Göksemin Gökalp Özdemir is a very well-spoken, presentable and determined brand strategist who was born in Elazığ, Turkey. The daughter of a former military, and current airline pilot, Göksemin spent her childhood on the move, studying in 8 different schools across Turkey and latterly in Texas, USA.
She told us that “it wasn’t easy being the new girl. It was always tough in the beginning but afterwards getting to know new people became something I enjoy.”
Whilst studying Business Administration at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, which she started at only 17 years of age (and where she later received her MBA), Göksemin interned at TNT Express every summer, explaining that “though my dream was to work in the brand/retail business, life doesn’t give you what you want right away.”
After graudating Göksemin started her professional career at TNT straight away and although it wasn’t her preferred career she learned a huge amount, explaining that “working in the transportation business taught me all about time, crisis management and customer satisfaction. Don’t be picky when starting your career. Just start and get to learn whatever you can.”
Eventually Göksemin discovered a passion for marketing, which was born out of a curiosity for the retail industry. Surprisingly, perhaps, this interest started at the tender age of 12, when Göksemin used to bombard her mother with questions. She told us she would ask her mother “who decided to put these prices on the tags?” and “who decided on how this store ended up here?”.
It struck her 5 years later, when Göksemin began university and attended her first marketing course, that “there were people taking care of all the questions I’ve been asking, and thats how I realized what I wanted to do for living. Thats how my journey began.”
This was indeed the start of a journey, an incredible journey in fact. Göksemin at 17 wouldn’t have known that her passion for marketing, stemming from her childhood curiosity about the retail industry, would inspire her to embark on a corporate career with huge brands including Swatch, Calvin Klein, Vakko and G-Star Raw.
Initially Göksemin’s driving motivation in her career was, as she describes it, her “interest in operating, leading and marketing brands”. Over time, however, she realised that “after years of corporate life experience with big international brands, even though I loved my job, I figured out that I was more into the stories of how these brands were built.”
To fulfill this ambition, Göksemin left corporate life behind, founding G2O Consulting to transfer much of her extensive marketing and branding knowledge to a client pool that includes tech startups and big-name brands. It certainly wasn’t easy striking out on her own and Göksemin told us that “when I decided to start my own business, most of the people around me where frightened and even wanted to stop me. They kept explaining to me that I should play it safe and shouldn’t leave corporate life.”
Ironically, however, because Göksemin’s entire career was “built on challenges”, her experience gave her the courage she needed to leave behind the comforts of corporate life. She told us that “when I look back, I can say that it's all these struggles that made me who I am today. How I overcame these obstacles? I was always clear on what I wanted in life and had clear goals in terms of my career.”
One of Göksemin’s goals, when she set up G2O Consulting, was to become a world-class professional consultant. After extensive research, Göksemin realised that in order to succeed, she would need to work on her listening skills. She told us “I started searching how to become a professional consultant. There was this one thing that kept popping up, saying how important listening to your client was! I haven’t been the best listener my whole life. I talk fast, I write fast, I read fast, I always want people to explain stuff in a summary… This was a huge barrier towards what I wanted to do next in life.”
In order to improve her active listening skills, Göksemin completed an Advanced Coaching Training Program with the International Coach Federation in 2014. In addition to helping improve her active listening skills, this reminded her of how satisfying it can be to coach and mentor others. She explained that she has always enjoyed “learning and sharing what I’ve learned with people who needed it. It has been like this since… forever. Even as a kid I always loved helping my friends”.
This passion for helping, mentoring and coaching has complemented her career tremendously, and Göksemin is an active educator and mentor at major institutions including Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi but also in the tech startup scene, where Göksemin mentors for Workup, an entrepreneurship program run by Türkiye İş Bankası (one of Turkey’s leading banks) and for Google Launchpad, a 1-week pre-incubation program for early stage startups.
Having worked with over 500 startups, Göksemin has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on successful techniques for tech entrepreneurs. She was kindly willing to share some top tips below:
Words of wisdom for early stage founders:
- First of all, nowadays, having a great idea doesn’t mean anything. Be sure that you start your business in order to solve someones actual problem. Don’t run around and ask mentors or people on linkedin asking how your “idea” is. Just start, do something. Even if you don’t think you have a budget to begin with, forget the excuses and start simple, with a survey. Ask questions to your potential audeince. Try to understand if they really need your idea.
- Your team is the most important thing. Surround yourself with people who truly believe in you.
- When the time comes to ask questions, always go specific when trying to get help. Don’t send messages on Linkedin asking “what do you think” or don’t say “can I ask you something”. Ask a spesific question. You’ll see how people will be more willing to help you.
- Always start by solving one problem that a person (or company) experiences. Never start with solving all the problems they have. Do it step by step.
Best practices for founders…on marketing and scaling-up
- Be sure you and your team knows “why” you are in this business. This is the only way to build the right communication strategy.
- Know your target audience. Talk to them. Send surveys, call them, spend time understanding them.
- Move fast. Learn fast. Repeat.
- Offer the best customer service. Invest in after sales.
- You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Own your metrics.
- Never give up. The whole journey is based on struggles and not giving up.
- Everyone will give you advice. Listen to it, but be selective on what advice you actually act on.
In addition to sharing advice on startups and scaling, Göksemin shared her opinion on the future of Turkish tech. In her own words, “I belive that Turkey is one of the best countries to initiate a start-up. The entry barriers are low. The last couple of years, the interest in entrepreneurship and startups has grown, local VC funds began to emerge and the number of angel investors had increased as well.”
Outside of running G2O Consulting, Göksemin enjoys travelling the world with her husband Burak. Typically they try to visit a new country every year, although Göksemin is especially fascinated by Africa, where she enjoys volunteering.
Having worked with many female entrepreneurs, Göksemin also shared some valuable insights on how to encourage more women to get into tech: “It's been said that girls and boys show equal interest in STEM subjects until middle school, after that girls' interest begins to fade. It’s all about what society tells them. Girls hear more of “you can’t do this” “it’s not for you” than boys do.. We need to keep girls interested in STEM. I think we should create more programs across the country in order to find these brilliant people and mentor them. Having a community will show them that they are not alone”.
From a young age Göksemin demonstrated a keen curiosity that has fuelled her life long journey in search of answers. Somewhere along the way she discovered a passion for marketing born out of a strong enthusiasm for story telling. Every story has a beginning, and from a young age Göksemin was fascinated by how brands began their journeys, which also inspired her to explore the world of startups. After a lifetime of asking questions, today Göksemin helps early stage entrepreneurs and big brands alike, to work out the answers.