Why ‘Chutzpah’ Belongs Right Here in Israel
Just over a month ago, VentureBeat’s Matt Marshall posed two legitimate questions about Israel’s startup economy: “Why are Israeli start-up hits generally so small? Where is their version of Instagram?’’
I thought I was going to tell you exactly what you wanted to hear, that it’s right here. It’s Conduit. But in truth, it’s not here. Putting the one billion-dollar connection aside, Israeli startups will never be of the Instagram mold. We’re not made from Silicon because we weren’t born in the Valley.
We were born in a country that sees adversity as a challenge, adapts quickly because it has to, and makes sure that despite being different, we are noticed. Above all, we are made of 100% pure “chutzpah.”
As a new immigrant, I am in a relatively good position to analyze why such a unique character trait has brought about a business philosophy that has been touted by copious books and journalists as the next big thing. Because what I lack in a direct understanding of Israeli culture, I make up for with a stark awareness of it.
Here are some of the characteristics that depict how Israeli “chutzpah” is an integral part of our business success:
- ‘No’ is just an open invitation to a debate here, whether it’s at a bus stop or in the middle of a meeting. Opinions and beliefs are debated with a passion that the Western world often reserves for sporting events alone.
- Israeli people are named after the “sabra” fruit—they’re hard on the outside and soft in the middle. And if one decides you’re worth going the extra mile for, you’ll be truly amazed at the length they’d go to look after you. This is deeply rooted within a company’s culture. The work ethic here rivals that of any New York investment firm, without the Red Bull and paracetamol.
- Quick-thinking solutions are the norm. The laid-back attitude and lack of bureaucracy—which comes from a flat corporate structure and an open-door policy for even the most senior managers—allow things to get done quickly.
- The audacity to question authority is a survival skill. Somewhere along the line, probably in the compulsory army service, Israelis learn that you must question authority if you are to be taken seriously and even respected here.
This excerpt from Start-Up Nation further explains the meaning of “chutzpah”:
‘‘When the Intel Corporation began building its Israeli teams in the 70s, the Americans found Israeli chutzpah so jarring that Intel started running ‘cross-cultural seminars on Israeliness.’ Intel-Israel’s Mooly Eden, who ran the seminars, said that ‘it’s more complicated to manage five Israelis than 50 Americans because [the Israelis] will challenge you all the time — starting with ‘Why are you my manager; why am I not your manager?’’’
Such stories and the recent articles written on Israel and its startup culture show an interest in life outside of the norm. By nature, we are a product of our own environment. We aren’t flashy and perhaps we are guilty of pushing for substance over style—T-shirts and jeans over shirts and ties. Perhaps because we are young, we are still intent on getting our fundamentals correct. Walking before we run.
So for every flamboyant Instagram that Israel lacks, another startup is born out of neccessity, like Tawkon, an app that helps mobile phone users maintain a consciously-healthy lifestyle by helping them control exposure to phone radiation. Or Everyword, which helps you discover and show the world the words that make up your personality. And Any.DO, which organizes your life in a simple and elegant way and is often mentioned in the same breath as the all-conquering Pinterest.
In short, the people here and their ideas are as diverse as the tiny country they live in. Drew Olanoff sums up my whole point better than I could do so myself: “My point was, and still is, that it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re creating something of value.’’ So don’t take your eyes off this country for a second because the moment you do, it will surprise you…again.
Here’s to chutzpah. Here’s to doing things a little differently.