There’s an old saying in Hebrew (taken from Pirkei Avot) which loosely translates to “Be a tail to the lions, and not a head to the wolves”. I hate to go against sayings of old wise people, but judging by Techonomy3 which took place today, this is precisely what the Israeli entrepreneurial community should not be doing.
The cynical TL;DR; for said startups goes something like this:
- Dapsem - centralized dissemination of Facebook “likes” and positive feedback tweets - fist bump style. A thumb-less “like” - if you will.
- Magisto - kick-ass, intelligent video editing. Smart algorithm that churns hours of raw video footage into short, concise clips with scene highlights.
- Tingiz - a QR code community allowing retailers to build product pages and communities around products.
- TvTak - contextualizing televised content by image recognition - take a picture of current commercial with iPhone and get context.
- Jumboard - an online gaming platform for toddlers, with matching hardware.
- HitPad - a tweet/news/media aggregator; Flipboard clone.
Magisto took first place, no surprises. They zoned in on a real problem, and from the looks of the demo - developed a real algorithm that gets the job done. Regarding the other 5 startups, well… Positive feedback was aplenty - not only from the crowd via live tweets, but also from the judges, which concentrated on generic appraisals - “Good product, would love to see it succeed”. Really?
Are any of the other 5 startups innovative in any way? Do they bring any added value? Do they differentiate from competition in any palpable way? The teams are all staffed with very talented people, some with prove track records to show for. This is an anomaly I cannot yet explain, other than the fact that Israeli VC money is dirt cheap these days.
The vast majority of Israeli startups are trying to vaguely imitate and loosely build upon existing web platforms in ways that are not innovative nor sustainable. Israeli entrepreneurs are historically known for out-of-the-box and innovative thinking. It is a shame if we ignore our advantages and instead try to imitate existing products.
I fear that if indeed there is an inevitable downfall to the current saturated state we are in (the proverbial “bubble”, anyone?), Israeli startups will take a massive hit. I believe Techonomy3 has shown we have lots to improve on, and unless we start asking the hard questions that focus on product differentiation and revenue - Israeli web startups will find themselves with rainy days ahead.