Aydın Öztunalı, Managing Partner Mydas. Series of interviews with investors in Turkiye n°5.
I know the investor scene in Istanbul very good but I also wanted to talk to an Ankara investor. Kaan Akın whispered in my ear to talk to Dr. Aydın Öztunalı. Although I was prepared to travel to Ankara I was lucky to meet Dr. Aydın Öztunalı in Istanbul. At Jamie Olivers’ place, Zorlu Center. No, he didn’t invite me for lunch, but we had a nice Turkish coffee in Jamie’s Italian. I liked Jamie at the start but somehow I am a bigger fan of Jeroen Meus, a Flemish cook with a lack of attitude. Same can be said about Aydın, as he asked me to just call him by his first name. Not a table jumper, like some Istanbul stars. He combines modesty with passion as I was to find out during the conversation. His passion for the startup world.
He studied in Ankara Business Administration at METU, MBA at HEC Paris and Duke University in North Carolina finishing with a PhD in finance at Ankara University (SIYASAL). That is quite impressive in my opinion. More impressive is that he started to work as a public worker but in 2004 he decided go to the private sector and opened his own office with partners. In 2009 he was already part-time entrepreneur at Speak2buddy but that project is frozen for the moment. As a civil servant he was into competition law. That combined with his educational background created a great added value for the company he runs now with his partners, Mydas Consultancy Inc. based in Ankara but has an another office in Istanbul as well for obvious reasons.
Aydın invested for the first time in 2010 as a (natural) person in paramparca.com, founded by 1 person. A platform to sell obsolete stocks at discount prices. He looks back at hard times as it was an interesting learning. Investing in 1 person is always a big risk, especially when the added value is easy to copy by anyone. He also discovered that people go before idea. No vision or strategy ends in disaster, small or big. When you invest your own owned money you are double cautious and the learning is, let’s call it, profound.
Nothing beats a good learning at the beginning so the next investments had a better star rating. Evreka was the next startup to invest in. I remember them when we did our first Pirate Summit pre-selection round at Ankara, at Cyberpark 2 years ago. Very enthusiast and big team. They became 2nd or 3rd in place but it was clear the potential was there. They are 4 founders and going strong. Aydın’s investment in money is one thing, and for Evreka he went very far as he is investing with the money he earns in his company. Any investor will tell you not to do that as long as the risk capital is only 10% of the money you can lose without being hurt. But he is a believer and next to money he also invests in time and effort. He uses and shares his knowledge and network with this young team. They are blessed as Aydın has also the management skills most young startups are lacking. He acts as investor/mentor but in an empathic way, not as the surrogate ceo of the company. Important in my opinion.
A starter in startups is how Aydın describes himself. He is one of the few, and to my knowledge the only one in Ankara doing seed investments. Asking why he is alone there, he explains he sees good startups in Ankara but no investors, apart from those putting their money in the Turkiye disease called Real Estate. The Business and Cultural mindset is conservative in short. There is no lack of innovative ideas, but most of the time it is done by professors who are “older”, married, kids, house, you know. So it all stays in-house as they are not willing to take risks. Nor the investors by the way. Here again it is the lack of a vibrant community that pushes things forward I would say. Everybody stays on his branch, his tree. No birds flying around to discover other branches or trees. A forest in denial of growing. Also language is a problem according to Aydın, English writing can pass, but once spoken it is all silence. Here again the same pattern, Aydın went outside of Turkiye to study, to work, so English is no problem and the result is an open view. Another lack is mentors, hard to find in Ankara, and understandable as the lack of a vibrant community. Of course there are initiatives, but too little, too small, too Turkish.
Funny enough, the startups Aydın is in contact with have this interesting habit of overrating themselves, an international phenomenon I am afraid. With investors sitting literally on their money, that does not help them convince to stand up and open their pockets. Aydın himself goes actively after the startups but he is a one-man-show with all respect. I wished there were more people like him but this is like the most risk taking adventure imaginable. Respect for that, while he is also managing his company. He is a big fan of technology based startups, with innovation in the core. Not the copy/paste we see too much. There are great things happening in universities, like development on drones but they are mostly Defense related. Next to that the technocities are too much about quantity and not quality.
This brings us to another important topic on the Turkish scene. The political environment. Not a surprise that a stable environment is more welcomed to create more and better startups. This goes as well for political stability as for economical stability. Today we see a big problem in the account receivables where the customers don’t pay (in terms of due date) so suppliers also have to wait which is killing for the smaller businesses lacking reserves and with high interest on short term credits from the banks. Cash is killing the SMEs at this moment in short. 200 days is not an exception. I remember this problem too, and I also remember that I was very happy when the EU decided in a law that due date is 60 days. That is nice for a one off customer, but with regular customers it is hard to enforce.
So we came to the success question. Our coffees where finished but as we were both not in fortune telling by looking at the inside of the empty cups, Aydın gave me his personal, realty checked, vision. Success on business level is to have a good return on investment. Makes totally sense. But there is more than just the money return. He wants to be actively involved in growing towards that success. Making his hands dirty. Being part of the solution, solve the problems. He is very keen on elaborating on the social aspect, as he sees it as his plight to build on a better future, create value, create jobs.
On the personal level he turns to his family. He is very fund of his 2 sons and his wife. He wants to create a better future, also for them and for himself a more calm life. More secure. Not calm like doing nothing, but calm from an emotional point of view, as we are living hectic times for the moment.
It is clear Ankara needs more Aydıns, to make a fist in order to the startup scene to get started. I know he is not the only one trying to build on that ecosystem but he is one of the very few who goes that far as investing in startups with his own earned money and beyond. A true believer with a healthy conscious. It was great talking to you Aydın.
Patrick Bosteels, Stage-Co Co-Founder
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