Archive for April 2012

To hightech or not to hightech? That is the question

April 30, 2012

Entrepreneurs — whether they’re an unemployed person striking out on their own or a seasoned veteran trying to get the mojo back again — must do things differently in order to survive. Everyone must change, especially small-business owners.

Thus starts out a practical and interesting blog on “7 ways to help ensure your business to succeed”. Fine, but what do you do at the beginning of your journey? How do you know if you are pursuing the right track?

Here are two recent case studies from Israel, using “hightech in very different manners.

In the right hand corner, we have Mul-T-lock, who for years have been converting blocks of steel into security systems for homes and cars. Slam, dunk sort of stuff, but not so scintillating.

However, after two years of development with Starcom Systems, Mul-T-lock have developed a product that will send the owner an sms or e-mail, if a burglary is about to take place. From anywhere to anywhere. I claim that this may be even more useful than a Pinterest account?

In the left corner is 35 year old Ro’ee Yulos, who left a solid career in hightech and moved over to the love of his life; pots for garden plants. Yup, it does not get more basic than that. His pot designs are covered by a patent, which was pinched, but they are now on the short list for the 2012 reddot design award.

Together, these two companies show what can be achieved with some lateral thinking  (and a touch of old-fashioned human enterprise). 


Is there a DNA to the successful entrepreneur? A holy case study

April 27, 2012

The internet is plastered with items on how to be a “successful entrepreneur”.

After a brief thought, it is a bit of a silly statement. What categorises somebody a success?

  • That they survive?
  • That they generate a certain level of sales within a year or five years?
  • That they become a chain of outlets?
  • That they commence operations outside their home territory?

When I talk to many people just starting out, they rarely have such a defined vision. They are merely looking to get past the next financial crisis.

This week, my eye caught two interesting articles, which gave a perspective on how to judge success. The background is that Israel has just celebrated its 64th birthday and the country’s press is full of “well done” type items.

The first piece asked each of ten well known local personalities to name a person, whom they most respected, mainly for their contributions to commerce. The final list was ten people or heads of companies, who had taken a long hard road to establish themselves. Fairly obvious stuff.

What impressed me far more was a report from the holy city of Jerusalem. Six separate businesses were identified, where each one had been founded by somebody under the age of thirty years old: –

  • a gym
  • real estate school
  • an internet site to connect parents with private teachers
  • a specialist packaging operation
  • an event planner
  • a baby products distributor

That is a varied list. The owners come from all parts of society. Some had already been working. Some had a degree. Some had a small amount of private capital to start with. Yet there is no single obvious common denominator.

Let’s go back to what I wrote about Ronen Nimni, who by the age of 15 had worked out that he possessed something “extra” in the commercial world. 35 years later, he has progressed from selling pictures door-to-door and now owns several restaurant chains in Israel. Not too much formal education in Nimni’s story.

The point being that Nimni understood that he had a talent and went out to discover a way how to exploit it. He believed in himself. And that same theme comes out in the story of the people above. 

This week, I had my second meeting with the owner of a new pizza parlour, also a man still in his 20s and resident in Jerusalem. He has a clear vision for his business and he wants to take it to a chain of a few premises within 3-5 years. That is his target, because he does not feel that he has the ability to go further.

I urged my pizzaman not to let his brain to be the restriction on his talents. The mental process should be the methodology which creates an outlet for our human skills and thus towards new achievements.

Why do Israelis get so hung up about their Independence Day?

April 26, 2012

Israelis are often seen as emotional humans. Like the indigenous fruit to the country, sabra, they may be soft and sweet inside, but outwardly they can be very prickly.

Just look at events in Israel during the Spring. Today, Thursday, the nation is celebrating 64 years of its independence. Only yesterday, it was Memorial Day to commercorate those that had fallen in the wars since 1948. And last week the country honoured Holocaust Day in the name of the six million who perished during World War Two.

There are many ways to connect all the events. For example, as one local rabbi observed, the numbers killed in the wars is now close to 24,000, which is approximately how many were gassed each day in Auschwitz. With all those mixed and raw emotions running lose and in such a tight period of time, who would not become a tough overwrought?

Even so, the problem remains how to explain the importance of Independence to non-Israelis. Naturally, you can recall stories of wars and of persecutions from the past. You can point out the existential threats, like Iran, of the present. However, these are negative in context.

You can refer to the spin of Israel being the only country in the Middle East, where the Christian community is growing in size. Where else can a woman become a Prime Minister or head of the Supreme Court? And how many other countries that have gained independence since 1948 have then remained so pluralistic and democratic, and that is despite the on-going geopolitical issues?

But again, while these make for great explanations, there is something more basic in the works. It is the rare, fundamental and engaging beauty of the country, a transformation that is unique to Israel and makes the country a pleasure to live in. 

How to describe it? Let’s start with 21C, a great website, which shows Israel “beyond the conflicts”. Be it hightech or swimwear or special integration techniques, Israel seems to offer it. But still, I am looking for something more.

I somewhat found the answer in a small but growing blog called “the Real Jerusalem Streets“. In many ways, the blog is describing ordinary life in yet another city in the world. However, it is not just the site’s great photography that brings matters home to you through your screen. The reader is offered an opportunity to reach out at the buzz going in the country, the very hype which makes this such a wonderfully varied and dynamic place for all to live in.

It’s the noise, the creativity, the dynamism, the building of the proverbial next step. That is why Israelis love their Independence Day and also want the rest of the world to have a little share in their moment of joy.

Miracles of toolbars from the Holy Land

April 24, 2012

A few years back, a highly experienced businessman was visiting Israel. When faced with a request  from his audience for a change in policy, his response indicated that he would try but was sceptical if it could work out. At which point, somebody jumped in and reminded the traveller that he was currently sitting in the country of miracles.

This week, Israel celebrates her 64th birthday party. Born in 1948, the only country to be created by the UN and the promptly invaded by some of its members, Israel has long moved on for being noted for Jaffa oranges and religious tourist sites.

A utube clip released this week shows Israel’s contribution to hightech, the arts, the world community and more.  USB plug ins, Intel chips, desalinsation plant tech, Soda Stream, top TV soap operas – they are all featured in the four minute show.

And since the making of the film? It was announced that XtremIO’s flash array tech is likely to be bought by EMC. Objet’s 3D print technology, based south of Tel Aviv, is about to become part of an American conglomerate. So it goes on.

I was struck by an item in today’s “Calcalist” (translation – Economist) newspaper. It featured 8 Israeli companies. Mostly unknown twelve months back, today they are generating tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually in the field of “toolbars”. Yup toolbars, the thing that annoys many of us on our computers.

The leader of the pack is Conduit, which J.P. Morgan recently valued at well over US1 billion. The explanation on their own website is very simple – their tech helps to drive traffic to the website of their clients and thus generate extra revenues. Sort of important, no?

iMesh had sales of US$70 million last year, basically taking over where Napset et al failed. Sweet IM has its “smileys”. After Download, Volonet, Iron Source, Dealply and others are not far behind, all with their main offices in Israel. The revenues generated are simply large and growing geometrically.

Where to next? Who knows what another 64 years will bring, as the word “impossible” is challenged and redefined in Israel on a near daily basis. 


Business success, university grads and mentoring

April 23, 2012

In my work as a business mentor, two seemingly contradictory themes repeat themselves.

I often come across the 30+ person, who has a solid university degree but just cannot build their own business. In parallel, there are plenty of people, who have never attended an academy of higher learning, yet end up with a lot of cash in the bank accounts.

Two famous examples of what I mean? We all know that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame was a genius and ended up at Harvard. In comparison, the late Steve Jobs dropped out of university after a semester, but later gave a talk at Stanford on how he succeedd by “learning to join the dots of life”.

In Israel, there is a well-known chain of coffee bars called “Cafe Cafe”. It’s 50 year old owner, Ronen Nimni, was looking after 4 car parks in Tel Aviv by the time he was 18 years old. Within a decade, he was a well-known figure as the owner of several dance clubs. But then his business imploded.

When the banks “called in Nimni for a chat”, he simply worked  til the late hours in the one restaurant he still possessed, even sweeping the floors himself. Another 14 years on,  he has converted that “one” into around 120 additional branches, has brought several other chains, is looking at exporting one of his eatery concepts and is…..

Well, it gets breathless to continue listing the achievements of Ronen, who left school and home at 16. He had the great luck, skill and fortune to recognise his true abilities at an early age: he can make decisions quickly and choose the correct people to help him.

Ronen is no isolated case. Yesterday, I met with an owner of a small retail chain. He too could not sit down to write an essay if you paid him. 

In the opposite “corner”, I was speaking recently to a lady, also from Tel Aviv. She has a fine middle class upbringing, including a strong bachelor’s degree. However, her business ain’t working out. It is difficult to discuss the cash flow, because it is fairly stagnant.

When I asked her, who she could call to start off a new set of clientelle, she had no answer. An hour later of some pushing and mentoring from me, she had booked four meetings. As the session progressed, she protested that business was hard, difficult. Nobody had warned her.

The point is that going to university can help, help a great deal. It will encourage you to ask questions, challenge assumptions, teach you principles in your field. However, and this is the dark secret, many people still need help to go beyond that.

Some take that help by allowing themselves to be employed by others, learning from their experiences, and then setting up for themselves. Others, like my female customer, just assume that it will flow. They fail to think what they can really provide and how to do it.

And that simple statement – what you can do, realising your core values, and how in detail to supply the service – needs to be brought out of each and every one of us. It is not simple to understand and can be very trying to implement.

Mentoring – Networking: How to benefit from a group meeting

April 20, 2012

I was asked this week if I could suggest ideas to revitalise a couple of networking groups that had fallen on hard times. This is a polite of saying that members were no longer turning up to the events.

As a mentor, you often encourage people to “get out there and mingle”. But how? And what is the point of networking, if you are just looking for a vital lead when everyone else is probably doing the same?

Here’s the rub. To summarise a talk from social media expert, Don Crowther, when you put yourself in front of others, virtually or physically, you are often “tested” or examined on three keys issues. You have to show that you are: –

  • Knowledgeable – provide sound content
  • Reliable
  • Trustworthy

More often than not, a successful member of a networking group shows these attributes by giving of themselves. They are not overtly looking to be rewarded for their presence. They are not seeking to receive, but to contribute and to help.

Back to the failing networking groups, the remaining rumps analysed their downturns. What was obvious was that the members had been turning up, mainly to latch on to an immediate and direct benefit. “OK, who was going to give me a lead?” was the unwritten motto of a session.

And the result? A triumph for “much said and little achieved”.

I should declare that I am a regular at one of these groups. In parallel, I should admit that I was initially guilty of the crimes listed above. For the record, I have now suggested that we move the meetings to an alternative location each month.

Postscript: The next set of meetings will be held “off-site”, where people will be  forced to mingle with each other and to interact. There goes our comfort zone, but that is what networking is all about.

Is the fizz going out of Israel’s economy?

April 19, 2012

Israel’s economy is slowing down? Have grown at over 5%  for the 18 months to June 2011, the figures for the second half of 2011 are stuck at 3.5%.

Thus reveals official stats this week. But let’s be honest, many in the OECD would settle for even 2%. So here are a few brief takeaways that elaborate why Israel has not dipped into recession along with some of its competitors.

1) Within twelve months, Israel will become a producer of gas, probably even an exporter. This will significantly alter the country’s revenue structure and balance of payments. The change will near end the dependency on the troublesome gas supplies from Egypt.  

2) Impressive high tech deals continue to set headlines in the press. This week, Objet, 3D printer developers from south of Tel Aviv and near bankrupt a few years back, created a US$1.4 billion partnership with Stratasys.

3) Brainsway is just one of several biotech companies leading the Tel Aviv stock exchange higher. Tucked away in an industrial zone in north Jerusalem, the company is pioneering drug development for sufferers of depression.

Ed Mlavsky is one of the founders of Israel’s high tech revolution. In an interview with the “Times” of London, he repeated his maantra about the elitism of hightech.

So while the IMF and Israeli technocrats may differ as to whether growth in 2012 will hit the 3% mark in the Holy Land, one thing is clear. The UK and others in Europe have a lot to learn from Israel’s economy, which continues to perform well.