Galata Tower in Istanbul by Michaela Loheit

From Cairo to Istanbul — part 1

A journey of discovering myself in 2015

Fade in

I’m a Product Designer who left Cairo to work in Istanbul. I traveled on November 11th 2014 to join a startup called Arkony. It had many amazing people from Russia, Egypt and Turkey. Everyone was friendly and nice. The working environment was great. The company provided us with everything. Accommodation, transportation, lunch and even breakfast, so it was a perfect life. I even got the chance to learn how to play Ping Pong -table tennis- during that time.

Istanbul the city

It’s a pretty city with a lot of vibe and opportunities. Some may say that it’s crowded but I didn’t feel that. It was fine and life was smooth except for the fact that people don’t usually speak English. Sometimes, it might be hard to get through stuff but thanks to my amazing Turkish friends. They were always there whenever I needed. After a while I learned how to handle myself along side with some basic Turkish words to keep me going.

The Apocalypse

My first month in the company was AWESOME. I bonded with the team and I got closer to many people. Second month came and troubles started to rise. Salaries were delayed and promises kept coming and going but nothing concrete. Working time decreased and playing table tennis time increased. After the second month people started to lose faith. I thought about the worst scenario and said “Ha! it’s not that bad”. I started to cut my spendings hoping that I’ll get paid soon. Others said that it’s better to find another job or go back to their home country. For me going back to Egypt was a big NO and the reason was because I didn’t find myself in there anymore.

Survival

I didn’t leave Egypt to go back to it, so I decided to stay despite what’s happening. My first idea was to try and find a job or to freelance. I didn’t know what to do exactly or where to look. I didn’t know anyone and I had no network at all. I thought that my first move was to look around for online communities. Such as groups for designers or startups in Istanbul. Also I gotta check my online presence, so I updated my tiny website & my portfolio. I joined few online communities. I tweeted and shared here and there that I’m available for work. I joined few groups, events and meetups. My primary goal was to know the startup community. after few weeks people started to reply back and get in touch with me. First batch of meetings nothing happened but I felt like it’s easy to network and meet with people. I didn’t leave any door un-knocked. After a while I started to get some referrals. I met so many founders, designers, different kinds of developers and even few investors. The community in Istanbul is very easy to get along. My goal was to design one product startups and help them do better with their designs. I was kinda picky because I love what I do, so if I’m gonna work with startups and own their designs I gotta be interested in what they do. Otherwise it’s pointless. Also it’s worth mentioning that I had few full-time job offers but for some reason I didn’t see myself doing it at that time.

HACKQUARTERS

Amazing things happen. I got the chance to help my best friend Kaan Akın build an accelerator in Istanbul called HACKQUARTERS. His idea is simple, we don’t just give you money. We give you an experienced multi-disciplined team. This top notch team to help you and complement any skills that you need in order to continue building your product. I had the opportunity to build several MVPs. Shape the early stage of their design strategies as well as adding core values to their designs. Check out what we’ve been doing and on hackquarters.co

Bad turned out to be best

Maybe what happened would be something tragic but for me it turned out to be my best year since I started to do design for a living. I worked on so many startups in one year owning their whole design process which definitely pushed my skills to new levels. It was like I discovered myself once again to see what I can actually accomplish. Throughout the year I worked on Reztoran, Monument, Sebastian, Getiriver, Davetpostasi and even more!

The outcomes:

  1. You can do so much more than what you think.
  2. I learned more about myself. Once I put my head to something, I can do make it happen
  3. Networking is so important to build your reputation and sell yourself to the community.
  4. Providing certain quality and playing many roles is important for startups because they struggle to find talents.
  5. My skills were improved in all aspects. I feel that I can do Visual design, interaction and user experience so much better than before.
  6. Using modular approaches for my designing processes and coding phases helped me save plenty of time and gain more money.

In few words:

“Getting out of your comfort zone pushes your limits to new levels. You learn more about yourself and what you can actually do in such hard time. They say; No pain, no gain”


Thanks for reading. Please recommend it if you like it :)

I’m zero & I design early stage startups @hackquarters. Product Designer & writer. Check out my website and dribbble

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