At precisely 20-years-and-four-months old,
Shai Magzimof is one of the hottest young entrepreneurs to emerge from Tel Aviv’s Silicon Wadi this year.
He also happens to be on loan from the Israel Defense Force – free to wander the civilian tech world until further notice.
Magzimof is the creator of Innobell, a mobile application that makes phone calls and instant messages more interactive through a platform of dashboard add ons. The app allows users to easily play games with eachother, watch videos, send money through Paypal, (s ebay) cruise Facebook profiles and share all sorts of other media while chatting over the phone or IM. Currently available in beta on Android (s goog), Innobell is slated for release on the iPhone (s aapl) this summer. It’s already gaining traction.
This week, Magzimof was in town to demo his app for American venture capitalists and industry giants during the California Israel Chamber of Commerce’s three day Israel Mobile tour in the Silicon Valley. Not old enough to order a beer during the industry cocktail parties he attended, he was still among the most popular founders. In fact, while most of his fellow start up participants boarded a plane home on Friday, Magzimof is here for another week. He’s got a full schedule of get togethers with venture capitalists interested in adding to the $100,000 angel investment Innobell raised. He will also be meetings with a certain brand name tech company looking to discuss a possible talent acquisition.
But Magzimof doesn’t have all the time in the world to ponder a deal.
Last summer, the Israeli military granted him year-long deferment from mandatory service to pursue his start up. Now, he says the country is willing to give him another two years to make it big– if he can show results. He either needs to make a deal in the United States, or trade the techie uniform of jeans and ironic-slogan t-shirts for army fatigues and desert wear.
He knows what he’d prefer at the moment.
“The military knows that if I stay here for two more years and work with amazing companies, it’s all the better for them in the end because I’ll be even more experienced,” Magzimof says. “Of course, they want to see that I’m doing something here, and investors want to see that I have a deferment from the army so they know I will be around” he said.
“Basically, someone is going to get a very good deal off me right now because I don’t have time to sit and wait,” he said, laughing. “But it should all work out, I’m confident.”
This isn’t the first time military service has put him in a bit of a jam. At 19, he was a few months into Y Combinator’s winter 2010 incubator program when the phone rang. It was the Iraeli army, and the message was clear. He needed to get back in town for interviews or he could kiss his place in a coveted central intelligence unit goodbye.
What was a nice Jewish boy to do?”This is the unit want to to be in, it’s where all the computer programmers and web developers and hackers get to go, my peole. I want to do it badly,” he said.
So he flew home early and started a months-long testing process. Meanwhile, his former military prep school roommate and Y Combinator partner Daniel Gross went on to form personal data search engine Greplin.
“And you probably know the rest,” he said.
Still, Magzimof got his coveted place in the unit of his choice. And while he had time to kill, he also got back to work founding Innobell. By the time the ink on his intelligence acceptance letter had dried, he’d raised $100,000 in seed funding for his new startup. He know has a team of six developers working for the company.
Military service holds a vaulted position in Israeli’s entrepreneurial culture. Many start up founders attribute their success to those post-adolescent years spent following orders and memorizing technical manuals in specialized army units. Magzimof is as patriotic as the next Israeli and says he really wants to do his military service. He just wants to get his business under control first. But two years from now, who knows? A 22-year-old Magzimof might just be using his own app to help run a tech empire from his army bunk.