Moshe Hogeg, the founder behind messaging app Yo!, photo-sharing firm Mobli, and phone startup Sirin, has promised to invest in every Israeli blockchain startup that approaches his venture capital firm for investment.
It’s a bold statement from an entrepreneur Bloomberg once described as Israel’s “hype master.”
It also coincides with unprecedented levels of interest — sceptics might say hype — in cryptocurrencies, the underlying blockchain technology, and initial coin offerings (ICOs). VCs have invested almost $US1.9 billion (£1.5 billion) in blockchain startups to date, according to Coindesk.
“I actually think it’s underhyped,” said Hogeg, who plans to invest anything from a few thousand dollars to a few million in local blockchain startups from his Singulariteam VC firm. Singulariteam has $US152 million (£118 million) across three funds.
He likened scepticism towards blockchain technologies to early public reactions to the car. “When the first car was introduced, people laughed,” he said. “It drove very slowly, and broke down every few kilometres. The horse was better, and never broke. But looking back in time, we know what happened.”
In practice, Hogeg won’t be bankrupting himself with this promise. He claimed there were fewer than 20 blockchain startups in Israel, and his investment guarantee is designed to encourage more.
“Israel is a startup nation, but I don’t take it for granted this is the situation,” he said. “When I look at the number of companies active in blockchain in Israel, it’s less than 20, which is terrible. So I’ve decided to promote this industry within Israel, and the best way to do that is to inject money into the industry.”
“I want to get dealflow, and I want 100% of the deals. The best way to do that is to invest in every single one of them.”
Other than the cryptocurrency bitcoin, there’s been relatively little to show so far that the blockchain will revolutionise any other industry, though banks, retailers, and consultancies have all jumped on the bandwagon.
Hogeg points to insurance. One theory is that blockchain technologies could lead to the automation of insurance payouts through “smart contracts”. Automated payouts would mean lower admin costs, and reduced risk of fraud. There’s clearly some interest in the idea: five of Europe’s biggest insurers decided last year to explore smart contracts.
“In my opinion, its going to be much bigger than what people understand today,” Hogeg said. “100%, there’s a bandwagon situation when people read in newspapers that raising $US100 million, or $US200 million looks easy, even though it’s not.”
Hogeg was fast-talking and enthusiastic about blockchain during his call with Business Insider. But several of his previous bets have not quite paid off. He is cofounder of Sirin, which recently pivoted away from its original proposition of a $US16,000 (£12,000) Android phone and cut staff. He sold the patents from his startup Mobli to Snapchat earlier this year. And messaging app Yo!, while hugely popular, was a flash-in-the-pan success.
“Actually the last six months were the best we ever had in terms of my group,” Hogeg said, citing three exits totalling $US250 million (£193 million), including the Mobli patent sale, the sale of ride-hailing firm Juno to GetTaxi, and the sale of medical startup GeneSort to Hong Kong-based AID Partners.
As for Sirin, Hogeg said it had pivoted to a “less expensive phone” which would be announced soon.
Hogeg isn’t working alone to encourage more blockchain startups in Israel. His VC firm has partnered local firms BlockchainIL and CoinTree Capital to form “Alignment,” a kind of consultancy hub for startups that want to ICO or raise venture capital funding.