Looking Back – Part II : Resilience & Culture

Reflections of a Turkish VC, seven years on

In my last post, I reflected on trust and the pioneers of the Turkish startup ecosystem. Here are a few more “lessons” I’ve taken away in my seven years as a Turkish VC.

Resilience. When the unexpected is the norm, resilience becomes second nature. Silicon Valley may brag about innovation and failure, but Turks and those of us in the MENA region own resilience and the “pivot.”

Power outages, currency fluctuations, protests, war, and coup attempts are actual situations men and women in Turkey face. As they do, they adapt. Indeed, there is a lot of whining and complaining. And it isn’t by any measure something that people like. But they’re able to do it fast and without navel gazing. They’re able to assess the situation at hand, adapt, and move forward.

This resilience and the ability to “pivot” in the face of whatever challenge is presented is at the root of innovation. Anyone can be an entrepreneur where the going is good. If you can be an entrepreneur in Turkey, you can be one anywhere.

 

Culture – Keyif : The question of whether there is an entrepreneurial “culture” is an interesting one. I don’t think there is a simple answer. Certainly, efforts to replicate the “Silicon Valley” culture has not succeeded. You can’t turn the cobble stoned and traffic clogged streets of Istanbul, teeming with minarets and malls, into Palo Alto.

And why should we have to? Istanbul is a prime location for startups. It is, in fact, nurturing a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here’s why: The city is literally the crossroads to Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and North Africa. It overflows with talent.

That talent, many will falsely say, doesn’t exist in a “culture” that encourages innovation. In fact, there is an entrepreneurial culture and mindset here in Turkey. My point about resilience above gets to that.

The key to unlocking that culture and mindset is getting into it. And that requires understanding how people in this region do business: keyif.

What passion is for Silicon Valley, keyif is for Istanbul. It translates to “pleasure”, “enjoyment”, “leisure” – but in fact, like everything in Turkey, it has a deeper meaning. Keyif is connection. As previously mentioned, trust is something that takes time to cultivate in this region. Keyif is how we Turks cultivate it.

Over the anise infused drink raki. Over fresh caught fish. Over tea in tulip glasses. Over the Bosphorus. We take the time to get to know people and develop a bond – and, in the process, get to be in the moment.

Things move at a different pace in Turkey. And that’s the beauty of the place. There is no reason to rush. Entrepreneurship, like life, isn’t a sprint. Nor is it a marathon. It is a journey.

 

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” ― Winston S. Churchill