With All Eyes on Twitter IPO, Israel's Wix Heralds New Chapter for Startup Nation

After its own successful initial public offering, the DIY website creator hopes to transcend the traditional Israeli high-tech strategy and forge a global company.

NEW YORK – High above Times Square on Wednesday in a boxy windowless conference room at the Nasdaq building, executives from Wix – Israel’s newest multimillionaires – were finally looking a bit relaxed.

The closing bell (really a button) was only about an hour away and their stock was trading at a steady $16.50 a share – exceeding original expectations. Champagne glasses were scattered among laptops as congratulatory calls, texts and emails poured in from around the world.

“For the last two days people keep asking me, ‘Are you excited? Are you excited? And I felt a bit of a remote feeling - of not feeling totally connected to what was going on. But then this morning it just hit me,” said Nir Zohar, president and chief operating officer at Wix, a DIY website creator with some 37 million users.

In taking the company public, Wix officials said they were looking to move beyond the traditional exit strategy of Israeli high-tech culture in hopes of growing into a global company - from an Israeli base. The initial public offering was watched closely by other Israeli startups to see if the Wix example might herald the next chapter for the startup nation.

As a Wix executive recently said at a conference, despite the many Israeli startups, "We don't have an Israeli Google." He described how the company, founded in 2006, repeatedly rejected buyout offers.

“It was clear we had something we really enjoy doing and want to keep on doing it together. We believe on making it grow to something big and meaningful,” said Zohar.

Wix offers clients, mostly small business owners, a cloud-based platform that enables them to build websites without understanding code or website design. The IPO was one of the first of an Israeli Internet consumer company.

“It’s a great feeling of personal achievement and some national pride that we managed to represent both our employees and our country,” said Zohar. “Many people are asking the question if Israeli companies can scale up. We think it’s great to set an example.”

Maya Hagoel, who heads investor relations at Wix after working as an investment banker in New York and Israel, described the grueling roadshow that proceeded the IPO - almost two weeks of meeting investors around the United States, often flying in late the night before early-morning meetings.

“The fact is, there is a huge market out there," she said. "We’ve captured 0.5 percent of the potential and it’s growing so far, so fast.”

Zef Nikolla