Category Archives: Personal

Why I write in English

A reader of this blog recently asked me why I write in English rather than Turkish. Given that most of our investments are in Turkey, that’s a fair question.

There are three reasons for this.

The first pertains to the audience of this blog. Specifically, it’s read by both Turkish speakers and English speakers. However, while most of the native Turkish speakers also speak English, the reverse is not true. Most native English speakers don’t speak Turkish. As a result, writing in Turkish would mean not serving a big fraction of this blog’s current readers. That’s not something I want to do.

The second reason is the fact that the technologies produced by the tech sector serve multiple countries at once. This makes the tech industry global by nature. And this is why the industry operates primarily in English. If you want to be part of it, reading, writing, and speaking in English is an important asset. Hopefully this blog can serve as practice.

The third reason is personal. Since I think in English, I’m more comfortable expressing my thoughts in a structured way when writing in this language.

Thriving and surviving as a tribe

As individuals, we have the ability to develop a unique set of views on the world. We can believe in X about topic A, Y about topic B, and Z when it comes to topic C.

However, the problem with being an individual is that, while it gives you the freedom of belief, it limits what you can do. Doing most things requires coordinating with other people. This is why we form groups.

However, a group’s effective functioning benefits from its members holding similar beliefs. It’s more difficult for groups where the members of the group hold different beliefs to get something done than for groups where the members hold similar beliefs. As a result, some individual beliefs are sacrificed for the belief of the group. This transforms the group into a tribe.

The advantage of tribes is that they make it easier to get things done. Their disadvantage is that they do this by trading away individually held beliefs. In other words, they produce power at the expense of dissent.

In a romantic view of the world, we can each thrive as an individual. However, that’s not a steady state outcome. Due to the benefit of tribe formation on getting things done, individuals have an incentive to defect from their individuality to form tribes. And these tribes are more likely to thrive than non-defecting individuals.

In other words, game theory shows that you can’t thrive without being part of a tribe. In today’s world, you can fortunately survive. If you had lived sufficiently in the past, you wouldn’t have been able to even do that.

If this trend continues, maybe there will come a day when you can thrive as an individual.

Until then, if you want to get something done and thrive, you have to form or join a tribe.

When you do, it’s important to recognize the tradeoffs that everyone in your tribe is making in their individually held beliefs. This will help you balance the need for the similar beliefs which ensure that your tribe thrives in the short run with the need for the voicing of the different beliefs which ensure that your tribe addresses the blind spots it needs to address to survive in the long run.

Besiktas wins the Turkish soccer championship

As the beginning of the summer nears, several major sports seasons are coming to an end. Last week, I wrote about how Turkish basketball club Fenerbahce won Europe’s top basketball club competition, the Euroleague. This week I’m writing to congratulate Besiktas on winning Turkey’s soccer championship.

My dad is a Besiktas supporter. Supporting a club is one of those things that often gets passed down from father to son. However, I chose to support one of Besiktas’s rivals, Galatasaray, as a child. While this created some tension during games between Besiktas and Galatasaray when I was younger, it has since turned into effectively having two chances of being happy at the end of the season. We’re both happy whether Besiktas or Galatasaray wins.

I was on a late evening walk when Besiktas won the game that gave it this year’s championship yesterday evening. I could immediately tell by the supporters who took to the streets by foot and car, chanting Besiktas slogans and waving the club’s flags. I was happy for them, as I was for my father.

Besiktas played the best soccer in Turkey this year, so it was a season when the best team won. Congratulations Besiktas.

Asking the right questions

In school we’re taught to provide the right answers to given questions. We’re instructed to assume that the questions we’re asked are the right ones. As a result, school doesn’t provide us sufficient training in the skill of asking the right questions.

However, much of our happiness and success later in life comes from asking the right questions. Some of these right questions are universal for a given domain and some vary from individual to individual.

For example, in the field of happiness, I used to think that the right question is “what makes you happy?” I then discovered that, at least for me, the right question is “what’s meaningful without taking away too much of your happiness?”

In the field of success, asking yourself “how can I best apply my skills in the context of market realities to produce something that others want?” is a better question than asking “what am I passionate about?”

In the context of venture capital investments, the right question is not “is this a good idea?” but “what will this team do with this idea?”

In the context of building startups, the right question is not “how much money do we need?” but “what do we want to achieve before hitting profitability or raising more money, and how much money will it take to get there?”

You can make substantial progress in asking the right questions by consciously reminding yourself to do so. However, sometimes the only way to get there is to first ask the wrong question, arrive at the right answer but for the wrong question, and then learn from your experiences.

Fenerbahce wins the Euroleague

Turkish basketball club Fenerbahce won Europe’s top basketball club competition, the Euroleague, yesterday evening by beating Olympiakos of Greece convincingly, 80 to 64.

Fenerbahce was fortunate that this year’s final four and hence final took place in Istanbul, Turkey. The location of the final four and hence final is determined at the beginning of the season and a finalist team from the country where the final is played ends up enjoying the overwhelming support of the local crowd. This was certainly the case for Fenerbahce yesterday night.

But while the crowd contributed to the large 16 point victory, Fenerbahce would have likely won wherever the game was played. They simply outplayed their opponents from start to finish.

I congratulate the Fenerbahce players, club, and fans on their excellent season long performance and well deserved victory.

Taking full ownership of negative outcomes

When you run into a negative outcome, sometimes you’re the only one responsible. But in many cases responsibility for the outcome is shared across multiple people.

In the latter case, even if the negative outcome is not just your responsibility, it’s useful to take full ownership for it.

The first benefit of this approach is that it lets you identify each of your contributions to the negative outcome. This is the first step to fixing your mistakes in the future. You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge to be broken.

Second, taking full ownership often causes others to own up to their mistakes as well. Many people have an innate sense of fairness that makes them feel bad from having a single person take all the blame. This makes them step forth to rightfully share it.

Independent of whether the second benefit manifests itself or not, the first is enough to justify taking full ownership of negative outcomes.

Consuming

In an earlier post, I wrote about the meaning which you get from producing, and how I believe that it’s worth trading off some short-term happiness for that meaning.

This post is a short observation on the other side of the equation, that is consuming. Consuming doesn’t generate meaning but it does produce a short-term burst of happiness.

When consuming something that you need to pay for, there’s a general correlation between how much you pay and the short-term happiness that you get from the product. For must product categories, the more you pay the higher the quality of the product that you’re able to consume and therefore the greater the short-term happiness that you get from consuming it.

However, in many product categories, this correlation breaks down after a certain point. After a certain point, you’re no longer paying for the higher quality of the product but the social signal that using that product sends to other people, or more accurately the social signal that you believe using that product sends to other people.

When you cross the line where you begin to pay more for a product because of its social signaling value, you’ve effectively agreed to make your happiness dependent on other people’s perception of you. And that’s a fickle source of happiness.

Untouchable by Jacob Bellens

I usually don’t drive. I prefer to get around through a combination of public transport and taxis to avoid driving in traffic.

But I took my wife’s car out for a leisurely drive yesterday morning, a Saturday before most people had woken up and while the roads were still empty.

I turned on the radio, and this song came on. I later searched and found that it’s Untouchable by Jacob Bellens.

For me, that Saturday morning, it perfectly captured the simultaneous meaning and lack of meaning of it all, our attempts to understand and improve the world despite its inherent unknowables and uncertainties, and the beauty of the resulting journey.

So I turned off the radio, found the song on my smartphone, placed it on repeat, and continued driving.

Showing up

Common wisdom is that achieving a breakthrough is about having a unique insight. This is only partially correct.

Having an insight is indeed part of the equation. But the insight doesn’t need to be unique. In fact, if it’s an important enough breakthrough, many people are likely to have it at roughly the same time. This is because many people read the same information, speak to the same people, and spend time processing and drawing conclusions from the same inputs.

Because of these reasons, having an insight is 1% of achieving a breakthrough.

If that’s the case, what’s the remaining 99%?

It’s acting on your insight each day. It’s pitching the results of your insight to people and finding believers. It’s using their feedback to fine tune your insight. It’s partnering with the true believers to build on and further propogate your insight.

In other words, it’s showing up.

Sometimes the market will reward you immediately for your insight. However, most of the time your insight will take time to gain acceptance. And after it is, it will eventually fall out of favor. And then be back in favor. And so on. The market is fickle.

However, if your insight is correct, you will eventually be rewarded. You just have to keep showing up.