In the War for Workers, Israeli Tech Firms Use Blowout Parties to Boost Their Image

Aviv Geffen and Dana International are just the tip of the iceberg in a large-scale and over-the-top effort to host events that enhance companies’ profiles

FILE Photo: Israelis attend a Purim party, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

It’s Purim, and Israel’s high-tech companies are readying to party hardy. AppsFlyer, an Israeli-U.S. marketing analytics startup, for example, is planning a 1990s-themed event with the former Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana International as the top bill. That event is regarded as modest in the world of tech parties, where Purim is only the peak of the season, but where marquee events occur throughout the year.

In January, Microsoft Israel invited its 4,500 employees to the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds for an event themed around the rock band Queen. The lineup included Israeli singers Aviv Geffen, Ninet Tayeb, Shiri Maimon and Ivri Lider among others. Media reports said each of the performers was paid tens of thousands of shekels to perform one or two sings each.

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NSO, the cyberhacking-technology company, flew employees to Thailand last November. The event, in keeping with NSO’s determined low profile, was supposed to be a secret but surfaced on social media as employees boasted to their friends that singer Netta Barzilai (last year’s Eurovision winner), the comedy troupe Shlishiyat Ma Kashur and mentalist Lior Suchard had been flown in for the event.

Last summer, IronSource, which provides monetization tools for app developers, staged an ersatz “Burning Man” event in the Israeli desert for 800 employees from Israel and overseas. Dubbed Ironburn, the events cost the company a reported 5 million shekels ($1.4 million).

To outsiders, it all may seem like a frivolous waste of money, but for the companies, it’s an important recruitment tool as they compete for the best engineering and other talent in a tight labor market. Employees are no longer content with generous salaries and stock options, not to mention game rooms and office amenities. They want to know they work for a company that has a high profile, acts brashly and thinks big.

It seems crazy, but the truth is that there’s a huge fight for manpower,” said a venture capitalist who asked not to be named. “Personally, as a manager, I don’t like it and don’t believe in all this nonsense, but in the end, it’s a matter of personal taste and reputation.”

Corporate events can also help restore the cohesiveness the startups lose as they grow into bigger companies and hire more employees and set up offices around the world. At some stage, not all the staff knows one another, said Ilan Stern, vice president for human resources at Guardicore, a cybersecurity company.

“As a growing startup looking for talent, it’s important for us to preserve the culture of a small startup,” he said. “Even though we have 140 employees, we’ve thought about how to keep the spirit of the old Guardicore. We avoid having events that come at the company’s initiative.”

To do that, it sponsors evening get-togethers, such as Thursday happy hours. The HR department pays for them, but it expects to employees themselves to organize the evening, to order food and plan the program. Stern says it also hosts costlier events, too, to encourage employee cohesiveness. “We fly all our employees into Israel for a week’s holiday, which includes meetings and training. We had an event with all the company employees from around the world and at the party, a company band performed. I played the bass guitar,” he said.

Kinneret Rosenbloom, an organizational consultant for tech and non-tech companies, said she is not convinced of their utility. “At many companies, the opulence turns into over-the-top competition – a show of power that you tell your friends about or see in the newspapers. Sure you’re pampering employees and instilling pride when you tell your friends you were flown to Greece – when their company’s day off was a tour of Caesarea.”

But she warned: “It’s also a minefield. When investing so much in music and alcohol and raising spirits, it can be great for many of the participants. But not everyone.”

By that Rosenbloom means that trips abroad and long hours together often lead to misbehavior. “The blurring of boundaries can also be expressed in sexual harassment,” Ifat Belfer, the director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers’ department dealing with workplace sexual harassment, told TheMarker in a recent interview.

Kaltura, a U.S.-Israeli video technology startup, takes a lower-key, more business-like approach to fostering employee cohesiveness. It sponsors an annual “Innovation Week” where staff are free to develop their own personal projects.

“Because at the end of ‘Innovation Week’ employees are required to get on stage and present their project, we flew in [actor Darko Peric] from Helsinki from the Spanish crime series “La casa de papel,” who gave them a talk about how to speak to an audience,” Sigal Srur, Kultura’s senior vice president for human resources, said.

She admits that inviting a celebrity had little to do with the program, but added: “You can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We follow industry trends and believe that you need to invest heavily in staff. It contributes to our brand …. Instead of competing with big, high-cost productions, we believe in spending money, but not ridiculously, and with the goal of adding value.”

Srur doesn’t think the companies sponsoring over-the-top events are necessary getting their money’s worth. “Each high-tech Purim party wants to stand out, but all the singers are going from one event to the next, so in the end everyone is doing the same thing,” she said.