Uri Adoni is the author of the book "The Unstoppable Startup – Mastering Israel's Secret Rules of Chutzpah", published by Harper Collins (https://www.theunstoppablestartup.com/). He is a venture capitalist, angel investor, board member and a speaker. Uri has over 20 years of experience in high-tech and over 12 years of being a partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners Media Labs. JVP is one of Israel's leading venture capitals with an impressive track record of IPO's on NASDAQ and M&A's to large leading multinationals. Adoni served on the board of several high-tech companies, early and late stage ones. Prior to joining JVP Uri was the CEO of MSN Israel (Microsoft Networks) and was one of Israel's new media pioneers. In his military service at the IDF (regular and reserve) he was an officer (major) and served as a commander of a combat unit.
Please share with us more about your new book “The Unstoppable Startup”, what inspired you to write it?
Statistically, most startups in the world fail. This is due to several factors: the startup didn’t address a real market need, it ran out of cash, it didn’t have the right team, it got outcompeted, or because its go-to-market strategy was insufficient to name a few. But in Israel, a relatively small country with 9 million habitants, the culture of innovation and the startup ecosystem infrastructure continue to thrive despite the odds. In fact, it has the second largest tech hub after the Silicon Valley, it has the highest concentration of startups in the world per capita, it has the highest venture capital in the world per capita, it is the number 3 country in terms of companies in NASDAQ (after the US and China), and it is recognized as a global leader in research and development. I was intrigued to find out what was the driving force behind Israel’s startup and tech success.
Being an investor, sitting on many boards of startup companies, and after interviewing dozens of successful entrepreneurs, my conclusion was that if there is one thing that differentiate the Israeli high-tech ecosystem and entrepreneurs is a cultural thing – the Israeli chutzpah. A bold, can-do, audacious attitude, is what accounts for the nation’s incredible track record of success. Throughout the book, I’ve tries to provide an insider’s perspective on Israel’s secret formula that has made it so successful in fostering the growth of technology businesses. Since I wanted the book to be a practical one, I thought the best thing would be to interview leading, successful entrepreneurs (such as the CEO of Waze, the CEO of CyberArc, the Cofounder of Space IL and many others). I’ve asked them to tell the story of their startup, in most cases there are behind the scenes stories that have never told before, to share the challenges they had to overcome and to give a unique practical perspective and advice on how to address real challenges that many startups face.
According to your thesis, the Israeli “Chutzpah” is what makes Israel such a great start-up nation. Could you please elaborate on your “Six Rules of Chutzpah” as you describe these in your book?
Unlike Charisma, that you are either born with it or not, Chutzpah can actually be taught. As there are positive sides for Chutzpah as well as negative ones (such as being rude…), I thought it would make sense to define some ‘rules’ that will make it possible for any entrepreneurs to add some positive Chutzpah to their mindset, behavior and business making.
1. Challenging Reality and The Status Quo. This aspect of Chutzpah is a very important one, it is a state of mind in which the entrepreneur realizes that current solutions are not good enough, they are ready to challenge them by defining and developing a better one, and introducing them to the market.
2. Dominate the Market Category You Are After or Create a New One. Entrepreneurs should think big from day one and should aspire to lead the category they are operating in. Leading a category can be achieved either by challenging and offering a better way to do something in an existing category, or defining a new category or sub-category that didn’t exist before.
3. Foresee the Future and Innovate to Meet Its Demands. True entrepreneurs always think ahead. They are highly aware of constant changes that require constant innovation, and in most cases, they have a hypothesis of where the market is going, foresee the new market needs, and aim to build a solution for these future needs.
4. The Market Needs It (Even If It Doesn’t Know It Yet). In some cases, the pain is already here, not in the future, but it may take a while for the customer to realize their own need. In these cases, the entrepreneur should have the chutzpah to say to the customer, that even though they don’t feel pain and not suffering yet, they will soon, and the startup has the solution just for that. It may take a while for the customer to realize this need, but once they do, the solution will be ready.
5. Bend the Rules. We all act within certain ‘rules’ that the market dictates to us – whether what is physically or technologically possible or what is considered to be a “good practice.” Chutzpah-laden startups are constantly challenging these ‘rules’, and one time after the other prove to the market that what was considered to be “impossible” or “wrong”, is now not only possible, but could be built and turned into a product.
6. Show, Don’t Tell. When you tell someone about your solution, they may believe you or they may not. The more advanced, ‘futuristic’ and innovative the solution is, the less chances they will believe. However, if one can provide a living proof that the technology actually works, and demonstrate what the product can do, people will believe. Moreover, there’s a good chance that they will become your clients or investors.
How in your opinion is the military teaching its soldiers to be more of leaders vs managers, as you distinguish between these two types of roles in your book.
Almost everyone in Israel is enlisted to the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) at the age of eighteen. Men’s regular service is thirty-two months long, and women’s is twenty-four. Most Israelis absorb the same values during their service, and those values, especially as they relate to camaraderie, teamwork, work ethic, and management style, permeate civilian workplaces. What the IDF engrains in you the most is not the importance of courage under fire, or the need to execute according to plan (although those things are important), it is the imperative to complete the mission! You can change the plan, improvise, make new decisions based on the evolving situations, but you must complete the mission. This is a very powerful concept, in the military but also when it is implemented to a startup company. But it’s more than that, in most cases, in order to complete your mission, you need to have your soldiers, commanders or you employees and management, trust you, believe in your judgement, and follow you. This cannot be achieved by merely telling people what they should do. This is in the good case what a manager does, and it’s not enough. They should be led, and you must be the leader. Have them believe in the mission, in your commitment to achieve it, in your plan, and most importantly in your leadership.
Throughout your work as a partner at JVP, the leading Israeli venture capital firm, you have had many successful exits. What is your advice to investors who are looking to make successful investments in the venture space?
1. An ‘unstoppable’ team. The founding team is probably the most important thing to look at. They are the team who will be in the tranches, overcome the challenges, and lead the company to success. The team should have a big vision and an ambitious goal, a real passion to the space they operate in and to the solution they want to build and a good chemistry between them. They must be completely focused with a clear proposition, defined target audience and an executable go-to-market strategy. On top of that, they should have a high sense of urgency. In today’s highly competitive market, one should always assume that there are other teams working on a similar solution, and thus you must run as fast as you can to make sure you are not outcompeted.
2. A growing market, not too crowded, with a potential for the company to become the category leader. The market and the category in which the company operates should be growing, not to cluttered with other innovative solutions, and with not too many well-funded startups that are already ahead of you. The company should have the Chutzpah to believe that they will become the category leader – either taking the lead on an existing growing category, or by inventing a new one.
3. The product should have a competitive advantage and a unique proposition. The product that the company is introducing and the proposition it is offering should be unique, and preferably with a real competitive advantage. This advantage is usually attributed to a technological advantage or a strong intellectual property that the company has developed, since it could give a good estimation of the time advantage it has over its competitors. However, in some cases it could also be based on a unique business model such as the ‘Something’ As A Service model (SaaS, PaaS etc), an innovative design, or a new pricing offering.
5. What are the main takeaways you would like our readers to remember about your book, “The Unstoppable Startup”? In the cutthroat, ultracompetitive world of entrepreneurship, business owners are always looking for any edge they can get that will increase their odds of success. While passion, persistence, and hard work are key, as it’s chutzpah that will truly make any startup unstoppable.