Ömer Erkmen, serial investor. Series of interviews with investors in Turkiye n°7.

Almost 7 years on Twitter with a total of 270 tweets, mainly reposts. That is an average of 30 tweets per year. 3 posts on Linkedin with just a picture and maybe 1 sentence like the one on Angelhack Istanbul Hackathon with 1 sentence “I’ll be there”, but liked 13 times and viewed 333 times. Social media let’s you quantify some aspects very easily. Most of the time rather useless but in this case it is relevant. Ömer Erkmen is a man of few words, work hard. Until now he is also the person most of my interviewees recommend to talk to. Hard man also to catch as he is always busy. Most of the time I see him in Kolektif House giving advice, mentoring, to young startups. Not bad for a man who planned to get retired some years ago. I can also see that BIC Angels is using him in a good way to promote an engaged investor and mentor.

I was very lucky to have him for me for 20 minutes during the 2nd round meetup of BIC Angel. I like this regular meetup a lot as it puts the finger on the pulse of what is going on in Istanbul in terms of pitching startups. Also each time a bit discouraged about the quality, even though they already went through a screening process. Overall in last years there is progress but we are far from aligned with the international scene. At the same time BIC Angels is in my opinion the best organised Angel Network in Turkiye with a professional attitude.
Ömer is/was a serial entrepreneur. That summarises his past and future the best. Most of it is related to giving training, hard- and software, what also is seen in his mentorship. He is passionate about transferring knowledge and guiding. In 1984 he created the eprom for the Turkish display and keyboard for IBM PC. He was planning to study first in medicine, but his uncle changed his mind and he went for electronics. This resulted in 2 Master degrees. After a VC from Silicon Valley, looking for a Turkish investor in 2010 to replace a ceo that ran away he replaced him for 5 months as CEO (Mekanist). He considers IdeaSoft today as one of his best adventures. His first exit was Mekanist after 4 years. Other investments were Flightrecorder, sold to ClickTale and Blesh. In the meantime he joins BIC Meetings and becomes active in the Angel networks. He became investor, always combined with mentorship of Scorp, temizlikyolda.com, Bionluk, Kolay Randevu, Connected2.me, Erasmusinn and English Ninjas.

Next to investor he is also mentor, almost for all of them, and in some cases Board Member. As one person, this is more than most Angel Networks and VCs do as an organisation. And he has proven to have a good nose as his first investments already paid back well. No surprise that for Ömer this is a full time job and a reference for most in the business. Interesting for me are the investments in Connect2.me and Scorp as they are social media platforms in the consumer market, aiming at a very young audience. I remember that the founder of Connect2.me had it difficult to find investors and Scorp also looked like a high risk adventure. About 2 years ago the founders of Scorp came to Koç Incubator and asked me what they should do to get investment. They already started at that time so my question was simple: can you feed yourself and do you have a place to stay. I heard the typical 15% for X amount. Before I knew it, they had a vibrant team working on the development and the content and an investor and cofounder. Ömer Erkmen. A blessing for them as he is very strong in backend, so he took the team and especially the dev team on his lap and guided them. Today estimated value is 10+ million dollar (guessing) aiming to conquer the World now. I still see Ömer upstairs in Kolektif House Sanayi in the attic with the developers.

Asking about his relationship with BIC Angels, he considers himself a free investor who doesn’t really wants to belong to a group or organization. He is not a big believer of Angel Networks in general. The real Angel work is too early for Turkiye. Startups don’t get much out of them as they are to slow and not professional. Startups get frustrated by the way the Networks operate today. For Ömer timing is key. This is pretty clear as he always goes very fast when he sees an opportunity. Not only the money side, but also the mentoring. In Turkiye most startups are very young, hardly worked in companies, first attempt. Although he does believe in the importance of the Angel concept, he is not sure the Turkish mindset is ready for this approach. Fact is that the number of investments and the ticket sizes are very low in Turkiye and take about 6 months before a decision is taken. In Turkiye there is a lot of money available according to Ömer but it is risk averse money. In the cases they do invest, it is in e-commerce, as there is a perceived fast return here. Once the site is online you see money flowing in, so that gives a good feeling and they count on a fast exit.

In his opinion it is all about the mindset, but we have no experience with this field. The drive should be “why” and if the “why” is meaningful you should go ahead. Ömer combines this with a very hands-on approach, not that he sees mentoring as the ultimate method. He is more the kind of man that looks under the hood and is eager to understand what is there, deciding on data, not on opinion or emotion.
VCs fall under the same verdict. Lack of knowledge. When you look at their investments it is most on localized versions of international successes. But it should be more than translating to Turkish. The focus goes too fast to valuation instead of going through the simple principles, like in marketing, Why, What, How. All common sense but when it comes to startups the opportunism always wins over the use of brains. Ömer sees too much lack of homework, asking the wrong questions, too opinionated and emotional, too much on the surface looks, and too few numbers are taken into account.
Ömer still sees the future bright in Turkiye as time will help us getting there. Always a good teacher and the eagerness to learn from what we meet on our roads. Interestingly Ömer is from the world, meaning that he regularly goes to the States and other countries but still focuses on Turkiye. I have seen already investors turning their back to Turkiye looking for (quick) successes outside the homeland.

There are no 2 Ömers in the Turkish startup scene. When you combine the successful exits with the running investments and the time spend on each of them it almost seems like impossible. Don’t forget, he planned to go on retirement. His only problem is that he has not a repeat and scale model but I am sure he doesn’t want that. Sorry Steve Blank, not everything is a startup.

What is success for Ömer? He considers his life now his preferred life style. He loves being inside the scene, understanding what happens. Being independent. He didn’t say this but that is what I understood during the interview. It’s his way and he enjoys the freedom. He is 60 now, but he considers it the new 30. He sees himself active at least for another 10 years. He acknowledges that the mindset should change in Turkiye next to the political turmoil, which should settle to a more stable environment.
It is quite impossible not to remark Ömer in a crowd, we are both white, but his hair is more, let’s say significant while I just have a red face. It is always fun to see him in the crowd with his attitude of let me just listen, but believe me, he will always engage. When it is interesting.

Patrick Bosteels, Stage-Co Co-Founder
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Stage-Co, Urla Coworking, Now Sprint! Accelerator and Creative Academie co-founder, Facilitator, Accelerator Program Manager and Mentor