Mr. Weisfeld is the Sr. Director of Microsoft Ventures. Previously he co-founded several startups and served as VP Marketing of Modu (the Israeli cell phone startup) and GM Americas of MSystems. Zack is considered one of the leaders of Israeli HiTech.
Zack kindly agreed to be interview for my blog and share some information and insights related to the Israeli HiTech industry. The results are below.
1. Ronen: Microsoft regards the R&D center in Israel as one of its three strategic R&D centers out of the USA. Why?
Zack: Microsoft has three R&D Centers outside of the US that are defined as GDCs – Global Development Centers – one in China, one in India and one in Israel. Israel was chosen to house one of these unique centers mainly because of its great entrepreneurial and innovative culture, and the abundance of high-quality engineering talent we have over here.
2. Ronen: What are the objectives of Microsoft's recent accelerator activities?
Zack: Our global network of accelerators, which actually started in Israel with the opening of the very first MS owned and operated accelerator here in April of last year, are all part of our overall mission to partner with promising startups around the world and help them grow their business and improve their technology. The accelerator programs offer a 3-6 month immersive experience for early-stage startups and first-time entrepreneurs, providing them with world class mentors, experts, tools and resources.
3. Ronen: What are Microsoft's corporate VC activities regarding post incubation startups?
Zack: We have the Microsoft Ventures Fund which is a seed investment fund with one primary focus – building great startups and fueling entrepreneurship.
We also have, and always have had, later-stage investment and acquisition strategies. As part of these activities we acquired 7 companies in Israel over the past few years, and made investments in a few others.
4. Ronen: In Microsoft's corporate VC activity, do you feel the tension between the startup's desire to cooperate and work with you and its need to maintain its technology confidentiality?
Zack: There isn’t any real tension. With any startup we’re in touch with, whether they participate in our accelerator program or enter any M&A negotiation with us, we are always extremely careful to respect their confidentiality and ownership of IP. The company has very strict guidelines and regulations in place to protect the startups throughout all stages of any interaction we may have.
5. Ronen: What sort of startups is Microsoft interested in?
Zack: Microsoft is interested in all startups, from all areas and all stages of development. Obviously, startups in different stages will fit some programs and not others, but we’re open to hearing from everyone and we’re keen to help wherever we can.
6. Ronen: What are Microsoft's strategic plans for its operations in Israel for the next few years?
Zack: Unfortunately I can’t answer that - Microsoft does not disclose its long-term strategic plans for any region.
7. Ronen: What are the main reasons for Israel becoming "startup nation"?
Zack: The main reason is the quality of our computer science academic institutes, such as the Technion which is one of the world leaders in this field. The Israeli military and its technology units is another. We see many alumni of the intelligence corps leveraging the skills and know-how they gained during their military service to build their own startups. I think another reason stems in our unique culture which leaves a lot of room for trial and error. As opposed to other countries, in our local ecosystem it’s considered OK to fail, as long as you learn from it. This openness and tolerance means that people aren’t afraid to try and try again until they succeed.
8. Ronen: What can jeopardize Israel's position as "startup nation"?
Zack: I believe we need to quickly catch up in areas we are not so strong in. We need to get much better at user experience and we need to learn to be more business savvy. In order to truly succeed in the global market, a good business has to be very strong in three areas: technology, business know-how, and user experience. We’re very good in technology but others are catching up fast so we need to close our gaps in the last two areas.
9. Ronen: In a recent article with The Marker Modu was described as having a positive effect on Israeli Hightech. What are your thoughts on that?
Zack: Modu was all about a new user experience and about an Israeli company playing in the court of the big international consumer brands. Modu created a DNA of design, experience and dialogue with large global consumer brands, which is very needed in the local industry. People who graduated Modu had the opportunity to use the skills they developed later on to build other great companies. My own take away from Modu is that it’s not a failure as long as you learn from it and leverage what you learned in your next endeavors.
10. Ronen: In terms of startup strategy, what can we learn from the Modu and Better Place examples?
Zack: In the startup world you can’t succeed in everything you do. You just have to keep aiming high and try again.
For the Hebrew version of this post see: http://cafe.themarker.com/post/2973203/