Two guys, two success stories of immigrants to Germany: Mateo Freudenthal and Philipp Rösler.
Mateo, a german-bolivian entrepeneur helps companies to get honest feedback from their customers. And Vietnam born Philipp Rösler? He is the German Secretary of Commerce – and Vice-Chancelor of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Rösler understands how immigrants help to develope the german startup culture. That’s why he took 70 of them on board for a state visit in Israel. Mateo Freudenthal was one of them.
Together with the German Secretary of Commerce Philipp Rösler and a delegation of 70 representatives from the German parliament, the German biotech scene, and the German IT startup scene, I went on a trip to Tel Aviv this week, one of the hottest spots for businesses in the world.
Many people don’t know that Israel is ahead of most of the West when it comes to entrepreneurship. This oasis of seven million inhabitants numbers more NASDAQ-listed companies than any other country in the world except the U.S. or China, more venture capital investments than Germany and France put together, and is home to over 4,000 startups. One of the people I met, for example, was Zohar Dayan, CEO of Wibbitz, a text-to-video automation provider that has just raised 3 million euro in seed capital. It is extremely unusual for first time entrepreneurs to score amounts like this in the seed phase, and there’s nothing ordinary about the investor behind the funds either, who is one of the 10 richest people in the world.
But how has a small country permanently at war and with nothing in the way of natural resources managed to establish such a strong startup culture? Why are the richest people in the world investing in Israeli startups?
I received a variety of responses when I posed these questions, some referring to Jewish enterprise and genetic intelligence, others to the lack of alternatives – what are Israelis supposed to do without natural resources or cheap labor at their disposal? The most entertaining explanation came from the Israeli Foreign Minister, who told us that the success of national technology startups could be put down in part to Jewish mothers exerting so much pressure on their sons! What interests me, however, are those behavior patterns that could realistically be transferred to Germany.
The Israeli ability to cut straight to the chase was something I experienced firsthand almost immediately upon arrival in Tel Aviv. I was dropped off at midnight outside a hostel whose porter told me that thanks to the combination of it being summer, the Sabbath and the holiday season, basically everywhere in Tel Aviv was booked out. He proceeded to asked me a few questions to make sure I was trustworthy and then said: “You’re lucky, boy, you can sleep on the couch and open the door if someone knocks. I’m going home to my wife.” Two problems – his and mine – solved in one go.
Unhindered by hierarchy
Ask questions, break rules, and find creative solutions. Israelis are neither naturally submissive, nor do they like giving orders. Even in the army, an institution usually renowned for its insistence on the blind following of orders, Israelis learn that they need to be creative to beat the enemy. This attitude came of something as a surprise to PayPal President Scott Thompson after his 163 million dollar takeover of the security startup Fraud Sciences. In his first presentation to the Israeli team, he was so besieged with critical questions that he was forced to wonder who was working for whom – something that would never happen in America.
Israel has just 7 million inhabitants but a higher GDP than England. It is a young, strong and highly dynamic market. Moreover, it is pretty much isolated from its neighbors, linguistically, culturally and economically. All in all, perfect conditions for validating a business model. Companies launched on the Israeli market have to go international almost straight away – often after less than six months – as an imperative in order to survive. The result? Companies like Checkpoint traded on the NASDAQ today for almost 10 billion dollars.
Male or female, every Jewish Israeli spends at least two years serving their country and is called up for 2 – 4 weeks’ military service every year after that. The experience binds whole generations, creates networks out of which joint startups are founded and establishes the oh-so-important contacts that open the doors to almost every company in the country. In addition, a scheme known as the “Birthright” program, which finances 10-day trips to the Holy Land for young foreigners of Jewish extraction, forms the basis of a growing international network and fosters links to Israel that go far beyond religious interests.
The most important question we need to ask ourselves is what we can learn from the Israelis. Should we dispense with future processes and pay less attention to hierarchies? Would it help if we went to Holland or Austria in order to validate our business models there?
The answer is a resounding no, and that’s because the situation here is very different. We have different strengths and, more importantly, better chances. Our markets are attractive and conveniently close to home, talent is a lot less scarce, and even Germany boasts – along with successful subsidy programs and platforms for crowd funding – the odd risk-happy investor keen to shape the market of the future. More and more IT startups are springing up all the time.
Developments like this show that things are in motion. All we need is a touch more “pizca” (Hebrew for entrepreneurial spirit), and Germany could become the next big startup nation.
Have you made the same experience?
You are well educated, you have professional experience and most important: You have drive and ambition. You want to make a contribution and build a good career.
But German employers don't value your talent. You apply for job after job. You spent hours editing your CV and cover letter to fit perfectly. And then: You don't even get an answer.
There is a way forward! Chris Pyak and the rest of us at Immigrant Spirit GmbH: We want you to succeed.