In today’s talk you will discover how Demirhan was able to turn adversity into opportunity and use abstract thought to come up with a cool startup idea that has really taken off.
Demirhan was born in a small seaside town in Balikesir called Altinoluk but always had a strong competitive side, coming first in a national school placement test at the age of 11 and attending Aegean Region Mathematical Olympiads in İzmir aged 12 years old.
These early experiences, combined with his competitive tennis career which he began at only 5 years of age, empowered Demirhan with the belief that despite growing up in the small town of Altinoluk, he was capable of competing with anyone and expanding his horizons.
Perhaps this is what inspired Demirhan to attend a Turkish naval high school, where competition was a feature of daily life, and where he was also taught the value of discipline and rigorous organization.
As a youngster Demirhan was always inspired by the concept, as he told us, that “electricity is the soul of the world and we all have electrical current running through us.” With that in mind, and equipped with a good head for maths and science, Demirhan went on to study Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Koc University.
After graduating, Demirhan got his first professional experience as an intern at Mercedes-Benz and latterly at IBM. Unfortunately, as he was starting his new career, Demirhan’s very established family business went through a difficult adjustment period as a result of a tricky economic climate at the time.
As Demirhan later explained, “to expand your horizons sometimes you need triggers, and that was my trigger”. Driven by a desire to support the family business and push himself to the limit, Demirhan decided to leave corporate life behind to become an entrepreneur and, in his own words, “do something huge”.
It’s no surprise that he was attracted to the tech industry and, using a thought experiment, he told us to “imagine a physical store on a very famous street which 20,000 people can pass through at most…well compare that with a tech startup, which enables you to provide your services to millions simultaneously, at a very low cost and 24/7.”
In addition to thinking big, Demirhan also told us that he wanted to “do something cool for humanity and good for the community”. To achieve this, he teamed up with a full-stack developer from Izmir. Together they founded uLouder, a location based communication platform and digital announcement board.
Demirhan describes Ulouder as a “digital megaphone in your pocket” that creates closer ties between people based in their local neighborhoods, helping users to find friends nearby, build a business, or volunteer to help the community.
Approximately 5 years ago Demirhan took a leap of faith, left his job and gave himself one year to become a successful entrepreneur. Today, uLouder is a success, with over 82,000 users and a valuation of $ 1.5m based on their last funding round.
It was hard work but according to Demirhan the secret to their success was a well-planned go-to-market strategy. They are currently in fundraising-mode to enable further expansion in Italy, Turkey, Spain, Germany and the USA.
Demirhan’s advice to future entrepreneurs who are considering quitting their jobs is to start saving so you are “able to live for at least a year” without needing a day job. The next crucial step towards building a successful startup, according to Demirhan, is to “find a co-founder who has ethical responsibilities in the communication process and also technical talent.”
He emphasizes the need to build a good team with complementary skill sets around you to “brainstorm and determine the key features for your minimum viable product (MVP) and set key milestones”.
At uLouder, Demirhan handles the business side of things and his co-founder handles all the technical requirements, though both founders are convinced that “soft skills and ethics” are crucial for every entrepreneur. According to Demirhan, founders should also have a combination of a “calm brain with negotiation and communication skills”.
Turning to the future of the Turkish ecosystem, when we asked Demirhan how he felt about the future of Turkish tech talent he gave a counter-intuitive answer. He told us that in fact “negativity is the most positive thing about Turkish talent because it makes us stronger and more creative than others”.
Today, Demirhan’s impressive journey has brought him all the way to the Silicon Valley, where he has recently set up 'Erim Ventures', a venture studio for tech startups.
In yet another example of the global "transferability" of tech skills, Demirhan has witnessed the rise of Turkish tech in 'The Valley' single handedly, as a Turk contributing to the ecosystem himself, but also from a third-party perspective. He told us that “every IT team has at least one Turk” and he alone has 5 friends working at Facebook.
Demirhan's journey is a prime example of someone who turned an adverse situation to his advantage through a combination of sheer determination and creativity by launching an international startup that bridges Turkey and the Silicon Valley.