Israel tech ‘splash’ felt in Silicon Valley, FB official says

Social network giant to hold developers conference in Tel Aviv, its first in Israel, to tap into local startups

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Facebook's Ime Archibong (left); Malvina Goldfeld (center) and Adi Soffer Teeni in Facebook's Tel Aviv office (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)
Facebook's Ime Archibong (left); Malvina Goldfeld (center) and Adi Soffer Teeni in Facebook's Tel Aviv office (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Facebook will hold its first Israeli developer conference on Tuesday to help creators of Israeli mobile app and bot technologies develop their products as part of the social network’s plan to create a connected world and also keep in touch with cutting-edge technologies, senior Facebook officials said Monday in Tel Aviv.

“I have been around the world and back again three or four times over the course of the last two years and this is my first time here,” said Ime Archibong, director of partnerships at Facebook. The Israeli startup ecosystem is “almost the most connected to Silicon Valley right now. Maybe that is the reason it took me so long to get here. The splash that this ecosystem has made on the world stage is felt in Silicon Valley, in my backyard, and that is one of the reasons I am excited now about being here in the heartbeat and feeling it first-hand.”

FBStart — a global program that is designed to help startups in the mobile and bots field build and grow their apps — is already fostering some 9,000 startups from 140 countries, of which more than 150 are Israeli, the company said.

The idea behind the initiative is to tap into the “potential entrepreneurs’ startups and developers sprinkled all around the world” and see if Facebook as a technology company could add some value to them “in a specific way,” , Archibong said.

“We owed it to them. We used to be a startup and when we were a startup it was the Microsofts and the folks around Silicon Valley that truly helped us grow. We wanted to make sure we could give that back to the ecosystem now that we are a larger company. We still think of ourselves as a startup, but we clearly are a little bit larger as a company and have the resources and time and energy to do so.”

Facebook's Adi Soffer Teeni (left); Ime Archibong (center) and Malvina Goldfeld in Facebook's Tel Aviv office (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)
Facebook’s Adi Soffer Teeni (left); Ime Archibong (center) and Malvina Goldfeld in Facebook’s Tel Aviv office (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

At the Tuesday conference in Tel Aviv, Facebook officials, engineers and product managers will meet with the over 600 Israeli developers who have signed up for the event and talk to them about what development tools and platforms Facebook and its partners, such as Amazon and Dropbox, can offer them to help them with their products.

Facebook set up its office in Tel Aviv two and a half years ago, and one of its biggest focuses is working with startups, said Adi Soffer Teeni, Facebook Israel country manager.

Mobile apps “have become the most significant engine for the Internet,” she said. “And if once the main focus of startups in Israel was to develop the technology, today most entrepreneurs realize that the products they develop around these technologies need to be customer focused.”

Working with Facebook helps startups gain clarity into what their priorities should be and who they are, she said. To become “consumer tech companies is one of the main challenges” for Israeli startups today, she said.

In exchange, Facebook can learn and grow from the feedback it gets from these developers, Archibong said. “The biggest value we get” is from the feedback from working with the developers, he said. “We can get the most candid feedback. It is the feedback that will shape our roadmap for 2017,” he said. This enables the company to always be at the pulse of the latest developments.

Facebook's Ime Archibong (Courtesy)
Facebook’s Ime Archibong (Courtesy)

Developers who want to be part of FBStart can choose to be part of the various FBStart tracks, including the bootstrap and accelerator tracks, and they are introduced to Facebook tools that can be available to them to develop their products; those chosen get mentorship and global connections with other entrepreneurs and technologies globally.

There is no limit to the number of companies that can apply, said Malvina Goldfeld, an Israeli who leads the developer programs at Facebook. The criteria for being chosen depend on the kind of app that is being developed, the quality of the app and if it already has users or not.

“The mission of Facebook is to connect the world and to make it a more open place,” said Goldfeld. “We know we won’t be able to do this alone so we want to build a startup ecosystem that will help us connect the world. We are constantly thinking what we must create to help startups succeed and how we can support them as Facebook.”

Facebook's Malvina Goldfeld (Courtesy)
Facebook’s Malvina Goldfeld (Courtesy)

Some global companies fostered by FBStart have already been successful in raising funding, said Archibong, like Taiwan’s VoiceTube, which has created an English learning app and Mixcloud, a London-based startup that has created a music platform for DJs to share.

“Globally it has blown my expectations away in terms what we have gotten to and where we’ve come in a relatively short time of three years,” Archibong said.

The officials declined to discuss criticism Facebook has undergone regarding false stories on its platform during the US election campaign. On November 19, Mark Zuckerberg said in a post that the company takes “misinformation seriously” and has been working “on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.”

Zuckerberg said that the company has already a number of projects underway, including stronger detection, making it easier for people to report stories as fake, and introducing fact-checking from third parties.

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