Friday, January 22, 2010

Nihal Muradoglu – Entrepreneur, Mentor, Educator

A couple of months ago I was privileged to meet Nihal (Nicky) Muradoglu, who is a native of Turkey, but spends part of her time in the United States, as well as maintaining an office in Istanbul. During her career so far, she has lived in five countries, and is an expert on cross cultural coaching, business, and training. At her behest, I am now in Istanbul for two weeks, learning from her staff, and updating them with my own experience with startups.

Marty: Welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. What do you do?

Nicky: I do many things, ranging from establishing a startup incubator and innovation center (mikro sosyo teknopark) called BTYM, running the Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research in Turkey (Sietar Turk), to providing seed funding for several new startups in Istanbul. I am also finalizing plans for an A. K. Rice Institute group dynamics behavioral science center here as well.

Marty: Why are you so passionate about entrepreneurship in Turkey?

Nicky: I am passionate about it for the world. It is important that people be interdependent but not co-dependant. It is the basic remedy of our times for all aspects of our lives from every corner of the world. I have ways and means in Turkey which came from a good heritage, and that has to affect Turkey first and then be shared with the world.

Why Turkey, why now? I have the time and energy now. It was first my own education, then to help my husband, then our children, and now the countries to be helped where we lived. I have contributed to France and USA a lot, and now its time to focus on Turkey.

Turkey is very important. Its youth are very precious, and just like other nations, there are many goods that come from Turkey for their neighbors, this region, and the world. I invest in people. Turkish young can be the part of the solution of helping to achieve sustainable economic development, sustainable social development, and sustainable educational development.

That’s why - why not Turkey?

Marty: From your perspective what are the key elements of a business incubator?

Nicky: Overall, our emphasis is on teamwork and building a cohesive team. Without the right team, there will be no business running.

Of course, we provide the basic business facilities – centrally located, close to public transportation and parking. The staff is warm and experienced, there is ample equipment, structure, and we teach leadership, strong ethics, and nurture creativity. We also provide free seminars on self-development, team development, and sustainable knowledge development.

On the business side, we provide assistance on business plan writing, evaluation, and funding sources. Most importantly, young entrepreneurs can find mentors and role models, and network with people who are committed to sustainable economic development.

Marty: What unique challenges do you see in an intercultural environment?

Nicky: I see many challenges. Intercultural communication is not yet much in the social consciousness level in Turkey, but it is critical to other parts of the system, which makes all communication more confusing.

For example, European Union (EU) project partners often come together, twelve countries in a room at the table, to decide on task and budget sharing. When the roles and operations implementation model is discussed for win-wins and percentages, you can imagine the division between the ones who have had the training before sitting at the table, and the ones who have not. This is before you get into leveraging cultural differences to communicate, then comes the collaboration, then comes when to use “dispute.” Dispute for the project sake is to be permitted, but it is not fun and not appropriate for ego sake, or power and control sake.

When there are too many grays, it is hard to build a trust without clear rights and wrongs. If we can give training to all, and bring a common vocabulary and its accepted meaning, that would be a start. After that, the different parts can be brought to an interdisciplinary view, work in cohesion, and be complementary. Without this process, all parties will expect everything to work top-down from the leader. The EU does not want this, and the USA is not even aware of, or talking about it. They think they have bottom-up teamwork, but they don’t.

This needs to be taken from a religious dialog to a science, and be used for Turks to go into world markets as others used it for to penetrate into their markets. This will help them to contribute to others and make a right globalization model.

Marty: What are the most positive attributes you see in this new generation of entrepreneurs?

Nicky: They are aware of a global society because of the Internet. They are interacting with others from many parts of the world. They speak at least some English because of computer training. They are IT web literate, and they have the courage to go to another country and travel. They are careful, but not fearful. Some are spoiled and some are not, but they want to make it. They are creative, willing, inquiring, and open minded, if they trust their source and mentor.

Marty: Any general advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup today?

Nicky: If Turks really want to make a difference, they need to learn how to live and work well together in a live organism “order in chaos” model, per Margaret J. Wheatley. All differences can fit into this, but a rigid orderly environment would work only as a control and create insecurity. They also need to learn the business basics, and spread the word in Turkey. I am here to help.

Marty: Nicky, thank you very much for your insights and your role-model leadership in Turkey, and the rest of the world. You can find out more about Nicky’s activities by visiting the BTYM website and contacting her directly through email (nihalmuradoglu@gmail.com).

Marty Zwilling


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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Harley Finkelstein, Serial Entrepreneur Interview

A couple of weeks ago I met a 26 year-old serial entrepreneur with the attributes that I believe exemplify what it takes for the new generation, and the rest of us, to succeed in this new economy and new world. He recently completed a law degree and MBA at the University of Ottawa, and has a ‘day job’ practicing law with a leading corporate law firm in Toronto.

Marty: Welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us about your entrepreneurial activities.

Harley: In 2002, as a first year undergrad at McGill University, I launched my first start-up, Finkinc, which today is considered to be a leader in the collegiate apparel & promotional products market. With the success of my first business I began investing in other startups when I entered law school, and we built a model whereby we provide micro funding (equity-side) and strong mentorship to startups, with a primary focus on student entrepreneurs. Our latest startup is Smoofer.com, an online t-shirt shop that sells exclusive licensed t-shirts such as the Rolling Stones, Batman, the Transformers and David Bowie.

Marty: When did you know that you were destined to be an entrepreneur?

Harley: When I was about 11 years old I recall building an office in my family’s garage where I could take (mock) phone calls, meet (fake) clients, and sell my proverbial widgets. I guess that’s when I realized that I liked the idea of being in ‘business’ (albeit at the time I don’t think I had any idea what that really meant). However, I think I realized my passion for entrepreneurship when I launched Finkinc in 2002. The catalyst for starting the company was simple: I needed to support myself and afford rent, tuition, and all of my other necessary living expenses.

My passion was further substantiated when things didn’t initially go very well with our venture, and bills were starting to pile up. It was rather eye-opening that despite losing money I loved what I was doing with our businesses, and this passion for the ‘journey’ rather than for the ‘destination’ was all I needed to get hooked on entrepreneurship. For the first eighteen months I played the role of CEO, bookkeeper, receptionist, production manager and janitor, and despite my lack of interest in having to calculate sales tax or ‘schlepping’ boxes to the post office, I woke up every day engaged, impassioned and in love.

Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur these days from your perspective?

Harley: For me, the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur these days is the diminution of barriers to entry (ironically, this is also something I find to be really exciting).
With the emergence of e-Commerce, entrepreneurs can now open an online retailer in a matter of minutes and have a third party handle shipping, inventory and even billing.

While it may be true that most unqualified sites will likely fail soon after launch, the ability to even compete with established E-tailers (even if it’s only for a matter of days) is something that was impossible ten years ago. The flip side of this challenge is that this innovation-evolution has allowed one of our newest startups, Smoofer.com, to make some real waves in the Canadian t-shirt industry, and we’re now competing head to head with some of the most established brick and mortar retailers in the country.

Marty: What is a key personal attribute you see in the new generation of entrepreneurs?

Harley: I think it’s our generation’s technological curiosity and our natural (or second nature) understanding of IT. The days of saying ‘I don’t have to ever learn that’ or ‘I have an IT guy for that’ are long over. Having grown up concurrently with the materialization of the internet, today most young entrepreneurs understand far more about the nuts and bolts of their business’ technology than past vintages of entrepreneurs (generally).

The second key attribute is little more complicated. There has also been a (positive) shift away from the ‘Gordon Gekko’ paradigm and model of success, and I think that young entrepreneurs today have a strong understanding that business is not just about dollars and cents, but about building value for themselves, their investors, their community, and even their society. I believe that today’s young entrepreneurs understand that it’s less about ‘kill or be killed’, and more about innovation and making the lives of their customers better…sorry Gordo.

Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?

Harley:
  • Go out there and just do it.
  • Find strong mentors to emulate, and build yourself an advisory board (even an informal one) to help vet new ideas and plan your strategy.
  • Talk to everyone and never be afraid to ask questions.
  • Set clear goals and deadlines for yourself, and while perseverance is crucial, know when to cut your losses and move on.
  • Finally, the more sh*t you throw on the wall, the more that has the potential to stick… even if that means getting a little dirty, so shoot the puck!
Marty: Harley, thank you very much for your insights and your role-model leadership for all of us! You can find out more about Harley’s entrepreneurial activities or contact him directly through his business site SuperAngel.

Marty Zwilling


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