Earlier this week, in the margin of the annual DLD Tel Aviv conference / festival, I had the chance to sit down with Eden Shochat, a prominent Israeli entrepreneur-turned-investor who sold Face.com to Facebook in 2012 and subsequently raised $154 million for a new Series A round-focused venture capital firm called Aleph.
Shochat knows the ins and outs of the Israeli startup ecosystem well, which led to an interesting conversation about the way it has developed in recent years. One the things that the investor told me – and he was far from the only one to note this during my passage in Tel Aviv, another was Hillel Fuld – was that Israel is evolving from 'startup nation' (also see this book) to 'scale-up nation'. Or what some (sadly) call 'unicorns'.
That essentially means that entrepreneurs nowadays are less prone to 'flip' the tech companies they start for a low sum (if you can call dozens of millions of dollars that) and more often shoot for the moon, in Shochat's opinion. That implies more mature companies, more focus on long-term growth and sustainable business models, and entrepreneurs showcasing more ambition than in the past.
There's evidence to back up those claims, most notably the sale of companies such as Waze (Google paid around $1 billion), Trusteer (IBM also paid around $1 billion) Viber (Rakuten paid $900 million) in addition to the initial public offerings of companies like Wix.com and Mobileye, and upcoming IPOs like CyberArk and Crossrider. Also see these 25 'hot' Tel Aviv startups as compiled by Informilo.
There's also evidence to the contrary, we should note, considering recent relatively small acquisitions of Israeli-founded companies like KitLocate (by Yandex), ClarityRay (by Yahoo) and Upopa (by ironSource). Nevertheless, Shochat may definitely have a point when he says Israeli entrepreneurs and investors are now more ambitious than they used to be. Either way, it will be interesting to see if the current trend continues in the coming years.
Here are some of the most interesting quotes from my interview with Shochat:
On the reasoning behind Aleph's 'laser focus' on Series A rounds:
"Israel, strangely enough, is turning from startup nation into a scale-up nation, yet funding for Series A rounds is relatively scarce."
On the increasing number of big exits for Israeli tech companies:
"It's not only going to continue, it's actually going to accelerate from what we're seeing. There are lots of companies now in the 'building' stage - Seeking Alpha, Fiverr etc. - there are very good companies being built."
On successful entrepreneurs putting money back into the Israeli startup ecosystem:
"You didn't see a lot of that before. The usual Jewish boy, after an exit, listened to his mother and kept the money in the bank. What is happening now is those people are writing checks."
On today's generation of Israeli tech entrepreneurs:
"They want to go big. If there's a mega trend, it's that they actually want to build companies that transform big industries."
On the negative sides of the Israeli startup scene today:
"I think there's still a high signal-to-noise ratio, although this is common in the entire world. There are things that are very good to build out of Israel, and there are things that shouldn't be built out of Israel - and that's fine. But people shouldn't fall into that trap."