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Israel 2008: One Conference, a Few Friends, Many Startups & Some Observations

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Just like that, it has been six months since I had my life-changing experience. And perhaps that’s why I was comfortable flying out to Tel-Aviv to attend Yaron Orenstein’s TWS 2008 conference, meeting with tons of startups and getting together with friends. The journey, not the visit to Israel, turned out to be quite arduous, mostly because of the modern air industry’s inability to observe punctuality and show any degree of respect for their customers. (Of course, if you follow my Twitter feed, then you are up on the news.)

Since coming home, I have been struggling with a jet lag and some other issues that have prevented me from writing my recap of the Israel 2008 trip. For the past two weeks I have struggled with the urge to smoke, for the heat has triggered memories of sitting at sidewalk cafes, drinking espressos and smoking with friends, watching life just take a lazy stroll. Fighting to stay the course and not smoke took all of my energy, so now you know the reason for my sporadic appearances on the blog, and not replying to your emails. Perhaps that is why the foggy weekend was a welcome opportunity to write about my visit. (The photo gallery of the trip is embedded at the bottom of the post.)

Xen Mendelsohn To Report On Israeli Startups For GigaOM

First, an announcement: Xen Mendelsohn, whom I first met on my 2007 trip to Israel, is going to be our blogger in Israel. She is going to be contributing posts about Israel’s more promising startups and the mobile industry in general. Her thoughtful, intelligent and understated ways are in sync with how we work around here. She writes the Xellular blog. Welcome Xen, to our little family of writers.

TWS 2008: Nice Start, Needs To Get Bigger.

Now a bit about TWS 2008. The conference was organized by Yaron Orenstein, the guy behind the popular Israeli blog He told me that he got 8100 applicants and the aim was to pick the 10 most promising Internet startups in Israel. A big panel of judges helped narrow down the field. I saw many companies but frankly, only four stood out. (You can find the complete list on Yaron’s web site.)

WorkLight has developed a middleware platform that allows enterprises to securely use Web 2.0 tools including widgets. I wrote about this being a big opportunity for the now defunct Business 2.0, so it is hardly a surprise that I liked this company. Another company that impressed me was

Nuconomy which has developed analytic tools for the social web, and helps get more meaningful information, not just page views. (Longer piece pending.) In the same vein was HiveSight which has developed a platform that helps marketers actually make sense of social media. Peanut Labs would be a close competitor.

The company that stole the show for me was Mo’Minis, which has come up with a development and publishing platform for mobile games. I wanted to write more about these guys but somehow we couldn’t find the time, though I remember meeting the two co-founders at a bar the night before the conference. Anyway Xen can follow up.

Another startup that merits a mention is Wix, which is an online platform that allows users to create striking and easy-to-build web content in Flash (web sites, widgets, blogs etc.), and publish it anywhere they want online. A close competitor would be Sproutbuilder of San Francisco, and like that company, I don’t see these guys as a business. Still, it’s worth trying out.

Some thoughts about the conference: It needs more resources, and the Israeli tech community needs to help grow this event. For a first-time event, I was impressed by the sheer number of startups Yaron had attracted. The event also got the attention of many European investors. For instance, Seedcamp‘s Saul Klein was in attendance. I hope Yaron includes more than just web companies next year. I can’t wait to go back.

And some other notes…

I met close to 24 startups and over the next few days I am going to write about some that made an impression. As you might imagine, I didn’t get much time to relax, because I got swept up in the thrill of meeting new companies and entrepreneurs. No, it wasn’t all work. I had sushi in Tel Aviv, took a drive through the desert and attended a Jewish wedding ceremony of my friend Shirin, whose family happens to be from Calcutta. (Mazel Tov!) And somewhere in between, I found time to meet students from IDC and talk about how to blog about innovation.

And if that wasn’t enough, I got to attend Tel-Aviv’s fabled White Night, a night-long party across the city. Now that was wild. This trip was actually made more than fun thanks to three people — Ouriel Ohayon, who is Mr. Techcrunch France, but lives in Tel-Aviv; Orli Yakuel , who is super awesome and knows everyone in Israel’s web community, thanks to her blog, Go2Web2; and finally Benchmark Capital’s Michael Eisenberg, who has become such a dear friend that he let me use his conference room as workspace for a day. Now he is a busy guy; how he manages to find time to blog I don’t know. With friends like these, are you surprised that I want to go back?


P.S.: In case you wanted to know — I am still smoke-free!

Related Israel 2008 posts

Destination Tel-Aviv: Some Work, Some Fun
Will They Really Modu
Destination: San Francisco.

Photo Gallery

12 Responses to “Israel 2008: One Conference, a Few Friends, Many Startups & Some Observations”

  1. youre kidding, right?

    “If that makes limited coverage, so be it” – OM, I think as a journalist you can understand how that sentence actually makes your website crippled (as in “I can’t report on some subjects since I employ someone who shouldn’t write on them). I have nothing personal against XEN and certainly not against you (in fact, I enjoyed your presentation at the TWS event two weeks ago), but you should know that people are talking. They may not be a lot, and they may not interest you, but over time more people will talk, and what was once an oracle of data for the people “in the biz” will become a place where you’d have to question each post on whose interest it serves (and, as I said earlier, each unwritten post will raise these questions also). I wouldn’t have invested so much time commenting on this if I wasn’t truly sad about this turn of events, but I think we are walking on parallel lines here.

  2. @ youre kidding, right?

    All valid points, and well, let us prove you wrong and see if you can make up your mind after you have read a few posts. As I have said before, I take the whole issue of ethics very seriously and cannot tell you how stringent we are about this aspect.

    It is not about disclosure – we just don’t cover the companies were it is being perceived as conflict. If that makes limited coverage, so be it. I hope you give us some time to prove ourselves, and give Xen a chance. We will try to live up to your high expectations.

  3. youre kidding, right


    It is bad enough that journalist often find themselves accused (and for good reason) of being unobjective (for example writing on one company and not the other, bashing a company just because their PR guy did not give them the exclusive, etc.) but bloggers who write in news sites are taking it to next level and actually claim they can write objectively while working for a company with a clear interest in a certain market, since they are “supervised” (as you said in your comment). They can’t. All the disclosure in the world can’t cover the fact that the reader can’t expect an objective coverage if it comes from a party with an interest. You may think that XEN can be limited to writing about things that will not put her in such position, but you are not looking at the other end: since she can’t cover it for those reasons, then several companies cannot be covered by GigaOM, so in a sense they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Imagine a company which will probably compete with Comverse – XEN can’t write on it since you won’t allow it, so that company can’t get objective coverage in GigaOM. I’d have no problem if she covers whatever she likes in her personal blog, but if professional blog ever want to be reckoned with the likes of WSJ and the NYT, they must adhere to their ethics, which clearly claim that a journalist can’t do anything else other than be a journalist. TechCrunch lost me a long time ago when it was clear M.A was publishing rumours and hiring writers with other interests (as I mentioned above) [and I’m not even talking about using his blog to fight other blogs), but I thought you, coming from established media outlets, had more ethics than that. Please don’t prove me wrong.

  4. @ youre kidding, right?

    We are going to ensure that her coverage is not about “mobile competitors” but more on larger themes pertaining to the mobile industry. It is what we like to do here more often. The start-ups we cover come to me via my network of contacts, and it helps monitor and calibrate the content we feature on the site.

    In addition, everything is carefully approved here at the HQ so don’t worry about the quality and ethics. It is an unwavering quest. Not just for me, but for rest of our editorial team. We are pretty stringent about these things. Our Managing Editor, Carolyn Pritchard ensures that the lines are never crossed.

    We don’t own shares in any company – apart from GigaOM. So you can be assured that I will work hard on protecting the brand and our ethics. I think you should give Xen’s coverage a chance before you make up your mind otherwise.

  5. Hi Om,

    This was a fascinating article!

    I’m working for a startup now that greats 3D media for the web — right now we are developing it as an advertising platform for publishers and ad agencies, although there is a social networking component – the media can be embedded as “gadgets” on social networks like Facebook for viral marketing.

    On a personal level, I’m planning a trip (with my church group Cornerstone) to Israel, and was very inspired by the web 2.0 startups developing there.


    Andy S.

  6. youre kidding, right?

    And in another example of ethics 2.0, a person who is currently working for a company in the mobile and comm business, will write about possible competitors (

    OM, this is sad. I thought you would not go down to “Arrogant”on’s level (who employs Ouriel Ohayon, a full time VC, as the TechCrunch France head, and Roy Carthy, a consultant for web companies and scout for an internet VC, as an Israeli blogger), but I guess I was wrong.

    You can’t fool all the people all the time. there is a reason journalists are prohibited from having shares or interests in companies, and I guess it is about time “bloggers” would realize they can’t continue stretching the definition of ethics.