2014: A Year-End Review

2014 came and went quickly, didn’t it? This was my first full calendar year living and working in Turkey, and I’m happy to say that the caliber of talent I’ve seen in the Turkish entrepreneurial ecosystem is the strongest I’ve seen yet and makes me optimistic about what 2015 holds. Here are some of my takeaways from this past year:

Local heroes. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are luminaries to have as role models for entrepreneurs, but having an example who has thrived in local context is also critical. Hasan Aslanoba of Aslanoba Capital, for instance, has had a highly successful career building business in Turkey, and now imparts his wisdom of leadership – as well as navigating the Turkish market – to the start-ups he mentors and invests in.

I had the privilege of being part of one of the biggest fintech acquisitions in Turkey’s history, when Pozitron was acquired by Mobile Money provider Monitise this past February – and am thrilled whenever an entrepreneur says that they are inspired by what Pozitron founder Fatih Isbecer built and how he pivoted and grew a business in the Turkish market.

Gaming is still an opportunity. I’ve seen some of the most talented engineers and designers I’ve met take the leap into developing apps. Gaming continues to be a category that cuts across all ages and genders in its appeal. From fantasy games like Reclaim, to the addictive newcomer Shapes, we see not only local demand but also strong quality in the local supply.

The sharing economy is bigger than couches and cars. Companies like TaskRabbit, Lyft, and Airbnb have identified that there is a long tail in the population that has an asset (time, skills, physical assets) for which others have a demand. Despite the recent PR issues that companies like Uber have triggered, the value created by sharing resources at lowered costs will increase in the near future. Rent the Runway is a great example of the compatibility between a premium end-to-end user experience and a value-based price point. In a market like Turkey, especially, there are tremendous opportunities. For example, Favoreat has created a market based on the supply of people who make “healthy, delicious, homemade food” – whether dinner for two tonight or a large corporate catering order – through its Pinterest-like interface. It brings a storefront for numerous people all over Turkey who can leverage their time, skills, and ingredients for commerce.

New year’s resolutions. At Startup Istanbul last month, Dave McClure made the observation that talent exists in droves here in Turkey, but the limiting factor is capital. My hope for 2015 is not just that the number of startups increase or that the number of investors increase – it is that the feedback loop between these two strengthens. Let’s us, as a startup community, make a resolution.

Let the investors be bolder with their feedback, more hands-on with their investments, more direct with their guidance. Let the startups be more open to criticism and nimble to react, taking a product-first instead of founder-first approach.

Having investors with meaningful expertise that can impart impactful feedback on startups is one of the primary benefits of fundraising – and having startups willing to be flexible with their business model, accept outside input, and adjust to changing markets is critical for their success. It is at the intersection of smart capital and smart entrepreneurs that we will see a truly virtuous feedback loop in our “Silicon Bazaar”.

Despite the sometimes lackluster PR associated with Turkey’s neighborhood or its government, I am still approached by US and EU-based investors looking for opportunities in Turkey. In short – good talent, good ideas and good products will continue to attract capital in 2015.


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