There is so much talk about Israel being The Start Up Nation. We boast some of the best high-tech companies in the world. This sector is booming. So much innovation from such a tiny place. It is indeed amazing and I too am proud to sneak this into conversations about Israel, when I am abroad. And yet when I am home, here in Israel, I grow sour when I hear the term.
So where did my bitterness come from and why? I spent several years working in this sector here and what I saw left me distressed and disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I don’t see the forest for the trees. I am well aware of the novelty Israel has brought to the world stage in many sectors (science, tech, communications, etc) but I can’t help it and wish that Israelis had different modus operandi.
While working in high-tech companies I spent much of my time in the Business Development role, bridging relations for the Israeli company with the outside world, mostly Europe and the US. What to a Westerner sounds like an interesting and exciting job is actually a highly stressful and sometimes abusive role to take on. I found myself more times than not in subordinance to clueless team heads and CEOs. Not clueless in the technical aspect of the product we were selling, but in basic human communication and leadership skills. Coming from a metropolis in the States, you expect management of sales teams to be better versed in graceful communication rather than number crunching. Sales, after all, is an art and calls for inspiration and a dash of charm, none of which I ever encountered in any of my leaders. Now it’s not to say I have never had asshole managers in the US. Sure I did. Here and there. But here, in Israel, it was each and every single one. And when I glanced across other departments within the companies I worked for and also inquired of my friends in other high-tech companies, there seemed to be a pattern. It is a prerequisite to be an asshole if you aspire to move up in rank and lead. I can (and will) write a whole post dedicated to all the unpleasantries that come with such managers. But in general, something seems off that the startup ecosystem, the “Silicon Wadi”, should encourage this.
When I encountered more and more shady sales practices and processes in these companies resulting from pushy and tactless management, I started to realize something else. Most of these companies aren’t really looking to advance humanity or improve much, they are simply looking to make an exit with a bang. Yes, you might say to me “Are you naive?! Of course they want to make money!” I am with you, I get it. But it’s the extent to which most of these founders and CEO’s are willing to go to make the money that just doesn’t sit right with me. I looked around and I just want to scream out of pure frustration. How come we have this booming sector that supposedly puts Israel on par with developed Western countries and yet most people, myself included, are financially strapped??? Even high-tech jobs don’t pay enough for you to keep your head well above water. Why is this?? After searching further, I found many of the companies are dodging financial responsibilities that you as a private citizen simply don’t have a way to. With every large exit and each newly made Israeli millionaire or billionaire, more money leaves Israel to be hidden elsewhere. And the financial burden of the regular citizen grows heavier and heavier as our defense budget swells and our unemployable (and non-tax paying) religious communities grow at faster and less sustainable rates.
And so I started to ponder more about whether or not Israel deserves the title of Start Up Nation and all the decency it implies, and I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. With all that I observed and experienced, it seemed more to me as a Stuck Up Nation. Trying to get one up on others with little concern for it’s own and lacking in foresight. We are a small country, in my opinion, we cannot afford to continue this way much longer.