Monthly Archives: July 2015

Missed opportunities

A friend recently asked me if there are any startups in Turkey that I regret not having invested in. We’ve been fortunate to invest in all but one of the companies we wanted to since launching Aslanoba Capital in June 2013.

The one opportunity we missed is Onedio. Onedio, the BuzzFeed of Turkey, was already one of the top 100 internet websites in Turkey when we looked into the company in the summer of 2013. Although we were very impressed with the founder Kaan Kayabali, his team, and the company’s performance, we arrived too late to the table. By the time we decided to invest Onedio had already decided to take money from Revo Capital.

We’re close with the Revo team and think that they make great partners for Onedio. They’ve been particularly valuable in helping Onedio convince advertisers to perform native advertising campaigns on the Onedio platform. Onedio has also been a great investment for Revo as the company has grown to become one of the top ten most trafficked properties in Turkey.

This is why Revo decided to make a follow on investment in Onedio four months ago. We didn’t participate due to a difference in valuation expectations in what otherwise continues to be a great business. 

Fortunately, we’re a Limited Partner in Revo and this gives us some exposure to Onedio. Some opportunities aren’t fully missed. We look forward to following Onedio’s success in the future.

Simplicity

WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum recently tweeted that WhatsApp has crossed the 1 billion download mark on Android. The company achieved this with 4 engineers and Jan’s cofounder Brian Acton.

As of 2014 there were about 1.6 billion Android smartphones and 200 million Android tablets in circulation, for a total of 1.8 billion Android devices. This figure is likely north of 2 billion right now.

Even if we allow for the fact that some of WhatsApp’s downloads are subsequently removed, and that some WhatsApp apps that remain on mobile devices aren’t actively used, 1 billion downloads out of 2 billion devices is a huge number.

What’s the reason for WhatsApp’s success? I believe the answer is simplicity.

Beyond SMS, which I rarely use, I have three messenger tools on my smartphone. These are WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype. I use Viber to interact with my parents because this is what they prefer to use, and I use Skype for video conferences.

I believe that the reason why I prefer WhatsApp for messaging over the other platforms is because of its messaging centric approach and the amazing performance advantage that this laser focused approach gives WhatsApp over alternative services. Although Whatsapp also recently began offering calls, they do not lie at the core of the app. Messaging does. The fact that Viber positions calls as its core feature, and that Skype supports calls and video chats makes them much less reliable and slower than WhatsApp.

Even though the dropped calls which occur on Viber and Skype have as much to do with the performance of the telco networks that they’re taking place on as the performance of the underlying services, I hold Viber and Skype responsible for these dropped calls. Extrapolating the call performance of these services to their messaging performance causes me to treat their holistic performance as being unreliable. Although this results in a biased assessment, it’s a mental shortcut that I think many users take.

Because of the fact that they also accommodate more data intensive communication channels like calls and video chats, and position these communication channels as core features, Viber and Skype messages are delivered (and received) a split second later than WhatsApp messages. This split second makes all the difference for a user’s experience.

WhatsApp focuses almost exclusively on text messaging, the single most frequently used communication channel. By doing so it is able to achieve best in class performance in its delivery of this feature while also avoiding being negatively associated with the performance issues of the non-messaging features of multi-channel communication apps. This is simplicity at its best.

Disruption

I ran into this animated GIF file posted by Jason Hirschhorn, former co-president of MySpace, on Twitter a few days ago. In 5 seconds, it highlights the disruption which first desktop computers, and then laptops have caused to paper notebooks, telephones, picture frames, calculators, books, cameras, and many other objects whose use cases can all be performed by a laptop. I really liked the simplicity with which the GIF helped me visualize this disruption.

Interestingly, laptops are themselves currently being disrupted by smartphones. That’s just the way technology works.

Google offline maps

In a Twitter reply to yesterday’s post on International data roaming fees, reader Latif Cakiroglu shared Google’s Offline Maps feature.

Basically, the feature lets you save a map covering an area up to 50km by 50km to your device when you’re in an area with a data connection. Then, when you’re in an area without a data connection or where data roaming charges are expensive, you can access the map offline. The end result is similar to what I recommended yesterday, but Offline Maps is a much simpler way of getting there. All you need to use the feature is a Google account.

Unfortunately the feature isn’t available in Spain so I wasn’t able to try it out. You can see the full list of countries where it’s available here.

I look forward to trying out the Google Offline Maps feature on my next trip. Thanks to Latif for bringing it to my attention.

International data roaming fees

My wife and I are on holiday in Palma de Mallorca, an island off the Eastern coast of Spain. We’re staying at a secluded hotel in a small inland village, so we rented a car to be able to get to the beaches and the city center when we want. Unfortunately our car didn’t come with navigation so we’re relying on our smartphones’ navigation functionality to get around.

The problem is that international data roaming costs are pretty expensive. If we were to keep our smartphone’s data roaming functionality on, which we need to do to get navigation directions, our phone bill would quickly skyrocket.

Fortunately, we’ve found a trick to solve this problem. The only time when the navigation app we use, which happens to be Google Maps, uses our data connection is when it’s establishing the route. After the route has been established, the navigation app uses your smartphone’s GPS signal to determine your location on the route and provide you with directions based on that location. It no longer needs an active data connection.

We therefore turn on data roaming for a brief period while entering our destination address. If we’re at our hotel where there’s free WiFi, we don’t even need to turn it on then. After the navigation app has calculated the directions and proposed a route, we no longer need our data package. We switch off data roaming and embark on the route by relying on our smartphone’s GPS signal.

This is an easy way to save money on data roaming fees while traveling abroad.

Modacruz

I wrote about the story behind our investment in second hand female clothing marketplace Modacruz in a post from December 2014.

Modacruz has continued its very strong performance throughout 2015. The website and mobile app have undergone a design overhaul, more and more inventory is being uploaded to the platform, and sales are booming.

The company’s vibrant community has attracted celebrities like Nukhet Duru, Ozlem Yildiz, and Ece Erken onto the platform as both sellers and buyers.

And now Modacruz has launched two very creative YouTube campaigns to communicate the benefits of the platform to a wider audience. The videos in Turkish below show how Modacruz’s online platform makes possible a smooth second hand transaction that would be very uncomfortable to perform offline.

I was laughing at the end of both videos and hope you like them too.

 

Rejections

Brian Chesky is co-founder and CEO of home sharing marketplace Airbnb. The company recently raised $1.5B at a $25.5B valuation.

Like all companies, Airbnb was once a small team with an idea. In fact, Brian recently shared 7 rejection emails that the company received from investors while it was trying to raise seed funding in 2008. There were likely many more. At the time, the company was offering 10% equity for $150,000. This values the company at $1.5M, so Airbnb’s current $25.5B valuation is a 17,000X return on the original valuation. Assuming 20% dilution in each of the company’s 7 funding rounds shared on Crunchbase, the return is north of 3,500X.

This story has two lessons.

First, VC’s aren’t necessarily right. In fact, we’re wrong a lot of the time. And we’re more likely to be wrong on big ideas like Airbnb which stretch your imagination when you first hear about them. Who would have thought that people would be willing to stay in the home of someone they’ve never met before, and that hosts would be willing to open their homes to strangers?

The second lesson follows from the first. VC’s aren’t the only people who are wrong. Everyone makes mistakes. If someone tells you that something can’t be done, but you really believe in what you’re doing, you’ll follow the path that you’ve set for yourself regardless. You’ll see each “no” as getting you one step closer to “yes”, not only in fundraising but also in recruiting, adoption of your product, and throughout your startup’s journey.

This second lesson is as valid for life as it is for startups. As Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, shares in the video below, failing over and over and over again in life is why you succeed.

Kapgel

After our investment in Postmates in the US, we also completed our investment in Kapgel in Turkey. As an on-demand goods delivery startup, we believe that Kapgel will become the Postmates of Turkey.

We actually met the Kapgel team well before our investment in Postmates. We were first introduced to the company by Kaan Karamanci and Firat Ileri, among the company’s first investors, in October 2014. At the time, the company was serving e-commerce businesses by integrating their checkout pages to the Kapgel delivery network. If an e-commerce customer wanted an order shipped to them within the same day and also happened to live close enough to the company’s warehouse for this to be possible, they could have Kapgel deliver their order. The company had yet to build a consumer facing product where customers can directly place their orders from hundreds of local stores through their smartphone.

Since we believe in the potential for a consumer facing product, we decided to keep in touch and monitor Kapgel’s progress. During this time, the company financed itself with an angel round from Sadok Kohen. Over the next months, under the leadership of founder Cetin Oztoprak, the team built and launched a great consumer facing iOS app with hundreds of stores available. The Android app is also in the works.

Kapgel is currently serving the European side of Istanbul from Monday through Saturday between the hours of 9AM and 8PM. They’ll be using our investment primarily for customer acquisition which will enable them to increase the liquidity on the platform. This will allow them to also start serving Istanbul’s Asian side while expanding Kapgel’s hours of service.

We believe that Kapgel is uniquely positioned to develop into the leading on-demand goods delivery service in Turkey, and we’re excited to be part of the journey.

The person behind the message

I sometimes talk with a key candidate that one of our startups is looking to hire. This is after the founders have already spoken with the candidate.

I don’t say anything different than what the founders say. In fact, I’m not as knowledgeable as our founders are about their businesses. As a result, I’m probably less insightful than they are. However, I still have the conversation because I know that the candidate wants to feel valued. They don’t care only about the content of the message, but also who is communicating it. And hearing the same message from an investor can be more impressive than hearing the same message from an entrepreneur.

This doesn’t make sense because we can only be as successful as the entrepreneurs we back. Any success we have is because of our entrepreneurs. If we’ve chosen to back them, this means that we believe that they can run their business much better than we can. So candidates should value their messages more than ours. But since an investor often has a higher social status than the as of yet unaccomplished startup founder, my words are taken more seriously.

I can also be on the reverse side of this same dynamic. Sometimes I say something to a founder and they don’t take it seriously, or respond that it’s an unfair criticism. Then my partner Hasan says the same thing and they listen. Hasan has a higher social status than my as of yet unaccomplished self so his words are taken more seriously and he’s treated more respectfully.

While the content of a message is more important than who is communicating it, unfortunately it takes more mental effort to process the former than the latter. As a result we rely on shortcuts like valuing a message based on the social status of who is saying it. This is unlikely to change any time soon.

The only solution is to work hard to be successful. Then people will start listening to you.

When this happens, you run into another problem. People stop questioning what you’re saying simply because it’s you who said it. This makes you run the real risk of starting to believe your own bull****.

But this also has a solution. You need to always question yourself, and surround yourself with people who have the courage to evaluate you based on the content of your message rather than your social status.

This is why Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180, is said to have had a man walk together with him as he walked through Rome’s town square. When people praised him, the man’s job was to whisper in his ear “You’re only a man, you’re only a man”.

OBilet tickets

Our investment in the online bus ticketing space OBilet is entering a very busy period. It’s the end of Ramadan and folks in Turkey are traveling to spend time with their families.

If you’re traveling to a location within Turkey, OBilet offers you the widest range of bus route alternatives to match your budget. The fact that you can pick the amenities of the bus that you want to travel on (WiFi, TV, USB ports) and choose your preferred seat are simply the icing on the cake.

As the company’s recent ad below highlights, OBilet quickly gets you to your family’s home to enjoy some great home cooked food (or cake).