Guest Blog: When Reality Hits! My Startup’s Unexpected Journey

My name is Noam Schwartz and I’m one of the CEOs in the 5th batch of UpWest Labs. 

Just some background about me – I’m a Haman Talpiot graduate and spent about eight years as an intelligence analyst both in the IDF army and in private companies before founding my first company.

In 2012, I co-founded, a video based social fundraising platform, which was selected as one of Israel’s hottest startups by Business Insider together with Wix, Conduit, Waze and other well respected companies. 

March 13′:

My team and I thought we were familiar with the US market; we knew our users, we had American employees and we had been traveling a lot in the states promoting our product. 

We had that picture in our minds, that I’m sure most of you have, that once we got big, we would just fly to Silicon Valley, meet investors and raise a series A.

During March, I attended SXSW with my team members, fellow entrepreneurs and even one of our investors. As fun as it was, it was also a very insightful visit that raised a big red warning sign in my mind. I was getting the feeling that I’m missing out on something big, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. 

I knew I had to take some sort of action to ensure we were on the right track, and with that feeling in my gut, I had the chance to meet UpWest Labs founders, Gil and Shuly in Tel Aviv.  Now, I knew UpWest Labs for some time, and even applied (and had been politely rejected. Twice.) during our early days, but it wasn’t clear to me what was so special about the program and why so many alumni entrepreneurs and investors were so exited about it. 

Gil, Shuly and their partner Liron said all kinds of things about how important it is for a company to be closer to its market, to understand “the Valley way of thinking”, to develop a network and to gain relevant “momentum” as fast and as early as possible.

Although I comprehended it to some extent, I can’t say I fully understood what had just been offered to me when I finally got accepted, but I knew that it was going to be a huge thing for us. A real game changer.

10 days after being accepted into the program, I moved to Palo Alto with most of the team. 

April 13′:

It didn’t take us long to understand that our presence here in Silicon Valley and in the program was going to be reflected back on as THE moment things really started for us. 

During the first couple of days we were exposed to ridiculous amounts of facts about operating in the Valley, we got hard and honest feedback from some of the smartest people I know, we had meetings with industry thought leaders and we hung out with investors and entrepreneurs I only knew from reading TechCrunch. 

Networking, listening, learning, observing. 

Nobody Cares

We realized that we were looking at life through a straw. That we didn’t stand a chance to fully understand our business, market, what’s interesting, what’s not, talent war, sources of funding and customers’ development by staying in Tel Aviv or by just coming here for a couple of days or weeks at a time, trying to make and build connections. And even if we were able to make those connections, it would take us twice as long to gather the same momentum. 

People in the Valley don’t care about how smart you are. They don’t care how many huge Israeli companies are already using your product or that you have 100,000 downloads. They don’t care you worked at NICE or were a 8200 hotshot.

Nobody cares. 

The only 2 things that they really care about, that really matter and that you are judged upon are:

– How big of an opportunity are you going after  (and how fast you can prove it). 

– Who you know (and who he or she knows).

Reality Check. 

After facing some hard questions and having trouble coming up with good enough answers that would correlate with the reality that was changing in front of us, we took a step back. It was crazy, but we realized that after only a couple of weeks in UpWest Labs, we had learned more about the potential of our product and the potential of our market than what we had learned in the 6 months prior.

The market, the people, the network, the money, the know-how.  Those are things that are very hard to grasp from Rothschild Boulevard.

We took a hint, and started making some big changes. It’s still too soon to reveal what we are doing right now, but we are solving a huge problem that we are passionate about for a huge market.

It is hard but very important to understand that nobody (nobody!) cares about the past. Nobody cares if you made mistakes. Nobody cares if you pivoted 3 times. Just solve a big problem for a big market as fast as possible. That’s it. 

May 13′:

Everything is different now. We’re all changing. We are thinking differently, speaking differently. We are focused. There is no fluff. There is no BS. 

I can’t believe I waited this long. I can only imagine where we would have been had we joined UpWest a year ago. It’s a true game changer.

I’m a huge fan of the startup community in Israel and am doing my best to make myself available, meet as many people as possible and learn from others as much as I can. But the Valley is very different from everything we know in Israel. Although we’re the #2 tech hub in the world, the distance between #1 and #2 is bigger than most people think. It’s not a matter of size or absolute numbers, it’s a matter of perspective, timing and approach. 

We are users and consumers of Silicon Valley products but we’re the builders of Israeli products that get feedback from other Israelis. Even if you’re leaner than Eric Ries and more focused than Steve Blank, if your target market is the US and your competitors are mostly US companies, it will be extremely difficult (nothing is impossible) to stay competitive and iterate, market, sell, hire or raise money.

So what are you saying?

I’m not advocating leaving everything and moving to the US permanently.

But, I do recommend doing everything you can to make sure you are maximizing your chances for success. Startups are really hard and dangerous, and you shouldn’t go into a sword fight with your hands tied behind your back and a napkin covering your eyes. 

Just sayin’…