Israel leads the way with strong startup exits and we can recite many of the CEO’s name by heart, but do you know what “angels” swooped down to lift them up when they got their start?
Imagine. The year is 1857. You are one the wealthiest people in New York City just stepping out of your house for the morning paper. Two strong horses pull a carriage behind them. They halt and outsteps a woman in a floor-length ruffled gown with lace trimmings clutches the arm of a mustached man wearing a dark, buttoned knee-length coat and a black top hat approaches you. The woman meets your eye and says, “Please be an angel and fund our new production on Broadway. You’re a man of good taste, right?”
You sign a check, up goes the show, and you get a little tiny mention in the back of the playbill. And maybe a profit if the show was successful.
Fast forward to the present. You take your first sip of your soy latte at a quiet table beneath a palm tree overlooking the sea speckled with surfers. Two friends clad in ripped jeans and sneakers approach you. One of them meets your eye. Now replace the theater’s phrase with “Hi how are you? Please be an angel and donate some money to my startup. You’re a person with a vision, right?”
You make a bank transfer, the startup launches, and maybe you get to boost your profile on Crunchbase or the like. But hopefully you make a profit if the startup generated substantial revenue or made a strong exit.
Startups took the notion of Broadway’s Angel Investor, a wealthy patron of the arts, and ran with it.
But our modern Angel Investors are still the same people with exorbitant wealth. That’s an annual minimum of 1.2M NIS in Israel or $200K in the U.S. if they seek accreditation. And they must have good taste and a vision for the startup to succeed.
These affluent men who have backed Israel’s startups helped give rise to startup nation, a powerhouse of technology and innovation right between the sea and the deserts. Literally billions of dollars trickle into little promising startups with the potential to do for Israel’s high tech ecosystem what Broadway did for musical theater.
But unlike the theatre angel, you need to do more than give money. You need to nurture the young entrepreneur with the wisdom that helped you succeed. And as an angel, you will likely make a new friend, because part of this partnership is the chemistry between the angel investor and the startup entrepreneurs. According to Harvard Business School and MIT researchers, a startup will more likely thrive if an Angel funds it. I have a sneaking suspicion that the mentorship is a substantial part of it.
Despite the need of Angels, these are fairly silent venturers who walk our streets.
Well, we would like to put the Angels’ names in lights. Here are 5 Angel Investors in Israel who have made a difference and have been wildly successful.
Born before Israel was Israel, Yossi Vardi pioneered the high-tech scene in Israel. If you are old enough to remember ICQ’s instant messaging system, you can thank Vardi, his son Arik, Yair Goldfinger, Sefi Visiger, and Amnon Amir for that. They created in under their company Mirabilis, which AOL bought for $287M in 1998. The Mirabilis Effect washed over the Israeli tech scene are startups popped up left and right, all hoping to recreate the team’s success.
Now, Vardi invests in countless startups, co-founds some, and serves on the board of others. Some of these companies have included Answers.com, Foxytunes (sold to Yahoo), Similar Web, Gteka (sold to Microsoft), The Gift Project (sold to eBay), Tivella (sold to Cisco), and many more. There’s no stopping him.
If you don’t know Gigi Levi-Weiss, you should. The former CEO of 888 Holdings, one of the global leaders in online gaming, has been labeled a super angel with investments as much as $500,000. He explained to Geektime, “There are code words like cyber, crowdsourcing, cloud, collaboration. If you include one of these in the company’s name it’s already worth $10 million. If you use two of these words, here’s $15 million.” These are the type of companies he has invested in, although the jargon was not necessarily in the logo. He invested in Playtika, the social game casino which Giant and a consortium of Chinese affiliates acquired for $4.4B. He’s also invested in Kenshoo, Plarium, Meerkat, Currency Transfer, Global ePay, and numerous others in e-commerce, gaming, mobile, SaaS, and consumer internet verticals.
Judging by his Linkedin profile and personal website, he is a family man who loves to spend time in the pool with his kids. Likewise, he serves on several nonprofit boards including MEET, who partners with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to nurture young Israelis and Palestinians as technology partners, and Latet, a humanitarian aid project. Despite his extensive activity nurturing these startups and volunteering with nonprofits, he still manages to maintain a warm, friendly smile. But why not? According to Twitter profile, his family believes his job is simply to “meet people and give them money.”
The networks and security wizard founded two highly successful companies, Check Point and Imperva, which are worth billions of dollar. And now he is at it again with Cato Networks, which he partially bootstrapped in order to modernize cybersecurity.
Since at least 2000, he has invested millions of dollars at a time in an outrageous number of startups. Among them includes Trusteer, a financial malware/anti-fraud software that IBM acquired for $1B; WatchDox, a SaaS document security platform for mobile devices that Blackberry acquired; and more recently Gong, an AI-based tool for customer service and sales professionals. Judging by the rate in which he invests, there is no sign of him slowing down.
Guy Gamzu is one of the masterminds and investor of Fiverr, a prominent freelancer showcase where you can get services as low as $5. He is currently the director or cofounder of several high tech companies specializing in children’s applications, games, body sensors, and chat systems.
Gamzu has been an Angel Investor for over 20 years and has reached much success. He funds most of his projects through his investment firm, Cubit Investments. His specialty is in incubation and seed stage projects. He invested in Firebase, a storage and syncing backend service for smartphones and the web, which Google acquired in 2014. Other projects included Fraud Sciences, which eBay acquired for $169M; Motion AI, a chatbot that Hubspot acquired; and Passave, which PMC-Sierra acquired for $300M.
Lastly, we have the powerhouse Zohar Gilon. The electrical engineer and business executive served as a President of a variety of electronics and aerospace companies for about 20 years before he switched directions to investing. He is currently the managing partner of Tamar Ventures, a venture capitalist firm.
He has personally invested in 45 startups and achieved 13 exits, including Payoneer, a successful global payment service; Outbrain, a content discovery platform; Yotpo, a user-generated content marketing platform; and many others.
Who else’s name should be in lights? We’d love to hear your thoughts.