There’s been no shortage of debate and discussion about how to replicate the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem (or whether it’s even possible, worthwhile or applicable to other places). I wrote about it way back when in 2007 and certainly a lot has changed and improved in a few years. But when you read a book such as Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle you realize just how far so many places have to go.
Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle is a book about Israel’s brief, violent and incredible history. It goes through a number of interesting and amazing stories of Israeli entrepreneurs, who essentially built a country surrounded by enemies. It’s a fun, interesting read, but not really about specific lessons that you can learn and apply immediately to your own startup endeavors. It does make you go “Hmmm…”
Since reading the book I’ve been thinking about it a lot and how the Israeli startup experience can be applied to other places, including my hometown, Montreal, Quebec. Truthfully, I don’t think you can apply all the lessons and experiences from Israel, simply because what they experienced is so different from other places. Canada, as an example, was not born out of war. We’re not in a constant state of threat, and therefore can afford to be lazy, slower moving and not as intense (although I don’t think we can afford those things, but we do.)
Still, there are some interesting ideas in the book that I do think can apply and should be talked about a lot more for Montreal and many other small but growing startup ecosystems.
- You need chutzpah. If you don’t know what “chutzpah” is, look it up. Suffice it to say, as I was reading the book I kept thinking, “Where is Canada’s chutzpah?” Turns out we might have just captured some of that after winning a Gold medal against the US in Olympic hockey. Startups need chutzpah, lots and lots of it.
- Failure is inevitable. A lot of people talk about failure in startups, but it turns out that a lot of that is nothing but talk. In many places, Canada included, failure is still failure. A black mark. In Israel they genuinely tackle failure differently.
- Tout the exits. The entrepreneurs that exit in Israel are considered national heroes, the stories become legendary. Canada needs more exits, and it needs to tout those that its had. Those referenced in the book are huge, but I still think Canada could do a lot to promote even the smaller exits we’ve seen.
- Keep the entrepreneurs. Israel does a good job of keeping people, although they do struggle with brain drain. Canada doesn’t do as good a job of keeping its successful entrepreneurs. Some of them come back, but not many.
- Mature students are more successful. One of the biggest differences in Israel is the fact that nearly everyone spends at least 2 years in the army. While in the army they learn a ton of critical skills. Most importantly, they’re maturing – fast. By the time a 22-year old leaves the army, he or she has experienced something that no Canadian will even come close to understanding. Somehow Canada needs to find ways of providing students with more opportunities – and crappy internships at large companies doesn’t count. Students need to be thrown into incredibly intense and meaningful internships and roles. They need real responsibility with real consequences.
- Focus beyond your borders. Because Israel is so tiny and surrounded by enemies, it’s forced to look far beyond its borders for success. That means exporting a lot. It also means having a unique worldview. Too few Canadians look beyond their borders to seek out opportunity, learn what’s going on, etc. Reading a couple blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable doesn’t count (although it doesn’t hurt either!) More entrepreneurs need to be networking past their city limits, and need to recognize how much competition is out there. Smaller startup ecosystems have to work extra hard to be on top of everything that’s going on, and need to get their fingers into every pie.
I’d like to see more valuable partnerships with US and Israeli-based entrepreneurs and investors. There should be Silicon Valley and Israeli bootcamps and/or exchange programs. I haven’t thought through all the mechanics, but we need to be out there. We need to go out, learn, steal, connect … and then come back to our home base.
I would encourage you to read Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle – there’s a very good chance you’ll find some lessons, examples and ideas in there that will help you and your startup … regardless of where you’re located.