On Saturday, Dvir Ben-Aroya woke up expecting to go on his regular morning run. Instead, he was met with blaring alarms and missiles flying over Tel Aviv.
Ben-Aroya, co-founder of Spike, a workplace collaboration platform with clients including Fiverr, Snowflake, Spotify and Wix, was confused for over an hour — “No one really knew what was going on,” he recalled — but as time passed, social media and texts from friends began to fill him in.
That morning, Hamas, the Palestinian militant organization, had carried out terrorist attacks near the Israel-Gaza border, killing civilians and taking hostages. On Sunday, Israel declared war and began implementing a siege of Gaza, cutting off access to power, food, water and fuel. So far, more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed, according to the Israeli Embassy in Washington; in Gaza and the West Bank the death toll is nearing 850, according to two health ministries in the region.
At 3 p.m. local time Saturday, Ben-Aroya held an all-hands meeting, and he says every one of his 35 full-time, Israel-based employees joined the call. People shared their experiences, and Ben-Aroya decided everyone should work from home for the foreseeable future, adding that if anyone wanted to move away from Israel with their family, the company would support them. At least 10% decided to take him up on that offer, he told CNBC, and he believes more will do so in the coming weeks.
Israel’s tech community accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s annual gross domestic product, making it the sector with the largest economic output in the country, according to the Israel Innovation Authority. The tech sector also makes up about 10% of the total labor force. Even during war, much of Israel’s tech community is still finding a way to push forward, according to Ben-Aroya and a handful of other members of the tech community CNBC spoke with.
Ben-Aroya had been planning to launch Spike’s integrated artificial intelligence tool this past Monday, and he almost immediately decided to put the project on hold — but only for a week’s time.
For Amitai Ratzon, CEO of cybersecurity firm Pentera, Saturday began with “uncertainty and lots of confusion,” but when his company had its all-hands meeting on Monday, with 350 attendees, he recalled some Israel-based workers viewing work as a good distraction. For those who feel the opposite, the company is allowing them to take the time off they need.
Pentera operates from 20 countries, with Israel having the largest employee base, and it specializes in mimicking cyberattacks for clients such as BNP Paribas, Chanel and Sephora to identify system weaknesses. Ratzon said he has had to restructure some international commitments amid the conflict — canceling the training session some employees were flying into Israel for, asking someone to cover for his planned keynote address in Monaco, and having German and U.K. team members fly to a Dubai conference that Israel-based employees had been planning on attending.
“Everyone is covering for each other,” Ratzon told CNBC.
A considerable number of tech workers have already been called on for military reserve duty — a mobilization that so far totals about 360,000 Israelis.
Ratzon said Pentera has more than 20 of its best employees currently serving, “some of them on the front lines.”
Isaac Heller, CEO of Trullion, an accounting automation startup with offices in Tel Aviv, told CNBC that the company’s finance lead just finished its 2024 financial forecast and then immediately delivered new bulletproof vests for his Israeli Defense Forces unit after raising more than $50,000 to secure them.
Of digital bank One Zero’s almost 450 employees — all based in Israel — about 10% were drafted for reserve duty, CEO Gal Bar Dea told CNBC. He was surprised to see people constantly volunteering to cover for each other in an employee WhatsApp group.
“This guy says he was drafted, all of a sudden three people jump in and cover his tasks,” Bar Dea said. “There’s a sense of business as usual, everything is moving forward. … We had some meetings today on new launches coming. Everyone is keeping moving and covering for each other.”
One Zero is working on a ChatGPT-like chatbot for customer service, and this week employees opted to join optional planning meetings and decided not to move the deadlines, Bar Dea said. The person leading the ChatGPT efforts, an Air Force pilot who has been drafted, chose to join conference calls in his military uniform in between his duties, Bar Dea said.
“Many, many members of the tech community have been called up to reserve duty,” Yaniv Sadka, an investment associate at aMoon, a health tech and life sciences-focused venture capital firm, told CNBC, adding that a large swath of the community has been called to serve in Israel’s intelligence units as their reserve duty.
“I will have, by tonight, already been to two military funerals,” Sadka said.
Some members of Israel’s tech community are working overtime on tech tools specific to the conflict, such as a bulletin board-type website for missing persons, cyberattack defense tools, a GoFundMe-like tool and even a resource for finding online psychologists, according to Bar Dea.
“It’s pretty amazing — it’s the secret sauce of Israel … startup nation,” Bar Dea told CNBC, adding, “In two days, people are raising money, volunteering, taking kids in, building new houses, walking deserted dogs. … All the high-tech companies. People are building cyber stuff, communication stuff … stuff to help civilians … websites to find hostages.”
Sadka said that he’s “never seen anything like” the mass donations and mass volunteering happening at the moment.
“It’s thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people taking care of each other. There are everyone from teenagers to senior citizens helping,” he said.
Five minutes before Bar Dea’s call with CNBC, he said he heard sirens blaring from his office, and that his wife had taken his kids inside their home to shelter in place.
“It’s interesting trying to be the CEO of a bank or high-tech company, meanwhile I’m the father of a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old,” Bar Dea said, adding, “It’s very tough. It’s something we’ve never experienced before, ever. … Everyone is trying to get our hands around how to deal with it from a business perspective and also from a personal perspective.”
Sadka added, “It’s very difficult to concentrate on work when you’re dealing with all these personal matters and on securing yourself and the country.”