How to Make It in the United Kingdom

Jonathan Gan, CEO and Founder of Whichit
The journey of an Israeli entrepreneur in the UK

Tell us a little bit about your Company and how you landed in the UK.
Our Company is called Whichit. We offer cutting-edge technologies that can deliver interactive and commercial content to our clients.

We founded Whichit a few years ago in Israel. We were just a bunch of guys working together to develop a crazy idea of mine. In 2014, just a few months into our project, we won the Sirius Program of the UKTI. It is a program by the British government which came with a grant and a relocation to London.

What happened afterwards was like a “Cinderella Story for a young start-up.” We got our visa within a week, an office in central London for one year for free. We arrived in London with a trolley and a presentation and have stayed here ever since.

Six months later, we closed our first round, a seed fund, half a million pounds from a local angel investor. We closed the round in less than one hour in the first “date”, which is another “Cinderella story.”

Moving forward, we successfully completed another two rounds of financing in 5-6 years. In addition, we have won many awards: Facebook Star of the Year 2015, Pitch@Palace People’s Choice Award, by the Duke of York (the Royalty met us at the award ceremony!), and most importantly, Innovate UK Smart Funds (equivalent to the Israeli Chief Scientists grants) and many other grants and awards.

How did you and Whichit adjust to the new environment?
After landing in London, we had to develop everything from scratch. It took us almost a year to finish the necessary infrastructure, such as finding flats, opening bank accounts, establishing our legal presence in the UK, understanding the market, and getting to know the culture.

At Whichit, we had a long journey to find the proper market fit. We experienced many ups and downs. Mostly because we have had to adjust to three significant challenges:

The first challenge is the Ad-tech industry to which we belong. The industry has massively evolved over the recent years. In the past, there were just too many players in the industry. As a result of the fierce competition, only big and robust companies stay in the pool.

The second challenge is socioeconomic. Being in the era of Brexit, the political uncertainty slowed down some of the investors.

The third challenge is the general British population’s risk-averse mentality, which I will go into more details about later.

Facing all the challenges, we managed to survive by taking risks, making wise decisions, committing to strict financial discipline, and building a strong team.

Eventually, we found ourselves working with big brands, like Coca-Cola, BBC, Publicis, The AA, Durex, Lancaster, and the National Lottery, and many others.

How different are the British and Israeli cultures when it comes to high-tech?
In general, the Israeli culture, mentality, and approach with regarding to high-tech and entrepreneurship is way different than majority of culture. With compressing to the British one, I can summarize it into four bullet points:

Slow Motion
Things happen here in slow motion. For example, it took us four and a half months to get our business cards ready. Every piece of information that was printed on the business card just took a long time to settle, for example, your local phone number. Decision-making occurs at the same speed. In the UK, numerous meetings need to be scheduled with different ranks of managers for young start-ups to advance to the final decision-maker. The whole process takes months, if not years.

In Israel, things happen fast. People can make vital decisions in seconds. It took me five minutes to make the decision that we are relocating to the UK.

Getting to the point
Our Israelis are famous for being straightforward. You can know if an investor is interested in investing within the first 5 minutes into a pitch. People say that the British people have 50 ways to say No without saying it. It requires an excellent understanding of the culture to know when the Brits are genuinely interested.

In Israel, I think one of my most used slogans is “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine”. It is probably not the smartest one. However, it empowers to take risks. I think this is what makes Israel the best incubator for young start-ups. In the UK the culture is more risk-averse. People are more prudent when it comes to taking risks, which comes in a contradiction with the assent and the concept of entrepreneurship.

Work Culture
People in the Israeli start-ups are working around the clock. They are constantly checking and responding to emails. It is not advisable to send work-related emails after 6 pm or during the weekend in the UK. I use the feature “delayed delivery” of my mailbox regularly to ensure that my emails get delivered to the recipients at a proper time to be appropriately received.

It is not difficult in Israel to find the cell phone number of some investors or CEOs of big companies you would like to contact. Within no time, you will be communicating with this investor or senior person through WhatsApp, emails and even a quick intro call. In the UK, you need to be appropriately introduced to someone and then start contacting this person. Sending out WhatsApp messages without building a relationship is considered not appropriate. The proper way is to send out emails and hope that they will be answered, while the process can take a few weeks and even months until you are able to actually have a proper conversation with the person

How to manage a multi-national team?

We have employees from different countries and cultures (Brits, Canadians, Europeans, and Israelis.) It is fun to be on this multicultural team.

Since the management is mostly Israeli (the three founders come from Israel), we continuously remind ourselves to “refine our edges.” We try to avoid giving feedback too directly, like how we would do it in Israel. We need to make sure our employees don’t feel insulted by our comments. 

We are also lucky that our employees are growing to embrace our Israeli straightforwardness.

Is it worthwhile to bring your start-up to London?

Yes! First of all, London is a center of world commerce and finance. Geographically speaking, it also connects the major economies. You can find the presence of first-class companies and serious investors here. I still consider London a blue ocean for start-ups. After your start-up got incubated in the Israeli soil, the next step is to bring it to a bigger market (like the UK) to grow as much as possible.

However, to enter the British market and to develop requires exceptional preparedness (money and efforts) and market-entry strategies. My suggestion is to conduct thorough research to know the British culture and market before diving into the blue ocean.

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