Tel Aviv: Founding your startup on a bicycle

I’ve been famed among my friends to endlessly praise and tout Tel Aviv as an awesome city to live in.  What I’d like to do though is raise awareness among entrepreneurs of why I think you should build your startup here.  It’s a city filled with culture, things to do and places to go out to.  The startup scene has been booming here in recent years – according to Mapped in Israel, the country has well over 1000 startups, most of them concentrated in Tel Aviv.  The city is packed with world class restaurants, local pubs, dance bars and cafes.  The climate is great, except for the insane humidity during July-August.  Meetups are popping up everywhere, and tech events such as the DLD innvotion festival are becoming a common thing.

Google map of tel avivThe beauty of it all is that Tel Aviv is a very small city in terms of land when compared to NYC, San Francisco, London etc.  The official area of Tel Aviv according to Wikipedia is 52 square km.  Since this includes all the surrounding neighborhoods, I calculated the area of the city center, which I consider relevant for entrepreneurs and 2030 somethings, and it turned out to be 15 square km.  Just for comparison, the area occupied by Manhattan is 87.5 square km.  This means that you can ditch your car and practically do everything on a bicycle.  Getting to work, meeting with other entrepreneurs, pitching to investors, going to tech events – it can all be done on two wheels. This has been the preferred form of travel for me and my co-founders since leaving our day jobs and starting SOOMLA.  If we’re going “lean startup”, then we do it all the way and that includes replacing your vehicle with a bike.  Moving around on a bike gets you to any spot in the city within 10-20 minutes at most.  Here are a few more reasons why you should found your startup on a bike:

  • A new bike trail system: a project that was kicked off a few years ago, the city now prides itself with over 100 kilometers of bike lanes.  Here’s a map.
  • Public rental bikes: the so called “green bikes” are a system of over 150 stations of low-cost bike rentals called “Tel-o-Fun”, which are separated by a max distance of 500 meters.  The rental is self-serve and you can pick up a bike in one station and drop it off at another one.  Very cheap, and accessible to anyone.  Worth checking out.
  • Locking stands: there are tons of designated metal bars for locking your bike scattered all over the city.
  • Time saving: in a city with narrow roads and lots of traffic, traveling by bicycle is actually faster than traveling by car.  People are finally starting to realize this.
  • Parking is a hazard in Tel Aviv.  Limited spaces and expensive tickets make it a bad option to move around in a car.
  • Excellent weather: most of the photos in this post were taken in December, which goes to show the awesome weather.  There are very little rainy days in Tel Aviv, most days are sunny and warm.  This also implies that the dress code is less formal.  Hell, we’ve met angel investors with shorts and flip-flops, and they were dressed the same way too.

The rest of this post will be a photo journey through different points of interest in Tel Aviv that showcase the how useful it is for the shoestring entrepreneur to make it in the city.

1. Hayarkon park

This is the green lung, the “Central Park” if you will, of Tel Aviv.  Being a resident living right across the park, I start all my daily rides here.  The park is named after the Yarkon river flowing through it, recognized by the eucalyptus trees growing on its banks.  The park is filled with bike trails, jogging trails, green meadows, playgrounds, picnic corners, basketball courts and an infinite number of babies in strollers.
Hayarkon park by bike
boats in Hayarkon park
Park Hayarkon from Namir bridge.  Photo courtesy of @Doronir

If you don’t have a bike you can rent one for cheap in one of the Tel-o-Fun stations:

bikes in tel aviv

2. Hashalom junction and Azriely business center

A twenty minute ride south gets us to the Azriely mall and business center.  This isn’t exactly a startup venue, but is one of the prominent landmarks in the city center.  If you have an investor meeting, you’re very likely to pass by here.  Some big tech companies’ offices are located in the roundabouts of this junction – Google, Checkpoint, Paypal to name a few.  This is probably where you’d get off the train if coming from the outskirts of Tel Aviv.  There’s also a nice shared office space called the The Hub nearby.

tel aviv skyline

I have to also mention that on the way you could pass by “Toto”, Refael’s favorite restaurant (my co- founder).  Toto boasts world-class gourmet Italian cuisine and has been nominated several times for the best restaurant in town.

3. “Tangerine trees and marmalade skies”

We head westbound into the dense streets of Tel Aviv and coincidentally land on a section in Laskov street that’s decorated with tangerine trees.  Try a few, they were very pulp and juicy last winter when this photo was taken.

Tangerine trees in tel aviv

4. Habima square and Rothschild avenue

Habima square

The square is host to Tel Aviv’s largest and oldest theater which has just been entirely remodeled.  Rothschild avenue is renown for its Bauhaus style buildings that have earned the city the title of a UNESCO world heritage site.  The avenue is a mix of a micro-business district and a hipster scene.  You’ll see lots of banks, law firms and the Tel Aviv stock exchange, alongside bars, clubs and coffee shops.  This is also probably the most expensive area to live in.  The startup scene in Rothschild has been booming in recent years as more and more entrepreneurs make it their home.  Another catalyst to the scene here is the large number of accelerators and shared office spaces that have set up shop in the area.  Here are a few: The Elevator, The Social Lab, Tech Loft, and The Library.  The avenue has a nice wide bike lane:

Rothschild avenue

5. The library – Coding Time

We actually spent a few weeks at the library last winter and it was a great experience.   This used to be Tel Aviv’s main public library but was revamped into a shared office space for entrepreneurs.  It is located on the 7th floor of “Kolbo Shalom” building, and is probably the best value-for-money place to work from if you’re on a shoestring budget.  I used to ride my bike there everyday via the Tel Aviv seaside boardwalk, which is a great way to start your day.  You’ll find lots of fellow entrepreneurs and coders hacking away here.

"Kolbo Shalom" building
library in "Kolbo Shalom" building
This is what my desk setup looked like in the library:
This is what my desk setup looked like in the library:

Another awesome advantage of the library is the beautiful view over the beaches and the red roofs of historic “Neve Tzedek” neighborhood.  The best office view you’ll get as an entrepreneur until you raise serious money 🙂

the beautiful view over the beaches and the red roofs of historic "Neve Tzedek" neighborhood.

6. The Carmel Flea Market

Stops 4 and 5 mentioned above are walking distance from the Carmel flea market.  This place is great for getting cheap grub and absorbing some hardcore flea market action as street vendors yell out cheap merchandise prices to attract customers.  The Carmel street is very dense, so you’ll have to lock your bike at the entrance to get in comfortably.  This is a great place to do your grocery shopping if you can carry it all in your backpack.  You’ll find everything from meat and fish to cheese and bread, but the real kicker if you ask me is in the fruit and vegetable stands.  They’re very colorful and all the produce is fresh.

the Carmel flea market
another shot of the Carmel flea market

7. The Tel Aviv Boardwalk and Beaches

When you call it a day at the library, you can pass by the Carmel market to get some refreshments and then connect to the beach strip for a nice sunset ride. This is an awesome stretch for bike riding.  The boardwalk goes all the way from Jaffa to the old Tel Aviv port, effectively passing by the entire city center from south to north.  The beach strip is very wide, sided by a nice promenade and a brand new two-way bike lane.  As an entrepreneur, chances are you won’t have any time to hang out at the beach, so you can just ride past it and take a good look at the bikinis and the crystal blue water, because that’s all you’re going to see of it.

The Tel Aviv Boardwalk

On the way you’ll pass by the opera tower – nothing special – just a nice building overlooking the beach,

The Tel Aviv Boardwalk by bike

and Mike’s Place, an American style rock-blues-beers-burgers joint with free live music every night.  I’m probably considered such a geek for liking this place, because it does have a touristy touch to it, but I just can’t get over the great music and cheap booze.

The Tel Aviv Boardwalk and mike's place bar

You can also pass by Hilton beach and watch the surfers from the public park overlooking the beach.  In my good old days I used to surf this spot as well.  This is a picture I caught in winter while riding by, of what is considered in Israeli standards a heavy surf session:

The Tel Aviv Beach

If you ride all the way to the end of the old Tel Aviv port, you’ll get to the “Reading” power plant.  Crossing the wooden bridge will get you a nice view of the Yarkon’s estuary to the Mediterranean sea.

"Reading" power plant

8. Evening workout

If you’re feeling sporty, you can continue for a sunset work out.  Pass the power plant and ride to the end of Tel Baruch beach.  The entire way is paved and passes right next to the waterline.

Tel Baruch beach

Then head back to the power plant, and remember Hayarkon park where we started our day?  You can connect to it from there and enjoy its system of endless trails.

back at Hayarkon park

9. “Get outta’ town”

If you ride the entire Yarkon park all the way to its end, you’ll get to a neighborhood called “Ramat Hachayal”.  This is also home to numerous startups, and mostly famed for being home of Israeli telecom giant Comverse, which I once worked for in my school days.  Riding all the way here gets you far away from the city center’s hustle bustle.  The purpose of getting here can be twofold: either you have an investor meeting, or you want to go off-road into the orange fields to get some fresh air.

Ramat Hachayal

10. Some more fruit-picking

What I’m about to do is encourage stealing, but I admit, I can’t resist eating freshly picked fruit.  It’s become an obsession and I really need to stop.  There’s a rumored law in Israel that if you pick it and eat it you’re OK, just don’t start stuffing you bag full of picked fruit, so that keeps me off the hook for now.  I won’t reveal the exact spot, but behind Ramat Hachayal there are vast plantation areas of all kinds of fruit, you just have to wander around a bit to find them.

Check out this huge red grapefruit I scored:

Check out this huge red grapefruit

*11. Bonus

The Tel Aviv municipality is doing a great job of organizing sports events and initiatives.  Every 2-3 months the city hosts a marathon or cycling event.  The cycling events are exceptionally fun because the city blocks lots of roads, including the freeway, for cyclers to enjoy. Here’s a picture of me and my wife from the 2012 event.

me and my wife
The cycling events are exceptionally fun because the city blocks lots of roads, including the freeway, for cyclers to enjoy.

And a funny anecdote for the end: the most recent sports event was last Friday – the doggy run – where dog owners and their dogs jog together.  Pretty hilarious!

marathon runners

Well, I hope this post got your wheels turning – in your head and on your bike.  If you ask me, life is eventually all about having fun.  Choosing a bike as your primary vehicle is not only environmental, time-saving and cost-efficient, but also a whole lot of fun, and a good exercise.  And Tel Aviv is the best place to do it.  Besides ourselves, I’ve met several other entrepreneurs who are totally into this form of travel: Doron Nir (CEO @ HappySale), Shaul Olmert (CEO @ PlayChanger), and Eliad Inbar (founder @ yRuler and Find My Ring Size) to name a few.
Soooo… who else of you startup dudes out there is on two wheels?

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