A Tale Of Two Cities: San Francisco and Tel Aviv

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of bubble, it was the age of burst, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of growth, it was the season of stagnation, it was the 1999 of hope, it was the 2001 of despair, we had high salaries before us, we had low salaries before us, we were all going direct to IPO, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens wrote his known novel about London and Paris during the French revolution a whole 150 years ago. I remember reading the book as a kid, which was required for a book report. It was a work of art. One of the things I took away from it, was how London and Paris were intertwined during that time. How the French Revolution impacted London, and vice versa.

A few months ago, United Airlines announced a direct flight between SFO and TLV. That announcement is a powerful indicator of how the two cities are closely tied. Thanks to this direct flight, two tech hubs became increasingly closer. As someone who flies to Israel every 6 weeks on average, I can tell you this is a fantastic improvement over the connection-in-Europe flights I had taken previously .

Tel Aviv and the Bay Area/Silicon Valley, have long benefited from a symbiotic relationship. One gave us Intel’s MMX and Sandy Bridge. The other gave us Intel. One gave us Facebook. The other gave us Internet.org. One gave us Google Search. The other gave us the Wikipedia info that appears on the right next to the search results. Each location builds on the other’s innovation to create its own innovation, in an endless feedback loop.

There are many startups founded every year in Tel Aviv. There are many more founded in San Francisco. In each city, though, the rules of the game are different. The culture, the management style, the amounts of funding, the method for achieving goals and many other aspects. Startups that are founded in one of the two cities and keep a single office, though, can relatively easily operate within these aspects.

There is, however, a subset of these two groups of startups that have two offices: One in Tel Aviv and one in San Francisco. We, indeni, are such a startup. We’re not a rare breed, as I know dozens of other startups currently operating in this way, including Alooma, Big Panda, CB4,SentinelOne, and hundreds of startups before us. In all cases, an R&D center is set up in Tel Aviv (and usually the startup is founded there), and a sales, marketing, business development and support office is set up in San Francisco. Usually, you have one of the founders relocate from Tel Aviv to San Francisco. Many times it is the CEO. In our case, it was me.

When you do this for the first time, you actually don’t realize what your challenges are going to be until you run into them:

  • “Two offices” means maintaining two separate operations structures – from plumbing and electricity to food, offsites and general office vibe.
  • It means your R&D engineers don’t spend time with your sales reps every day.
  • It means you, the CEO, or founder, are never with your entire team in one place.
  • It means a small company is split into two cultures. US vs Israel. English vs Hebrew. Sales and Marketing vs R&D.

One of my top challenges today is to figure out how to reduce the possible negative impact of this setup, while enhancing the positive impact. Tel Aviv has some of the world’s best engineers – innovative, creative and capable of reaching goals quickly. San Francisco has some of the world’s best sales and marketing talent, especially in tech.

I find myself thinking about this daily. Here are solutions we’ve implemented so far, would love to hear others’ suggestions as well:

  • If the CEO relocates to San Francisco (as I have), make sure you have someone extremely competent running the Tel Aviv office. In indeni’s case, it is our VP of R&D, Yarin Benado. If the CEO stays in Tel Aviv, send your strongest manager to San Francisco.
  • Managers on both sides of the ocean should continually foster communications between individuals – via email as well as video conferences.
  • Once a month, have an all-hands cross-ocean company meeting. In our case, it is the first Tuesday of each month, at 8am Pacific / 6pm Israel.
  • Set up a company-wide email (in our case, all@indeni.com) and encourage people to send messages to that forum that would help rally the troops around one flag. We send a welcome email for every new employee, birthday wishes, big sales deals closed, weekly R&D/sales/support updates, exciting updates and more.
  • The person who relocates to San Francisco (me, in our case), must visit the Tel Aviv office regularly. Ideally, the reverse should be true as well.

So, how would/do you deal with a startup spread over two cities?

Yoni is the CEO & Founder of indeni. This post originally appeared on indeni’s blog. Users of Check Point firewalls, Cisco routers, switches and firewalls, F5 load balancers and Palo Alto Networks firewalls are welcome to read about indeni’s approach to IT operations.