In Ramallah, my default was to avoiding talking about heading to Israel. In Israel, I’ve noticed my default state has been to avoid mentioning I was just in Palestine. When it does come up, I continue the conversation very cautiously.
I don’t know how people will respond. Will they be upset? Interested? Offended? Jealous? So far, I’ve seen a range of reactions.
Reactions of individuals in Palestine, on traveling to Israel:In general, no one get upset. At least on the surface.
Overall I’d say there was definitely curiosity, but some people definitely had an undertone of disappointment and jealousy because they could never go there. A few times I started talking about the rest of my trip (travel through Israel for a week, China for two weeks immediately after), and I think that undertone may have gotten stronger.
Last night was my last night in Ramallah, and I spent the evening with a group of 6 or 7 people. We had hot dogs (SO MUCH BETTER than American hot dogs, by the way), played Mafia, and tried to play Never Have I Ever until the group fell apart into a bunch of side discussions.
It was late and I still haven’t completely adjusted to the time change, so I was starting to drift off a little bit. But then I heard something that woke me right up. Someone (changing his name to Ahmed) said:
I asked him to tell me more. He went on to say that he was worried that these startups were too focused on individualism, and not focused enough on the good of the community.
I had dinner last night with my host, a local VC, and my friend from MercyCorps who does work in Gaza, and we had a very interesting discussion about outsiders’ perception of Palestine versus reality.
My friend from MercyCorps is preparing a “one pager” she’s going to use for fundraising, and I read through it to offer a second set of eyes. The stories of the help they’re providing and the impact they’ve had was great, but the most powerful part was simply a list of facts about Gaza.
Before reading the fact sheet, I had an image of Gaza. A mid-sized town, maybe 30k-50k people. Mostly one or two story buildings, most dilapidated and largely in ruins. Very little electricity, very poor education system. The only pictures or videos I've seen of Gaza were of bombs and missiles raining down, the city tinted green by night vision cameras.
But I was completely wrong. Gaza has a population of 1.7 million people. There are several universities there. And of those university students, 60% are women (and that includes in subjects like Computer Science). And apparently, they have great internet there.
The last few days I’ve been pretty depressed, but today changed all that.
I got the Airbnb in Haifa and had a great Friday with a new friend. But Saturday was garbage (see: Screwing Up Plans). Sunday I overslept again, wasted an hour trying to find a way to Masada/the Dead Sea, then bailed on that after hotel rooms were $400 a night. Wasted another hour finding a hostel in Jerusalem, then finally got out the door at 4pm.
I got on the bus to Jerusalem, and was I feeling depressed the whole way.
I couldn’t quite figure out why. I knew I was upset at myself for screwing up a bunch of plans on Saturday, not being able to make the Masada trip work, and constantly oversleeping. But taking all that into account, I was still feeling a disproportionate amount of “ungh.”
I've been in Ramallah for about 48 hours now. I ran a workshop with the accelerator, did a couple 1-on-1 mentoring sessions, and ate lunch with them. We've been talking about startups a lot, but also been talking a lot about life in Palestine.
While on a walk with my host, I asked him why I didn't go through a checkpoint on my way into the city from the airport. I've heard a lot about the checkpoints, and I was nervous... but very confused when my taxi pulled into the city without stopping anywhere.
He explained that the taxi has Israeli license plates. We took the roads through the country - these are special roads that only Israeli's are allowed to take. If a Palestinian (who receives different license plates) is caught on those roads by the police... it would not be good.
At lunch yesterday, one of the CEOs pointed out a group of buildings on a hill on the edge of the city. She told me that it's an Israeli settlement, and that Palestinians aren't allowed there. They'd be turned away at the gate by armed guards if they tried to enter.
The Israeli portion of my trip was, at best, poorly organized. I knew I had just over a week and I figured I’d go to Tel Aviv and… do something. I’d probably also go… other places?
On Thursday, the day before I left Ramallah, I figured I should probably come up with a plan. I did some last minute googling and found two places - Haifa and Masada - that seemed cool, and threw Jerusalem on the list as well. A few days in each spot would be a pretty solid week, so I found an Airbnb in Haifa and headed out.
Some more Googling and I found a few really cool things in Haifa. Apparently it has some great surf spots, the beautiful Baha'i Gardens, an awesome open market, and a great boardwalk. I could easily do all this in the 60ish hours I was planning on being there. I had a great first day in Haifa walking the boardwalk (check!) and heading to a BBQ with a new friend.
Then I slept for almost 12 hours. And that’s when things started falling apart.
On Monday night, I took a public bus from Ramallah, through the checkpoint, and into Jerusalem to meet up with a friend of mine. We were going to go salsa dancing, which apparently is big in this region.
For the record, I have never gone salsa dancing. Blues, west coast swing, a little bit of samba in Brazil once, but salsa was new to me. But hey - I pick up on things quickly, and my friend said there was a lesson, so I wasn’t too worried.
We were walking up to the venue when my friend finally mentioned that “the lessons were usually in Hebrew.”
Last week I was in Austin, Texas for South By Southwest, which I’ve described as “a magical fairy land where nothing makes sense and everything is awesome.” I was back in Seattle for 65 hours, and now I'm 33,079 feet in the air, heading into four more weeks of traveling. I’ll be in Ramallah, Palestine for a week, followed by a week in Israel, followed by two weeks in Xi’an and Beijing, China.
I'm being flown out to Ramallah by Leaders.ps, a startup accelerator in Palestine, to mentor several Palestinian startups. I met the director of this accelerator through my friends at Mercy Corps in Gaza, and jumped at the chance to come out and help.
Based on our conversations so far, it seems like entrepreneurs in Palestine have great technical skill, but due to the political environment haven't had many opportunities for physical connections to the rest of the entrepreneurial world. This causes a pretty big problem.
Startup culture, just like a startup company, moves very fast. Things are tried, iterated on, and best practices are developed. If a process or methodology isn’t working, it dies off (either by being thrown away or because all the companies using that process fail).
The most important part of any speaker series is the speakers. The second most important part is taking care of everything else for the speakers. The worst thing in the world is when a speaker is doing a great job... and the computer running their slides crashes. Or you put their slides in the wrong order. Often they can recover... but as an organizer of the event you'll feel awful.
Ignite started in Seattle 7 years ago in December 2006. We're a week away from our 22nd event. I joined the team three years ago, and have one of the most stressful jobs on the team: The Slide Wrangler.
The Slide Wrangler is in charge of getting the slides from the speakers, ensuring everything looks good, putting the final presentation together, and making sure nothing goes wrong during the event. Basically, if it has to do with slides, it has to do with me. If something screws up during the event, it's probably my fault and I have to fix it. Live. In front of 800 people.
After seeing a lot of questions about best practices on slides over the years on the Ignite Organizers mailing list, I thought I'd put together a list of best practices for Slide Wrangling.
If you're running a regular event or meetup group that charges for events or sells sponsorships, you're going to need a plan for what to do with the money.
In the beginning, it won't be much and you can keep it in your personal bank account (or in a lockbox under your bed...). But after a little while, you're going to get uncomfortable with mixing personal and meetup finances. Many people start exploring starting a legal entity of some sort.
A friend of mine is in this position now with one of his meetups. He emailed me for advice, and I thought I would post my response for the benefit of others.
Yourself: This is what I did for a while when things were smaller and I didn't have much carry over from month to month. Once I started booking multi-month sponsorships and some larger deals though, I got nervous about having it so tied in with my personal finances. It got to the point where it became simpler to keep it separated. If you don't have much left over, or this doesn't happen super often, you can probably get away with this. If you're thinking about it though, maybe you're past that point.
A fourth option is to find another organization, partner with them and treat them like an umbrella. Use their infrastructure to manage the money for you. I'm part of a few organizations that do this. Access to money can be a bit slower, but you don't have to deal with any of the business/tax side of things. It's important here that you find the right organization to do this - you have to trust them a lot if you're giving them all your money.