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Tel Aviv's tech gurus help social startup pursue global strategy

LANDING PADS CASE STUDY

Tel Aviv's Tech gurus help social startup pursue global strategy 

For Australian tech startups, going global is often a must from Day One. But how can local tech entrepreneurs formulate a global strategy when the day-to-day focus is on growing the business? In 2018, Melbourne-based social networking phenomenon, Friend Theory, took off for Tel Aviv and a three-month Landing Pads residency. With valuable contacts from Israel’s world-class tech sector – and acute strategic insights – the startup is now set for global growth.

A social tech super star is born  

Friend Theory is a Melbourne-based startup with a networking service. The company’s social app enables members to find friends and request and offer help anywhere in the world. 

After just one year, the company is growing rapidly. In May 2018, Friend Theory launched a beta version of its site, and saw site traffic grow exponentially. Almost overnight the company’s founders found themselves in possession of a highly successful website, but with no clear idea where it could or should end up. 

‘We were attracting so many travellers we just focused on building the site and developing both elements in our service – social networking and accommodation,’ says Carlo Spada, Co-founder, Friend Theory. ‘But at some point we needed to see a bigger picture; we needed strategic vision. 

‘It’s a common problem for early-stage tech startups: if you’re developing fast and focused on growth, how do you step back and work out precisely where your service should be going?’’

Friend Theory

To the heart of the tech industry 

Spada heard of the Tel Aviv Landing Pads program from an early-stage investor. The investor was familiar with the tech ecosystem in Israel, and thought the energy and vibrancy of the Tel Aviv tech scene would help Spada and his colleagues to crystalise their ideas. 

‘The Tel Aviv Landing Pad was the perfect way to grow our site, because we knew we had to build for a global audience from the day our service took off,’ he said. ‘Israel has a world-class IT industry, and so we knew we could tap into world-class ideas, feedback and advice – right at a critical phase in our development.’

In particular, Spada wanted to meet three groups of people: executives with travel industry experience; people who knew how to build a great social product, and investors. The Landing Pads program offered the chance to connect with all three. 

‘We wanted to go as soon as we had a minimal viable product,’ he says. ‘When we applied, Austrade could see from our stats that Friend Theory was viable and that we were growing fast. We hoped that going to Israel would help us refine our growth trajectory.’

Intense, exciting, stimulating 

Along with co-founders Guillaume Prevost and Carlos Costa, Carlo arrived in Israel in September 2018. The Tel Aviv Landing Pad is based at a startup and networking hub called SOSA, in South Tel Aviv. With premises in Israel and New York City, SOSA is a shared office space for innovators that helps them connect with established businesses, government and investors.

Austrade’s Landing Pads Manager – Omri Wislizki - helped Spada and his colleagues set up at the SOSA shared space. This enabled the founders to continue building the site and their business throughout the Landing Pads program. He also met up with Spada weekly to assist with any business request, and to arrange a program of introductions across the spectrum of Tel Aviv’s online tech-developer community. 

‘The Landing Pads Manager made the whole experience meaningful and insightful,’ says Spada. ‘He knew who we needed to meet, and he would find contacts and fix up meetings. The introductions he organised were super-valuable – and that was very, very important.’ 

Strategic insight 

The most important issue the founders addressed in Tel Aviv was strategic direction. Spada and his colleagues had built out the Friend Theory website in response to customer demand. After consulting globally minded web experts, however, the executive team knew they had to build towards a clearly defined end-point.

‘Towards the end of the program, we gained a meeting with a high-profile investor and this turned out to be the single most valuable encounter of our stay in Israel,’ says Spada. ‘We came out of that meeting knowing we had to crystalise our vision for Friend Theory.

‘By bringing us into direct contact with big names in the emerging tech industry, the Landing Pads program gave us clear strategic focus. For a fast-evolving, Australia-based web business with a global customer audience, gaining a clear strategic focus is absolutely invaluable.’

Tel Aviv: a magnet for tech startups 

Spada recommends Tel Aviv as a first step for tech startups whose customers are naturally international.

‘If you are an early web startup, you have little to lose by going to Israel for three months – and a huge amount to gain,’ he says. ‘As a tech startup, you are automatically part of a global ecosystem. The sooner you start interacting with that ecosystem the better. 

‘Also, it helps build critical global relationships early. You will have a much better chance of staying on an optimal trajectory if you get acute insights early. Whatever you learn early on will help make you super-competitive. 

‘Tel Aviv is a great place to do this. If I had to advise similar tech startups, I’d say: ‘Go as soon as you can.’ 

For more information about the Tel Aviv Landing Pad, contact Omri Wislizki.