Last month, I was lucky enough to join about 250 other attendees at Kinnernet 2009, a “Foo-type” Internet geek camp/ un-conference held on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Kinnernet is a by-invitation networking event hosted by Yossi Vardi. If you have never heard of Yossi, he was the founding investor of ICQ (when I met him in 1997). Yossi has invested in well over 80 tech companies – mainly young Internet companies, and has often been called the Godfather of the Israeli web industry.
Yossi has an approach to the market that I think the Canadian startup industry can learn a lot from:
- Startups need cash, and the biggest help you can give them is cash. It is said that Vardi invests a few hundred thousand dollars in his startups, that he takes common stock with simple terms and no negotiations.
- If someone has failed before he’s even more likely to invest - “It makes them want to win even more,” he is quoted as saying.
- He generally invests in young entrepreneurs.
- Yossi usually hardly looks at business plans at all, and mainly invests in the individual. My favourite Yossi quote is: “Business plans are like sausages, if you knew what went into them you wouldn't eat them.” Another unauthenticated quote: “Judge the individual over the business plan”.
From what I saw at Kinnernet, Vardi has played a major part in stimulating Israeli startups. At every turn, I met another young entrepreneur eager to tell me about their startup. Full of positive energy and drive, it was extremely energizing to meet these entrepreneurs.
In addition to financing, Vardi orchestrates events like Kinnernet where all his startups can interact with each other along with many experienced and connected people from all over the world. And he relentlessly works on business development and finding opportunities for his startups.
It would be amazing if we had a similar process in Canada. If we could find a way of kickstarting 50 (or more!) tech startups with a few hundred thousand dollars each; if we could find a way to orchestrate ways for them to work with each other; if we could help them meet people ready to advise them on lessons learned.
We have all the ingredients – great universities, superb talent, high enthusiastic young people with ideas. Now we need a way to get the right money to the right people and we may be able to create an industry…..