Straight from the heart of the Startup Nation comes Silicon Wadi, a very frank documentary film that is an important cautionary tale for everyone who imagines that they want to start a business or be an entrepreneur. In Silicon Wadi, directors Daniel Sivan and Yossi Bloch follow four Israeli startup teams over two years, from concept through funding--or burnout. You can find it here.
The clear and consistent message is that it's very hard to do this kind of work. And that it's not just hard on the entrepreneurs. It's equally as difficult (or more so) on their families as well. Before any wannabe starts down this path, you need to ask yourself (as well as the people you care the most about) the very same question that you should ask before you lend money to a close friend: which is the more important and which are you prepared to lose? I tell all our entrepreneurs that there's always more work, but you've only got one family. Building a new business is a 24/7 job and there's no way to leave anything at the office at the end of the day because the day never ends.
The film's second important message is that it's pretty easy to convince yourself of just about anything; convincing investors and customers that you have something real and different and important is a much more challenging job. There are only a few people who will care enough to tell you the truth and that's especially true when the truth hurts. But the truth only hurts (as we see throughout the film) when it ought to. It's never easy to say what no one wants to hear.
You'll also hear a recurring refrain from one of the subjects, Yosi, as he explains how his idea for Fiddme came to him. This really bothered me. He keeps saying that he thought to himself in that moment: "I think we have a startup." But no one who knows anything wants to hear that. Saying "I think we have a business" is good. Saying "I think we've found a pain point and a solution" is better. And saying "I think we have lots of people willing to pay for our product or service" is best of all. We've got tons of startups today-- what we're looking for are sustainable businesses. Cash is important, but customers are king.
And, if you listen closely, you'll hear the venture capitalist David Blumberg explain a very critical concept in the startup world. Being a little early is okay, but being too early means you die. And here's a little known fact: the largest single determinant of startup success is timing. Not the idea. Not the team, and not the funding. You've got to be in the right place at the right time for lightning to strike. And it also helps a whole bunch to be lucky.
I wasn't crazy about how one of the stories ended (no spoiler alert is required here) because it confirmed one of the worst possible messages in our business, which is that it's better to be lucky than smart or hard-working. In fact, there's a great new book out by Randall Lane called You Only Have to be Right Once that tells the stories of our latest crop of a dozen tech billionaires and leaves you with the exact same impression that-- with the possible exception of Mark Zuckerberg--the rest of the new breed of super-hero entrepreneurs could just as easily have been driving a cab these days or working as a computer technician.
And the final, very instructive, message (mainly for Israelis rather than U.S.-based entrepreneurs) is that it's a stupid waste of time and effort to go from Tel Aviv to the Valley looking for your pot of gold. Cash is everywhere in the States these days, but much more than capital, businesses need customers to succeed and there are NO customers on the Coast. If you want to build a real business, you need to be where the buyers are and that's in places like Chicago and not San Francisco.
One last thought, which I think the film also makes clear. It's a hard life and a bumpy road for sure, but for a certain breed of person it's the only way to live. We spend a great deal of our lives working and the greatest privilege and joy there is is to be able to get up every day and do something that you can be excited and enthusiastic about.