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On the 11th floor at the 11th hour

While you might know what’s an Elevator Pitch, but how many of you actually gave one… inside an elevator?

Well yesterday, during WATEC (Israel’s international water expo) I was running around like a headless chicken, from one meeting to the next, trying to get as much traction for our company as we try raise some more capital. That was during the day at the show. By night time, it was one mad juggling act, jumping from one cocktail dinner to the next, between the many international trade delegations that were hosting networking events at their Ambassador’s houses.

So there I was trying to take in as much Indian food (and business cards) at the cocktail dinner, and then dashing across town, for dessert with the UK delegation (both scheduled at the same time). With too much good Indian food going around the room, I switched a little too late over to the Raj and arrived on the 11th floor of the building, just as the event was over ¬†ūüė¶

As they all exited the room, heading to the elevator I met David¬†who was also there looking to network. “A little late aren’t you?” he noted, heading to the elevators along with the crowd. All disappointed at missing the lot, I piled into the elevator with everyone else as the doors began closing.¬†Once we started going down, I felt my Eureka momement come by- and decided to do it!

“Good evening everyone, my name is Yuval and I”m now gonna give you my elevator pitch.
I”m the CEO of a water startup. We’ve just made early sales here in Israel and are looking to raise $2M from a UK investor in order to get into that market. Anyone interested?”

That’s it, we reached the ground floor and the doors opened. And before you know it, I was exchanging business cards with a few suits from the Empire.

Walking across to David, I asked him how was his evening. ” Bummer” he said, “I¬†only¬†got two cards.”

Well then, I got three ¬†ūüôā

PS- If you liked my story, check out the funniest elevator clip ever happening as well on the Aleventh floor.

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It is raining again :-)

They were talking about it all week long on the weather report. About the slight chance of rains that will come in and mark the end of summer. Nothing major, just some scattered showers that will pass through town.

And it was nothing much to talk about- but it was a moment to remember!

Chances are that back in your home town, you don’t make much of a rainy day in your blog postings. But timing is everything and this hot summer could sure use a washdown.

Just like returning home after a bad day at work, this summer left its mark on most Israelis, wishing at the end of it to just be able put it all behind us and wash it down with a nice cold shower. Scrubbing down all them experiences that piled up under our skins in this ugly August, be it global politics, national demonstrations, border terror attacks and the Sum of all Fears- having the kids around the house all summer long.
There came a time, when you just wanted it all to end and and wash the stains away.

So last Saturday morning, the skies got grey and the wind started to pick up. There is that rush around the house to close off all the windows and bring in the washing. And sure enough within a short while the clouds burst and rains came pouring down.

The warm, refreshing burst reminded me of other downpours in my past that caught me wet to the bones. The rains  while marching through the New Zealand highlands, or patrolling along the Syrian border. Doing some last minute shopping through a Bangkok monsoon or riding a ferry in Alaska. The night I took the bus into town during a major downpour, in order to breakup from my girlfriend, ending up proposing to her a few weeks later.
This time though it was with the kids, and sure enough, within 5 minutes the little devil was out with me on the street, taking it all in- from the ground up.

Down in the gutters- my son enjoying the first rains

There is something very basic about working at a water start up, that connects you to innovators that try make a living (and a change) from the very essence of life on this planet. You cannot say the same for the folks that write up new¬†iPhone¬†apps. Although I wouldn’t mind swimming in what some of them are swimming in…

Water has its many meanings and¬†connotations, and the lack of it is even more meaningful. And as Assaf from Kinrot always points out that you cannot dismiss it, saying plainly that “it’s just water “. There is far more to it.
But on this Saturday morning it was all about getting out & wet with my son, and getting Mom all pissed off that he was out there with his brand new white pants

Shana Tova ¬†ūüôā

Month #5 on the job and by now I find myself spending more and more facetime on the front end of the business, showcasing our company to potential customers & investors. And as I begin preparing Diffusiare for an investment round of $2M, along with the upcoming international WATEC exhibition this November, there are some fascinating lessons to share from the efforts that go into making the case for an innovative wastewater technology.

Lesson #1: ” You do what ??!! “

Getting investors to notice you here, in Startup Nation, is not easy when you’re trying to pitch an ‘innovative sewage treatment’ technology. People who have no clue about your industry space, fall back on their comfort zone. And so when you’re trying to get yourself noticed, from inside a sewage pond, you have to choose your words carefully.
My suggestion: ¬†Acknowledge the fact upfront that this story is going to gross them out, but¬†promise¬†them that it’s worth their time to listen to the whole pitch. After all, there must be a compelling reason why you went to work for these guys. I know it will sound like an TV commercial, but it works: ” Hi, you won’t believe where I found my next big thing.”

Lesson #2: Shit is a great ice-breaker- use it generously.

I remember when I just started loosing my hair, and got all nervous about what would people say about it. To my surprise, I quickly found out that you can spin your story [not the hair ūüė¶ ¬†] into a great ice breaker for people to get comfortable with you. Pretty soon, I began introducing myself as “the bald and the beautiful”.
My suggestion: As you strive to sell people first with¬†technology¬†second, use any¬†humorous¬†angle ¬†to get across that you’re a cool guy, leading a great team that does not shy from getting their hands dirty if they’ve spotted a good opportunity. Soon enough, people will come knocking on your door, trying to get a smell of the action…

Lesson #3: Looks can kill- so beware!

Sewage cappucino: our unit in action at a sewage treatment site, outside Tel Aviv

Look at the photo on the right and tell me if you would invest $2M in our company? There is nothing sexy about marketing a frothing pipe of sewage belching in the corner of an treatment plant. Compared to other, more attractive sectors of the cleantech industry such as solar and wind farms, this stuff is a difficult sell upfront to the analysts standing the entry gates of VC firms. Further more, with most of our equipment running below the surface, even visitors to the site have little to see.
My suggestion: With that in mind- set the stage during the first act. Have the first meeting at the office be the one in which you sell them your great team, followed by the market size and its growth potential. These two factors, investors understand. A site visit should only be invested for more serious candidates who understand what they’re looking at.

Finally, I believe that there is a sort of ‘natural selection’ in this industry sector, where at the end of the day, if you believe in your team and your product, the right sort of investors will gravitage your way, while other, less applicable won’t. Investors that are suitable for your needs and that both sides will feel comfortable that they can work together and where you too can also fulfil their goals in return.

As I always tell my tech team- at the end of the day, it all comes down to people.

[a  good excuse to try out this QuickPress feature]
It was a hot & humid July morning, and as I was thinking of taking the day off to celebrate my 41st. It turns out that we got booked some downtime at the sewage treatment plant where our technology is currently installed.
So, with a change of plans in the works, I found myself 20 ft below and knee-deep, shovelling what seemed like the biggest ‘choclate cake’ ever…

Hey, all I can say, is that from down here, things can only get better.

Can you smell the excitement in the air?

Shit happens- right here!!

Happy Birthday- emptying out a 5m deep sewage treatment plant.

I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time, and now that the BIG month (2 by now) are behind me, it’s time to sit back and reflect a little.

In late March, after 4 incredible years of riding shotgun at AORA Solar, the time has come to move onto new pastures. And so one late Thursday night, after ticking off all that was left on the To Do checklist, I handed off my desk and left the comfort of good friends and the great team we cherished so much to head for a new beginning.

One last smile from the ‘solar flower’

By April 1st I took up shop totally on the other side of the cleantech space, at a water tech startup, dealing with innovation in sewage treatment. And as the joke around the AORA office went: Having to put up with so much bulls… over the past few months, made me totally ready for my next role.

Diffusaire is 3-man operation [I’ve increased their headcount by 50% ūüôā¬†] bringing fresh and much-needed innovation into the energy savings of wastewater treatment.
The next time you take a crap, just remember that about 1.5% of your nation’s electricity goes into sewage treatment, and we plan on slashing that cost by 25% !!
Did I manage to get your attention now?
So in between a new job, a visit to the folks over in Toronto last Passover, moving houses and learning to speak Sewagish, it’s been quite the journey these past few weeks.
While everyday is a new learning experience, a few key points to note so far are:
  • Learn the business– if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you sure as hell don’t know where you’re going. Let alone in which direction to sail this ship.
  • Focus is power– As we used to say where I grew up, there is ‘work for Africa‘¬† but if you don’t prioritize, the important things will not get done.
  • Swim baby, swim!¬†It¬†is quite¬†a challenge¬†to be given the responsibility to lead a team of professional engineers when you don’t know shit about… shit (you will excuse me, but this is my new line of business). Yet¬†¬†time is money and the¬†organisation just cannot¬†afford to wait for you to learn it all. So, while you’re not expected to know shit, you sure are expected to be able to swim in it- and fast. And remember, you never get a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression.

A final word on the space in which our company is sitting. We’re parked inside a tech incubator called Kinrot Ventures. It’s Israel’s only incubator totally devoted to water startups and from that point of view, it is Ground Zero for cleantech innovation. It’s a lean, modest space located on the main drag of our little ‘Silicon Valley’ of Herzelia¬†[or should I say Sandhill Rd.] but walk down the hall and in every room you get to see some mad entrepreneurs cooking up another fascinating water technology. Maybe I will get some of them to showcase their stuff amongst these pages, but untill then, trust me- talent is pouring out around me, everywhere I look.
And that’s pretty cool.

Tata Power vs. Krishna Power

My latest brush with Indian bizdev efforts in Israel- who outsourced my Huzpah?!

“No no no, ¬†please don’t talk now!. First we meet, then we see if we can do business together!”

The heavy Indian accent on the other side of the line was brisk and unforgiving. No matter how politely I tried to brush off this upcoming meeting request, he would not take “NO” for answer. The officer at the Israel Export Institute, set me up for a blind date with an Indian businessman who was passing through town and requested to meet me. I was rushing home, tired after a long day and following a brief phone conversation, I concluded that this encounter was not the right fit for my company, but I guess¬†I was wrong.

Mr. Krishnamanyam (Krishna will suffice) was hell bent on meeting me and, meeting me now! And it was this untactful persistence that persuaded me to give in for a brief cup of coffee.
It seems that I”m a sucker for anyone wanting¬†desperately¬†to meet me… a matter of ego.

But first thing’s first.

On the other end of the spectrum, a team of company directors from the Indian empire of Tata Sons Ltd. (India) are heading this way next month, and every man and his dog are getting ready to get some face time with their corporate gang. I was going back and forth with their rep, working on setting up a networking event for the Israeli¬†clean tech¬†space via my efforts at Clean Israel. You can just imagine their outfit- the hotels, ¬†business lounges, and the timely schedule switching between government delegates and top brass corporation, that are lining up to meet them. Let’s hope that my karma will offer me a slice of their time as well…

And they are coming for business! Picking the best of the best, as if part of some reality show, selecting the new Israeli puppy to become ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ and get their cleantech startup rolled out across the whole of India, let alone- the World .

Now back to Mr. Krishna.

Mr. Krishna is neither staying at the Hilton, nor is he escorted around the country by the Economic Attache from our Embassy in Delhi. And while he’s not coming out from yet another feast in the Business Lounge, that’s exactly what we should all be worried about…

Mr. Krishna is hungry!! Hungry to outsource contracting jobs off to India.

Krishna Power (my term for this phenomena) is a one-man show that is no bigger than the great Gandi himself. 5ft tall and weighing 60kg, this retired¬†defense¬†contractor, with a life time experience in large-scale machine shops and engineering factories, came to Israel on a 10-day visa and parked himself in a dorm room by the Central Bus Station. Armed with a local cell phone and a monthly city bus pass, Mr. Krishna is running up and down this land looking win manufacturing contracts to take back home to his affiliated factories in India. Be it machine parts, plastic molding, munitions, you name it- he’ll outsource it.

While other visitors bask at the 1hr domestic flight to go see our solar site in the desert, Mr. Krishna got up early for the 6:30am bus to Eilat (5.5hrs) and had a quick look-see, returning by sunset. Each day he meets new businesses, which in turn set him up with¬†additional¬†leads, resulting in a fat suitcase going home, loaded with sample components and design drawings, all off to be fabricated at “good price, good job“.

The concept itself is well known, yet it is still quite amazing to witness this¬†global phenomena¬†play itself out, live in front of your eyes on the streets of Tel Aviv. To coin it in Friedman’s words: Can the world get any flatter? Mr. Krisha¬†probably¬†didn’t even know where Israel is on the map some 5 years back. But I bet you that the Russian immigrant working on the molding press in Tel Aviv’s south side, will certainly know where his job is being outsourced to, come next year.

How should one respond to such a global play on our economy?

Notice I’m not using the word “threat”. While some see this as threatening our low end jobs, I see it as a tremendous opportunity to showcase our innovative products to huge markets India has to offer. By outsourcing some low end components to Indian factories, Israeli products can become more cost competitive across global markets. For every low end component that was outsourced to Krishna Power, an additional high end component (such as an Israeli software package) was given to him as well, thereby offering that Israeli IT company access to huge markets.

We should take this act as our wake up call, noting that our last remaining competitive advantage [for the time being] is our sharp minds combined with our innovative spirit. This should drive us to maintain a constant investment in education, R&D funding at the seed stage between academics and the business world, and government policy that breeds risk taking in new frontiers such as cleantech, nano-tech, biotech- basically anything that cannot be taken apart by the shipyards in Gujarat.

Anything else, is off to India- even our home grown Huzpah.

“Good things come to those who wait, but only things left by- those who¬†hustle.”

Andy Grove, former CEO, Intel

Indian markets,  photo: Martin Lambie

“See, I have to keep on top of things, ‘cos any days now, I’m about to close a lease with Walmart on 4 new sites.”

Now there’s a true Canadian dilemma for ya. To which one of these two national values should my friend uphold? Connect with nature in the middle of our 3-day canoe trip out in the bush, undoubtedly one of the most Canadian things you can do at the end of August, or connect with the cellular tower standing on the distant horizon to plug into his BlackBerry for yet another less famous Canadian pass time- checking email.

We were paddling our canoe across yet another beautiful piece of Canadian backcountry, and there you have it. The spread between our two cultures was quite evident. While I can barely imagine negotiating rent with my landlord in Tel Aviv upon my return, my buddy here in the front seat of the canoe is contemplating on his smartphone the Terms & Conditions of a 10 year lease agreement with Walmart.

It was a great summer. I love coming back to Toronto after my 3 year stint at MBA school a few years back. Time was well spent with family and friends, and a mix of taking in all that a summer in Toronto can offer you, along with escaping up north into cottage country, ending it with the highlight of the trip- a 3 day canoe trip into the wild. What else can a man ask for? 6 guys, 4 fishing rods, 2 canoes and 1 cook and you have yourself the perfect setting for a great outdoors experience. It’s amazing how simple it is. One portage away from the highway, and you are in backcountry, the same way the early pioneers had found it when they paddled across this land, centuries ago.

And it was during this paddle, on the final days of my stay, that I noticed two distinct characteristics that define Canadian business culture. These vast distances that connect so many remote communities, across some of the most challenging weather conditions, have evolved two telling characteristics of Canadian business. And I think that there is something there, in the insight, worth taking back home.

Go big, or go home: I know that writing these lines sounds pretty obvious to anyone living in a big country. But coming from Tel Aviv, we get by pretty well by making do with small scale solutions and are easy to setup and provide a reasonable outcome, most of the time. Our ‘quick & dirty‘ attitude can only take you so far, and our geography has evolved us into thinking local rather than global. For a Canadian to go into business (and I‚Äôm not talking about the local corner store) he goes in with the understanding that his product has to be supported across 4 time zones, and his inventory has to support a market of 25Million people spread out over 5,000 km. I was listening once to the COO of Tim Horton’s (Canada’s largest fast food chain) explaining the challenges of launching a new lunch ‘Soup & Sandwich’ special nationwide. With not one of their supplier being able to supply them product cross the whole country, they have to coordinate timing and quality with several different food vendors in order to ensure a uniform customer experience across their 3,500 restaurants spread from sea to shining sea [that’s Canadian speak]. With that in mind, Canadians have evolved an operating scale of business that you just don’t see back home. This reminds me about my Aussie business experience, noted in a previous blog posting. Canadians think big, and understand the implications of big operations across their whole supply chain. They have no choice- this is Canada.

Execution is everything: With the previous comment well engrained in their mindset, the second point in Canadian business culture follows in almost naturally. And that is that if you’re going execute your business across such vast distances, and run your operations through snow blizzards and frozen roads, you better ensure you get the job done right- the first time! Take my cousin Adrian for example. Let’s face it, how many Jewish plumbers (not bankers) can you find in Toronto? He started off working out of the back of someone else’s pickup truck and 10 years later he runs a leading contracting company comprised of a fleet of service vehicles and bids on large industrial jobs in the plumbing & heating sector. Aside for working like a dog for a better part of a decade, he attributes his success to a single factor: “I only bid on jobs that I am confident that my crew and I can execute perfectly- first time round.” See in his line of business, if he has to send a crew up the highway some 400kms to do rework on a dodgy installation at some remote site, there goes all the profit margin on a 3 month contract. This one shot approach is seen evident everywhere you look.

And it is that kind of thinking that builds a culture of excellence in anything you do. From hiring the right people with the right mindset, to planning ahead and executing out your plan. I know that back home in Startup Nation it’s more common to adopt a f’ly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to doing things, but don’t ¬†tell me that we Hebrews could learn a thing or two planning forward.

As a favourite Canadian mentor of mine once noted: “Israelis are the world’s best in improvising ¬†and solving ¬†their way out of complex situations, into which they shouldn’t have gotten themselves in the first place…”

So those are the two biggest things I brought back with me from Canada- along with 4 bottles of  maple syrup.

Without words.                                      photo: Lee Koren
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