“We note that your visa has expired”
Kia ora guys, quick message before I start:
I wrote this to summarise my 7 years in New Zealand so it is a lengthy read. Get some popcorn ready.
I have always believed in and tried to make the world a better place but my “entrepreneurship spark” didn’t come naturally. I wasn’t selling lemonade on the side of the street when I was 8.
I was your typical shy, quiet, “mother’s son”. I was afraid to ask for extra ketchup at Macca’s by myself till 13.
The changing point in my life was when I was given the chance to study in New Zealand for my secondary education. My family saw New Zealand as a land of opportunity. Add that to the fact that my grandmother was a diplomat and regularly visited and boasted about New Zealand. NZ was the obvious choice for me.
At the age of 13, I was getting ready to live 16,000 km’s away from my family and friends. To be barely starting my teenage years on the other side of the world, living “alone”. What an adventure.
When I first arrived in NZ, the culture shock was quite jarring. In Turkey, I was used to the “Only if you work 24/7 will you succeed” life, whereas in New Zealand there was more of a “do what you love” approach. The seemingly small, but in fact immense cultural change taught me something. We only live once and that everyone is trying to find happiness in their own way.
Funnily enough, it was this “Do what you love” mindset that made me want to work 24/7.
I started my first business when I was 15. At the time I was hooked to an online game. In the game, there was a lot of demand from people willing to pay real money to get some virtual items. So my friend and I decided to create an online store where we sold virtual items in the game for real money. It took us about 2 weeks and $75 to get started. We just dove right into it.
In a short span of 4 months (before the online game decided to disable all rare items) we made $3500 USD profit.
For two 15 year olds this was a lot of money, and the whole journey was perhaps another turning point in my life.
At that point, I didn’t know about the world of startups or online businesses or entrepreneurs. I simply saw a gap in the market for something I loved. But it led me to explore the world of entrepreneurship — and at that moment, I knew I had I found my calling.
I was perhaps one of the happiest kids in the world. I was studying but also learning about startups in my spare time. I had friends that I would go outside and bike around small town Cambridge with all day, and life was great.
Things changed when my dad went bankrupt. My family was forced to sell their house, we had over half a million dollars in debt and no one knew what was going to happen next. On top of that, I was now faced with an uncertain future.
On the bright side, the experience made me aware that I shouldn’t take anything for granted. Life wasn’t going to be handed to me any more.
I suppose I didn’t grasp the full extent of the situation because the way I coped with it was to simply ignore it. Pretend like it didn’t exist.
Down the line, I learned that my friend (Tyler Hale, my co-founder for the online store) was working for Alex St. John — the creator of Microsoft’s DirectX. He was in New Zealand and running a start-up called Nyriad.
I contacted the company, and after a brief interview I started working there. I got to taste the Silicon Valley start-up culture first hand. We worked long hours, learned what some people learn in years in weeks, and found out what running a successful start-up really requires.
I stayed at Nyriad for a year before leaving it because I realised coding wasn’t for me. To this day I still keep in touch with the team. I am certain that without the help, advice and openness to let a 16 year old on board, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So from the depths of my heart, thank you to Matthew Simmons, Alex St John and the team at Nyriad for changing my life.
Earlier in 2015 I was one of 21 students selected out of 500 applicants to participate in Enterprise in Action. It is a business competition that spans over the course of 3 days and we had to come up with hypothetical businesses that could solve given problems. That year the problems were “Create an innovative business that features light as its main source” and “Create a market entry strategy to sell oil or oil based products to Saudi Arabia”.
Our team (Team BNZ) won the New Zealand challenge and we came 7th in the World representing New Zealand in the global stage.
At this point in my life, another tragedy occurred. My father passed away on the 19th of October 2015.
This was a huge shock for me and my family and this happened right in the middle of my NCEA Level 3 exams. Fortunately, I guess I didn’t have time to dwell on it and I focused on my exams.
Because of my university entrance exams and how important they were, I couldn’t make it to his funeral. I understand that there is nothing I can do about the situation and that is why I choose to not think about it but the fact that I wasn’t able to see him for years and not being able to attend his funeral still echoes through my head to this day.
From that day onward, I realised the importance of unconditional love.
Love your friends, love your family, and love the people around you. We are all trying to find happiness in our own way. Contribute and help others achieve theirs.
In early 2016, I got accepted into a business accelerator called Venture Up along with 40 of New Zealand’s brightest young entrepreneurs aged 16–21.
Venture Up was a 6 week program where we started businesses, learned to think agile, were mentored by some of the best in their fields, pitched to investors and members of the government, learned to take criticism like champs (thanks Rollo Wenlock) and so much more.
I honestly see this experience as a mini MBA. It taught me so much about business in such a short amount of time — things I would have otherwise learned much later in life. The program continues to this day and I encourage everyone I meet to apply. Applications for the 2018 cohort are CLOSED, so if you’re reading this now and I’ve edited the text to “Closed” you’ve missed out. Worry not though, like their Facebook page and keep a close eye out for further events and the 2019 VU experience.
Thank you a million times, to Lingy Au, Olivia Theyers-Collins and Nick Churchouse, for putting together one of the best youth entrepreneurship initiatives in the country.
Out of Venture Up, InfluencerHQ came to life.
It was a boutique social media influencer marketing agency that specialised in creating personal ad content for companies. The company consisted of Rachel Yuen, Felix Page, Hunter Waihape and Jordan Palmer. Thank you guys for the amazing effort and dedication you put into our company.
By mid 2016, InfluencerHQ was working with over 20 NZ brands and 2000 influencers. We became the largest influencer marketing agency in New Zealand. At the start of 2017, InfluencerHQ got acquired by a marketing agency wanting to expand their reach. The InfluencerHQ ride was a fun, horror-and-knowledge-filled 2 years. I was able to meet many amazing people and experience a startup company from start to exit.
While the Influencer journey was coming to an end, I was focusing on my studies at the University of Waikato, studying a Bachelor’s in Engineering (Mechanical Engineering).
I met some amazing people through my study. People that I know will greatly impact both New Zealand and the world in a positive way. Best of luck with your studies and everything you do to, Joshua Braithwaite, Ahmed Serhan, Bismark Simeon and Tim Sun.
Halfway through my studies, studying at University and paying international fees became impossible. My family was on a single salary from my mom and my retired 78 year old diplomat grandma was giving English lessons in Turkey to pay the bills, pay for my little sister’s tuition, and help me with my tuition.
As a result, I had to study at Wintec and transfer to a Diploma in Engineering for a little while. My time there was not as enjoyable as I hoped. New Zealand is a fantastic place to study, and therefore there is a huge demand from the international study market. Unfortunately high demand can be abused.
My only comment or advice would be that Wintec change their policy to approach international students more like people. Treating any type of students as cash cows hurt everyone, including regular students, in terms of quality of education.
While at Wintec, I joined First Cut Ventures, New Zealand’s largest student led venture fund investing in and supporting founders under 30 in New Zealand.
First Cut has been an amazing experience for me because it gave me insight into what the investors and the “other side” sees. Going from pitching companies to listening to pitches has given me an incredible outlook onto the business landscape.
On top of that, being on the forefront of youth entrepreneurship in New Zealand, and having the power to assist and develop other young founders has already been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.
Thank you to the team for the amazing opportunity. Especially Robbie Paul, Jack McQuire, and Alex Morreau.
Lots of love to the FCV family, David Sorrenson, Hayden Hughes, Hannah Monigatti, Alex Rallis, Rees Vinsen, Steph Benseman, Jack Kennedy and Dylan Rogan. Best of luck with the fund — I’m absolutely sure that you’ll continue to do amazing things for the country and landscape.
While attending Wintec and working with First Cut, I got the amazing opportunity to join a brand new tech startup called TRADEE.
TRADEE is a digital marketplace which connects everyday kiwis with tradesmen in a safer, more affordable and hassle free way.
I got in touch with the two founders Alex Vaz and Nik Ellis to see how I could add value to the company and ended up joining a marketing role. TRADEE aligned with my values to a T, in terms of solving a problem many NZ’ers face. I’m sure the team will achieve incredible things with or without me. Go and kill it AJ Brown, Ebi Banayan, Nik Ellis, and Alexandre Vaz.
Special thanks to Alex and Nik for doing everything and more while I was applying for a work visa.
Which I suppose brings us to the conclusion of my letter. I applied for a work visa to be able to work for TRADEE full time.
New Zealand Immigration declined my application 3 times due to several issues, such as me being under qualified for a marketing role with no degree.
I’m not someone to give up. I did everything I could to address the issues. Special thanks to Lucas De Jong for organising my issue to be featured on Seven Sharp.
Omer Hazer has a long history here and may have to leave after many years.www.tvnz.co.nz
Even the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters (leader of New Zealand First) was behind me.
“If there was ever a person who deserved special consideration of his Immigration Work Visa application, it would be for this extraordinary young man.”
Thank you deeply to the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters for your kind words.
In the wake of such a situation I found out again, what a supportive community NZ has and how everyone is so eager to reach out a helping hand where they can.
Thank you to James van der Klip for taking the time to help me organise and share this letter. You are one of the most switched on and generous people I’ve met. There are too many people to mention right now, but I have added my special thanks to each of you at the end of this letter.
Right now — 2 days ago, precisely — I was told that I need to leave New Zealand immediately. I am in the process of selling most of my belongings, and am slightly in shock.
The weirdest part?
Leaving New Zealand doesn’t feel like I am being ushered out of a foreign country and back home but quite the opposite.
I will be returning back to Ankara, Turkey and unless I can find a way to start studying ASAP in the middle of the semester, I will be taken to serve in the military.
I do not mind that I’ll need to serve in the military, I do however mind how much my family will be worrying about me.
These 7 years have been quite a journey and regardless of how things are seemingly ending, I thank New Zealand and the people I’ve met throughout my time here, for everything. Without the experiences and opportunities I had in NZ, I am sure that I wouldn’t be half the man I am today.
Let the next chapter in my life begin.
If you have read all the way to the end, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I want you to leave you with one piece of wisdom that I always hear from my grandmother.
“The morning is longer than the night.”
Special thanks to:
The Stephenson family
The Fuller family
The Kneepkens family
P.S: To all my friends I have met throughout these 7 years, I am certain no amount of distance will separate us. I have made lifelong friendships with you and you are some of the funniest, most caring, intelligent and crazy people.
You know who you are.
Stay crazy, I love you all.
Otherwise, we are living in the 21st century and work can be done online 👌
Be bold, be brave and never give up. I know I won’t.