#MentorSpotlight || Meet Ben Wiener
“The Jerusalem startup ecosystem is vibrant. I’m happy to be primarily the only early stage VC for software and Jerusalem based companies.”
Pennsylvania to Promised Land
Ben Wiener grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania and graduated from Columbia University with a law degree in 1996. By the time he graduated, he was married and had his eldest three kids. Four more would follow later. At this stage in their life and with a mutual love for Israel, Ben and his wife decided to postpone a big career opportunity and come to Israel for the year, during which Ben clerked on the Israeli supreme court for Justice, Yitzhak Zamir.
But after one year they were struck by the Aliyah urge and Ben began networking with individuals in the Israeli startup scene.
So he moved here for good.
Shortly afterwards, Ben left transactional law and joined the startup scene, co-founding a software company. As a non-technical founder, he worked on the business and corporate development side of things — and saw a lot of success.
With a natural love for building things and creating new companies, Ben began working with several startups in Jerusalem. At the time, there were very few investment opportunities in the city: “Investors stopped looking at Jerusalem because there just wasn’t much to look at. One thing missing in the capital, was early stage capital.” explains Ben.
But things started picking up in the capital around 2012.
He recalls attending a pitch night at a bar where asked the man beside him where the investors were. The man answered that “there aren’t any investors — we’re just pitching to ourselves.” Ben realized that if someone would be investing, they’d have absolutely no competition. He jumped at the opportunity.
In an industry he understood well, Ben switched lanes from founder to venture capitalist in 2013, founding Jumpspeed Ventures, which invests in early stage software startups founded or based in Jerusalem.
So far, Jerusalem has gone from having 100 companies to 400 or 500 and from $50 to $250 million in venture capital per year.
Startups from a VC’s point of view
As a VC, Ben sees dozens of startups every month. He observes that what all founders have in common is passion and belief, because lacking that they wouldn’t have started a company in the first place.
But, after having heard countless pitches, Ben explains that one of the biggest things startups need, and often lack, is a solid business plan. An idea is always just 10% of a venture, no matter how revolutionary it is; execution is the remaining 90%.
In terms of quality, Ben looks for what he calls ‘extreme product/market fit’. “There’s this magical point where the market desperately needs something or a solution but just doesn’t have it,” he explains, and notes the he looks for startups with no direct competition, solving a problem in a way that surpasses any other combination of solutions currently available.
Mistakes to be learned from
Like all entrepreneurs, Ben admits there are “a ton of epic mistakes he’s made along the way.” One of them was not checking out his co-founders prior to joining the company. “You have to have a team that can survive through thick and thin,” he says. “If you’re not with people you trust and that trust you, it can be bad. I’ve gotten into bed with the wrong people.”
Ben also opposes the behavior that he calls ‘stealth mode’ and believes it can be an entrepreneur’s biggest mistake. ‘Stealth mode’ is the process of keeping ideas private for fear that they’ll be stolen. He recommends actively discussing ideas with others, because “it either gives the founder validation, or the chance to stop, think, and reconsider or reposition.”
Ben’s tips for success
- Read. Ben recommends staying up up to date with current writings of key founders and VC’s, including sites like Mattermark Daily, CB Insights or newsletters like Re/code and strictlyVC. Certain publications are published daily and curate really good content. The goal should be to stay current and competitive regarding marketing trends and innovations. For this reason, Ben makes a point of reading for 1–2 hours everyday.
- Speed. Ben says founders rarely realize how much control they have over the pace of development, instead letting their developers set the pace. He stresses the importance of time-to-market and speed of development: “build an MVP and getting out there.”
- Empathize. Ben stresses the need for founders to always put themselves in the other person’s shoes, whether those are potential users or prospective investors. Never make the mistake of feeling you deserve their attention money; they’re seeing thousands of cool things a year.Ask not what you can get from them, but what they can get from you.