I’m not sure why I chose Israel. But it seemed exotic. And exciting. I was at Yale-NUS, my university in Singapore. 2 years of academics had made me yearn more hands on experience and I had applied to a program called NUS Overseas College which places you as an intern at a startup in one of the startup hubs of the world. I’d also been working on my own startup for the past 8 months and I felt the need to see a fast growing startup in action.
Tel Aviv, the second most startupy place in the world after Silicon Valley was one of the options where students could take up 6 month long internships. I got introduced to a company called eRated, a company that imported reviews of sellers across marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. They had gone through several prestigious accelerators and had a very impressive team. They needed someone for content writing and marketing, which seemed to be a fitting role for me. Also, I figured that my experience starting an online store in Delhi a few years ago be of help to the team given that they were in the ecommerce space.
So I was placed, my visa was issued (despite the mess Indian passport holders usually go through when they try to move an inch), and I was on a Turkish Airline flight to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv from the very first day was amazing. It was a perfect blend of India and Singapore, the two placed I’d lived in before. Like Singapore, it was fully developed, much cleaner than India, and it had its systems in place. But like India, it still felt very free and relaxed and easy going. It was right next to the beach, and the city was tiny. I could walk almost everywhere. And no there weren’t bombs falling from the skies. The city was safe, and I actually felt much safer there than I ever had in Delhi.
But when my first day at eRated came, I found myself not being able to compare the work environment there to anything I had formerly experienced.
The dress code? To not follow a dress code.
On my first day, I wore black closed toed heels, blue jeans and a white top, just like I would have at on casual Fridays in Singapore. Can’t really go wrong with that? Turns out that was the only day I would wear heels in Israel. Just a few minutes later, the CEO of the company walked in wearing shorts and flip flops. That was the first and last day in Israel I needed my closed toed heels. And just like their dress code, Israelis don’t have a lot of rules.
Colleagues or friends?
From the first day itself, my colleagues felt more like friends-people who I could talk to about non work stuff, and people I’d want to eat lunch with. We were a small team-10 people in total, 5 of whom would work from the office everyday. After a few weeks, they started to feel like my Israeli family. Feeling close to my colleagues went a long way in liking my work. My work in the beginning involved twitter marketing. While my social media skills aren’t my biggest strength, I would spend all day on it, grudgingly trying to push numbers up and find new ways of getting attention through social media. Despite that, I loved coming to work everyday.
When talented people work hard, startups thrive.
While I had met a lot of smart and talented people, the eRated team took it to another level altogether. They were sharp, quick to understand things, and VERY very hard working. If something had to get done, they would work day and night until it got done. I felt extremely humbled by them, and found myself trying to work harder and think more systematically. And when I would tell them how smart and hardworking they were, they’d shrug it off and pretty much ignore my compliment. It was a norm to them.
But if they work hard, they play equally hard. If you walk out in Tel Aviv after 8 pm you’ll see little European looking cafes and bars on the streets filled with people. My colleagues would almost always have plans to meet up with friends after works for drinks or parties or dinner. The next day, they would be back at work ever ready to work. At one point, I started doing this too, and strangely enough I found myself in a very comfortable work life balance.
Just do it
Something else that I noticed was the ‘just do it’ culture. If a product isn’t perfect, that not a reason we shouldn’t ship it. They would just execute without spending days and weeks and months thinking about it, which is something I’ve observed a lot of Indian entrepreneur aren’t able to do. After some time, I started publishing posts without proofreading them a second time, which used to be quite a rare phenomenon before this. This need to execute fast, even if it means compromising on quality, is something that was of huge contrast in comparison to Indian startups. At the end of the day execution of low quality is still better than no execution. I found myself being more bold with the steps I took with my own startup, and I started to see more customers, more feedback, faster progress.
So who is really the boss? Doesn’t matter!
My responsibilities kept increasing throughout my 6 months at eRated. Not only was I getting a better hold on my social media strategies, I was learning more about the market to be able to suggest better ideas and more out of the box techniques to the team. People would actually listen to my ideas and treat them as words of an equal, not the words of an intern.
I started writing content for them, working on customer development, and occasionally helping out with their business development efforts. I was surprised at how much the team trusted me not just with work, but also with confidential information. I grew to really appreciate the flat hierarchy. I was part of the team. Sure, I would be gone in a few months. But for now, I was a part of the team and that’s all that mattered. Indian startups often focus way too much on the position or designation of people at work. But in reality, startups really just need people to contribute their best skills to the team. Everyone is equally important, and no one’s ideas are meaningless.
Bring your opinions to work. And argue atleast once a day.
At the same time, if I said something that they didn’t agree with, they’d very clearly say it, more directly and clearly than I’ve seen before. I found myself really appreciating the directness, because instead of shyly dismissing ideas or making people believe that crappy suggestions were good ones, the work culture challenged you to think more in depth than you otherwise would.
Push. And then push harder.
In a certain week if social media numbers were lower than usual, Boaz, the CEO would come to me and ask me to be more agressive in our marketing efforts. And he would keep pushing me to get the numbers up until they happened. This kind of aggression and persistence is what makes a startup achieve their goals in the long run. Making sure we pushed our agenda even in the smallest of actions made us able to achieve the bigger goals, which is why it’s no surprised that the eRated team recently managed to raise $1.7 million in funding.
Where’s your dog?
One day, the CTO of eRated adopted a dog and brought him into work. The dog was the most adorable kind I’d ever seen. Everyone in the office fell in love with him, and he would come to work everyday from then on. My point is, that this kind of flexibility and loose rules made work less restrictive. When people are less restricted, they work becuase they want to, not because they have to. People who work because they want to are generally far more productive and creative than the ones who work because they have to.
Most importantly, have fun.
My favourite part about working at eRated though is just the amount of fun I had. We would have weekly meeting every Thursday (which is the last day of the week in Israel-since their weekends are Friday and Saturday). We would discuss all that each of us had done during the week over beer and pizza. The first half of the meeting would be occupied by the three founders making fun of each other. Oh and the meeting was called TWIFO-an acronym invented by one of the founders. It stood for ‘The Week Is Fucking Over’.
When you work in an Israeli startup, there’s no way you can’t love Israel. I cringe every time I think of the image Israel has developed because of its political situation and I wish everyone knew Israel for its startup culture. The tech startup world has so much to learn from this tiny country. If only we could adopt half of their practices and values, like the ability to act faster and make more bold moves, maybe we could be the next startup nation?