Building World- Beating Companies Out of Israel

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There was standing room only at an Osaka conference on October 29th when eToro, an Israeli social investment network, demonstrated its service to bankers gathered from all over the world.“The Internet has not really disrupted financial investing yet,” says CEO Yoni Assia. eToro aims to do just that.

Some 1.75 million traders have placed more than 17 million trades through eToro’s award-winning OpenBook and WebTrader platforms since January 2012. And the company is only getting started

eToro is one of a number of Israeli companies that are aiming for global dominance in their respective spaces. Israel has not built any big-tech companies since Amdocs and Checkpoint, but that may be changing.

Market observers say there are now many tech companies in Israel with $40 million to $60 million dollars in annual sales. “One of the problems was that in the past (Israeli start-ups) would all be sold off to large US corporations, but that trend may be changing,” says Rubi Suliman, technology co-leader in the Tel Aviv offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers. He predicts that some of these companies will have initial public offerings. “We have close to 100 companies in that range – I don’t think we have ever been in that position,” he says. “Five or 10 could IPO and become world leaders.”

Michael Eisenberg, a partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Benchmark Capital, agrees. “There is a cadre of entrepreneurs who want to go all the way and want to build world-beating companies out of Israel,” he says. These include companies like eToro, Wix, Ironsource, Outbrain, Panaya and Gigya (see Informilo’s Top 25 list).

Ironsource, which has raised $16 million from a local VC, has revenues of over $100 million. The company, which offers an installation platform that promises to increase completed installs, decrease download time, and improve the user install experience, is racking up some 100 million monthly installs, says CEO Arnon Harish.

Wix, a free publishing platform for websites, Facebook pages and mobile sites, is also reporting major traction.  Over 20 million web sites and one million mobile sites have been built in Wix and the company says it is adding a million new users a month.

“We want to show that you can build a big company from Israel,” says Avishai Abrahami, CEO of Wix, which has raised a total of $61 million of venture capital. Its investors include Insight Venture Partners, DAG ventures, Benchmark Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners and Mangrove Capital Partners “When you wake up in the morning and want to make a presentation, you turn to PowerPoint; when you want to build a document you turn to Microsoft Word. Our goal is that when you would like to build something around content for the web, you automatically go to Wix.”

Abrahami says Wix has been approached about selling the company but he and the team have declined, preferring an initial public offering as an exit. “The timing will be our choice but it will be sooner rather than later,” he says.

All of this spells good news for Israel. “The critical thing for Israel is for some entrepreneurs to build Facebooks and not just features,” says Eisenberg.

“The Israeli venture funds have a habit of selling too early,” he says. “The math only works if you get very big outcomes. To make up for lots of losses you have to have big outcomes so selling the good ones early is never a good idea.”

If he and others are right the latest wave of Israeli companies will earn some really big returns for investors, helping the Start-up Nation earn an even more prominent position on the global innovation heat map.

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