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DreamIt Startups dream, grow and pivot

As an adviser for DreamIt Israel, I was invited to attend their “Demo Day” in Tel Aviv in the midst of the Tishrei holiday season.*

Most of the audience for these types of “pitch nights” are investors since the evening is a debut party of sorts, where the startups present their companies and try to attract investors. Not being a VC or an angel myself, I was a bit of an exception in the group, more like a proud cousin.

I had met most of these entrepreneurs at the beginning of their DreamIt experience, at their intro event and then a week or so later when I ran a marketing workshop for the group. Since I’d last seen them, they had been to New York and back, and been working closely with their mentors to advance their startups.

During the networking time before the formal presentations, I asked some of the entrepreneurs what they’d learned during the last five months, and how it had helped them to take forward steps with their companies.  The answers were fascinating, and I’d like to share some of them here:

When I spoke with Karin Levi, one of the co-founders of Weesh, a mobile app designed to motivate couples to engage more often, she said that they had learned so much and so often that it would be hard to pick just one or two things. Upon reflection, she started by saying that it took them some time to realize that their customers didn’t necessarily know what a “weesh” was.   Weeshes are activities that the couple wants to do together, so knowing what they are is central to gaining value from the app. To her and her partners it was obvious, since they’d been working on weeshes for months. This is a classic case of getting accustomed to your own internal language and needing to try it out on people who are seeing it for the first time. It’s a very common issue – not just for startups – and it’s great they realized it quickly.

Stas Goferman, CEO and co-founder of Bazaart had lots to update (that’s the two of us chatting in the middle of the photo up above).  Baazart enables users to create personalized fashion catalogs in an app for the iPad. Of course for the Bazaart team, being in NY, the fashion capital of the USA, was just perfect. Besides recruiting a key member of their management team there, they learned first hand how the fashion industry works by talking with as many insiders as possible. When they started the business, they thought their target market would be fashion-oriented consumers and bloggers. By the time they left New York, they had changed their business model to B2B2C, that is, targeting fashion brands, who in turn would target consumers. Great pivot!

My chat with Irad Eichler, CEO and co-founder of Teamalaya showed just how many pivots a startup can make in a few months, if you are super-focused on validating your assumptions. Teamalaya focuses on gamification for the online learning and development industry. When I met Irad in Israel at the start of DreamIt, the company was named “Giver,” was focused on providing tools for human resource departments to engage their employees, and already had marquee customers like Microsoft, NICE and Bayer using their solutions. Sounds great, right? But the solution turned out not to pass the test of geography.

The folks at Giver/Teamalaya started in NY by trying to target the same job titles they had targeted in Israel: welfare managers. They learned quickly that this job title does not exist in New York. American companies just are not as focused on giving their employees that “family feeling” as Israeli companies are, so there is no dedicated employee for this function. (Admittedly, upon moving to Israel I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of company outings, holiday gifts and various celebrations there were in the companies where I worked.)

So pivot #1 was to change the marketing focus from increasing employee engagement to helping HR managers onboard new employees. Bringing a new employee into a company means lots of training, along with inculcating the company culture, all as quickly and effectively as possible to get the newbie up and running and productive with minimum obstacles. While this makes sense, and they were able to validate the market need, they quickly determined that this niche was too limited to support their growth targets.

So they pivoted again, to where they are today, which is providing an online solution that enables trainers and workshop managers to take their client interaction well beyond the last training session with games that reinforce what they’ve learned. The Teamalaya solution gives these mostly independent consultants a way to increase their revenue by upselling customers with games that further sustains the content they have taught. It’s been an incredible journey for Teamalaya, and I give Irad a ton of credit for the fearless way he approaches each change along the way…and they may not be done pivoting yet.

Two other companies I didn’t have a chance to interrogate as deeply, but I can say that Cubiez – apps that bring your favorite content to your desktop – made huge strides in honing their pitch and developing an engaging look and feel for the product and their overall brand. And Branch.ly, which I encountered for the first time (their founders are Harvard undergrads so didn’t come to the first part of the program in Israel), seemed like a solution any socially connected human could use. I suggested a practical application to Nuseir Yassin, CEO & co-founder, after hearing the pitch and we’ll see where they take it from here. (It’s something I could really use! Pretty please, Nuseir? 😉 )

So congrats to the first “graduating class” of Dream It Ventures Israel… you’re learning and pivoting like pros.

image credit: DreamIt Israel

*Tishrei is the first month of the Jewish year, a lovely time of reflection and celebration, during which it is nearly impossible to work or blog due to on-again off-again holidays for the course of an entire month: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Doesn’t sound like much until you realize that RH is 3 days, YK 2 days, and Sukkot 8 (!) days! So that’s why it took me over 2 weeks to get this posted after the fab DreamIt event. ‘nuf excuses & back to work, folks.

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3 comments

  1. Yael - October 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Congrads to Bazaart and Cubiez!

  2. Sidamster - October 11, 2012 at 7:08 am

    Fascinating summary of the group- I wonder how it compares to other DreamIT experiences in NYC and Philadelphia?

  3. Mitchell - October 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    The DreamIt Israel program (www.dreamitventures.com/Israel) incorporates acceleration time in both Israel and in NYC. The 5 Israeli startups participated for 3 months as part of the DreamIt NY program, where they worked alongside 10 DreamIt NY companies, so they were able to also have the full DreamIt NY experience. In addition the startups received special programming and benefits tailored for the Israeli companies. More info can be found on http://www.dreamitventures.com/Israel.

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