Business, Interviews

Startups And Conflict: An Interview with Israeli Startup Founder Jonathan Saragossi

Business thrives in stable environments with steady flows of capital and availability of talent. But with conflict being the backdrop in several regions around the world today, one might wonder how enterprises can still survive. We constantly hear about political tensions leading to armed conflict and wonder how these countries’ economies can soldier on.

For someone who is used to such tensions, however, life does go on, as Jonathan Saragossi tells us in an interview. Saragossi — formerly of, PlayScape and WIX — is CEO at IM Creator, a WYSIWYG web-building platform. In an earlier interview this year with Saragossi on e27, this writer focused on the entrepreneur’s insights on the mobile apps vs. mobile web debate.

In this interview with Bright Side of News*, however, we focus on starting up and doing business amid potentially unstable political situations, especially given that IM Creator is based in Israel. Even as the Israel-Gaza conflict is officially under truce, in practice the armistice is fragile, and armed combatants are still exchanging fire in what seems to be a thousands year-old conflict that might see no end anytime soon.

Apart from investment amid political tensions, we also touch on the Internet of Things, wearable devices, and screen sizes that are either becoming bigger or smaller, depending on your reference point. Here are a few excerpts from our interview.

Bright Side of News*: With Apple launching a plus-sized iPhone, do you think that flagship Android device makers were right all along in creating phones with bigger screens? What does this mean for content developers, app makers and designers?

Jonathan Saragossi: I personally think there’s the need and the audience for mobile devices in a wide range of size and price. I think this is relevant to web designers much more than it is for app makers and content developers since we are approaching a time period in which the responsiveness of a design is so crucial that it’s an absolute must. Soon all websites/apps would have to be able to adjust to a range of screens, from the tiny smart-watch to a 70 inch TV.

BSN*: Consider wearable devices, like the Samsung Gear, Apple iWatch, Moto 360 and the like? How do such devices appeal to you, as a developer and designer? How can content developers take advantage of a platform that is as small as a wristwatch? By extension, do you plan on launching site-builders that specifically design content for smartwatches?

JS: Wearable devices open the door to countless new opportunities, with a new and exciting context that is close and immediate, but limited with the amount of information and navigation options. Apps and information would have to be displayed in the most concentrated way, but still deliver the essence of the app. Here at IM Creator we have been working for a while on a website builder that will also answer wearable devices. It’s not enough to decrease the size of the content we delver, we also have to understand how to summarize the information and let go of the redundancies.

It’s a matter of a couple of years until the compatibility for wearable devices is a standard in every website builder. The challenge is not to create a new website for smaller screens, but to understand how to allow the users to build one website that adjust itself to a wide range of devices and will know to display the right information, in the right way, based on the screen, location and time it is showing on.

Android: Coming soon to a car near you

Android: Coming soon to a car near you

BSN*: What are your thoughts on the rising trend concerning the Internet of Things and other connected devices like cars and car interfaces? While the interface of Android Auto is decidedly basic and simple, do you think content developers, marketers and businesses can also take advantage of Android running on cars soon?

JS: Similar to wearable devices, this is not just another device to support. It’s a new context. A user who is now driving the car has different needs from users on foot, or in front of a laptop. Obviously this is very interesting for designers, developers and marketers – there’s a huge, “captive” audience inside millions of cars around the world. If I go into a business’ website using Android Auto, I probably want one of two things: calling the business, or get navigation instructions to it. The sites will have to auto-adjust, and display the relevant information in real time.

BSN*: How is the state of the startup community in Israel in view of the recent political and military conflicts, as well as the ongoing tension with the IS in the region?

JS: It might seem horrible from the outside, like the war is running in our streets. However, except sadness and disappointment from the lack of peaceful solutions, there is not really an effect on our work. My concern is for the next generation, of both Israelis and Palestinians: from both sides education budgets are diverted to weapons and war. Technological, cultural, creative education for our children and theirs is the best solution I can think of. People don’t go to blow themselves us when they have the opportunity to make their creative dreams come true.

BSN*: You mentioned that “there is no effect” in your work. How about in terms of the investments, capital inflow and availability of talent? Given that there is still some conflict (or tension?), do you think venture capitalists shy away from investing money in enterprises and startups in the country?

JS: There’s a general problem with seed-money. Established companies, showing growth and revenues, are hardly affected by the conflict. Overall, Israel is perceived as an investment that comes along with a security risk, but it’s the industry’s strength and resilience during these violent events that best demonstrates how thick the bubble we live in here in Tel Aviv.

BSN*: How about talent? Is mandatory military service an advantage or disadvantage in finding good talent? How does this impact the startup and entrepreneurship scene? Can it be an advantage, in terms of experience, contacts and building creativity?

JS: Mandatory military service in Israel usually comes when you are 18, before you find a profession. There’s also on-going “reserves” program, but most of the man power in the high tech industry didn’t serve in combat units, so the reserves training periods are shorter are rarer. People who served in combat units may disappear for a month, and it is a problem, but you deal with it. I think that a company should anyway be built in a way that employees can take a few weeks off in case of an emergency, whether it’s reserves training or birth of a child. I would rather hire employees who contributed something to society in their youth, wether it’s military service or any voluntary work.

BSN*: How do you address the need for agility? We have read about big companies losing their market share because of the fast-changing trends (say, Nokia, BlackBerry, etc.). As an entrepreneur, do you find the need to be many steps ahead of the current trends, in order to thrive? How do you make a difference, in the face of other competitors doing similar things?

JS: Agility and flexibility are a must in a startup. Everything changes all the time, and the swimming is always against the stream. A startup usually has two opportunities: Initial launch, and a pivot in case the launch is not successful. In both situations you have to show something new and totally unique. The method we run with and works for us is trying to come up with the most extreme thing (product/feature) we can think of, and just go for it. The reality is that developing a product takes around a year, and if you choose to develop something that is not extreme enough, the competition would keep up the pace and close the gap before you can launch. Going for extreme, for us, is somewhat of an insurance. At IM Creator we are working on two new and unique products that we hope will redefine the way websites are built, and furthermore, redefine the essence of websites.

BSN*: Can you share some trends with IM Creator?

JS: Of course we see an increased usage of tablets. Netbooks also still get a substantial portion among devices and we need to deal with their tiny resolutions. Our clients usually prefer simple, minimalistic designs (similar to the trend around the web) that they can customize and make their own with almost no efforts. And I get it – for an unexperienced person, building a website could be quite an adventure.

BSN*: If I were a talented team or entrepreneur keen on launching a new startup company or product, in what particular area (tech or non-tech) should I focus on? Why?

JS: Education. I’d recommend building a social network for kids that is based on creativity and learning. I think it’s a great way to get rich while doing something good for this world.

Featured image credit: ChameleonsEye /