This past Monday, Apple held its annual developer conference - WWDC 2021 - with keynote speaker, Tim Cook, kicking off the event. The convention, as always, was mind-blowing, and started out with a funny video of developers being asked how they would open the conference. The true star from the comedic bit was Yogev Shelly, CEO and co-founder of Israeli startup TinyTap. Shelly explains, while chatting with Geektime, how one becomes part of the prestigious Apple event; the chain reaction that led to the moment; filming while under fire; and why, after all that, he still missed his live performance.
It all started from a very enthusiastic email
“It was the Apple Spring event, and I was just speaking with our contact at Apple,” explains Shelly. “I was telling her how excited I was to see the event, and compared it to a Super Bowl gathering with a barbeque and friends… About a week later, she calls and tells me about a cool project they’re planning for “Dub-Dub” [the colloquial term for WWDC], and that they are looking specifically for people who are super into it.”
That project, of course, is the highly produced video with which Apple opened the conference; where Shelly suggested kicking off the event by slowly pulling back the curtains to reveal Tim Cook stepping out of the legendary DeLorean from “Back to the Future”. And so it was. Well, not exactly Tim Cook, but a doppelganger.
Shelly’s big moment
So, from a random phone call, and without even looking for a part, the Israeli entrepreneur was able to take “center stage” at one of the biggest tech events of the year. “For me, it’s an annual event where we’re given a catalogue of the new toys that will become a part of our lives.”
Shelly says that he’s been watching Apple events since the launch of iOS 4, and he requests that his employees at TinyTap tune in to learn how to present new products the right way. Shelly even went to the 2018 WWDC event, and sent company representatives in 2019. He also proudly tells us that he watches all of the Apple events with his youngest son. To sum up Shelly, he is not just an enthusiastic entrepreneur, but an actual diehard fan.
After Shelly’s conversation with his contact at Apple, he was invited for a video interview just a few weeks ago. “The screen turns on. A director, screenwriter, and 12 people from Apple are on the other end. They ask me what this conference [WWDC] means to me,” he says. Following that interview, Shelly got the nod to be part of the project. He adds that originally Apple wanted to send its own film crew to Israel, but due to tight scheduling it wasn’t possible in the end.
“Could you help us write the opening to WWDC?”
“Instead… they told participants to film themselves with two iPhone 12s,” explains Shelly, who remembered that he didn’t even own an iPhone 12. So he did exactly what all of us would have done in the same position - he went out and bought two new phones. After running some tests and adjusting lighting in the office, Shelly got on a conference call with the director, using both phones. Shelly reveals that he recorded 50 minutes of nonstop content, in what he described as “creative thought training”. The director asked him, “Could you help us write the opening to WWDC?”, and what does he think Apple should do to open WWDC, if budget weren’t an issue (not far from reality) and “anything could happen.”
“I told them that it reminded me of Back to the Future. They asked which lead characters I’d like to see… which celebrities should be casted… it was 50 minutes of idea Ping-Pong, and they said they would animate it.”
Why Back to the Future?
Shelly: “Just like how the movie’s peek into the future inspired 20 years of creativity, this is how I see this event.”
Da Vinci and traditional North African cuisine
Aside from the idea of Tim Cook coming out of a DeLorean, which was picked for the video, Shelly proposed a scene where Apple executives sit down for dinner with Leonardo Da Vinci. At some point he was asked what was served for the meal, and Shelly excitedly blurted out “chraime”, later forced to explain to the team more about the traditionally Jewish spicy fish dish from North Africa. “I had no idea which idea would reach the final cut, and after all of the questions, they asked me how the event would look if there was no budget.” He says his answer included Apple executives promoting new products in a Broadway style sing and dance routine.
Surprisingly, the Apple produced video, which included quite a few other developers, doesn’t note the names, or their companies or projects once. In case you’ve never heard of the company, TinyTap was founded in 2012 by Yogev Shelly and Oren Elbaz, and it develops a platform for launching and building educational games and activities, a type of education based app store. The company has raised around $10 million to date, and just recently announced collaboration with the mythological kids show - Sesame Street.
Alarms after filming
Two hours after filming his part, Shelly returned to his home, and suddenly alarms went off all over the central part of Israel, hundreds of rockets painted the sky. Shelly says that he immediately took his family down to the bomb shelter, and once he returned to his phone, he saw multiple caring messages from both the production and Apple team. “They were really empathetic,” he adds.
From that day, Shelly explains that he hadn’t heard anything from the production team, which was busy editing the video, and until the live feed started, he wasn’t even sure if his bit got in. Shelly organized a live viewing at the TinyTap offices, but in accordance with Murphy’s Law, that’s when everything went south: “I was stuck in traffic,” he says. When he saw that 8:00 had already passed, the WWDC fanatic pulled the car over and started watching from his phone, mid-event. So, he didn’t even know that his face was what kicked off WWDC 2021. “Then, when I arrived at the office, I saw all of the texts.”
Shelly tells Geektime that even though he wasn’t sure if his part would make it to final cut, TinyTap’s iOS developer, Yoel Lev, who helped film, told Shelly that even if his face appears in just one frame, he has made history, “and that was definitely the feeling.”
How do you feel about the end result?
Shelly: “It was so satisfying to see them roll out the DeLorean. I felt like I did something great for the legacy. It is my favorite movie. And that they chose to use that scene was super cool.”
Barely a few days have passed, and Shelly claims to have been bombarded by comments and phone calls from former colleagues, partners, 2014 accelerator participants, investors, and even from people he met at WWDC in the past who recognized his face.
When I ask Shelly if he believes that this whole thing was by chance, he notes that he naturally likes to share his passions: “All I did was overshare a bit with the Apple contact… just remember to share your excitement with others.