Compocket, a startup in seed stage and starting production. Series of interviews with startups in Turkiye n°1.
Talking about women and youth entrepreneurship is a hot topic and money is spent to spread the message about the importance. And it is important of course, also in the battle of gender equality, especially in our region. Talk the talk, walk the walk. That is 6 words that imply action and there we still see huge challenges. When I met Compocket for the first time I was very impressed by İlayda Büyükdoğal. Not because her pitch was so excellent, but I saw a young woman on stage pitching a tech product with fire and knowledge. She was not there from the start in Compocket. Selim Coskun Guler and Burak Deniz already had the idea and were doing R&D around their idea, joined by some friends at YTU (Yildiz Technical University). The support of their teachers was more like, just stick to your studies and more of this kind of non-support. I did the interview with İlayda online as she is residing in Denmark for the moment and told me her and the company’s story in a very anecdotical way. Surprising as she is 21 years old, as you would expect this rather from lived-through men or women. Every time she told me a story to illustrate something she experienced, she came closer to the screen and that happened on a regular basis. The hardest nut to crack for myself was how accurate to tell the story without harming her and the project as I was from time to time really blown away.
The Compocket story started in 2017 and Ilayda joined around 6 months later, the moment she decided to stop her studies of Electronics and Communication Engineering in ITU (Istanbul Technical University). A dropout searching for her next challenge. She was quite disappointed in her studies until that moment finishing Robert College, already a challenge as such. She was a hard worker, daughter of a doctor, the father, and a previous PR in corporate, the mother, moved from Konya to Istanbul. İlayda had a tough time with 3 girls in the class and some remarkable stories that I need to share. A teacher making a remark to a boy sitting next to her in class that he would be distracted and not being able to focus on the teacher. Or a teacher who told her that she should not question a formula, but after the lesson is finished he admits the formula was wrong but they can not reprint all the books for that. Not to mention that the curriculum was totally outdated and from the analogue time period. I assume this is enough to make her point clear to decide to stop the studies. She put her CV on a job board in school and Selim and Burak wanted to talk to her. It was a match but she had one condition, become a co-founder. And of they went. There was no legal entity at that moment so they signed a collaboration agreement they had put together with a lawyer.
The team changed overtime while they were working on R&D and first prototype. The products they had in mind were microdevices you use to measure in labs connected to your smartphone. The example that I understood best and that will be produced first is an oscilloscope. The device is the size of 2 Euro coins and delivered with the necessary cables and app. I love the new housing. The advantages are smaller, portable and cheaper and at least the same specs as the big ones you see in a lab. The aim from the team from the beginning was to grow internationally. The day I heard them pitch for the first time was at Workinton for the Betapitch program in Berlin. They won that evening and could go to Berlin to the Global Pitch competition. Here also an interesting anecdote. Without going too much in detail, the week before they were supposed to go to Berlin the sponsor said that they were NOT going to pay for it, but they were present themselves in Berlin, staying in a hotel. The Compocket team had some tough internal discussion, decided to go and could have the flight tickets sponsored by T3, Turkiye Teknoloji Takimi while staying in a hostel on their own expense. The saga continued but they won the Global competition, got 6000 euros, an extra 1000 euros was added as the jury liked them so much. This money was crucial and used throughout the year to finish the product only. At this point still, no legal company was formed.
The Big Bang competition in İTÜ was the next big pitch event. Interestingly they were not among the winners here but they won a computer. As they were in constant need of money they decided to mine bitcoins with the computer. Actually, they were more in need of a Mac computer to test the App for iOS so they went to Teknosa (a big chain in Türkiye) and tested in the shop on the Macs. The Compocket story is full of smartness I must say and a great bootstrap example. In the meantime, with a team fluctuating around 5 persons, they moved from incubator to accelerator accessing free office and coffee. After Big Bang they won the pitch competition organised by YTU ( Yildiz Technical University), Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation Competition and got the award to join Starcamp program and off she went to Silicon Valley for 3 weeks while the rest of the team stayed in Istanbul. She was very excited and had a great time there although in her view the Valley people are also just people like us, only they exaggerate a lot and money is very available. İlayda also concluded that you don’t need to be in the Valley to kick off your startup. In the meantime, they had 7 finished products for beta testing going around from tester to tester, collecting feedback and implementing improvements. The team never stopped seeing investors through this whole journey. Most common remarks were very young, no final product, no traction and niche market. More than 95% said, come back when you are successful. In Türkiye the investors found the valuation too high and while raising the valuation by 3 times abroad they got the remark that the valuation was not high enough as well as the money they were looking for so they assumed Compocket had no vision for a big future.
Through the interview, it became clear to me that despite being young and inexperienced, İlayda made some to-the-point remarks. She emphasises that thinking global is key and a good understanding of English is a must. When she talked to Turkish investors she always had the feeling that the attitude and the small ticket sizes aim to keep you local, in a market they know and understand. She had some good mentors and advice but it is clear that bright kids might lack the easy network outlook, they compensate by smartness and drive. When you are active in a tech market and very niche, your scope can only be global and of course, how many investors know überhaupt anything about oscillators. As İlayda travelled the world she also sees the Turkish startups in another context. The same startups abroad are 10 times bigger and grow much faster so they will conquer the market, also the Turkish one.
The last won competition was getting into Futurebox, a Danish deep tech and hardware incubator and accelerator. İlayda moved to Copenhagen and not so happy with her experience here, she moved to InQvation, where she is working, with the rest of the team still in Istanbul. She even picked up university again in Copenhagen, continuing her studies, what her parents definitely will appreciate. She likes the city and the country a lot for many reasons. She is still young and a woman but doesn’t need to cope any more with remarks that don’t reflect exactly gender equality and appreciation despite being young. Europe for her is a place of possibilities and stability. Though she loves studying, İlayda might just as much earn from self-study as from getting the diploma.
Compocket is still no legal company and apart from trying to get grants still bootstrapping based on that one collaboration agreement. The last milestone is a successful crowdfunding project through Arıkovanı with 105.000TL backed, so above target, and starting the production and sales now with 240 devices to deliver. The next milestone is changing from a collaboration model to a legal company structure. This will change with high probability in February 2019 when they establish a Turkish company and pull an investor on board. The term sheet is signed and now the Shareholder agreement is being finalized.
What impacted İlayda, or what is here reflection after starting this crazy adventure? Istanbul is not a good place to work, too much distraction, too much talk, no focus and too much seeking attention in order to be seen cool. She asked herself in the hard moments WHAT she was doing. Her friends are talking about boys while she is waiting for a message on Linkedin. The last 2 years changed her as a person a lot. Let’s call it evolution with more self-confidence and self-motivation as a result. She can pitch now in a packed meeting room or for 5000 people in a conference. While in Denmark, surrounded by tall-blond-blue-eyes-30-plus guys and some girls she is treated in a very equal way. They find İlayda cool, as well as the company. She feels unique here, a big difference with Türkiye.
I cross fingers for the Compocket team. They identified a real problem and came with a solution that makes sense and has a global market to target, weaponed with some unique features. It is hard to judge and understand why the first funding was so hard for me. Was it the conditions the team set forward or was it the lack of knowledge and guts from the investor side? I do remember that İlayda mentioned that not having big money from the start makes you work harder and more focused. I do feel sorry that İlayda and all the young women in tech have to go through tough experiences. Despite laws, good intentions and awareness programs, we have a long way to go. All the best to Compocket, let all the cliches about hard work result in success be true.
Patrick Bosteels, Stage-Co Co-Founder
check out the other interviews https://medium.com/@patrickbosteels