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1.6 Degrees of Separation

1.6 Degrees of Separation
originally published in MediaPost&;s Social Media Insider&;

How is it that Israel, the land of milk and honey and engineers, is beating New York at marketing its startup scene?

Israel’s technology startup scene has a far catchier name than the one in New York, the global capital of advertising. Israel’s Silicon Boulevard – the nickname for the Rothschild Boulevard area in Tel Aviv that’s home to many of the country’s most exciting young companies – sounds far more inviting and expansive than the rough, claustrophobic Silicon Alley. After spending some time last week in Israel meeting startup founders, venture capitalists, and government liaisons, I’m all the more convinced that Americans will be learning plenty of marketing lessons from Israelis in the decade to come.

When you stay in Tel Aviv, Israel does feel like a small country. My first night there, I was strolling back from dinner at the Marina when I heard someone call my name. Riding by on his bike was Dan Peguine, a friend I met at Facebook’s f8 developer conference in 2008 who is now based at Tel Aviv’s startup hub TechLoft launching social startup&0160;Everyword. Another night, at my hotel, I met a guest from New Jersey visiting his younger daughter who lives in Israel and works at&0160;Soluto, one of the most admired tech companies in Tel Aviv. I pulled up LinkedIn on my iPhone to show the father how I was connected to her, as well as my connections with his older daughter who works at a digital media company in New York.

There may be six degrees of separation globally, but in Israel it’s more like 1.6. I’d tell those I saw who else I was meeting with, and sure enough almost everyone had some degree of familiarity with everyone else. While Israelis are known locally as “sabras” — cacti that are prickly on the outside but sweet deep inside — the ones I met on Silicon Boulevard were effusively gracious. I’m especially grateful to the team at Carmel Ventures, who invited me to speak to their partners and portfolio companies on&0160;How Startups Can Connect with Brands&0160;(view the full presentation via the link).

Here’s just a brief snapshot of some of the interesting social-centric businesses I encountered at various stages of development:

Face.com: It’s easy to see why Facebook, Google, Apple, and others would all covet this facial detection and recognition technology platform, rumored to be acquired by Facebook for $100 million. Its latest release is&0160;Klik, an iPhone application that recognizes faces of Facebook friends and tags them in photos.

Fangager: With retention marketing offerings centered on Facebook, it also offers a brand scorecard to show active fans and other social data.

Friendize.me: This social commerce startup uses intelligence about people to connect people seeking product advice with the right experts among their peers.

The Gifts Project: Acquired by eBay, it enables e-commerce sites to have buyers chip in for gifts with their friends. As giddy as I was over the roadmap preview and the discussion with co-founder Matan Bar, I also loved how the company still feels like a true startup, with a handful of folks and a dog holed up in what feels like a trendy Park Slope apartment.

Top7: This new consumer-facing app for ranking up to seven favorites for any topic could appeal to marketers that want to encourage consumers to share what they love within some brand-friendly theme.

That’s just a small taste, and there are plenty more to learn from.

With these 1.6 degrees of separation, I need to thank those who connected me to others whom I met during the trip: Shira Abel of Hunter & Bard; Uriah Av-Ron of Oasis Public Relations; Debbie Levi of Carmel Ventures; Dave Rogers of Top7; and Alan Weinkrantz of Alan Weinkrantz and Company. Lastly, a couple of great meetings came through my favorite connection and connector: my wife, Cara, who met some of Israel’s innovators while traveling there earlier this year with a delegation from the New York City Council.

A hearty “todah rabah” (thank you very much) to all those who were so generous in sharing their time before and during the trip. To all of them, “l’hitraot” — “see you soon.”

As for you, have fun exploring your own 1.6 degrees of separation with Silicon Boulevard. To keep on top of emerging digital trends, you’ll want to keep those&0160;sabras&0160;that close, if not closer.

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