Sarona Partners, the largest growth ecosystem for Israeli high-tech startups hosted the first-ever tech conference bridging Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley. Sarona Partners is a growth ecosystem focused on building a future with some of the most visionary companies in the Israeli startup world. They invest in and scale-up extraordinary founders and startups, at pre-seed, seed, and Series A stages across B2B, B2E, B2D and B2SMB sectors. They have over 280 portfolio companies, 7 of which are valued at over $1 billion, and over 800 founders and 180 corporate partners within their ecosystem. As Toot Shani, CEO of Sarona Partners, stated: “We are the biggest startup innovation ecosystem in Israel. We focus on two things: business and innovation. Our magic happens when we connect the two. At Sarona, every morning we ask ourselves, ‘how can we help these founders and continue to make the ecosystem prosper’.”
At the beginning of the month, Sarona Partners hosted an event filled with lectures, panels, and networking from and with top-industry personnel. They hosted VCs from Silicon Valley, such as Andreessen Horowitz, Coatue Management, and Spark Capital, and invited them to take the stage to inform the Israeli ecosystem about what's going on in today's high-tech world from their unique perspective.
Attendees got to meet Partners of the VCs that invested in companies like Twitter, Slack, Coinbase, Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox, Reddit, OpenSea, Instacart, Etoro, Snapchat, Facebook, Asana, Deel and more. Learning from such experts gave the up-and-coming startups and founders in attendance tools, tips, and tricks to go out into the startup world at full force and make the Startup Nation proud. In a conversation with Geektime, Shani explained to us that “A lot of people in the tech world don’t normally come to Israel. So, we wanted to bring these people to our great nation to not only expose them to our ecosystem but to have the Israeli ecosystem get exposed to them as well; to bring these starts from Silicon Valley people, who are normally out of scope and reach, to relevant players in the Israel tech scene. The idea was that if you come to this event, you will make connections that you wouldn't have been able to otherwise, all thanks to Sarona Partners.”
Learn from the angels
To start off the event Ariel Finkelstein gave an exclusive talk to founding teams on how to raise money from angel investors like himself. As an expert and industry leader in SaaS, Finkelstein builds strong digital companies. He works closely with founding teams to achieve fast growth with powerful products; he plays an active, hands-on role in every company he joins as an angel investor, in all realms–from product to sales, marketing, HR and go-to-market. Finkelstein spoke with Geektime and divulged that “it is so important for founders today to know what is going on in the sector; to do their research and fight the right fight. We are going through hard times in the market, so it is crucial they know how to navigate that. I am not saying that the market situation right now is the end of the world– there are still lots of good opportunities, but you must be smart about it. If you understand what's going on in the world, and more so in your own industry, you will succeed. Founders need to be talking to real people in the industry to get a true understanding of the situation. Remember, right now, the world of investments is shifting, so you must be smart about it.”
Later, attendees heard from CEOs from different backgrounds, unfold their personal and professional journeys that led their companies to billion-dollar valuations and how they grew as leaders in the process. Guy Tytunovich (Co-Founder & CEO of CHEQ) was one of the founders that took the stage to inspire the crowd to take action that could help them succeed with their startups, just as he did. Tytunovich gave the crowd a true understanding of how hard it is to create a billion-dollar company– and how your life experiences are really what make the difference. He shared with us that since he was 6 years old, he knew he loved to build things. “I remember my dad brought home a fax machine, and I was so fascinated by it because I thought there were little people inside that were scribing the message. So, one day, I went looking for them– I opened the fax machine and to my disappointment, there were no little people, only bolts and pieces. But that is when I realized what reverse engineering was. Later, in my army service, where I was in the intelligence unit 8200, like any other nerdy Israeli, I was taught AI. When I was released from the army, I set out on starting my own ventures– just as all young and naive people do. Of course, neither of them were great successes but they both taught me incredibly valuable lessons that led me to the success I see today; without those experiences, and the mistakes I made along the way, I wouldn't have been able to build a unicorn.” He went on to share with the crowd the most valuable lessons he has learned over the years. “It is key to know how to recruit– how to convince people to join you on your journey”. After all, it’s the people of a venture that make it what it is. “Believe that persistence and experience are the most valuable aspects one can bring to the table. It is more important and valuable than raw talent, genius, or promise. When they push you down, get back up. When you fall, get back up. Always get back up– never give up.” Another lesson he expressed was to truly “understand what each role in a venture is responsible for''; since each role differs from the next in vast ways, if they aren't being fulfilled properly, nothing will run smoothly. And lastly, he emphasized that “measurement is key'' because understanding every single point of measurement within your company can help you understand exactly what needs to be done in real-time, to move your company forward.
The event included other interesting topics like the state of high-tech today and where it is heading, the virtual world of the Metaverse and Israel’s place to lead the way, the future of work and workplace culture trends, and an analysis of the 2021 wave of IPOs and what the market situation of 2022/2023 holds.
SV VCs in TLV
The day closed with the long-waited panel where attendees could learn from the best of the best: the minds behind Silicon Valley's most prominent VC funds. The General Partners of three of the world's most influential VC Funds, Anish Acharya (Andreessen Horowitz), Yasmin Razavi (Spark Capital) and Lucas Swisher (Coatue Management) took the stage to share their insights on how to build a legendary company that will captivate and attract the most important funds in the world to invest in them. They spoke about how ultra-successful investors view the new economy, and what the upcoming investable trends are. All three had impeccable insights and pieces of advice for the crowd on how to succeed. Swisher brought the point home of how necessary it is to be prudent and frugal with your money: “Stretch whatever capital you have raised as far as you can.'' Razavi emphasized how important it is to think big: “Be ambitious and hire high-quality teams since they will last over all cycles of the business process.” Acharya stressed how important it was to involve your investors: “Use your investors and all that they bring to the table to get your process tight.” When asked about how it is to work with the Israeli ecosystem, all three had a lot to say. Razavi started off by saying that working with Israelis is something she is very excited about: “At Spark, we have had a very long history of backing founders from here [Israel] and the most exciting thing I see about the Israeli ecosystem is that 10 years ago, when I first started in venture capital, the level of ambition was to build a company and potentially sell it, for let’s say, $500 million. Now, what has changed is that massive companies can come out of Israel– the level of ambition of some of the founders has moved away from selling their companies for $200-500 million and aiming to create $10+ billion enterprises.” Swisher continued by saying that what he and his colleagues at Coatue get really excited about when working with Israeli businesses is the local technical talent: “Compared to a lot of other ecosystems, the technical talent in Israel is just incredibly strong. The other thing about Israel that really stands out is that being in an ecosystem that is slightly smaller, like Israel’s is, it forces you to go global from day one. This is a bit harder to do from a geography with less capital, so it forces companies to build more grit. This grit, coupled with the technical talent that Israelis have is what excites us most about the ecosystem.” In terms of culture, Acharya concluded by saying “Everyone in Israel is super direct– when you are well-intentioned and direct like so many Israelis are, you are able to get the work done and lead people to do the best work of their career.”
The whole team at Sarona Partners was taken aback by the success of the event. Elated, Shani said to us that “The fact that we were able to actually bring these Silicon Valley representatives to Israel is in and of itself an accomplishment. But more than that, the fact that attendees were able to make real and meaningful connections at the event is incredible; startups got leads for investors, investors met lots of up-and-coming founders, and corporations engaged with interesting startups. So, you can say that overall, the event was quite a success. So much so that we are hoping to make this an annual occurrence, so that our ecosystems can become more and more entwined, and the Startup Nation can continue to grow and thrive.”
She continued by saying that “At Sarona, we want to make sure that everyone in the Israeli ecosystem can take advantage of the clout that we have; we want to help make the necessary connections for growth and success. This event is just one example of us doing that.”
Sarona Partners was founded in 2017 by Philippe Bouaziz (Founding Managing Partner and Chairman) and Toot Shani (Founding Managing Partner and CEO).