When Fırat İşbecer became an entrepreneur, Istanbul was a growing but nascent market with little in place to support the growth of businesses at scale. A decade later, he is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, and leader in a now-thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem. Below, Fırat shares the inflection points that impacted his role today.
Before Endeavor: How our journey began
The summer of 2006 was a life-changing period in my professional life, which catapulted me to where I am today.
I was moving back to Istanbul after a relatively short period in Paris, where I completed my masters in Geopolitics in a joint program between Universite Paris 1 Sorbonne and Ecole Normale Superieure, and I had just left my job as a research assistant at a French think-tank.
Regardless of how marvelous the city of Paris was, it never felt like an expat or business-friendly city to me. Paris’ startup culture, economic growth, international talent and the global mindset was not thriving like it was in its peer cities: New York, Amsterdam, San Francisco or London. (Today, 13 years later, it’s still trying to catch-up.)
On the other hand, Turkey at the time was achieving its highest GDP growth rates consecutively, and bouncing back from a disastrous economic meltdown of 2001. Istanbul was becoming one of the most attractive emerging market metropolises in the world.
Amidst this growing market, my older brother Fatih had launched Pozitron, an enterprise mobile software company. I was to join him, kickstarting my entrepreneurial career.
Our young startup Pozitron had big aspirations, but very limited resources. We wanted to build an amazing software company with a global reach; however, we had no capital, few business contacts, and only five engineers.
Advancements in mobile software were being made at the time. Nokia had introduced its new operating system called Symbian, along with better phone models with stronger processors and hardware. It was getting easier to code and build programs on the phone. Slowly a new phenomenon was emerging: mobile applications.
Mobile was a good area for us to focus on. A small company like ours could design and build apps quite fast. We had a couple of choices: either develop mobile games (back then Snake was the most popular mobile game) and build end-user apps for utility, such as Evernote, or design apps for large enterprises and introduce them to this emerging alternative channel.
We decided to focus on enterprise mobile software and identified banks as a potential first-adopter, since internet banking was already an important revenue channel for them. Of course, nearly 15 years ago, there was no such concept as “Fintech startup.” But we saw a potential market and developed Pozitron’s mobile banking product.
After winning one of our first big clients, Turkiye İş Bankası, Turkey’s largest private bank, our vision was to continue our work on a global scale. Pozitron started looking for ways to expand internationally.
First contact: How we joined Endeavor
We sought support, guidance and capital for global expansion. At the time in Turkey, there was only one Venture Capital (VC) firm. Between the years of 2005–2008, the total VC investments in Turkey, were less than $1–2 million USD. There was no startup community — only 1–2 blog sites and some meetups.
As in other emerging markets, entrepreneurship and startups were not popular in Turkey. There were very few publications, no incubators, and no accelerators. Nevertheless, we never gave up and continued to move forward.
After some extensive research I found Endeavor, a non-profit group based in New York dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Endeavor’s goal was to create sustainable global economies around the world by supporting entrepreneurs who could create employment opportunities, generate economic growth and inspire others to start their own ventures too.
The local selection panel and the international selection panel process took more than six months, but we learned a lot during the process. It was the first time we had an executive financial growth model and a proper income statement with forecasts. My financial literacy and strategic vision grew tenfold in only a few months, even before our selection into the network.
In July 2007, Pozitron was selected as an Endeavor company, alongside other top startups such as Yemeksepeti.com.
From startup to acquisition: Endeavor as a catalyst for growth
Endeavor became a great catalyst for our growth and recognition.
With a strong local board, backed by established Turkish business names such as Koc, Sabancı and Ozyegin, Endeavor created a very effective network and helped us garner more recognition.
Endeavor helped match us with MBA students from top U.S. and international business schools. Those students came to Istanbul to help us scale our business. Some of them even went on to become very successful entrepreneurs themselves, with a few joining the Endeavor network.
With Endeavor, we had a chance to see the business world at its center. We attended workshops and training programs in New York and had the opportunity to travel to Silicon Valley and visit the Facebook, Ebay, and PayPal offices, as well as other industry giants at that time. It was a truly inspirational visit.
My brother Fatih and I were also fortunate to have impactful mentorship opportunities with business leaders such as Matt Harris from Bain Capital, Reid Hoffman of Linkedin and the serial entrepreneur Wences Casares, as well as an advisory board, which helped us make strategic decisions during our expansion, growth and acquisition processes.
Meanwhile, Pozitron was growing quickly. We were selling software in 11 different countries, and the team had grown to 150 people, making us the fastest growing mobile software business in our region.
The introduction of the iPhone made a huge impact in the world of computing. Software and consumers were moving to mobile. During this huge growth period, we began to work with larger brands, such as eBay, PayPal, Turkish Airlines, Turkcell, and Bayer.
By 2013, we were becoming an acquisition target, and larger companies from Europe, India, the Middle East, the US and the UK were approaching Pozitron.
Thanks to our previous training, mentorship sessions and all other lessons we learned over the years from Endeavor, the process went quite smoothly.
In 2014, Pozitron was acquired by Monitise, the UK’s largest mobile banking and payments company at the time, in the largest B2B software acquisition done to date in Turkey. Pozitron also became the largest and most successful exit of the Endeavor Turkey network to date, followed shortly after by Yemeksepeti’s landmark exit in 2015.
Never-ending enthusiasm: Giving back to the ecosystem
After the acquisition, we continued to support Endeavor by giving back to the local ecosystem in Turkey. We believe that a strong support system in entrepreneurial ecosystems is made from the network of entrepreneurs supporting each other through mentorship, investment and inspiration.
Encouraging the mindset of giving back, not only in terms of financing but also in terms of sharing experience and knowledge, is crucial. Supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs and accelerating their journey to scale up becomes a significant driving force for startups. Therefore, we will continue mentoring start-ups and work on creating new success stories like Pozitron.
This year, 2019, marks itself as an important year in our relationship with Endeavor, as I have been nominated and selected to serve as a board member. To think that this was an organization I got in touch with back in 2006, when we were just eight people in our company, is incredible. After 13 years of receiving support, I am delighted to have the privilege to serve as a board member in this community.
Helping to build a valuable community is one of the most important definitions of success for me. My goal is to further accelerate Endeavor’s innovative culture, so we can ensure the realization of new startups and we can give back to the startup community in Turkey. We have a lot of work ahead of us, however, I’m sure together with the team, our expertise and knowhow will help lead many other startups to their desired success.
Firat Isbecer is an entrepreneur and a seed investor. He co-founded Pozitron, a software company focusing on mobile banking, commerce and payments which became one of the fastest growing enterprise software companies in Europe with clients across the globe.
After a multi year exponential growth and a successful international expansion, Pozitron was acquired by London-based fintech star Monitise plc in 2014. After the acquisition, Isbecer joined Monitise and oversaw the company’s regional operations as the MEA Managing Director. Monitise MEA quickly became the most profitable business unit of Monitise Group. In 2017, Monitise Group was fully acquired by the US-based, Fiserv Inc, one of the world’s largest fin-tech companies with more than 50,000 employees.
Shortly after the acquisition, Firat Isbecer left Fiserv and founded his newest venture, Commencis. Commencis helps leading brands grow and scale in digital, powered by it’s Big Data, Analytics and Cloud products.
Isbecer is also an active seed investor. Member of Galata Business Angels, Turkey’s first angel investor group.
After graduating from Robert College in İstanbul, Firat received his Bachelor’s Degree from Galatasaray University, and his Master’s Degree from a joint programme by Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He was selected into Fortune Turkey’s 40 under 40 list numerous times.
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