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).
Concepts like Lean Startup, Customer Development, and Agile were poorly known, or non-existent, during the 90s. Over the last 15 years, these methodologies have been adopted, explored, modified, and spread to others – who would adopt them, explore them, modify them, and then spread them again.
While there is an ocean of high quality content about entrepreneurialism scattered around the internet, there is ironically no centralized place to go and learn all the current best practices.
So how does everyone in Silicon Valley know what they’re doing? How does that knowledge spread? The most practical and effective dissemination of these methodologies happens through physical connections – working together, listening to speakers, learning from events, going to meetups, etc.
It’s a little bit of a tough pill to swallow, but it’s the same underlying reason there’s a growing suspicion that online education sites like Kahn Academy Udacity are inferior replacements for face to face learning. The Internet, which pretty much contains the sum of all human knowledge, is an inferior method of learning than good, old fashioned in person experiences. (Note- I’m talking about learning new concepts here, not information lookup or recall.)
Entrepreneurs in Palestine are at a huge knowledge disadvantage. There is not a long history of successful companies in the region. There has not been a large community of technology entrepreneurs who learning from each other for the last 20 years. There aren’t these people walking around at events, working out of coffee shops, or simply available for serendipitous encounters.
And because traveling to and from Palestine is so difficult (with Gaza being close to impossible), there aren’t very many people who have had those advantages going there to share what they’ve learned.
And that’s why I’m going.
Not only have I been living in that world, but I’ve been using and teaching these best practices to others through our consulting clients at LIFFFT and facilitating Startup Weekend events.
It’s difficult for Palestinians to learn from the startup community’s past mistakes. But there’s enough difficulty in that region of the world – hopefully I can help.
This picture is Ramallah, Palestine, as seen from my hotel window. During an hour long walk tonight with Peter, my host here, I learned about the history of the city, the three different regions of Palestine, and a lot of the local problems. I have my first day mentoring at the accelerator tomorrow!