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Getting Plugged into Silicon Valley – Selçuk Atli

Selçuk Atli is an entrepreneur in residence at 500 startups. In 2010, this turkish entrepreneur co-founded Iletken Teknoloji in Turkey after obtaining his masters in computer science in the US. The SaaS was based on personalisation technology that made recommendations to customers. Unfortunately, Turkey e-commerce market was still quite small and it was hard to raise money in for a BtoB Saas tool. You can read here what he did next to succeed in the Silicon Valley.

“As a startup what you really need to do is start with the customers rather than the technology.”

That’s the first lesson Selçuk learnt when his first startup didn’t work out. In 2011 he went back to the US with the idea of building SocialWire, which was still a recommendation technology but using facebook data.

This might surprise you as you probably have heard and read the opposite, but Selçuk thinks that being creepy and chasing people is one of the key skill set of entrepreneurs. In his case it is how he made it in the Valley. He wanted to connect with a VC in particular (Bing Gordon from Kleiner Perkins) and made it happen. Hassling is important for the network but you need to make an impression. Keep in mind that the job of the VCs is to have meetings, your job as an entrepreneurs is to execute and build a business. Don’t focus on raising series A from VCs still being at a seed stage. If you need seed investment you are more likely to succeed if you turn to angel investors. Learn from Selçuk’s mistakes and don’t let the money fool you, it’s not because you manage raise a lot that the potential customers will buy what you have. Make sure you test your product to adapt it to your target. In the case of SocialWire, the customers didn’t want to change their sites so he spent a lot of money and time on a product hard to sell. What do you do in this case? Well you pivot like many other startups. They spotted what was working in their business and went from recommendation to advertising.

As any passionate entrepreneur, Selçuk got bored and didn’t stop there, he created Boostable. With SocialWire, he had a hard time selling to marketplaces because they don’t really have the money to do advertising on the commissions they get. So he created a super easy tool that he sold to the sellers to grow their sales and the marketplace got free ads so everyone is happy.

Getting into Y combinator was good not only for the advice he got there but also because of the whole preparation to the competitive demo day at the end of the program. His startup got funded and as he and the rest of the team didn’t have the same vision he stepped down. This was a smart move and the startup is doing very well. You and your team should know where you are going and have the same objectives to be able to go successfully in the same direction.

His latest project: A platform to build many startups

The principle is simple, test many ideas and launch the ones that work. Create landing pages and targeted facebook ads to test the product and see if there is a real interest. They tried the method for the Homebox project and it seems to be working. People clicked on the ads and signed up to the landing page. This VC entity has the ambition to solve 2 major problems. In the San Francisco there are “tons of cash”, a lot of experienced entrepreneurs and they know what’s happening but there are no engineers available as they have access to high paying jobs in the top tech companies there. It became the best place to scale a startup but worst to start one. Turkey and eastern Europe have great engineers but are focused on local opportunities and product, marketing, design sales experience than the Silicon Valley counterparts have. But it can be acquired so the aim is to link this two talents not by outsourcing but through co-founding.  Turkish engineers can then go back to Turkey with new knowledge and experience and hopefully fund other startups.

His advice to turkish entrepreneurs:

You shouldn’t be afraid to go to the Silicon Valley and start your business there if you are good enough you will go through the selection and make it. But make sure that you have a global product that is 4 times better than what’s out there and that is different. To create more global companies we need a change of mindset. There are two types of ecosystems: the first one is like Israel and Sweden where they build great global companies because they have no choice considering their market size, and the second one like India and China where the market is huge and it’s OK to build for the local market. Turkey is in between. You can build great companies for the market but it’s not that big and you should have a global ambition.

You can Watch the full talk here

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─ March 29, 2016