Startup Istanbul: One Speaker Recap (Rahul Sood, GM Microsoft Ventures)

This blog post is written by Peri Kadaster
This blog post is written by Peri Kadaster

Articles continue to pour in about the dynamic 2014 edition of Startup Istanbul this past week. Many are focused on the promising startups that pitched in front of the packed audience, others showcased the always dynamic Dave McClure and his impassioned speech that startups in Turkey / outside of Silicon Valley are not disadvantaged (with a call to arms for Turkey’s angel and VC investors to step up).

But one of the other highlights that stood out for me was the talk by Rahul Sood, GM of Microsoft Ventures. He hit on a few key themes that seemed particularly timely:

“Entrepreneurship cannot be taught. It has to be in your blood. It’s a fire inside – you have to be willing to take risks.” To join a startup (like myself) is one thing, but to create a startup (unlike myself) requires a “reality distortion field” and level of confidence and passion that is inherently internal. The trick is then finding someone who can manage the operations and execution that result from a visionary’s ideas.

“Being an entrepreneur used to be dismissed as the same thing as ‘unemployed.’ Now it’s a badge of honor.” For the past 15-20 years, entrepreneurship in the US was seen as a sexy profession (with the possible exception of the dot-com busts), but before that it was certainly on the fringes. In places like Turkey and the rest of Europe, however, we are only seeing how to emergence of entrepreneurship as a credible profession. This is reinforced by the local institutions that are emerging to support – such as technoparks, university courses, and corporate accelerator programs.

“If you leave your home country to be an entrepreneur, you have to come back and support startups. That’s the only way the ecosystem works.” The concept of a “reverse brain drain” is one that has gained significant traction in recent years. For example, at my company Monitise (formerly Pozitron), in our Istanbul office one-third of the management team is composed of people who recently moved back to Turkey after spending a decade or more overseas. This helps promote diversity of perspective and experience, awareness of best practices in other markets, and of course key contacts that can help a company progress its strategy, fundraising, and more.

This also highlights a key differentiator between startup and small business (“esnaf”) – the statistics around which are often blurred. Startups generate some aspect of innovation that has a multiplicative effect on an economy – either great efficiency, higher spend, etc. – as opposed to a transaction-based small businesses.

“We need more women in tech.” I was happy to see this statement get such a strong round of applause from so many in the (mostly male) room. It’s not a matter of “doing women a favor” and giving them tech jobs – per the above, it means in any industry, having diversity of background and experience (of which gender is a key driver) helps to better shape an organization, in its innovation and productivity. As a girl with an older brother I just assumed I could do anything he could (and I feel lucky that my parents encouraged this philosophy). There are institutional as well as social constructs that are currently prohibiting the entry of talented women into the tech space – and while this could be the subject of another blog post entirely, it was especially impactful delivered as the culmination and conclusion of a highly- engaging speaker session.

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