I arrived at SeedCamp TLV kinda confused. It may have been my fault, as I only slept 4 hours the night before. But something did not feel right. It looked like the IDC (the InterDisciplinary Center where TechAviv is based). The students milling around resembled IDC students. But I knew that it couldn’t be the IDC. Because the IDC is in Herzliya, not Tel Aviv.
My heart started palpitating quickly. This was my first TechAviv assignment, and here I go messing it up by showing up to the wrong venue.
But I was not mistaken. My breathing resumed to normal. That was, until I saw who was there. Besides the impressive team from SeedCamp including Alex Hoye, Saul Klein, Alasdair Bell and Reshma Sohoni, it was a veritable who’s who in the Israeli entrepreneur/VC world. I saw Gigi Levi, Eyal Magen, Avichay Nissenbaum, Yaron Orenstein, and Yaniv Golan. The media was there, in the form of Ayelet Noff from Blonde2.0, Yael Vaya from Crictor, and Roi Carthy from TechCrunch. Kfir Pravda was there. I rubbed elbows with Robert Swerling from Google and Zvi Koren from Amdocs. I kibbitzed with Tovi Riegler from SAP Labs Israel. I sat down next to Edward Resnick from Sun Mircrosystems Israel, and waited for the fun to start.
The setup was simple:
SeedCamp was giving 20 Israeli startups the chance to pitch their companies to over 40 people from all aspects of the industry, from Israel and Europe. Each startup had 5 minutes to present, and then after all the startups presented, those same 40 people would “creatively” critique the startups in smaller clusters.
The lineup began.
People spoke. Had presentations. One company said that they installed midgets in cell phones in order to help people find the closest coffee house. I thought about Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas. I started craving some hot chocolate.
The lineup finally ended.
I stepped out, bought a hot chocolate, returned and began digesting what each of the twenty companies had to say.
I realized that there are a couple of major trends that the startups in Israel were dealing in.
1. Fear of Strangers
People in Israel are inherently afraid of meeting people, speaking to people, or having any other human interaction.
For example: With 3DRealistate, you won’t actually have to leave your house or apartment in order to find a new one. You will be able to surf and have an 3D tour of your intended abode. You will not have to meet any pushy Realtor (or any really nice one either).
ApProlix realizes that it is dangerous to ask directions on most streets around the world. People are friendly. They may start talking with you, actually invite you out to the coffee shop that you are looking for, and pay for your drink. Who knows what that could lead to. So they use personal midgets to guide you where you want to go.
There is a massive problem in HR departments around the world. They have too much human interaction with new people. Clear Applications has the solution. People will simply submit all resumes online, take personality and cognitive tests, and have computers do much of the work that used to take place over grueling multiple day affairs. Everyone wins. Potential employees can stay in their pajamas for longer and HR people can “multitask” with Hulu and YouTube in their cubicles.
This fear has permeated the psyche so much that Qoof has created a complete online shopping experience that does away with the need to ever leave the house. It’s just like you are at the wine store, but you are safely at home away from all of the “other people”.
Life would be perfect if all the people you knew would dress alike, so you can comfortably approach them without the fear of interacting with a new person. SenseMatic doesn’t have that option yet, but it can let you know who you know is physically located in your vicinity, by the use of your cellular phone.
Students don’t even want to have to interact with classmates anymore. When I was in school, we asked each other for notes, read one other’s papers, and had real life study sessions. Not anymore. wePapers wants to help you! No more inane conversation about what the lecturer discusses that day, and no more need for smalltalk. You can go right home to play World of Warcraft!
But Vizmo takes the cake. When you call a company for customer service, you will actually be able to visually interact with a menu on the screen of your mobile phone. No more real people on the other side of the line.
2. People are lazy
In the old days, when people got into a car, they would turn on the radio. The radio would tell them where the local traffic was. We have iPods and digital radios now. Companies like FreeWay don’t even feel like they need to bother you with that information. They tell you where to go, because they know what is best. They save you from having to think.
Additionally, way back when, when you were interested in a topic, you googled it. SimilarWeb does away with the need to google. Imagine: You are reading this post, suddenly have a hankering for some hot cocoa, and poof, a link to the ten best chocolates to use in making hot cocoa come up on the side of the screen automagically. It ancipates your every move.
If you are a 16 year old girl, you know the problem. Before you can run the simplest of errands for your parents, you have to contact 30 of your “best friends” in order to consult with them on what you should wear. Send’M has the solution for you. You can send one message out to all of your “best friends”, and the presto, they get it wherever they are. They don’t have to walk to pick up their cell phone, it will even go to their Facebook or IM. Then they can respond to everyone or some people or just you. It’s groupthink for your outfit!
Even developers are getting lazier these days. Once upon a time, they would want to be like God, and create a world out of nothing. Now, they can just use Syntensity‘s platform and build virtual worlds and 3D games that have low deployment costs.
3. Geeks just want to have fun.
You can always tell who is in the game to make money, and who is in the game for love.
Say what you want about 99% of the companies in the world, but they are in it for the money. They seek out a need: for instance, Coretal tracks changes in databases. It is important. It will save businesses untold sums of money. But in the end of the day, its all about the money. (Don’t get me wrong. Money is good. It’s actually very good.)
Two companies stood out in my mind as people who didn’t care about the money.
The youngest company, age-wise, was Jam a Mate. They simply wanted to make music with their friends who have moved to different countries. Sure, they may be able to monetize their site. It may turn into a fad. But even if all else fails, they still have a tool to compose music with their friends.
Corbomite Games is the other company. When Oded Sharon looked me in the eye, I saw the twinkle in his. He loves to make video games. He has been doing it practically his whole life. It comes through in his work.
I won’t lie. I enjoyed SeedCamp TLV and was impressed by the companies I saw. I saw possibility, opportunity, and enthusiasm. I look forward to talking to them more, and examining them as individuals and not as part of themes.