Apples and Oranges: The Secret Ingredient Every Startup Needs to Know Before Relocating to NYC

12.01.2020
Dr. Maria Blekher, Founder and Director of YU Innovation Lab | Reading Time: 5 min

One of the key milestones in the journey of an Israeli startup is creating a presence and a market in the Big Apple. The number of Israeli startups that have crossed the ocean to be closer to their potential partners, markets and investors is growing, with over 350 Israeli startups operating in NYC in 2019, according to https://www.israelimappedinny.com. New York appears to be the essential crucible, the testing ground for ultimate success for Israeli founders in the North American market. Like the song says, if you make it here... 



Every founder and leader of a startup knows the critical hurdles they must leap; sufficient early funding, product market fit, competitive differentiation, go-to-market strategy and most importantly - early customer acquisition. Those with experience will tell you they are all connected, often within a virtuous circle, in which demonstrating proof of early customer product desire is the key to raising that next round of early stage growth funding. They will also tell you that they share a common denominator: people. Understanding and responding to what moves the needles for customers, partners and investors, ultimately dictates success. 

Understanding people means understanding them in the context of the culture where they live and operate. As we say here in New York, culture comes at you fast. Culture has specific and unique values, reference points and communication styles. We know from experience that awareness of cultural differences is something Israeli startups expanding into Asian markets spend a lot of time taking into consideration. Nevertheless, they often fail to consider the significance of cultural adaptation when they plot their entry in the US market. 

We get it. Like many of us here, you grew up in Israel, visited the States, watched MTV, drank in the culture from afar via screen time on American TV shows. Even today, you’re watching Netflix, shopping on Amazon and waiting for Black Friday. You probably feel solid in your grasp of the American culture. Not surprisingly, New York feels very familiar, almost like home away from home. 

The fact is, unless you’ve lived, worked, failed and built businesses here before, you probably should re-check your confidence. Acknowledging and adapting to the cultural differences and taking them into account can save your startup from committing early and potentially fatal missteps when scaling up Stateside. To sum it up, in addition to having a great idea, proof of concept and a funding, understanding the market culture can be a game changer for your success or failure. 

Zooming in, you need to grasp three main components to get a good sense of the market culture concept; 

Knowledge – As obvious as it may seem, you need to establish a new database of knowledge, for your new location. From a business perspective, you need to learn the new market, the key players, the champions, partners, and potential funding opportunities. You may need to relaunch your customer discovery process, if you want to understand the local landscape. You should map out your startup journey, the touch points where cultural difference will matter (e.g. marketing, business development funding etc.). What is important to early customers becomes existentially important to the growth of your  business, as you hone your unique value story to investors. 

Culture – Culture is a core one. Whether you are in B2B or B2C, being aware of cultural differences can make the difference between yea or nay. Hiring local employees for relevant touch point positions (sales, marketing and business development), developing awareness of the cultural sensitivities among Israeli employees and providing them tools and strategies to deal with them, are some of the tactics you can apply. 

Connections – Operating in Israel, you are likely to have a solid network of experts and professionals you can tap into as your startup scales. After all, you are part of the ecosystem, and it is the Startup Nation. Establishing a good network in NYC is a task of its own. On the one hand, New York attracts the most talented and ambitious people in the world, on the other, they don't know you and you don't know them (yet). Connecting with programs and initiatives that facilitate connections between startups, industry experts, mentors and investors, might be your way in. 

For many Israeli founders, NYC is just the beginning of the journey where they are going to pivot, fail, succeed and face some inevitable challenges of exploring and scaling in a new market. What unites and connects the cultures of Israel and New York are more numerous than what separates and distinguishes them. Adding market culture into the framework can make all the business difference in the world. 

Dr. Maria Blekher is the Founder and Director of YU Innovation Lab, a New York City-based ecosystem for startups in New York City and Israel. The Lab offers educational programming and events, as well as industry-specific resources aimed to educate, connect, and accelerate entrepreneurs. She is also the Director of MS in Digital Marketing and Media and a clinical associate professor of digital strategies at Yeshiva University. To learn more email: maria.blekher@yu.edu  or innovationlab@yu.edu 

Thom Kennon, is the Founder of Free Radicals, an alternative strategic consultancy with partner practitioners in London, Lisbon, Sydney, San Francisco and Munich. He is an adjunct professor in the Yeshiva University Master’s in Digital Marketing program and can be reached at Thomas.kennon@yu.edu or thom@freeradicals.marketing.

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