The Israeli Startup That Penetrated the Great Firewall of China

This company crowdsources the Internet, improving speed and allowing users to bypass restrictions by hiding their locale. When it comes to hopping over firewalls and unbuffered streaming, say "hola!"

Amitai Ziv
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Amitai Ziv

Ofer Vilenski's newest start-up is breaking all sorts of rules.

Set to be unveiled to the public today, hola!, previously known as ZON Networks, has been operating under the radar since 2008 and is committed to making surfing the Web easier, faster and more fun.

A software program with versions for Windows PCs and Android smartphones, hola! is a crowdsourcer that spreads around the love of lightning-fast downloads and streaming. Like a virtual timeshare, users allow each other to feed off of their computing resources when they're not using them. The product is free of charge, and Vilenski says it will stay that way.

"This is a consumer product, but we will never charge the user money," he says.

"If you install it, you become part of the network. You help others and contribute your resources when you aren't using them, and in exchange I give you fast and anonymous Internet. We are based solely on our users. We have no servers or hardware of our own."

Once the program is installed, users' speeds for downloading files and watching video clips on the Web are supposed to improve substantially. "It's a deeply complex technology, with 30 patents and a lot of work [behind it]," says Vilenski.

"It’s a kind of network based on the idea of peer-to-peer communications."
hola! has just 12 employees but has raised $18 million to date. Its success in raising capital can partly be explained by Vilenski's previous entrepreneurial experience. In 2000, Vilenski founded the company Jungo with Derry Shribman, who is also a partner in hola!. Jungo developed middleware for residential gateways for high-speed telecommunications that today is found in hundreds of millions of routers around the world. In December 2006, Jungo was sold to NDS Group for $107 million.

Israeli users, who thanks to their geography find themselves blocked from U.S. popular Internet sites like Pandora, Netflix and Hulu, will be especially interested in the hola! extension for Google's Chrome Web browser. Installing it allows for cloak-and-dagger surfing, scrambling the user's IP address and hiding his physical location.

And the ramifications of such a service go far behind allowing Israeli Web surfers to watch old episodes of "Friends" or rock out to Taylor Swift at work.

"We tried it out in China, and it let people there access Facebook for the first time," Vilenski says. "We uploaded it to the app store for Chrome users to bring quick value to users."

Asked if he is worried that the powers on high will get wind of his service and block it, Vilenski laughs. "They can't block us," he says. "It's not a proxy service. You're using other people."

And the more downloads, the better, Vilenski says – more users mean a more superior network. And he welcomes customer feedback.

"It's just important," he adds, "that you note everything is in the beta stage."

Despite its Sunday debut, Vilenski stresses, the product is still far off from its final, bug-free form.

The company's cash flow comes mainly from a fundraising round that included Magma Venture Partners, Tamir Fishman Ventures, the California-based Draper Fisher Jurvetson venture fund, Seattle-based Trilogy Equity Partners and the Hong Kong billionaire investor Li Ka-shing.

Using the software from hola!, Chinese users were able to hide their IP address, subvert the nation's great firewall, and log onto Facebook.Credit: Reuters
Ofer Malinski, the brain behind hola!Credit: Itzik Ben-Malki

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