The Humble Dreamers
A story about idealism, crisis of purpose, tackling the beast and maybe, just maybe, beating it.
July 2018… A bar in Istanbul…
Berhan and Kazım were sitting comfortably, sipping their cold beers and talking about the latest news about their separate companies, as they have been doing from time to time for the past 10 years.
Berhan, now 37, had been a tech entrepreneur since 2010, failed with his first 3 companies and moderately succeeded with his 4th, a company that develops global dating products. Lately, he’d been seriously questioning what he’s actually trying to achieve as an entrepreneur. Kazım, 38, a senior hardware and software developer, had also been a tech entrepreneur for 7 years. After his latest endeavor, a home VPN device, failed to gain traction he discovered the blockchain technology and immediately got captivated by it. He has since been providing protocol level blockchain consultancy to tech companies in Far East.
Kazım, originally an electronics engineer, has inherently been an idealist as is Berhan, a mechanical engineer, especially when it came to technology. Long before the blockchain was invented and serious user data breaches have become a focus point of mainstream public debate, Berhan and Kazım were contemplating soft data vaults with encrypted keys where software companies did not own the user’s private data, but only given limited access to it from the vault at the user’s discretion. Finally finding his calling, Kazım started to pursue a PhD in IoT and blockchain, whereas Berhan was still searching his heart although already being recognized as a successful entrepreneur and mentor.
Berhan and Kazım had been close friends for over 10 years and technology, usually at a philosophical level, was always the top subject of heated debates between them. The content frequently came down to the purpose of building a particular piece of technology and creating a lasting value that surpasses the builder’s lifetime and transcends into the daily lives of several generations. After these long debates they usually ended up with re-watching either Pirates of Silicon Valley, The Lost Interview of Steve Jobs or Something Ventured, sometimes all three consecutively.
“Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?’. I dream things that never were and say ‘why not?’” — George Bernard Shaw
That day, Kazım wanted to talk about the vast opportunities that a piece of technology, called blockchain, was poised to offer and its potential to not only derail the entire traditional financial system but also transform health care, logistics, real estate and so many other industries. What he didn't know was, crawling in a crisis of purpose, Berhan had already been querying about blockchain for some time and started designing a decentralized short story platform where story writers were paid with a platform token, based on a number of merit based variables. After carefully listening to Berhan and his idea about a decentralized short story platform, Kazım, being deeply knowledgeable by now, enthusiastically insisted that blockchain’s potential “killer app” at the moment could be a bitcoin payment gateway -bitcoin being already battle tested and the most well-known crypto currency in the world- that eliminated some deep issues creeping in its protocol today. He continued that it could take a really long time, maybe forever, to eliminate those issues on bitcoin’s protocol level.
If only, he continued, there was a gateway that immediately validated a bitcoin payment and unlike exchanges ripe for hacking, did not require private keys to be managed centrally. Berhan, already collected $3M from subscription payments from 100+ countries over the last 3 years, added that the service should also be free for all end users. End users do not pay any fees in traditional online payments today, so why should they pay anything in a decentralized payment system, he asked. Based on his experience, Berhan also stated, although subscriptions are potentially the future of all business models since millennials simply don’t want to own anything anymore, not enough people were focusing on them. The reason, he claimed, was that they are a much harder problem to solve because, unlike one-time micro payments, they require a strong, long-term relationship between the customer and the merchant.
And it was decided on that day. They were going to tackle the beast: A bitcoin payment gateway for subscriptions with a simple user experience that validates payments instantly, does not collect private keys and is free for end users.
“…It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” — William Ernest Henley, Invictus
Berhan, filled with intellectual satisfaction and clear purpose after a long time, went to the office next day to talk to Ahmet.
Ahmet, 32, had been working with Berhan in the dating business for a little over 3 years. He was both responsible for developing the Android apps and integrating various payment gateways to multiple platforms for multiple apps. Just like Kazım, he used to be a hardware developer before he met Berhan, working on smart home systems. Though he had never started his own company, he was always an incredibly talented and self-disciplined senior developer. Just as Berhan, he had also found himself in a crisis of purpose for some time and decided to travel to Buenos Aires to work remotely and reassess his objectives and priorities, and just maybe, to find some peace. However, when he returned home that June, he was nowhere near being at peace.
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost…” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Berhan offered Ahmet an equal partnership along with Kazım to be pioneers at a field that genuinely had the potential to be retrospectively seen as one of the defining moments in human history, just like the internet, but being at its infancy today, largely ridiculed by the status quo. He immediately accepted the offer as if he had received a calling from a higher power. Berhan, more enthusiastic than ever, finished a crude app mockup that day and together with Ahmet they went to a former employee of theirs, Ozan, to ask if he could hack together a prototype in a few days. So, 4 days after a casual meeting at a bar in Istanbul, Berhan, Kazım and Ahmet became a team and they even had a crude prototype in their hands. Early next week, both Berhan and Ahmet resigned from their daily jobs at the dating company. For Berhan, quitting from a company he co-founded, was one of the most refreshing moments of his life.
“…Do you read everything you’re supposed to read? Do you think everything you’re supposed to think? Buy what you’re told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.” — Tyler Durden, Fight Club
After many years of rollercoasting between highs and lows as an entrepreneur, and of course being a former COO of Turkey’s 2nd largest online recruitment platform, Berhan knew exactly how much blood it takes to grow a company even if it offered the most advanced technology of its time. Hence, he started looking for a 4th co-founder, specialized in early growth and traction, merely a person who he could bounce ideas with.
Erhat, 38, originally an astronautical engineer, was graduated from the same high school as Berhan, a year earlier than him. Being a 5-year entrepreneur, he co-founded a regional innovation platform, a personal finance management app, a micro-loan provider app and a blockchain fund for indie movies. Apart from his entrepreneurial life, he also provided innovation and venture building consultancy for multinational companies in 40+ countries in EMEA and acted as Co-Director of Founder Institute Istanbul for 7 years. When he crossed roads with Berhan, many years after their graduation from high school during the opening of a comic book store 😊, he recruited him to be a mentor at Founder Institute.
Just like with Kazım, Berhan had also entered several heated debates with Erhat over the past 5 years, but this time, not only about fundamentals or purpose of technology but also how startups should be helped to grow to a level where they are big enough to help people in a meaningful way. During those debates, Erhat proved even more idealistic than Berhan or Kazım in terms of the purpose of technological advancement, so he was a natural choice as the 4th and final co-founder.
“Coming together is beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” — Henry Ford
This is the story about how the 4 co-founders of Arf came together. We truly believe that to be both idealistic and successful in today’s world, it is not enough to talk the talk and walk the walk, but one has to be able to fight the fight, too. And in this fight, our long lasting idealism is our guide, our experience is our shield and our fresh ideas are our weapons. Last, but not least;