The Startup Istanbul Experience, As Told by FlexiSAF's CEO

Rahama Obadak
Marketing & Comms, Flexisaf

FlexiSAF's CEO writes about his experience at StartUp Istanbul 2017

It wasn't until Ozan and Amal opened the stage and immediately gingered the audience with their entrepreneurial spirit that I realized I am definitely in the right place.Amal explains, “Innovation does not necessarily mean technology” and this is a point that I like to make. I always tell my colleagues that “Innovation” does not really mean “Invention”. I have learned this a lot from Richard Branson’s Virgin where their model is to innovate and disrupt status quo on how businesses provide services to the customers. Innovation simply means doing it differently and doing it better.The Startup Istanbul experience began when I reluctantly applied for the event after seeing an advert on Facebook. A few weeks later I got an invite for an online interview and FlexiSAF was accepted among the top 100 startups out of over 22,000 applications globally. For FlexiSAF, I think our traction fairly makes it easy for us to get noticed.What attracted me most about Startup Istanbul is their outstanding past records where they truly are a global event with Silicon Valley associations including Draper Associates, Y-Combinator, Amazon Web Services, 500 Startups, etc. The opportunity was obvious but the excitement didn’t really begin until the mentorship sessions started.


Generally, you hear people talk about needing a mentor (or mentors) to be a successful entrepreneur, but practically it is not usually an easy task to get the right mentor. The experience in Startup Istanbul is quite different. Throughout the event, you are surrounded by experienced entrepreneurs who are very open, welcoming and willing to hear your own story. For the Startups, Friday, 20th October was dedicated for mentorship and you have 1 on 1 session with at least 4 mentors. In my own case, I think I was the luckiest in that session having met with Yousef Hamidaddin. “You have a great story but you can tell it better” he explains. In about 5 minutes, the FlexiSAF story was re-invigorated. I have never had such a mentorship session with big impact in just about 15 minutes like this one. It boosted my morale and FlexiSAF was able to make it to the top 15 finalists. In the next few days, Yousef has become one of my most admired mentors and the relationship has just begun.[caption id="attachment_3408" align="alignnone" width="764"]

Pitching SAFSMS during the final[/caption]

Boat Tour

They call it the Boat Tour but I call it the “Mentorship and Networking Tour”. Bill Kenny and Tim Draper were all there for us, attentively listening to our stories and giving us tips and advice on the next steps, developing interests in the things we do and even asking for investment proposals. It was the best form of networking you can think of.

Some photos from the Boat TourStartup Istanbul mentorship approach did not just restrict you to the mentorship session. The whole conference was focused on mentorship and it was a great honour to get Bill test my speech live instead of just his online platform, The detailed discussions and the feedback from Tim were invaluable.[caption id="attachment_3412" align="alignnone" width="800"]

With Tim Draper[/caption]

Investment or Sales, What’s Most Important?

About 2 months ago I tweeted on the relevance of cash flow to a business:

Cash flow is the respiratory system of a business. With a positive cash flow, you start contemplating whether you need any funding.

— Faiz Bashir (@faizbash) August 22, 2017

Bill’s session on “Investment or Sales, What’s Most Important?” was very interesting and kind of validated my tweet. It is not surprising to learn that most investors are quick to invest in businesses that do not necessarily need investment, and the major factor that will position a business not needing investment is sales. This point does not signify that investment is not good. A good investment will help a business to scale very quickly. But it makes a lot of sense for investors to show interest in businesses that are doing very well in sales which means they can have a quick return on investment.

Focus on the Customer

Focusing on the customer in this competitive landscape is a no-brainer and that has been our open secret in the success of SAFSMS; our flagship product. We are very flexible and strive to meet the customer’s expectation. Richard McGuinness, Regional Vice President Of Salesforce explains in his session why putting the customer at the center of your Startup is very important. Working with data is key in putting the customer at the center of the business. Surprisingly, 85% of SMEs still use Excel and emails to manage their customer information.

Think Global

When Emeka Afigbo (Facebook’s Head of Platform Partnerships, EMEA & Africa) visited FlexiSAF in August, the main advice he gave the engineers was to ‘think global’. The current globalization has removed the boundaries between countries and regions. Businesses and consumers are ready to subscribe to any service that will solve their challenges. That is the kind of validation you get in Startup Istanbul. With businesses from different parts of the world, you learn more about other regions and meet potential partners that are excited to collaborate and expand your business in their countries and vice versa.The e-Residency project spearheaded by the Estonian government currently powers more than 4000 location-independent businesses. e-Residency is a new digital nation for global citizens. It truly strengthens the idea of “Think Global”. Kaspar Korjus, the Managing Director for e-Residency platform was at Startup Istanbul to discuss on e-Residency for Global Entrepreneurs.

Connecting with Investors

The ultimate objective for Startup Istanbul is to seize available opportunities to grow your business and get the right investment. The track record of Startup Istanbul to create that opportunity where you meet with potential investors has not slowed down in 2017. It was a unique opportunity to meet with Angel investors like Tim Draper and pitch to hundreds of other investors.More interestingly, you get to meet your next partners and investors who are your neighbours in a foreign land. That was the case when I got to meet with Angel Investor, Tomi Davies who is the co-founder and current president of African Business Angel Network.[caption id="attachment_3420" align="alignnone" width="800"]

With Tomi Davies[/caption]Apart from the investment opportunities, most importantly is the feedback you get from the investors. As Bill pointed out in his presentation that the best feedback happens when you ask for money.The networking, experience and the energy created in this type of event is very useful for the promotion of entrepreneurship and the economy in general. I think such events should be organized locally and internationally to create these opportunities. I strongly look forward to Techpoint Build event coming up in January, 2018 in Lagos.Congrats Burak and Elif, you have pulled off this one perfectly. The experience of the whole process, from the start of the application to the finals, was seamless. I am excited to see your next endeavours.[caption id="attachment_3415" align="alignnone" width="768"]

Left — Elif, Right — Burak[/caption]Congrats to Advancio Interactive for emerging the winner in Startup Istanbul. I'm all ears to learn about your investment deals!

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