Fırat İşbecer. Entrepreneur and Angel Investor. Series of interviews with investors in Turkiye n°12.
First time I got in contact with Pozitron was at the start of Stage-Co meetups, in 2013. A coworker of Fırat showed us the Google Glasses. A first for me, and for most in the audience. Pozitron was showing that they were into technology and understanding or exploring new ways of communication or experiencing. Already at that time, I was very interested in getting to know Pozitron better, but somehow that didn’t happen. It was Fatih who was more in the spotlight, the brother of Fırat. It took until 2016 that I saw him, from the back, in a conference about success stories in Turkiye, in Izmir by the way. I was very impressed by the story, in the meantime sold to Monitise, and Fırat more sounded like a businessman on sugar. I don’t want to use the word speed, as it reflects too much to other stuff. At that moment I knew I wanted to meet him, even before starting to write this book.
In front of me, in a very modest office sits the young looking Fırat. From the start, I was thinking that sometimes you look too young for your business age. I had the same problem when I started my businesses although not as successful as this young horse. You might be surprised by the comparison, but Fırat is a hard working man, so in Flemish, we have an idiom that refers to hard working like a horse. The Flemish part of Belgium has its roots in agriculture, so we have many idioms referring to that period of time.
Before we start our interview he starts with explaining me his investment in Pubinno.com, a beer tap solution, based on technology and even IoT. Being a Belgian, his first thought went to beer for obvious reasons. To my surprise, it is a Turkish startup that moved to San Francisco with an R&D office in Maslak, Istanbul. Great kick off I say. Fırat is a product of Robert College, with 2 smart parents. His brother Fatih is probably a bit more popular as he is more on stage and the frontman, but Fırat is definitely the manager. After Galatasaray University he followed the path of his father and studied at the Sorbonne in France. The result is 3 languages and that is already rare in Turkiye. Dreaming of becoming a war journalist he finished Journalism and Publishing. He was a busy youngster, worked for Radio Kosmos and was even a tour guide. Living and working in France, but a bit bored, and not very happy with the ‘ami Turk’ attitude. I experienced the ‘petit Belge’, not sure what is worse.
In the meantime, his brother, Fatih, already started a business, but Fırat nor Fatih, were very impressed by the partners. He started to help Fatih with marketing and PR. He also started writing articles around technology in Hurriyet in 2003. Three years later his brother split-up with his partners and Fırat came in. Pozitron was going for mobile software as a small tech team, bootstrapped. A small team grew and Fırat, in a natural way, introduced org charts, accountability, team building, etc. He was the floor manager, extremely important as executing and delivering is key when working on projects. They started with 5 people and 150.000 TL revenue and today 200 people and 40 million TL. Fırat is 36 years old. Interesting for me was to understand how it was to work with his brother, as personally, ì had a very bad experience in the past. Business went good, fast growing and no time to fight was his answer. He acknowledges that looking back, they were also lucky, starting very early to develop in mobile while that was only emerging as a business. With a brother who was more visionary while Fırat understood that hands-on brings money in the drawer by delivering high-end solutions. When I asked for mentorship from outside, he nodded no. He is eager to learn and steel with his eyes and just do it. With Iş Bank and Turkish Airlines as major customers, between 2006 and 2014 Pozitron doubled in revenue every year.
Working on Gitigidiyor, later acquired by eBay, meant a huge leap forward. They were developing based on revenue share and before they knew it they were the mobile partner worldwide for eBay. After Gitigidiyor was acquired, Fatih and Fırat received an email from the head of mobile at eBay, Steven Romero and quickly they became eBay’s number one mobile software provider. The result was the delivery of software to 7–8 different countries. They even wanted to acquire Pozitron but the proposal was too low. In 1 year the revenue through eBay was 3.3 million dollar. Fırat remembered that he was hiring the best people to get the job done and these early employees work today at the biggest companies like Facebook, Spotify, Amazon etc. This was also the moment that VCs started to be interested in Pozitron. Talks started but they did not like the VC approach. In the end, they spoke to Monitise, London-based, who were alike, but already IPO. Before the famous Gezi protests they sold the company for 100 million dollars, had to stay for 3 years but could operate autonomously. They decided to bring investment in 2013 but sold Pozitron in February 2014. A success story. Remember, they were bootstrapped and profitable.
Today they also run the US office of Monitise, seen their great track record, and the eagerness still being there. Fatih moved to the US, Fırat handles the business from Istanbul for the MEA and Eastern Europe region but is involved in London and the US too. Even before selling the company they also got interested in investing, a retail company, Shakespeare in Love, was one of the first ones. Not immediately a success but a great learning. In 2012 they joined GBA and became Angel Investors. They, as in the 2 brothers, invest together, although sometimes individually. Up until now, they invested in over 30+ companies. They invest in Turkey but also abroad like in Mexico, a startup called PayClip for example. Monitise created the prototype and they joined with sweat capital. They had a great previous with Gitigidiyor. I guess when you want to be a journalist you are always interested in stories from different people, and at the same time, of course, you also add to your expertise, becoming wider and diverse. No surprise they attract startups from around the globe.
Talking with Fırat felt very quickly like talking to an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. Open and enthusiast. This in a stressed environment, project based jobs are always stressful, but with a great vibe in the office. That vibe even translated into a piece of chocolate cake that I enjoyed a lot. Not sure anymore if it was for a birthday or another reason, but it was perfect to recharge with some sugar. Surrounded by all this positive energy I wondered what his motivation was to invest. He summed up over 8 countries where he invested in. First came the entrepreneurship attitude combined with trust. Secondly, I liked this one, it has to make sense, a relevant business. Third came, not a surprise either, the ability to deliver. Not just deliver, but excellence in delivery. All the values he stands for himself.
Coming back to the Turkish ecosystem, which he describes as very young, very inexperienced. In his opinion, prior experience is needed before you start your own startup. When he looks back he sees the importance of management skills and passion. I guess his Paris period was good for him as working in Paris counts double. I experienced it myself. Not being a Parisien is not a gift in the city of light. The importance of the home market aligns with his own track record and this gets us to language. He went to school in English from 11 years old. He added French later. Apart from the fact that you communicate with more than just Turkish speaking people, it definitely also opens your mindset to a more global view. Fırat is positive about the evolution although he also sees the instability in Turkey as a potential deal breaker. All in all, Fırat is definitely born with a positive injection so the twinkle in his eyes never disappears even when commenting on how the country evolves. Nevertheless, he is not too outspoken about the investment companies like VCs and Angel Investors in Turkey. Most of the time I can make people go deeper into this topic but somehow we never touched it deeply. After all, he is managing hundreds of people with millions of revenue, so less time to just be bothered with things you don’t have under your control. We have a lot of CEO/owners among the Angel Investors in Turkey. This is great for network purposes, but it also means that these people need to divide their time with a full-time job, which is very demanding, investing and following up. For me a reason that we evolve very slowly towards a professional investment ecosystem. Sorry for the “ecosystem” word. It gets very tiring to use it, but it is all I have for now.
The happy question. Fırat is single, yes ladies, by choice and happiness in his private life means independence, freedom, open mind and developing himself. It is almost like one of the characters in Sex in the City, but the male version. With the best intentions Fırat. Off course like any businessman, private and business coincide, so very quickly we are also talking about his eagerness to be part of new businesses, investing in great potential, be there at the right time. Most of all I remember his eagerness to learn, as he often refers to it. He is still hungry, and he should be at his age anyway. So the business happiness goes towards being impactful mainly combined with improvement in all layers. A happy team is also very high on his list. No one better than Fırat knows how important this is as he has high standards in the deliverables. It is a people business after all.
I was happy that in the end, he came back to writing, his first passion and dream. He was talking about his biography but he should definitely wait some more years for that. As writing is also my passion we even discussed doing something together. I am not sure he meant it, even still remembers it, but would be a pleasure to just do it. I was almost sorry he had to go to a meeting. I actually took much more of his time than foreseen, but he didn’t kick me out so I guess he liked it too. When asking about his happiness I also saw him pondering away in his thoughts. I had the feeling that I evoked a thought about what time he spends doing just non-business stuff and business stuff. He definitely is on a good train, and I don’t see any destination yet in sight. Devam Fırat.
Investments done: Shakespeare In Love TR — TR ; Endeavor Catalyst Fund- US ; PayClip (silicon valley) — US ; Ustaeli.com exited — TR ; StilSOS dead- TR ; UseInsider // Insider active- TR ; Mapps dead- TR ; JoyFoodz dead- TR ; Aktivito dead- TR ; Faveeo — SWISS ; Woto — UK ; Yumag Studios dead- TR ; Pozitron exited- TR ; Tailster- UK ; KolayIK- TR ; Reztoran.com — TR ; Mutlubiev.com — TR ; Dağ 2 — The movie exited- TR ; Room+Rumours — TR ; Uplifers- — TR ; Otsimo- TR ; Pubinno- TR/US ; Evdekibakıcım.com- TR Getblyss — AUS ; Akinon — TR ; GrubClub — UK ; JETRACT — TR
Patrick Bosteels, Stage-Co Co-Founder
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