The Entrepreneurial Truth UnFulded. Advice for young startups by the tech marketer legend himself: Hillel Fuld.
Using the words tech, marketing, startups, and Israel in one sentence will eventually lead you to a living legend by the name of Hillel Fuld. Hillel is heavily involved in the Israel startup scene and probably the biggest (former) Snapchat fan that is older than 16. I’ve had the privilege of hearing this atomic bomb of energy speak at the MassChallenge accelerator in Jerusalem. The session ended with loud applause and my jaw on the floor in awe. I HAD to reach out to this guy, hoping he would answer some of my questions so I could share it with many other struggling young entrepreneurs myself.
Not only did Hillel reply to my corny, ass-kissing e-mail within 2 minutes (literally), he agreed to a phone interview. I’m really starting to like this guy, and I kind of already did — his fine collection of blazers and dress jackets reminded me of back home in The Netherlands.
This is what I just HAD to ask Hillel:
Q: Many young entrepreneurs have a big disadvantage in the ecosystem (track record, network, experience). What is the biggest piece of advice you can give them in order to get to the relevant investors and partners, getting them through the pre-seed and even seed stage?
Unlike any other place, Israel is very casual, so be casual. You can reach out to practically anyone and get a cup of coffee. With small exceptions, people are happy to help if you just ask them for advice. It’s a small world, so there is almost always someone in your network that knows the person you’re trying to reach and can make the introduction. Don’t cold e-mail, it’s not the way.
Q: People in the ecosystem often speak of “red and blue oceans”. Should “red oceans” be a reason for an entrepreneur to pivot or even think about pulling the plug before proceeding and building a product?
I don’t think so. It’s important to know that ocean. Many entrepreneurs I meet are entering a red ocean without even knowing it. Do at least one month of intensive and comprehensive competitors analysis before doing anything else. Don’t let a red ocean scare you away since most successful companies such as Apple and Facebook entered the so-called red ocean.
Q: There’s no such thing as real organic traffic/traction today. In some way or the other, you have to “pay to play”. Where should an early stage venture focus its marketing efforts and which aspects not to waste its time (like, in my opinion, hiring a PR agency)?
I disagree about the PR part of the question. Hire someone that is familiar with the social tools, but you can definitely do it yourself. The main problem with Israeli startups is the “short-term” way of thinking. Think long-term! You have to plant your seeds early and start building a recognizable brand from the beginning. As for the PR agency, there is nothing they do that you theoretically can’t.
Where I wouldn’t put efforts from the get-go? User acquisition. Build a brand properly and the user acquisition will be much more effective when your users come across you when they already had some kind of interaction with your brand.
Q: The “chicken-and-the-egg” issue. Many startups built a great product (or something with great potential), but need capital in order to scale, reach customers, penetrate markets, and expand their team. Many investors, and in particular angel investors, are acting more like VC’s — not so much investing in ideas and promise anymore but looking for traction and, often, relatively bigger numbers as to what the startups can realistically achieve when in pre-seed stage. What’s the main advice you can give them?
Raise some initial capital from friends and family just to get over the hurdle. Build a prototype, go to market, and see how the market acts so you can build towards product market fit.
Q: You meet hundreds of entrepreneurs and amazing companies. Besides the common “team, market, problem” triangle of validating a potential unicorn or something special, what is, in your own opinion, the trigger for you to believe in a company and wanting to help them out and even be more involved?
It sounds cliché, but it’s all about the people. If the technology fails, you trust in the people to pivot and make the change. The technology is less interesting to me, where it’s all about talented people, that can tell a story. It’s a sort of “either you got it or you don’t” kind of thing. For me personally, it’s only about the people.
Q: I don’t consider you as an Oleh (new immigrant) anymore, but you can definitely relate to the cultural differences between Israel and Europe/US, or Asia for that matter. The Israeli society is hard, it’s often eat-or-be-eaten (your freeway example of the blinker is perfect for this matter), especially in the startup world. If there was one thing you learned her that could be of extreme value for olim to adapt in the ecosystem, what would it be?
There are massive opportunities for you guys out here. Israelis are amazing at building great tech, but they are weak in telling the story. There’s a real need for world class marketeers in this country.
My favorite question by far! If you were born a piece of fruit, which type would it be?
Tomato. A lot of times, people think it’s a vegetable, where in face it’s fruit. People tend to misunderstand marketing and what I really do. They think that Tweeting cool things is what I do, when there’s so much more to it.
Many thanks to Hillel for taking the time to answer my questions, hope to see you again soon!
“Hillel Fuld “Israel’s pre-eminent tech marketer. CMO of ZCast, thought leader, writer, and strategic advisor. Hillel helps Israeli tech go BOOM!”
Pictures: credited to Hillel Fuld himself.