Jeff Pulver spoke at last night’s TechAviv MeetUp. TechAviv brings together Israeli high-tech entrepreneurs for monthly meetups where a select few speak, demo their product, and then answer tough questions by the crowd. The format recently added someone to the ‘hot seat’ and Jeff Pulver obliged. Although I have known of Jeff for more than 10 years, with various interations over time, this was the first time I really heard him speak in person on his love for Israeli technology and innovation as well as his personal passions and philosophy. He reminded me in many ways of Craig Newmark (of Craig’s List). Although Jeff might not be as well known, I think they share a spirit and a fervent fan base.
Jeff’s accomplishments are too long to list here but a few highlights include pioneering the voice over IP industry (VoIP) and co-founding Vonage. Since I like numbers, here are a few interesting ones – he’s invested in 17 start-ups (or maybe more, he can’t remember exactly how many) in the last few years, held 33 breakfast meetings in 17 cities in the past 12 months and met with approximately 30-40 companies (well, sometimes a guy with an idea) in each city to hear their pitch.
According to Jeff, he usually knows within 3 minutes if he’s going to invest. He’s not your typical VC. He detests PPT and thinks that if you have a business plan, you are probably going to fail. (Okay, slightly exaggerated but he thinks that the business plan mind-set may limit your innovation and creativity. And, of course, all of the forecasts of revenue are bull@#$! anyway.) He invests from his gut – looking for people who are passionate, have a great team and a relentless drive. Yes, a good idea is also important, and it helps to be an incredible engineer as well as a visionary, but he doesn’t always find that nicely bundled. He does want companies to have an exit strategy before they even start (otherwise, he “might be dead before the exit, and what’s the point of that?”)
On Jeff’s love for Israeli start-ups, he thinks there is something in the DNA that gives them a special energy, fervor, creativity and work ethic. In his experience, the persistence and the sheer determination to accomplish a goal is more present with Israeli entrepreneurs than other start-ups that he has invested in State-side. No fear is also a factor – and to start a business, at anytime, fear will paralyze and probably stop you dead in your tracks.
On a personal note, Jeff mentioned that he was ‘fortunate’ enough to lose his job in 1996 – he had been working at Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial services firm that was devastated by the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 employees who worked in their offices at One World Trade Center. Jeff credits losing his job with saving his life and allowing him to embark on a journey to follow his passions – which have led him to incredible success. Hopefully, others that find themselves in similar situations in this economy and will emerge as successful and fulfilled as Jeff.