Startup Istanbul Review

I had the pleasure to travel to Istanbul recently in order to attend the Startup Istanbul event, which is the biggest event related to startups in the area.

About Istanbul

I visited Istanbul for a business trip about 10 years ago. It seems like the city has gone through impressive growth the last decade.

Istanbul is fascinating. There are cities that are more beautiful, like Vienna for example, but no city that I know of, is more seductive and fascinating than Istanbul.

The mixture of eastern and western civilisations makes Istanbul an incredible destination. I was astonished by the amount of tourists from Iran, Iraq, India and UAE.

There are no words to describe the beauty of the Bosphorus. To get a better view of the marvellous strait that acts as a natural boundary between Europe and Asia, it’s better to visit areas like Ortaköy, Bebek and Yeniköy. Mind you, these are prominent quarters of Istanbul, hotels in the area are both costly and luxurious but if you can afford them, they’ll payback!

The Startup Istanbul event

I went to the “Startup Istanul” event to see first hand how startups work. I met some great people there, I had the chance to speak with some founders and watch people like Michael Siebel, Dave McClure and Rahul Sood giving short speaches and mentoring the finalists of the event.

When thinking about starting my own startup, my biggest question mark was always if I would had the technical abilities required to build a product. I got my answer. Now I know that my programming skills and technical abilities are not the problem. The major issue is the amount of dedication and time required by a startup. At this point I don’t have either. I’m involved in so many endeavours, that I can hardly manage.

People that start startups are 100% devoted to their venture. I can’t do that now. I think that most European founders are between a real job and a startup dream. The good thing is that from day-to-day job(s) I get some ideas about possible startups. The bad thing is that if I don’t learn how to manage my time properly, a startup - or should I say a technology related company - isn’t gonna happen in my life.

Notes From the Event

I took some notes related to startups from the various speeches. I’m sure people can find the same notes in more detailed fashion around the web but just in case anyone feels their worthy to his project:

General purpose advises

  • Design of the app comes first! (don’t lose too much time on engineering on early stage)
  • Engineering of the app comes second! (no one will care if you used MySQL instead of PSQL, etc.)
  • People in areas like Turkey have comparative advantages to Silicon Valley which they need to exploit!
  • Win your home market first, before expanding.
  • Most startups fail because they run out of founds!
  • Try to extract data from your application and write a blog post (create buzz)
  • Try to monetise early on, generate cash (well if you do that you might not even need an investor early on)
  • Try to arbitrage (you can sell a low cost local service to higher cost abroad because engineers in your area cost less, you could copy an idea and deploy it your area, etc.)
  • Outsource the things you’re not able to do well (e.g. PR, Advertisement, etc.)

While pitching investors

  • Show numbers at first-second presentation slide. Don’t tell a story, if you tell a story means that you have no traction.
  • Make sure you tell investors what do you want them to know!
  • Talk about your target market. The bigger the market the better (e.g. billion market better than million market)
  • Tell investors what do you want from them, e.g. “We’de like to raise 1M USD to expand our app in the US market”

From Michael Siebel’s speech, what your average successful startup should look like:

  • 2-4 people
  • Try to add a women in your team (advice comes from another speaker).
  • Each member must have 1-years worth cash
  • Every team member must be ready to quit it’s day-job
  • Better to have a launched product (when approaching an accelerator)
  • Check if your product is growing (when approaching an accelerator)
  • With each hire you must increase the average talent of your company. Hire smarter people than you.
  • Be fair and transparent
  • Hire very slowly, only when needed
  • When it comes to fundraising, less is better, fast is better (exploit investor’s FOMO)
  • Investors are like banks: They want to give you money when you (apparently) don’t need any
  • Do the press releases yourself in the beginning

That’s the advices I’ve found useful among other stuff that sounded extremely silly. For example Jason Ball (Investment Director at Qualcomm Ventures) told us that if you make friends with Jay-Z or any other celebrities will help you promote your application. Great (fucking) idea, easily doable and something to aspire on.

Startup Istanbul was a great experience. It was expensive to attend, especially for Greeks, but it was a worthy overall experience. However if I ever (hopefully) go again, it will be as a founder and not as attendee.

For people interested in Startups, the best resource I’ve found so far are Sam Altman’s lectures at Stanford University. These lectures are awesome, really. You should check them out if you are or want to be any kind of entrepreneur.