Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 4: Logging Into The Start-Up Nation


After a night out with the group, we kicked off Day 4 with a reflection session themed on how the first 3 days have made us feel – a sort of midway check-in.

Here are some of the comments from our group:

“I feel like I should appreciate what I have more. After listening to Katya in Palestine, I feel like people back home who are living in pain and could benefit from hearing how other people live and how fortunate we are even though we don’t often see it that way”

“The kibbutz made an impression on me. I saw groups of people who are working together and creating something special in co-habitant space. I work with people and they often let me down. There I saw a communication that works together”

“I struggle to take a step back from the day to day running of my business. I am very scared to leave the fate of my hard work in the hands of people who may not share my passion. I thought about that a lot in these past few days”

“I am learning that it is okay to be in a space of uncertainty. I am learning to be comfortable with discomfort”

“I went for a run along Jaffa, and it reminded me of Jonah. I am thinking about a greater purpose for my business bigger than just making money”

“I feel heavy. I have seen and appreciate more how complex the political situation is between Israel and Palestine. I feel emotionally heavy. But I also woke up and realized that these issues are not mine”

“I feel sense of calmness. I feel like we, as Africans, are going to be okay. We have come a long way, and there is still along way to go, but with us, entrepreneurs, as a pillar of light for Africa, I am convinced we are gonna be okay”

“I appreciate the power of working together. It reminds me of how a group of ants can bring down a cockroach, where even they are smaller insects, working together they can achieve great things”

“I am itching to get on with it. I have a rejuvenation for the opportunities before me, and I just want to get my hands dirty and see how I can do business on this trip”

After the session I left the group to attend the Axis Tel Aviv Start-Up Conference. This is a two-day conference that provides a platform for Israeli start-ups to pitch to global investors. I had set up a meeting with the CEO of Trendemon, Avishai Sharon, a very young man who had founded a company that automatically analyses traffic of websites and improves hits, revenues and engagements for website owners and publishers – all automatically.

I was intrigued by the technology.

He had 5 minutes to convince an audience of approximately 200 investors to inject a further $2 million and thereafter take questions from a panel of 5 carefully selected investors. The audience also had forms where they are able to jot own questions and submit these for the start-ups to respond to via email post-event.


Trendemon presented in the Digital Media category along with 4 other companies:

Homage – a mobile co-creation video platform that allows users to become a participant in any video content and creating personalized emoticons. Their target market consists of content owners, production studios and content sponsors. The founder used a clip from Idols to embed his image onto the popular TV show and record a trailer that featured him alongside Simon Cowell judging contestants – I wasn’t too impressed, shame.

Sensegon – a technology that uses personality types, as opposed to demography and geography, to target advertising on social media. It is a media-buying platform that analyses the total addressable audience into personality types, and channels the advertising budgets accordingly. Their core market consists of digital media agencies, representing brands, or the brands themselves through a percentage fee of use of the platform or a revenue share on all spend on the platform. The technology is based on machine learning algorithms which cluster consumers into persona categories including risk-averse, practical, emotional, etc. – I was impressed by the idea, but I wondered if leading media agency groups would not quickly catch up to similar technology as they seek more insight into consumer behavior and strengthen their offering to large global advertisers – perhaps Sensegon founders are targeting an exit on this basis should they be able to prove their technology is better than anything else on the market.

Total Boox – this was the best presentation by far! The CEO opened by asking how many people in the room had bought a book they’ve never finished. More than half the room raised their hands with some chuckles in the crowd. He then asked how many people had bought a book they’ve never read. More hands are raised this time accompanied by silent laughter. Then he says: “Imagine if you only had to pay for the pages you read”. Total Boox is an online platform where you are able to ‘buy’ a book (they have over 35,000 books on their catalogue) but you only pay as and when you read a page. If you never finish the book, no problem – you only pay for what you have read. If you never read the book, no problem – you pay nothing at all. What impressed me about these guys is that they had already raised $2 million and were looking for another $2 million. They also have two types of clients. On the one hand, they target consumers who download books on the e-readers, Kindles, iPads and Tablets. On the other hand, they’ve also secured a number of government libraries as customers thanks to an unexpected interest and take up from the United States. How do they make money? They share the revenue with the publishers of the titles, and they market the service on-line via their very popular newsletter that, according to them, is under-pinned by a superior recommendation and discovery engine. I was very impressed!

WeKast: By far, the bravest presentation on the day! The company has developed a technology that lets presenters connect instantly without requiring a lengthy setup, internet connection or even a laptop. The CEO decided to do her presentation using her product to prove that it works (of course!). The only problem is that she had some technical problems when she was setting up, so much so she had to ask the facilitator to tell us jokes. This rather compromised the core brand promise of ‘zero time to connect’. However, eventually the system was connected and she proceeded to do her presentation, controlling it from her iPhone. It looked really cool. The system consists of a USB-style dongle that you insert onto a projector or TV which creates a secure loop or network. You then go into a mobile app where you pull up your presentation, and boom, Bob’s Your Uncle! The system also has other uses. Because of the secure loop, your audience has the ability to make comments, put up questions etc. onto your presentations, which you can follow up after your presentation. Noemie Alliel is the CEO and she was very good in articulating her market and user-friendly nature of her innovation. She and her team have funded everything themselves in proving the concept and was now ready to work on distribution channels and manufacturing the hardware (the dongle), she also had a respectable ask of $500,000 – I was very impressed by the innovation in a space that could do with creative solutions as an alternative to the irritating cables that never work properly.
I met a number of investors from all over Europe and Asia and they all seemed pretty excited about the session and the prospects of the rest of the conference. I spoke to a gentleman from Spain who had attended the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010, who noted to me that there are a number of innovations South Africans could take into their own country and the continent. He was very positive about South Africa and not one word about crime or Eskom from him. Naturally, I enjoyed that chat.

I rejoined the group for a picnic lunch, after which we made our way to LEAD, an organisation that runs programmes to create future leaders of Israel. Young people are recruited at school level and get involved in a programme that develops their leadership potential. As part of the programme, students must think of and implement a community project. We watched the story of a young man who had a passion for football and used that to unite a Jerusalem community of Jews, Arabs and Palestinians

Click here to see what LEAD is all about.

We then had a surprise visit from a gentleman who spent time, sharing with us first hand experience of the situation in Syria. Another very complex conflict there, which is between the people of Syria and also between Syria and its neighbors. This gentleman and his organisation also noted the involvement and support received from South Africa in supplying medical care during this difficult time. I later learned that this was through Imtiaz Suleman’s Gift of the Givers Foundation.
Later than night we had a very carnivorous dinner with the group, and were joined by a young Israeli entrepreneur, Michal, who is part of the Breaking the Impasse initiative that seeks to unite entrepreneurs in Israel and in Palestine. Her perspective was very interesting. The organisation is a platform trying to address common challenges for entrepreneurs and show both sides that the two nations can work together. It was however very difficult to keep the organisation away from the public and to meet openly.

I shared with her our experience with Katya in Palestine and asked her about the practicality of an effective partnership between the two nations when, in my view, the Palestinians essentially have nothing to bring to this partnership. Alternatively, this platform runs the risk of being seen as Israeli entrepreneurs trying to extend an olive branch to Palestinian entrepreneurs, which can have varied outcomes mostly unintended negative ones.

She highlighted that a number of Israeli engineers and professionals were involved in the development of Rawabi, the brand new Palestinian city and this was a good step in the right direction. The conversation became heavier and more complex as the entrepreneurs explored the different angles of the political conflict between the two nations.

I needed a break from this and ended up finishing my delicious bottle of merlot at the bar downstairs with Karabo Songo, the founder and CEO of Joburg-based agency, Olive Communications. Good guy that. We had had enough of politics for one night, and had to plan for a very busy next day, with back-to-back meetings, and checking out and traveling to Netanya.

PS: If you are interested in investing into or partnering with any of the companies above, feel free to drop me an email on and I will connect you.

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