Today we welcome Suzi Dixon to the Displaced Nation. Though it is her first time guest posting for us, Suzi is well known among expats and other internationals for her articles and blogs in The Telegraph and Huffington Post. Here she tells the story of British entrepreneur Daniel Abrahams, who decided to move his Internet start-up from London to Tel Aviv. Suzi has also kindly agreed to allow us to pose a few questions of our own to Daniel, from our “displaced” perspective.
—Kate Allison & ML Awanohara
Brits looking to move abroad face a decision—do they look for work or start their own business? But what if you’ve already got a business back home in Blighty? Times are tough globally and, particularly for those with a business still in the start-up stage, a move throws up all sort of added pressure.
I spoke to Daniel Abrahams, co-founder of MyCurrencyTransfer.com, who recently relocated this thriving internet start-up from the Google @ Campus in London to TechLoft in Tel Aviv.
Their business is expanding rapidly. MyCurrencyTransfer.com and its sister site, MyTravelMoney.co.uk, have already helped more than 1.2 million visitors find a fairer and cheaper deal on both travel money and international payments.
However, the opportunity to move their headquarters to Israel, known as the “start-up nation,” for three months was hard to resist.
“We want to be immersed in one of the most dynamic and successful startup hubs in the world,” Daniel said. “During our stay in Tel Aviv, we will meet face-to face with other high impact startups, entrepreneurs, and investors. In the first week of being here, we’ve spontaneously met literally dozens of high impact, high potential companies that are only too happy to knowledge share.”
When it came to making the decision, Daniel turned to a good old-fashioned list of pros and cons. The pros won out and, now, he wants to inspire other Brits with a business big or small to take the plunge.
“You’ve got to focus on the pros,” he said. “Think of the Serendipity Factor—if the opportunity arises to move overseas, perhaps that’s happened for a reason? It’s an opportunity to build your company culture and widen your network. And, with advances in technology, there’s no reason why you can’t have your PR firm, accountant and admin in London while you relocate. That’s where cloud computing excels!”
Moving also keeps you on your toes. “Getting too comfortable in one environment can be your own worst enemy,” Daniel said. “I want to see the world and new business environments. There’s also a good chance that you may be able to find and nurture local talent you might not otherwise come across.”
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Thanks, Suzi! And now, our curiosity aroused, we have some questions of our own for Daniel.
Daniel, thank you so much for joining us! As we’re not all finance types here, can you please explain in a nutshell what your business is all about?
Launched in September 2010, MyCurrencyTransfer.com and MyTravelMoney.co.uk are award-winning comparison Web sites for foreign exchange. Every day, we help thousands of expats, overseas property buyers, students, businesses and holidaymakers find a fairer deal on travel money and international payments.
How does your startup compare to businesses offering similar services?
We help our visitors access the sharpest currency rates on the market via our proprietary comparison platform. The rates quoted are wholesale exchange rates provided by FCA-regulated currency companies. We’re trying to make awesome currency deals accessible to the everyday consumers and not just reserved for big institutions transacting in the billions.
How did you get the idea for the business?
My co-founder, Stevan Litobac, and I launched the business after being ripped off on foreign exchange. I was travelling in Australia, and Stevan was holidaying around Europe. We couldn’t believe the somewhat ludicrous exchange rate markups banks and airport bureaus were adding to the “real” rate of exchange. After doing some research, we found this was a $400 billion dollar per year market that was in desperate need of innovation.
Our USP is the custom-built technology that our tech teams have built. We are neither a bank nor a broker, and can therefore be truly independent and impartial when finding our visitors the best-value currency deals.
At the moment, our business has eight staff members, pretty much split down the middle between tech and marketing talent.
You say that the opportunity to move your headquarters to Israel, known as the start-up nation, for three months was “hard to resist.” Can you say a little more about that: did you seek out the opportunity, or did it come your way?
Absolutely. Israel has the largest proportion of startups per capita in the world. It is a thriving country that is home of some of the most exciting technological innovation the world has seen. In Tel Aviv, there are thousands of startups and many accelerators. Every day there is another type of meetup happening, from marketing to development. The buzz was a great draw for us.
We did seek out the opportunity. We saw some other startups do similar temporary HQ relocations and this inspired us. Israel is also a great fit in terms of location, being only five hours from London and not too far at all from our partners.
In making your decision, you made a list of pros and cons. What were the main items on each list, and how close was the contest?
Here’s the very shorthand version of the list:
- Amazing tech community
- Great startup ecosystem
- Only 5 hours from London, and much closer than the Silicon Valley (another strong contender)
- Great for team bonding
- Good place to freshen up the working environment to stimulate creativity (serendipity factor, experience of living in another country, minor time difference, stunning weather, beach).
- Other startups have succeeded in doing similar relocations.
- Leaving parts of the team back home.
- Uncertainty about how our partners would react to the move.
- Delay in taking new office space.
- Slowdown in growing the team back in London.
With such a big move, we obviously took a long time to consider whether to do it. I think the biggest “pro” that swung our decision was the sheer excitement at immersing ourselves in such a dynamic “startup nation.” We’re so glad we did it. In our first month of being in Israel, we celebrated a record month revenue wise. This was definitely validation we’d made the right choice!
Now that you’re settled in Tel Aviv, what would you say are the main differences between working at Google @ Campus in London to TechLoft in Tel Aviv? Are there any similarities?
TechLoft is a much smaller co-working space than Campus. However, they share the same principles. There is lots of collaboration between the companies during and after work hours. I’d say there are definitely more on-site events at Google Campus whereas in Tel Aviv you normally need to travel to the relevant meetups. Also, the more intimate size at Techloft means you really get to know everyone on the floor, whereas at Campus you are constantly meeting new people.
What do you love the most about living and working in Israel?
First of all, I love being able to wake up, put a pair of shorts on and run on the beach or ride my bike on the promenade before work. It’s such an incredible feeling living in a city that has such an outdoor culture! The food is sensational and the people are nothing but warm, charming and friendly.
The tech community here is so switched on, and the entrepreneurs are a lot more mature than those back in the UK. As most have already been through their military service plus graduated from uni, would-be entrepreneurs can often be starting their careers in their late twenties. Every day, we’re meeting fascinating potential service providers or being introduced to relevant people who can help us build our business. I love the “culture of introductions” out here, with entrepreneurs and investors willing to open up their Rolodex.
Do you ever feel “displaced” in Tel Aviv—wishing you were in London instead?
Great question! There are definitely cross-cultural differences between London and Tel Aviv. In Israel, we have a saying about people talking dugri—which means no holds barred, to the point, straight. The culture is FAR more direct, and people are pretty aggressive when airing their thoughts. This shouldn’t be mistaken for being rude. Israelis call a spade a spade!
In both a business and social settings in London, it seems people are far more formal and polite compared to Israel. Meetings are actually held on time (something we miss), and there is a lot more structure to the meetings themselves.
Still, I have never really felt displaced. My co-founder Stevan and I, together with the wider team, have quickly adapted to the pace of life in Tel Aviv, and the community has welcomed us with open arms.
Can you give us a concrete example of how your business has been enriched by taking it abroad, and would you say that working abroad has made you more creative?
By taking MyCurrencyTransfer and MyTravelMoney away from the safe harbours of home, we’ve become travellers ourselves, and as such have started experiencing a lot of what we previously only half absent-mindedly tweeted, retweeted, liked, blogged or quoted on our social channels. Travel challenges and settling-in challenges have taken us out of our comfort zones, whereas before we were taking the tube to work and back mindlessly. We’ve also started using our own personal travel pictures and journals as inspiration for our community discussions, so we’re way more authentic as a brand now, I believe.
Another way that it has made us creative is in search of local experts. Israel has some of the smartest tech and marketing people in the world, and we feel a sense of urgency in meeting them before our time here runs out! We have identified two or three key individuals whom we’ll be hiring in Israel to assist with our digital marketing activity across both MyTravelMoney and MyCurrencyTransfer. They are experienced hires and will have a direct impact on the growth of our business. Having two thriving offices in both London and Tel Aviv is a medium to long-term goal of ours.
It was always important for us to establish a legacy, and not just simply be here for three months, go back to London and not leave anything behind in Tel Aviv. The talent here is too rich to waste.
You say that “getting too comfortable in one environment can be your own worst enemy.” Are you definitely going back to Britain? Where else would you like to go?
Staying in an all too comfortable place might not be your worst enemy, but it certainly limits your experience and potential for serendipity. As they say: to be lucky, you need to go outside. And outside can mean going to a new meet-up or going to an altogether new country. We will be back in Britain, we see it as our base, as a lot of our target market are based there, so having a stable office there for the business makes sense for us. Where next? Who knows! We like Israel for its people, warm weather, nearby beaches and its rich history. San Francisco might not be so dissimilar to that perhaps?
With the knowledge of hindsight, would you do anything differently? What were your biggest challenges?
I don’t think we would have done much differently to be honest. We organised all of the logistics before leaving the UK, which also happens to have been our biggest challenge: office and apartment rental, things like that. Once we arrived here, however, it really wasn’t too far apart from what we were used to back at home. There are slight differentiating nuances between Britain and Israel. For example, there aren’t such huge supermarkets here, and there’s no chip and pin, just sign the receipt (if they even ask for that!)—all the little things that are fun to learn about a new place!
What piece of advice would can give someone who’s thinking of moving to Israel and starting up (or relocating) a business abroad?
If you have the desire to do it, I’m sure you will find a way. If you’re not sure or a bit “iffy” about it, then chances are you won’t regret doing it at the end of the day, so skip all the thinking and start planning. The only disclaimer I’d put here is that we were quite mobile before we even moved; we’re essentially three guys with three laptops, and you could put us anywhere with a WiFi connection. If we had an expensive office lease, then we may have weighed up the pros and cons of the costs of keeping the lease/cancelling it early, but that’s about it. We’re a much bigger company now in terms of staff—so we’ll give some tips next time around when planning a bigger company relocation!
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Thank you, Daniel! Readers, what about you? Do you have any more questions for Daniel Abrahams? And how do you think you’d feel about being a “trailing entrepreneur”?
STAY TUNED for some more great posts next week!
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Images (clockwise from top left): View of London and the Thames (morguefiles); ice cream bicycle, Google London campus, courtesy Clive Darra on Flickr; presentation on Israel’s start up culture, courtesy Frank Boyd on Flickr; view of Tel Aviv from Old Jaffa (morguefiles); Stevan Litobac (L) and Daniel Abrahams (R).
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