The Startup Nation
The always-hot Israeli startup scene has been going even more bonkers lately. We already know Waze, Wix, Fiverr, Taboola and other innovative startups. Now, 2015 has been a record-breaker for VC funding. The valuations of young companies are skyrocketing and private-equity bankers have arrived in droves, as have Chinese investors.
It all adds up to a very healthy tech community, overflowing with innovation. We recently visited Israel and met with many, many people in the tech industry and we asked all of them: which startups are you watching?
Of the dozens of startups we heard about and talked to, these are the ones that we found to be particularly outstanding for any number of reasons: their growth, their products, their mission and/or the pedigree of their founders.
Lean back, scroll down and enjoy the innovation!
OurCrowd: disrupting the venture capital world
OurCrowd founder, Jon Medved
OurCrowd is a startup that helps ordinary, upper middle class folks (doctors, lawyers, business owners) invest in startups with the same terms that top-tier VCs get.
These days, tech companies are growing into multi-billion-dollar companies while they are still private. By crowdsourcing its investment fund, OurCrowd is helping more investors tap into that early stage wealth creation.
It’s the brainchild of Israeli powerhouse VC Jon Medved, known as one of the founders of the Israeli startup scene.
IronSource: app discovery and monetization
IronSource CEO and co-founder Tomer Bar Zeev and deputy CEO and acquired co-founder Omer Kaplan.
IronSource helps mobile developers advertise to find customers and add advertising to their apps.
It’s one of Israel’s unicorns, with a $1 billion+ valuation after it raised a $105 million round in February. It employs 550, generates “hundreds of millions” in revenue and has half a billion users a month, founder and CEO Tomer Bar Zeev told us.
Bar Zeev has a unique management philosophy, too. He likes to acquire companies and then he turns those founders into co-founders at IronSource. So IronSource has 8 founders, and counting.
Earlier this week, he just bought another company, Supersonic, adding 250 more employees, and a few more founders, to the bench.
SimilarWeb: measuring websites and apps
Similar Web CEO Or Offer
SimilarWeb is another near unicorn. Its mission is to overtake Alexa as the most popular service for analyzing web traffic.
It was founded by charismatic CEO Or Offer, a computer geek who built SimilarWeb to research the competition while running a jewelry business.
A few years ago, he left the jewelry business to focus on SimilarWeb and his company has gone crazy ever since. Last year it grew from 60 employees to 200 and is hiring in New York and Israel about 20 more people a month.
SimilarWeb is backed by gigantic African internet investment conglomerate Naspers.
Zutalabs: a walking printer and Kickstarter darling
Zuta Labs CEO Tuvia Elbaum
Zuta Labs makes a tiny palm-sized printer. You put it on a piece of paper and it walks across the paper, printing words as it goes.
The device went crazy on Kickstarter last year, raising $500,000 and has since raised an undisclosed investment from VCs, CEO Tuvia Elbaum tells us. It also won Best of Innovation Award at CES 2015.
The company now has 11 employees and the device is selling out via online orders. In 2016 the printer will be on sale “with one of the leading retailers in the world, but can’t disclose about this yet,” Elbaum says.
TestFairy: app testing with video feedback
TestFairy cofounders Gil Megidish and Yair Bar-On
TestFairy helps mobile companies test their apps by providing developers with videos that show them what exactly happened on the app during tests.
The company offers a free service for independent developers and a paid service for companies, and has just received an investment from 500 Startups.
Developers love it. It has more than 10,000 developers on board, and the app was invited by Google to participate in Google’s startups Launchpad event at the last Google I/O event.
Optimalya: disrupting the content recommendation industry
Optimalya cofounder Tomer Treves
Optimalya developed the World’s first marketplace for content recommendations. The fastest growing segment of online advertising started in Israel with pioneering companies Outbrain and Taboola. With many more players and the entrance of the digital giants – including Google, Yahoo and AOL – the numbers are now counted in billions.
Connecting with the Optimalya marketplace, publishers report two major advantages over committing to a single content network. First, with multiple sources of content, the links are simply more interesting and the user experience improves. This makes sense, since the marketplace allows for customization and re-targeting. Second, and perhaps even more important, publishers working with Optimalya content recommendations report much higher revenues. To our question, co-founder Tomer Treves told us about a 100% increase in revenues.
An interesting point about Optimalya is their bootstrapping approach taken literally. With no funds raised and based on their own expertise, the entire live operation is owned by the founders, who rejected several investment offers.
StoreDot: fast-charging batteries for smartphones and electric vehicles
StoreDot has invented technology that will charge a battery almost instantly.
It has raised $18 million from backers like Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Samsung Ventures. It’s currently building a prototype for the first ever instantly-charging car battery.
StoreDot has 47 employees and will grow to 60 employees by then end of 2015, it tells us.
Ravello Systems: testing/development labs on Google’s and Amazon’s cloud
Ravello Systems founders Benny Schnaider and Rami Tamir
A lot of companies are using cloud computing for their “dev/test labs” which is how companies test new technologies and apps before they install them to make sure they won’t crash anything.
Ravello Systems has partnerships with Amazon, Google and VMware to makes it easy for companies to set up these dev/test labs on their clouds.
Ravello has 70 employees in Israel and the US, “thousands of active users” it says, and has raised $54 million to date.
CheckMarx: making computer code more secure
Checkmarx CEO Emmanuel Benzaquen
CheckMarx solves a big problem for app developers, making sure their code isn’t loaded with security bugs.
It can also block attacks in real time and fix the code.
CheckMarx is another Israeli company in the unicorn arena.
It raised $84 million in June ($92 million total, including early investor Salesforce) and has 130 employees in offices worldwide, including Israel, the UK, India, Singapore.
Glide: live audio and video texting
Glide Jonathan Caras cofounder
Glide has created an app that lets you send audio or video messages super fast. So fast that the person can hear your message before you even finish it.
Glide crosses the boundaries between live chatting and off-line messages. And it’s all over Apple Watch already.
The three-year-old Glide has 65 employees, has raised over $28 million and has about 20 million users worldwide.
Lightricks: professional photo editing on your iPhone
Lightricks CEO Zeev Farbman
Lightricks makes a popular smartphone photo-editing app, Facetune, that’s a perpetual member on the App Store’s best-selling apps list.
It has 4.5 million customers including, reportedly, Kim Kardashian, who uses it to touch up selfies and other photos of faces.
Its team of PhD founders invented more than just an app. They created a graphics engine that helps cameras work better. And they have their own secret sauce, mobile advertising software used only by themselves, that helps them stay in the best-selling apps list.
Lightricks is a close partner with Facebook, since it uses Facebook mobile ads to attract customers. Although profitable, it just raised $10 million in venture investment to grow faster.
Stratoscale: turning data centers into clouds
Stratoscale CEO Ariel Maislos
Stratoscale is an up-and-comer in a hot new enterprise area called “hyper-converged computing.”
It makes an operating system that takes ordinary commodity computer servers and computer storage and turns them into one giant pool that can share data as if they were all one big machine.
It’s the latest way that companies are making their data centers more efficient to handle ever more data and apps.
Stratoscale has some big competition in this area, from heavyweight VMware, to up-and-comer Nutanix, to the super popular tech called OpenStack.
But it’s got game. It’s backed by Intel, Cisco, and other big VCs who have invested $42 million.
Fitness22: iPhone apps to get you moving
Fitness 22 Benny Shaviv and his son after running a 5K
Fitness22 makes about a dozen paid fitness apps, charging $2 to $25, and has created quite a following, all with no marketing.
Formerly known as ClearSkyApps, the company has racked up 30 million downloads so far, all on iOS, and is generating “millions of dollars a year,” CEO founder Benny Shaviv told us.
The company’s most famous app is called 5K Runner. It trains you to run a 5K race in 8-weeks.
This company is being watched by a lot of people as an example of how to build a successful paid-app company.
Umoove: eye tracking software
Umoove founder and CEO Yitzi Kempinski
Umoove has created face and eye-tracking software for any mobile device. No extra hardware needed. Just looking at the device can allow you to control it.
It can be used for everything from diagnosing health problems by tracking eye movements to motion-control game controllers.
Umoove is still tiny. It has raised $3.4 million and has 14 employees, CEO Yitzi Kempinski tells us.
But people are talking about this company in Israel, and since major tech players like Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, and Google have large offices in Israel, Umoove is surely on their radar, too.
CoroNet: stopping hackers from ‘comjacking’ you
Ever use WiFi at a hotel or restaurant? A hacker can infiltrate your computer that way, hijacking the WiFi signal. They can also set up fake cell signals. It’s an attack called “comjacking” and it can be used to turn your smartphone or computer into a spying device, on you.
CoroNet detects and stops these attacks. It’s sold to enterprises for protecting their fleets of phones, or to carriers to protect their cell signals. This kind of attack is so prevalent that once when Dror Liwer, the CSO of the company, was chatting with his team from a hotel’s WiFi, he got comjacked, he told us.
Fortunately he also had CoroNet which alerted him.
Webydo: beautiful websites without coding
Webydo cofounders Shmulik Grizim and Tzvika Steinmetz
There are a lot of DIY website services out there, and they create sort of blah, ordinary sites.
If you are an artist or designer, you can’t settle for that, much less use something like that for your clients.
Enter Webydo, which lets artists and designers create really sophisticated sites without knowing how to code.
It’s a popular concept that’s grown to 190,000 users, over 60 employees and raised $13 million.
Plarium: online games for hardcore gamers
Plarium founder CEO Avi Shalel
You can be a hardcore video game addict even if you don’t own an Xbox or PlayStation. Plarium makes mobile and browser social games played by over 130 million people worldwide, such as Total Domination Reborn.
The games are free but players will pay for special powers or other goodies that give them an advantage. A serious gamer might spend $70 a month with Plarium, a spokesperson told us. And that means the company has never taken any VC funds.
It’s grown to 800 employees worldwide (150 in Israel) fully self-supported.
It’s also a family business. It has a whopping 7 co-founders, four of them are related identical twin brothers, a sister and a cousin.)
AngelSense: keeping special-needs kids safe
AngelSense cofounder Doron Somer and son
AngelSense is a tracking device and app for special needs children.
It was born out of the need of co-founder Doron Somer to do more than just keep GPS tabs on his autistic son. He wanted more data and a greater ability to know what was going on with his son in addition to just a GPS blip on a map, he told us.
It’s already been credited for saving one Autistic child in Texas, who was being abused by a bus driver. The device alerted the mom when her daughter wasn’t where she should have been. The mom activated the microphone, heard a struggle and discovered the situation.
Plus, the entire staff of AngelSense is comprised of parents (mostly mothers) of special needs children, Somer told us. They often have trouble finding jobs flexible enough given their demanding home life situation and they offer incredibly sympathetic support to AngelSense customers.
Deeplink.me: Embedding URL links to mobile apps
Deeplink cofounders Noah Klausman, Itamar Weisbrod and Avi Elias
Deeplink.me lets mobile app developers create a URL for some portion of their app and link to it from other places on the Web, for instance from a Tweet.
Although it’s only a 7-person company, it’s got some big name users like Shazam, DraftKings, Urban Outfitters, and Fox Sports. It also just launched AppWords, a service that finds other apps based on deep links.
“We believe this is the future of mobile search: preemptive, deep linked, kind of like the content finds you,” CEO and cofounder Itamar Weisbrod told us.
Fairfly: saving money on airfare after you buy your ticket
Fairfly cofounder CEO Aviel Siman
Most people give up searching for airfare deals once they buy their ticket. If prices drop, they might not even know about it.
Fairfly watches those prices for you, and if they fall low enough to cover the re-booking fees, Fairfly rebooks it for you, the exact same flight.
Fairfly is backed by Waze cofounder Uri Levine, who loves to launch startups that help people save money.
“People over-pay $100 billion a year because they don’t check the prices after they buy the ticket,” Levine told us.
Mapme: creating cool online maps, with no coding
Mapme cofounder Ben Lang
Mapme lets anyone build a special map, no coding needed.
Just upload the data of the places you want to highlight on the map, or better still, open it up to a community to crowdsource the data.
Some Mapme examples are: a global hummus map with locations of the world’s best hummus and a map of startups in London.
Mapme is the brainchild of 21-year-old Ben Lang. He originally created the tool so he could create a map of all the startups in Israel and then realized the tool itself was useful for so much more.
Now it’s available in over 30 countries.
Rep’nup: cleaning up your online image
Rep’nup CEO Lior Tal
We all love to posts fun party pictures of ourselves on Facebook, or share a rant on Twitter. But if you’re job hunting, TMI like that can really hurt you.
Enter Rep’nup. It’s a service that sifts through your social media accounts and finds the damaging photos and helps you hide or delete that stuff.
This is actually a really hard technical problem for a computer to know that a photo of you drinking a glass of orange juice is A-OK, but drinking a screwdriver? Maybe not, CEO Lior Tal told us.
So its founders are scientists and experts in “machine seeing” where computers learn to understand a photo. And, this is the third startup for Tal, who co-founded database security company Guardium acquired by IBM for $225 million and Insightix bought by McAfee.
Playbuzz: internet quizzes and viral stories
Playbuzz co-founder CTO Tom Pachys
Playbuzz launched less than two years ago and it’s been an internet sensation ever since.
Playbuz lets anyone create viral internet quizzes and lists, the kind of stuff that people like to share on Facebook.
It now has 94 million people as users, has raised about about $21 million in venture funds, and has 80 employees.
Payoneer: make payments across borders
Payoneer founder Yuval Tal
So, you’ve found a great offshore freelancer and when she sends you her bill it hits you: she wants to be paid in her own country’s currency, but your accounting system isn’t set up for that.
That’s the problem Payoneer solves for millions of businesses and professionals in more than 200 countries. It offers easy cross-border payments.
Payoneer was founded in Israel but now calls New York its home headquarters. It’s raised $90 million, including a new $50 million round in August, and it employs 500 people worldwide.
Showbox: easily create professional videos
Showbox cofounder Tomer Afek
Want to be a YouTube star? You’re going to create professional videos that include cool effects, but you might need to fix audio problems that arise. Plus you’ll need the rights and permissions to use clips and images from other’s videos.
Showbox does all of that and it does it for free. That’s why it’s used by celeb bloggers like Perez Hilton. Showbox is currently being used by about 2,000 YouTube stars, who are helping the company work out the kinks.
But Showbox is still in beta and won’t let just anybody use it. As of August, it had a wait list of over 50,000 people (and it’s still collecting names).
The company has raised $8.6 million in seed money by some big names like Bradley Wechsler chairman of iMAX; Carl Peterson, in charge of media investment of TPG (his own money); Charles Petrocelli former president of American Express Travel.
Docady: storing all your most important documents
Docady cofounder Nadav Weizmann
The world is digital but you still have a lot of documents that are paper, like birth certificates driver’s licenses and insurance policies.
Just take a photo of them and Docady stores them in secure cloud, or it can hunt them out of Dropbox or Google or Microsoft OneDrive.
One day soon this service will do more than store your documents. It will remind you when you need to take action, such as renewing your driver’s license, or updating your insurance policy, says CTO cofounder Nadav Weizmann.
Evolero: websites for event planners
Evolero cofounder CEO Tal Shoham
Evolero is a site that event planners can use to create websites for their events. It handles everything from registration to attendee networking.
It launched in 2014, and although it sill only has a mere 8 employees, it has been going gangbusters.
It’s been used to help organize more then 1,000 events, with over 100,000 attendees by companies like Microsoft, WeWork, AOL, Intel, E&Y, TedMed, Tedx, and CEO Tal Shoham tells us. It was a graduate of Microsoft’s Isreali Accelerator program.
YotPo: get real customers to write authentic reviews
YotPo cofounder CEO Tomer Tagrin
Yotpo helps ecommerce sites fill their review sections with real reviews from actual customers, not spam or marketing junk.
Its secret is sending an email to people shortly after they bought a product and making it easy for them to do the review from their smartphones.
It names Staples, GoPro, Sears and other big names as customers, and has been used by 120,000 of their customers.
In June, YotPo raised $15 million ($30 million to date) and opened its second office, in New York.
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