Dilek Dayinlarli is a vice-president at new venture capital firm 212. The firm’s first fund, a relatively modest $31million, backs a mix of online marketplace, retail and gaming companies in Turkey. The firm’s next fund, planned for this year, will be Europe-wide. We asked her about the state of the Turkish internet scene, what it’s like to be a female VC in Turkey – and her stint reporting to Germany’s Samwer brothers at Groupon.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Germany but raised in Istanbul. It’s a big city and there are a lot of different people, and also the culture is really a mix of east and west, which makes me able to create empathy for people – I think that’s one of the biggest things in my life. Also, I was a basketball player, a professional one. That was really important to my life in Istanbul – success, being part of a team… I learned, if you work hard, you get what you want.
You studied mechanical engineering in Istanbul. That’s not super-common for women…
In my school, one class had 450 students and only five of them were women. It’s tough, being the only woman in the class, but it’s also really good. You realise you’re different, and I was a hard-working student – it was easy for me, connecting with my professors or having friends.
If you’re an engineer, you look at everything analytically. You always look at problems to solve them, and you always find solutions in the shortest way. That’s what I gained from mechanical engineering, probably. It comes from the family – it was not my choice, actually! My father was a mechanical engineer.
Then you got your MBA in the US – and worked in telecommunications before joining Groupon Turkey. Did you enjoy your time there?
I loved it. The Samwer brothers are tough, but you learn a lot. I was able to work with a lot of people from different countries and you work with the best people. Everyone’s young. It was a startup. I love startups. I had my own startup in the US. I used to design jewellery and sell it online and offline. It was my first experience with it.
Why did I leave, pass to another career? You know how it is, the Samwer brothers and their company culture – a lot has already been written about it. Sleepless nights, tension… It affected my decision, but also it was right before the downsizing. If I would not have quit, probably they would [have let me go] a while after, as they did to everybody in the company. But I learnt a lot. Now, I am an investor who invests not only in startups but also in the ecosystem, leveraging some of the know-how that I got there.
Did the 212 team approach you?
Yes – we were told we would be the perfect match, then we started to talk about it.
Your partner at 212, Numan Numan, has an excellent name…
It’s like a brand name, everyone knows him in Turkey… They’re the best people I’ve ever worked with. Numan (right) lived in Tokyo for nine, ten years then went back to New York, worked there almost ten years. He’s got loads of experience. He worked at Goldman Sachs as VP of IT. He’s really good at technology, and he’s a geek…
Ali Karabey [212’s other managing partner], he has a lot of entrepreneurial experience too. He worked at Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank as an investment banker. He’s really good at finance, as you can guess.
What’s it like being a female VC in Turkey?
I’m a mechanical engineer! I’m used to being the minority in the group. It doesn’t hinder me, actually… It’s a metric-driven sector, for me. So, it depends how much you’re helping the startups, how do you raise funds…
Were you ever tempted to think about another career?
What I love is mentoring people, helping them, but I’m really good at project management etc. But I love being a VC. It can be my dream job for now!
Is there hype in Turkey around startups?
There is a little bit of hype. Trendyol was a big success in Turkey. But it’s not like Berlin. We’re still missing smart people who are interested in this area, in entrepreneurship. Here, still, if you are “smart”, you go to a big company and work for them.
Are there cool places for entrepreneurs to hang out in Istanbul? Co-working spaces?
We haven’t exactly that kind of place. That’s one of the biggest missing parts in Istanbul. There are certain Starbucks that you can go to – also universities, probably, are the biggest places that help entrepreneurs.
Rocket Internet pulled out of Turkey last year. Did that have an impact?
I was really scared, to be honest. It was just before we were going to San Fran for some meetings… Nothing happened. Actually, it was good, somehow, because there were 400 people, educated about eCommerce, who wouldn’t have come to the internet industry otherwise. Now, they’re working in really good internet companies.
Any expectations for Turkey in the next few years?
Foreign investors are coming to Turkey as you know – they’re testing the market, searching for really good deals… Probably there are going to be a couple of investments in the next six months.
Also, 2014/2015 – it’s going to be the milestone for Turkey. You know, broadband came late. It reached the last of the population now in 2007/2008. There’s a new generation raised in the internet and now they’re going to start earning money. I believe that’ll be the time there’ll be huge growth.
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