The Jerusalem Post
The making of an Israeli tech ambassador
If you follow Israel’s tech scene on social media, you probably know the name Hillel Fuld. An influential writer, vlogger, podcaster, and public speaker who is constantly sharing selfies of himself with business and tech leaders, Fuld is one of the biggest ambassadors of Israel’s tech ecosystem, and seems to be everywhere where people are talking about tech.
“A lot of people follow me on social media, but I get asked several times every day, “what do you actually do?” Fuld says. “I want to share my story so people will understand what I am doing and how I got here.”
Fuld, who lives in Beit Shemesh with his wife and five kids, was raised in Queens, New York, to a family of Jewish educators. “My dad was the principal of SAR Academy in Riverdale, and my mom taught about Israel as well as English as a second language. We came to Israel for a sabbatical year when I was in sixth grade, and then moved here three years later, for pure Zionism. I went to high school in Jerusalem, went to Hesder Yeshiva, did artillery in the army, and then went to Bar-Ilan University.”
Fuld studied political science, but his passion lay elsewhere. “I was fascinated by technology even before it was cool to be into tech. The first time I saw a computer, my mind was completely blown.”
Fuld found work as a technical writer after graduating university, but he did not find the field fulfilling. So he started a hobby on the side.
“I started writing a personal blog, just because I wanted to write about technology. I didn’t have a business model or a plan to monetize it. It was just done out of pure passion, because I loved it. But what happened next was fascinating,” Fuld says.
“All of a sudden, entrepreneurs started contacting me and saying, “I’d love to meet up with you.” So I’d be this guy with no experience, and these people building companies would be taking me out to lunch. But when I started speaking with them, I found that most of them were only focused on talking about their technology, but could not effectively explain what they do. I was just there to get a free lunch, not to get paid or anything, but I ended up working with a bunch of them on how to get their messages out there properly.
“In Israeli society, the worst thing is to be a frier, (a sucker), and people would ask me why I wasn’t taking any money for it. But looking back 15 years later, I understand that not taking money back then was actually the smartest thing I ever did. By providing value and helping without asking for anything in return, I built trust, and that is the most valuable asset in business.”
That trust would eventually convert into a lucrative consulting career. “People would come back to me and say, “We know your capabilities because you helped us without asking for anything in return. Now we want to work with you.” Some gave me shares in their companies out of gratitude, and others pay me a monthly retainer for working hands-on for them on PR, social media, content or business development and fundraising.”
“My business philosophy is that when I meet someone, I focus my time and resources on providing value, like introductions to investors
or journalists, or helping to make a pitch better. The person who’s receiving this value is not paying me, and they have no expectations, so all I can do is exceed expectations. When I do this over and over and over again for these entrepreneurs, they come back to me with hearts in their eyes like in the cartoons. Now, I’ve created delight, and that I can monetize.”
Fuld divides his work into four categories. “First is working with startups. With 98% of companies I work with, I don’t get a dime. Even if they raise money using my connections and offer me a finder’s fee, I never take it. But the 2% of the companies that I work with on a retainer basis returns my whole entire investment.”
“No.2 is content. Over the years, I’ve built myself a portfolio of publications I write for, also for no pay. I write for TechCrunch, Forbes, and others. And I do a vlog. A few years ago, I realized that people loved Israeli tech but didn’t know any of the big names, so I decided that, if I’m meeting with these people anyway, I would bring in a camera and start interviewing them.
I’ve done 415 episodes, and it has become a beast, because no one else is doing high-quality video interviews with Israeli entrepreneurs. Each video gets about 10,000 to 20,000 views, but the people watching are CEOs, venture capitalists, and angel investors, so the quality of the audience is more important than the quantity.
In addition, some friends and I started a podcast about three months ago called Bootstrap, and within a few weeks, it became the number one technology podcast in Israel.”
“No. 3 is public speaking. At first, I was speaking for free, but that became unsustainable, so I started charging, and now I take a significant speaker fee.
And No. 4 is that I am now getting invited by executives at large multinational brands to serve as their brand ambassador, which is the most outrageous thing of them all.”
Fuld clearly knows how to work social media. While his numbers are not gigantic by influencer standards - 37,000 followers on Twitter, 15,000 on Facebook, and 9,000 on Instagram - his audience is super-engaged, and some of his posts have reached more than a million people.
“Basically,” Fuld says, “I’m living my professional dream, and I’m like a kid in a candy store every day. At the same time, I have terrible imposter syndrome because I never built a large company or anything like that myself. I’m just a guy that loves technology.”
While Fuld may live somewhat of a charmed life, his family has faced tragedy. In September 2018, Hillel’s brother Ari Fuld was stabbed to death by a 17-year old terrorist in the parking lot of a shopping mall at the Gush Etzion Junction. Ari, like Hillel, was a well-loved social media personality, and his death was mourned by tens of thousands around the world. Hillel and his family were devastated by the tragedy.
I asked Hillel whether Ari’s murder is reflected in his own career trajectory and message. “That’s a good question. In general, I would always talk about Israeli tech, and, on occasion, I would go off on Facebook or Twitter and talk about politics - and usually get bashed for it. In general, I would stay away from it. But after the murder took place, I was forced into the conflict, and it became part of my personal life. So I do talk about politics and security more than I used to.”
Fuld posts about many things on social media - his business connections, fancy cars, drones, tech observations, and meat, to name a few but technology and his connection to Israel remain at the core of everything.
“I never take off my yarmulka when I’m on video or for important meetings. People ask me if that’s ever a problem. The answer is that it has actually become an important part of my brand. Recently, I went to Silicon Valley to meet a senior vice-president of Google who isn’t Jewish, but he ordered for me kosher sushi from outside of Silicon Valley because he knows that I’m an observant Jew that signs off for Shabbat every week. I have had people on Instagram tell me they started lighting Shabbat candles every week because of my posts.”
But tech is still Fuld’s specialty. “People don’t even realize what a rocket ship Israel is,” he says. “We aren’t just the start-up nation anymore. There are now more than 70 multi-billion dollar companies in Israel, and there are going to be tens of IPOs this year from a country smaller than New Jersey, in the most unstable region on the planet. Even people who understand the start-up nation don’t have a clue about what is really going on here.”
Fuld says he is most excited about Israel’s fields of drones, healthcare, augmented and virtual reality, and other technologies enabling seamless interactions between humans and technology.
“People ask me where I am going with all this, what’s my career plan?” Fuld says. “But I love what I’m doing right now, and I want to keep it going for the rest of my life.”