'Bring him the new Teslas, not the ones from this morning'

WeLaugh: Israeli satire show skewers excesses and fantasy in tech sector

‘Eretz Nehederet’ takes aim at some of the colorful tendencies in an industry awash with cash and eccentric leaders

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

Nadir Hackerman and Didi from fictitious company Webos speak speak to a potential new tech hire in a November 2021 segment on Eretz Nehederet. (Screesnhot)
Nadir Hackerman and Didi from fictitious company Webos speak speak to a potential new tech hire in a November 2021 segment on Eretz Nehederet. (Screesnhot)

Israeli tech startup Webos just hit a valuation of $1 billion and its eccentric founder, Nadir Hackerman, was only too happy to be interviewed for a local Israeli TV news channel about the company’s success. Hackerman’s antics were on full display for the news crew as he touted the office’s ramen fountain, monkey sanctuary, and dog park, and took a leap into the ball pit before visiting the in-house band — Codeplay — featuring singer-songwriter Idan Raichel.

This was the setup of a skit aired last week by the satirical TV show “Eretz Nehederet” (A Wonderful Land), which took aim at some of the most comical tendencies in the tech industry — including offices outfitted with vast gymboree-like spaces, video games, free food, beer on tap, live music, and a “work is like family” mentality meant to maximize employees’ time within company walls.

Like all good satire, the seven-minute segment draws from the real-life atmosphere for many in the tech sector, from the working conditions, the perks, and the seemingly free flow of cash invested into sometimes half-baked ideas, to the personality-focused leadership style of some founders.

Hackerman, portrayed by comedic actor Udi Kagan, is a long-haired, fast-talking tech guru who evokes some of the more familiar and controversial players in the industry, perhaps most notably Adam Neumann, the Israeli-born co-founder of shared workspace company WeWork. The company was valued at $50 billion at its height but came to the brink of bankruptcy two years ago following an ill-fated IPO move that sent it into a dramatic tailspin, partly brought on by some of Neumann’s activities. He was forced out of WeWork, which had to accept a bailout by its largest backer, the Japanese investment firm SoftBank. The company has since made a strong debut on Wall Street last month.

Not by accident, the Eretz Nehederet skit has Nadir (“rare” in Hebrew) at some point convince Japanese investors to commit $200 million to a hastily-put-together idea of running advertisements in people’s dreams. The pitch is made by Webos’ newest hire, a young man who previously worked at an ice cream parlor. Prompted by his parents, the youngster had simply walked in and — through a series of amusing misunderstandings — was offered a monthly salary of NIS 80,000 ($25,727) and two Teslas (one to drive while the other is charging) despite having no known qualifications.

The segment also brings to mind — albeit with a strong Israeli flavor — some of the misadventures on the hit HBO comedy “Silicon Valley,” which serves as an apt critique of the multi-billion-dollar American tech industry where speculation, platitudes, charisma and TED Talks can mean a windfall even for tech companies with no clearly discernible product or business model.

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Or, as Hackerman puts it nonsensically in the skit, “it doesn’t matter what the motzar (“product”) is, it matters what the product is.”

As is often the case with “Eretz Nehederet,” the jokes are biting in how they set up the current reality for so many people. The vibrant high-tech industry, held up as the crown jewel of the “Start-Up Nation” but making up only 10% of the workforce, is the face the small, embattled country puts forward even as the language and culture can appear shoehorned in, where the average monthly salary for an employee is about NIS 12,000 ($3,859) and most people could never dream of owning a Tesla.

Step into my ball pit

The skit begins with Hackerman walking through a hallway carrying a piece of dimpled silicone known as a “pop-it” shaped like a unicorn head, talking about his “addiction” and how his best ideas are formed with a pop-it in hand.

In this ‘Eretz Nehederet’ skit in November 2021, startup founder Nadir Hackerman jumps into an in-office ball pit. (Screenshot)

“Gett Taxi for dogs!” he suddenly shouts, in reference to the Israeli mobility company Gett (formerly Gett Taxi), which is set to go public at a $1 billion valuation. “Guys, ‘Gett Rexi,’ our new product; start running the data,” he tells a group of workers in a room.

In response to a “bad idea” he wrote in the form of some equation on a glass pane, he proceeds to smash it with a sledgehammer before jumping into a ball pit surrounded by employees who break into applause.

Nadir Hackerman is the founder of the fictitious company Webos in an ‘Eretz Nehederet’ skit that takes aim at the high-tech industry. (Screenshot)

The segment then shows a young man, wedged between his parents on a couch, watching the news feature on Webos and marveling at the monthly salaries for web developers and software engineers in the tech industry. This part hits on a sore spot in the sector where tech companies, facing an acute talent shortage, compete fiercely for employees in these roles with starting monthly salaries that can hit NIS 20,000-30,000 ($6,431-$9,647).

The unnamed young man, who “cleans cones” at an ice cream parlor chain, pushes back briefly on his parents’ suggestion that he “work in high-tech” before nodding in agreement as Hackerman, on TV, claims that the company no longer knows where to keep its money after it “ran out of storage at the bank and started uploading it to the cloud.”

The young man hops into a cab where the driver wants to charge him NIS 300 to go to “the high-techs,” a nowhere land that requires the driver to activate Israeli navigation app Waze (sold to Google) on his phone. A sudden ad for Webos appears on the screen, prompting the driver to quip that ads were being “pushed everywhere” and asking “Where else? In our dreams?”

At Webos, the ice cream worker walks in on Hackerman and his unnamed right-hand woman playing a video game and rejoicing in a victory that has them air-hug awkwardly “because of Me Too,” a movement sparked in 2017 by the sexual assault and rape accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“Is this high-techs?” the young man asks Hackerman and his deputy, to which she responds that if he is there for an interview, he can just “go to the kitchen [in English]” and make himself “a coffee [in English].”

This Hebrew speech peppered with English phrases is prevalent throughout the skit, reflecting some of the American tech-speak that permeates the local industry. Hackerman and the woman say things like “walk with me” and “let’s walk and talk.”

In response to the subsequent suggestion that he can also help himself to some ice cream, offered in three flavors, the young man says: “That’s it, just three? Where I work now, we have 24 [flavors].”

This causes Hackerman and the woman to look at each other as it dawns on them, mistakenly, that the young man evidently works at a competing firm with better perks — and they must steal him away.

The woman introduces herself as Didi, “chief of human resources executive global specialist leader, and head of fun,” formerly “head of coffee” at Webos, a nod to the sometimes unwieldy titles in the tech space (“chief of staff,” anyone?).

When Didi asks the man for his CV, Hackerman stops her in her tracks: “I told you a thousand times, we are not a company, we are a family. A baby doesn’t write a CV to his mother [saying] ‘I’m going to be in the womb from March to June 2021,’ gotcha?”

Didi and Nadir Hackerman from Webos speak to potential new hire, Golan, in this Eretz Nehederet skit from November 2021. (Screenshot)

Hackerman and Didi show him around the office, pointing out the billiards table, the darts, the beer tap, “the ramen tap,” the hairstylist, the butcher, the vegetable garden, and the “kosher fluid” kitchen. When Hackerman asks if he already got his Tesla, Didi produces a key card and fires off the location of the vehicle.

During the tour, the young man answers a call from his mother and tells her “can you please not call me every five minutes?” — an exchange that Didi and Hackerman interpret as a call by a recruiter and the man’s ostensibly in-demand talents. They offer him NIS 80,000 to start, a title with “minimum six words,” and “two-to-three” Teslas.

“Bring him the new Teslas, not the ones from the morning,” Hackerman deadpans to Didi.

The three proceed to a conference room for a videoconference meeting with Japanese investors, the young man with a plate of food in hand. When the investors ask Hackerman about Webos’ product, he responds with the nonsensical turn of phrase: “We connect people who make community for a better world of changes.”

Puzzled, the Japanese businesspeople ask again and Hackerman doubles down: “When we talk about product, we talk about people.”

As the investors indicate that they will not be investing, Hackerman and Didi panic and, desperate, turn to the newly hired young man, whose name is finally revealed as Golan and who is described as “the number one person in high-tech,” to offer an idea.

“Say something, make something up,” Hackerman whispers to Golan, who immediately produces the “ads-in-dreams” idea offered in jest by the cab driver. Hackerman claps, the investors commit to putting $200 million into the idea, and the call ends.

When Didi asks how the company plans to implement this, Hackerman says: “What are you worried about? We have a person here who worked at a company with 25 ice cream flavors.”

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