Whiplr.


Growth Hacking – “No silver bullet to growth – think creative”

Roy Povarchik was next up talking about Growth Hacking. Growth Hacking is experimentation across marketing channels to find the most effective ways to grow a business. In my mind this is using quirky communication ideas to reach your target audience. This could be disruptive marketing (see our Flybe launch of Exeter to London City) or using data to change the user experience of your site. The key thing is to think differently and not copy – what works for someone else won’t necessary work for your audience.


10 is the magic number for Twitter

  • For example Twitter found it had lots of subscribers but they tended to stop using it if they followed less than 10 other accounts. So they changed the onboarding process to ensure each new subscriber had to follow 10 accounts and their engagement figures significantly increased.

Spamming on behalf of LinkedIn

  • LinkedIn do something similar, in their onboarding process, by suggesting that you should give them access to your contacts on Facebook or which ever mail service you use e.g. Yahoo/Gmail. LinkedIn then suggest you connect with some one in your contact lists even if they do not have a LinkedIn account. For example LinkedIn suggests I should connect with my mum and 11 year old daughter, neither of them have a LinkedIn in profile. If they did they would receive an invitation from me inviting them to join LinkedIn – this is then seen as an endorsement by you to the recipient.

Incentives by sharing your Dropbox experience

  • Dropbox is another example of using growth hacking techniques. They increased their membership by giving you more storage each time you shared the platform with other users that subsequently signed up for their service. You then become the advocate for their product and do the marketing for them.

These are all examples of thinking in different ways to attract and engage with your target audience.

Beit Shemesh for the morning

A short taxi ride to Tel Aviv HaHagana train station and then onto the commuter train to Bet Shemesh (30km West of Jerusalem) to meet a future client. Thankfully the trains are air conditioned, have reliable wifi and are very spacious with some being double deckers. The infrastructure has clearly been invested in and everything runs on time. There are a lot of national service personnel, some with guns, in a variety of uniforms on the train commuting to their place of work. The Israeli national service is unique and forms the back-bone to Israel’s Defence Force (IDF) which is their full time military.

Sosa (1)

Helping Start ups to get going – SOSA (

My next meeting was with Carmit Oron from SOSA. They help start ups in a cool, both design and temperature, warehouse designed to promote interaction, creativity and collaboration – ideal partners for AB who believe in the same values.

My trip concluded with some more client meetings and my curiosity day to Jerusalem which I will cover in a separate blog.

So what did I learn?

Irrespective of whether you are a supporter or not of Israel the people are, as you’d expect, a product of their environment. Resilient, ambitious, direct but crucially creatively innovative. Failure is seen as part of learning and not a negative experience. This has led them to produce some of the most amazing technologies the world has seen and currently uses. In addition to this they are a friendly bunch wanting to know my story as well as sharing theirs.


What next?

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Author: Henry Sanford

Henry is an experienced online communications consultant who has worked with a number of FTSE 100/250 companies, helping them to communicate with their key stakeholders. He heads up our Digital team and is interested in new technology to make life more simple and engaging.


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Henry is an experienced online communications consultant who has worked with a number of FTSE 100/250 companies, helping them to communicate with their key stakeholders whilst maximising their use of data to generate informed decisions and increased engagement with customers. He heads up our Digital and Corporate Reporting teams, and is interested in all gadgets that make life simpler. Recent projects include an international product launch across Europe, Middle East & Africa as well as leading a large data integration project in the UK. A fan of all sports, he is often seen supporting the Exeter Chiefs most weekends but without the headdress and tomahawk!


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