The Israeli StartUp Scene – An interview with Nir Kouris

Part of the reasoning behind the Founded X initiative was to give startup communities around the world a chance to promote what they do. When announcing the blog, we mentioned that to get real insight into these communities we would conduct interviews with not only founders of startups but also with ‘Curators’ who run the Founded in X — Country Lists. These people are passionate about the startup community of which they represent.

This week we had a great discussion with Nir Kouris. Nir is an innovation consultant & startup ambassador who is at the heartbeat of the Tel Aviv startup scene and curator of Founded in Israel. It’s hard to think of anyone that I’ve spoken to that is as passionate about their native startups as Nir. It was a fantastic insight to Israel and what goes on at ground level. Conducting the interview, I soon realised the strength of the Founded X initiative. In each startup community in the world there is a Founded X representative relentlessly promoting startups. This is something few initiatives have & is something Founded X see as core of its future plans.

Nir Kouris

Here’s some of the dialogue from the chat we had with Nir. You can find more about him here, follow him on twitter & I highly recommend you check him out on Instagram too. It’s a mix of drones, conference snaps and lots of nice pastries!

AF: (AF: Andrew Fulton conducted the interview with Nir). What do you do Nir? Tell us about you.

NK: I primarily work with startups as an innovation consultant in many different capacities & sectors. I’m working closely with startups pursuing ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), Wearables, ‘Internet of Everywhere’ (IoE), and even more recently I’ve encountered startups working on ‘Internet of Me’ (IoM). Further to this I conduct a lot of startup meet-ups and events to help both promote Israel startups internationally and facilitate international companies to utilise Israeli talent & resources.

AF: How would you describe the Israeli startup scene?

NK: Israel is full of amazing talent and startups. There’s a cult right now, where everyone here wants to be an entrepreneur. People like to ‘hustle’. Here, the country is so small that everyone is helping one and other. There’s a sense of pride that if one of us succeeds then we all share in that because it helps our country. In Israel, the people are crazy. We have this attitude which we have a word for — ‘Chutzpah’. ‘Chutzpah’ is being rude in a good way. Giving constructive feedback. Chutzpah means to hustle. You see a big company? Don’t be afraid to go straight to their CEO and tell him what you think. Also, in Israel, things move super fast. People aren’t scheduling meetings or calls, people just come and speak to you.. now. In Israel, everyone must do 3 years in the Army. People spend 3 years in the best hi-tech units of the army. They become highly technical and understand teamwork and team dynamics, much like a startup. After 3 years you finish your army service and you feel like you can do whatever you like in the whole world. You’ve learned everything, you know all the developers from your unit. They know how to work with you, you know how to work with them, and so you go and open your own startup. There’s a famous unit, unit 8200 which produce many well-known startups.

AF: Toughest challenge facing Israeli founders today?

NK: Marketing & Design. I’ve been to Europe, and the importance is held on design and marketing and it’s done to an exceptionally high standard. Here, we are very good at R&D, but lack sufficient design and marketing talent. It often means Israeli startups needing to have a growth and marketing team outside of Israel, which is good but a challenge in itself.

Nir Kouris giving a talk at a Product Hunt meet up in Tel Aviv, Israel.

 

AF: Israel has had some fantastic startups emerge to searing valuations in recent years such as Kultura, Waze & Trusteer. Why has Israel consistently had big returns?

NK: The big tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have started acquiring Israeli startups, or have been planting R&D teams here. This has driven M&A upwards and started a trend where lots of International companies are looking to have an Israeli company in their portfolio. It definitely has influenced a lot of pre-seed & seed funding activity & certainly driven later stage founding rounds higher in price. M&A has happened for a long time now but often they aren’t successful, either it’s for the team, or the technology or the acquirer carves the company up and the founding team get laid of, or put into a different department. Here, they seem to work. Integrations with the parent company work well and often the acquirer ends up with another profitable arm of its business. I believe this is the reason for the increase in liquidity events in the past few years.

AF: What startup are you most excited about in Israel and why?

NK: Storedot — the future of energy and how we bring that to power small devices such as your smartphone. Imagine fully charging your iPhone in less than 30 seconds.

AF: What impressed you about Founded X and why did you decide to take on the curation of Founded in Israel?

NK: Founded X is an amazing initiative, by amazing people. I admired Founded in Holland. They had this lets help and promote startups attitude and lets do the same for every country. I really like the ethos. You have something to show and I have something to show — let’s collaborate. The most exciting part is that Founded X is only just getting started.

AF: What does the future look like for Israeli tech startups?

NK: I think the future is emerging markets. Our startups are very good at building products and reaching critical mass in our home market. But we need to listen to the needs of other markets: India, Japan, China etc – and scale. Many startups in Israel take an early payday of $100M+ rather than trying to scale into new markets and reach membership in the exclusive unicorn club of billion dollar startups.

AF: We’ve seen Sequoia & Bessemer, and other funds even create specialised funds for Israel — what’s the funding environment like?

NK: The majority of investing is based on fear. And investors are afraid of missing the Israeli prospects that are providing such good returns so there’s plenty of capital. We’re seeing lots of home-based accelerators & seed funds, and then the later funds are often international based. There is no ‘slow-no’ in the funding process. Elsewhere, particularly in Europe the fundraising process can take some time. It’s much shorter here. Investors & VCs will give you a no very quickly so you can move on. Lastly, it’s very easy to access the investors here. In fact there are publicly available websites with contact details for investors here making access possible for anyone, even first time founders who don’t yet have a network.

It was great getting an insight of Israel and the people that make it what it is. This is our first published curator interview and we’re hoping to do more in the coming weeks. If you want to reach Nir you can do so via email Nirkouris@gmail.com. Founded X looks forward to working with Nir in promoting the Israeli startups scene more & more.