Saturday, October 18, 2014

How I Launched A Startup During A War

So you think your startup launch was challenging?  Try doing it during a war! 

This is not a political piece and I am not going to talk about the Middle East conflict.  This is a business article about how you can never predict the obstacles you are going to encounter when starting a new company, and about how anything can be overcome with determination, open mindedness and perseverance.

Under normal circumstances, Israel is an ideal environment for developing new technologies, with its highly evolved high-tech industry and accompanying infrastructure.  The usual backdrop to a normal working day is a healthy buzz of ambitious professionals rushing around between high-rise offices, shouting spiritedly into smartphones and queuing for overpriced caffeine hits.  However, Israel’s ongoing political conflict sometimes puts entrepreneurs in unusual and challenging situations, when Tel Aviv’s rush hour traffic is replaced with the sound of rocket sirens and businessmen fold up their shirts and don their army reserve uniforms.

I was all set for the big launch of my digital currency startup, Crypto Next, in July 2014; our press release was reaching its embargo date, we were counting down to the launch of our crowd sale, social media posts were in full hype and we expected to go off with a bang.  And then a different kind of bang went off- in the form of a rocket shower.  Just days before our launch date, a war broke out.  

Suddenly the local media, previously excited about hearing from entrepreneurs in a fresh and interesting business space, had their hands full with the conflict.  My hopes of television appearances and nationwide coverage were shattered.  Investor meetings and networking events, engagements that I was counting on to kickstart our launch and boost funding, were either cancelled or interrupted by the sound of warning sirens followed by a rushed exodus to the nearest bomb shelter.  I even got drafted to the army reserves a week after our official launch date, bringing the small amount of momentum I had managed to establish, to an abrupt and unceremonious halt. 

It became clear that my launch strategy was going to have to be modified dramatically, and my expectations lowered.  Rather than getting thoroughly downhearted, however, I saw this as a test of my determination and endurance.  This is what I did:  

I changed my PR strategy

Having achieved some coverage from the international press, I was relying on local media interest to write more detailed articles about me and my company’s development centre, which is in Israel.  Since the Israeli media was understandably disinterested in my bitcoin startup in the face of war and destruction, I focused on the local media in the Isle of Man, where my company is incorporated and where our main activities are located.  I didn’t have the same insights and media contacts as I do in my country of residence, but the Isle of Man is highly supportive of the Bitcoin movement and consists of a relatively small, accessible and - most importantly - supportive business community.  We appealed to the amazing people we work with in the IOM and managed to achieve a joint press release with the local government - something I never would have thought possible and would not have considered attempting under different circumstances.  We ended up getting coverage for our IOM presence which resulted in valuable exposure.

I insisted on having meetings

Even when the situation was at its worst, I refused to cancel meetings and insisted they go ahead, even if it meant risking all by driving amid sirens warning of falling rockets through streets eerily empty of traffic, or holding meetings in my home bomb shelter.  This insistence ended up separating the more sincere parties from the time-wasters; those who were really serious about working with me were willing to take the risk to meet, and I ended up finding better partners for it.

I changed my fundraising strategy

I had previously hoped to fund our system development by means of a crowd sale.  Since this relies on strong local community engagement and PR, the sale gained less traction than we had hoped.  Fortunately, our crowd sale strategy was not time limited and I was able to let it run whilst I spoke to friends and set meetings with new contacts about seed funding.  We ended up funding the development of our system mostly internally, and not needing the crowd sale, a decision that ended up working out well and that I would not have made unless I was forced to do so.  

I stayed professional

With all the talk of the political situation flying around, especially across social networks, I decided to remain professional and focus all social media on business, general interest and our progress, and not get into the political debate. 

I worked out of hours. A lot.  

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I had to cram as much traveling and meetings as possible into the quiet periods when people were willing to venture outside.  I worked nights and weekends, and had to accommodate other people’s schedules, sacrificing my own.  

Yes, I didn’t sleep much for several weeks and my wife is still in process of forgiving me, but my company was launched and funded, and our first product is being unveiled next week.  I know that there will be challenges ahead but, having successfully launched a company in the middle of a war, I feel prepared for anything.

Crypto Next is a digital currency platform specialising in white label bitcoin exchanges.  For more information on Crypto Next products, please go to

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