Monthly Archives: August 2015

Not fade away

I wrote about the book “How to get filthy rich in rising Asia” by Mohsin Hamid a month ago. This time I’m sharing my thoughts on the second of investor Chris Sacca’s book recommendations, “Not fade away: a short life well lived” by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton.

Peter Barton, formerly the President of Liberty Media, died of cancer at the age of 51. The book is his life story as put together by the author Laurence Shames who spends Peter’s final days with him. During this time, Laurence learns first hand from Peter, and second hand from his family and colleagues, what Peter was like earlier in his life and throughout his successful business career. However, most importantly, he documents the deeply personal thoughts of a man fast approaching his imminent death.

Unlike many deaths that happen without planning, Peter has time to prepare for his death. This allows him to think at length, and share his resulting thoughts about what’s important in life, what he may have done differently looking back, and how to get the most out of his final days alive. Overarching each of these thoughts are Peter’s repeated attempts to rationalize death despite the fear of death that never goes away. This is a struggle that I also have, and I imagine that it’s universal to humanity.

“How to get filthy rich in rising Asia” was about a series of ways to live your life. As a result, it may or may not resonate with everyone.

“Not fade away”, on the other hand, is about how to think about and approach death. And with an understanding of death comes a better appreciation for life. I believe that this is something we all seek. This makes the book much more likely to strike a chord with readers of all backgrounds and ages.

TazeDirekt grocery lists

I tried TazeDirekt‘s grocery list sharing feature yesterday evening. I wrote about TazeDirekt’s value proposition and Ankara expansion in earlier posts.

First I visited the product page of a product I’d like to order. In this case it was eggplant. I then created a new grocery list by writing the name of the list in the “Yeni Liste Adi” field. This means “New List Name” in Turkish. I chose the name “Saglikli” which means “Healthy” in Turkish as I prefer to eat healthy food.

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I then added individual products, like eggplant, to my grocery list using the “Alisveris listeme ekle” or “Add to my grocery list” feature. Rather than have users add products from individual product pages, I think that there’s an opportunity to have a single page where you can search for products and add them successively to your list. This would save a lot of time.

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When I was happy with the products in my grocery list, I chose to share the list publicly (your grocery list is private by default) by toggling off the grocery list’s shared status from “Kapali”, or “Closed”, to “Acik”, or “Open”.

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The TazeDirekt team then approved the grocery list and you can now browse it together with the other public lists on the platform. Here it is to give you a sense of what I like to eat.

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I think that grocery lists are a great feature to remember your order and quickly repeat it in the future without having to select individual products all over again.

And letting users share grocery lists with one another lets them discover new products to order. For example, users can see what products celebrity cooks and nutritionists like to eat. They could also see the most popular products across all grocery lists (thereby signalling the quality of the product) and try out those that look interesting.

Users could also set inventory and price alerts for specific products in order to be notified when a product that’s currently out of stock is once again available, and when the price of a product falls.

I really like the first version of the shared grocery lists feature and look forward to seeing what future iterations look like.

Life rules

Bob Lefsetz is an American music industry analyst and critic. I recently came across his post on Life rules. I’m including them here.

1. Karma exists. It may not be instant like in that John Lennon song, but it happens. May take a long time, might not be easily seen, may not be visible to anybody but you, the one who was scathed, but it’s real.

2. Niceness triumphs. Although no one can be nice all the time. And sometimes you have to push back. But if you’ve got the option, be nice, people appreciate it.

3. Be yourself. We’re all individuals. That’s what attracts others to us, our uniqueness. Don’t try to imitate someone else, focus on your strengths and heighten them. Everyone can’t do everything. Don’t try to fit your square peg in a round hole. But your trapezoid will appeal, if you just let it shine.

4. You can’t please everybody. It’s a phony concept that flames out. Be thankful you’ve got your group, your friends, your family, your fans. There are those who would appreciate you whom you’ve never met, focus on meeting them, not those who don’t care.

5. Education is everything. And it doesn’t have to happen in school. But at this late date we can understand why reading, writing and ‘rithmetic are so important. Yes, in the internet era, reading and writing are everything (typing too!) As for math… You can’t do a deal without knowing the numbers. And everybody wants to do a deal.

6. Learning is lifelong. You keep gaining insight and then you die. Life is a puzzle, one in which you’re constantly delivered new pieces. And you can’t figure some stuff out until you get this new information. Which is why age equals wisdom and the young may have their youth, but the old have all the happiness.

7. Possessions mean less as you age. You can’t take them with you. Furthermore, we’re evolving into a no possessions era. One in which you can rent a ride and you don’t even have to own a car. Experiences are everything.

8. No one has the answers when it comes to love. There’s no perfect partner, if you’re looking for one you’re doomed. The key is to play. Relationships are the salad dressing of life, without them it tastes very bland.

9. Do the right thing. Not only will it make a difference, you’ll feel better about yourself.

10. Time starts accelerating sometime in your late thirties or forties. If you’re not paying attention, if you’re not steering, chances are you’re not gonna get where you want to go.

11. Inspiration comes from displacement. Get out of your comfort zone, the rewards are legion.

With the absence of rule number 10, I agree with each life lesson that Bob proposes. And I’m simply not old enough to evaluate number 10. I’ll probably agree with it if I’m fortunate enough to see my late thirties.

I also liked how Bob wrote the rules very simply. I think this makes them easy to understand and relate to.

I think it’s useful to think of these rules as goal posts in our life. Although some of our shots will fall outside the posts, they’re a useful guide nonetheless.

Where to hold your startup’s money

Inspired by Brad Feld‘s post Cash Policies for Startups, I decided to write about where I think startups should keep their money. Hopefully I’ll be adding some value to the discussion by including specific recommendations for startups in Turkey.

When a startup raises money, it’s usually to provide the company with enough runway to execute against its goals for the next 18 to 24 months. Since all the cash won’t be used at once, the startup needs to decide what to do with the money.

The first question is what currency you should hold the money in. While it makes sense for our US startups to hold the money in dollars, should our Turkish startups hold the money in Turkish lira or dollars?

On one hand it’s wise to keep your cash in the same currency as the majority of your expenses. For most startups, the majority of their expenses consists of wages, marketing, and perhaps inventory. For Turkish startups, the first and second will likely be denominated in lira while the third will be in lira or foreign currency depending on the extent to which the business relies on the import of final or intermediary goods. This approach suggests that you should hold your money in lira.

On the other hand the lira has lost over 60% of its value against the dollar over the last two years. While we don’t know whether it will rise or fall in the future, and startups shouldn’t be in the business of trying to predict this, we can be fairly sure that the lira will experience greater volatility than the dollar. While the dollar may fall in value against the lira, it probably won’t decline as much. If the lira falls, it may lose much more of its value as the last two years have shown. Minimizing your downside exposure suggests that you should hold your money in dollars.

These observations suggest that you should hold your money in different currencies so there’s no right answer here. However, if I was an entrepreneur I’d minimize my downside exposure and hold my money in dollars.

Now that you’ve decided what currency to hold the money in, what instrument should you hold it in? While the currency denomination is up for debate, here I believe that there’s a much more unambiguous correct answer.

One option is to let the money sit in your checking or savings account. This option means that the money collects very little if any interest, and likely loses value relative to inflation. I don’t recommend this option.

At the other end of the risk spectrum, you can invest the money in bonds or even stocks which have the potential to generate a high return but also carry high volatility. Since you’re building a tech company you likely don’t have the knowledge or time to follow the markets so this approach is the same as gambling. I don’t recommend it.

A nice balance to conserve the principal amount of your investment while also generating a safe return is to keep your money in a short-term time deposit in Turkey. This is the equivalent of a certificate of deposit in the US. Online-only banks which are able to offer higher rates than their offline counterparts because of their lower cost structures currently offer annual returns around 2.20% for dollars and 11.75% for liras held in 32-day time deposits.

Welcoming the public market declines

US stock markets have taken a hard hit in the past week. Despite yesterday’s gains, the S&P 500, Dow 30, and Nasdaq are each down close to 10% over the last week. Tech stocks have also experienced large drops across the board.

The declines have been covered at length elsewhere so I’m not going to describe them in more detail here. Instead, I am going to write about why I believe that startups are lucky that we’re seeing these declines now rather than from potentially higher levels later. This assumes that what we’re seeing now is a structural shift in the market’s attitude towards risk rather than a short-term correction in a market that will once again resume its long-term rise very soon.

I had written about the froth in private market valuations in earlier posts here and here. Although the effect was more pronounced for late stage companies, seed and early stage valuations were also very often higher than what could be justified by company fundamentals. As a result, I welcome the drops that we’re seeing now. Although they create short term pain, they’re necessary for companies to develop sustainable growth plans with a path to profitability. Outside cash won’t always be readily available, and a company’s goal is to build a business that can generate this cash internally from its operations. It was all too easy to forget the latter requirement in the last few years.

And here’s why I think that startups are lucky to be seeing these public market declines now rather than from potentially higher levels later. Declines in public markets which serve as exit routes for private market companies will cause declines in private market valuations. And these private market declines will be much more manageable if they occur from the current level than if they were to occur from a higher level in the future.

It’s similar to falling from a building. You’re much more likely to survive if you fall from the second floor than the fourth floor.

Hopefully, by falling from the second floor now rather than the fourth floor in the future, less startups will die and more startups will have injuries that they can recover from. This is a good thing.

Butterfleye

Butterfleye was featured as one of the 6 best home security cameras of 2015 by Gear Patrol. This places it in the company of the popular Drop Cam which it is looking to outperform after its launch. We invested in the seed round of the company founded by Ben Nader last September and the company is on track to deliver a best-in-class product.

Butterfleye’s advantages are that it’s cordless with 2 weeks of battery life, comes equipped with facial recognition and heat sensing, and has 12 hours of internal data storage. This means that you won’t lose footage if your Wi-Fi connection goes down. I also think it has a very cool design.

You can see Butterfleye’s full feature set below and, if you like what you see, place a preorder from its current Indiegogo campaign.

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Confused startup metrics

I was recently speaking with an e-commerce entrepreneur about his company’s gross margin. I define gross margin as that after not only product costs, but also other variable costs associated with the delivery of an order (including warehousing, shipping, and payments) have been deducted. He was using my definition of product margin as his definition of gross margin, and thereby presenting a much higher figure for gross margin than was actually the case.

This can happen because of two reasons: a genuine confusion over the definition of a metric or an intent to deceive. In this case I’m pretty sure it was the former. Whatever the reason, it’s important to explicitly clarify the definitions of metrics in discussions.

Andreessen Horowitz recently published a great post with more examples of the most commonly confused startup metrics here.

OBilet in app stores

I wrote about our investment in online bus ticketing platform OBilet a month ago.

The team has put the investment to great use in the less than two months that have passed since the investment date. I was browsing the iOS app store this weekend and noticed that the OBilet app is now the number one travel app in Turkey, ahead of apps for Turkish Airlines, Blablacar, Booking.com, and Pegasus Airlines. The team showed me that they’re also the leading travel app in Turkey in the Google Play store.

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This is the result of active promotional campaigns on Twitter, memorable video ads promoted on digital channels, and the successful application of app store optimization techniques.

The OBilet team is doing some great work.

Giving up coffee

I decided to stop drinking coffee last Wednesday. I noticed that the increase in my level of mental alertness after drinking coffee was followed by a crash that brought me to a lower level than where I had started. Sometimes I would drink another coffee during the day to get another high, thereby delaying the inevitable crash. But the crash would eventually come and I would feel lethargic when it did.

Rather than experience these ups and downs in the level of my mental alertness, I wanted to have a more steady level of mental performance throughout the day. I therefore stopped drinking the 1 to 2 cups of coffee I was drinking each day. I still get some caffeine from drinking tea, but there is much less caffeine in tea than in coffee. I would most commonly drink venti (large) brewed coffees at Starbucks which have 415 mg of caffeine. I now drink grande (medium) green teas which have 45 mg of caffeine.

The results have been great. Although I could feel the clear difference in my brain in response to not getting its caffeine fix on the first day, the strength of the signals my brain is sending has grown progressively smaller. It has now been four days since I stopped drinking coffee and I can already get going without it in the mornings. Equally important, my mental performance is much more consistent throughout the day. My thinking patterns are more stable and I take the time to establish links between disparate pieces of information rather than jumping from one idea to the next.

Beyond the improvements it produced in my mental performance, a side benefit of giving up coffee is that it has made me a calmer person. My mind is less agitated and this helps me avoid abrupt reactions in favor of more premeditated actions. I have greater control of what I’m doing in both personal and professional settings, and this reflects positively on my well-being as well as those around me.

Giving up coffee altogether isn’t the right solution for everyone. First, each person’s reaction to coffee is different because of our different genetic makeups. Some people experience a smaller high from coffee and also a smaller drop in mental performance when its effect wears off. Second, some people enjoy the taste of coffee so much that it wouldn’t be sustainable for them to give up coffee altogether. Setting a new habit is only useful if you can sustain it in the long-run.

For my specific case, giving up coffee is producing great results.

Thank you Dogan

Our functional team is a very important part of the value we provide to our startups. Until recently, we offered help in the areas of HR, tech, marketing, and finance. However, moving forward we will have one less team member. Dogan, the CFO of Aslanoba Group who also served as a financial advisor to Aslanoba Capital startups, recently joined Kliksa, one of Turkey’s largest e-commerce players.

Dogan was a strong supporter of our startups over the last year during which he was part of our organization. From helping us in our due diligence efforts, to assisting startups with the tracking of their financial statements and KPI’s, to guiding them to the right resources on tax matters, Dogan served as a valuable advisor to our startups in many different contexts.

On behalf of all our startups, I thank Dogan for his contributions and wish him all the best on his new journey at Kliksa.