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Friday Interview: Dragons Den Baybars Altuntas

So we are here with Baybars, who is a former Dragon on Dragon’s Den Turkey. He is going to be talking to us about entrepreneurship.

So tell us just very briefly about your story, how you started and what advice you would give to people who have no money to start a business.

I started university in the 90’s with just $400 in my pocket. 2 years later I had a chauffeur driven BMW waiting outside for me. Let me explain to you how I made my first $5m.

In 1992 I realized I had a talent for converting idle capacity into business. Idle capacity is space or employees or machinery that is not being used, therefore not creating profit. For example an empty office on the weekend.

My capacity theory is now studied by an institution in South-East Europe and covers all nine steps that will take a would-be entrepreneur to angel investment level, by converting idle capacity into cash.

The secret of this theory is the mindset. If you have the correct mindset, then you are able to understand how you can use the unused capacity around you to make business. So if you have this capability that means you won’t need a bank or a crowdfunding platform, nor an angel investor or government grant. You just need customers.

My first piece of advice to entrepreneurs is to see the customer as a sort of financial investment, but how are you going to advertise idle capacity to the customer? This depends on your mindset, how you use the unused capacity of your environment to produce cash. A financial marketing plan will create a bridge to the customer. This is really important. If you know the value of your plan, then it is easy to convince the stakeholders of the business to let you use their idle capacity.

A very simple example: if you want to run an English course in London then it’s not important to have finances because there are many universities who don’t use their classrooms very efficiently. You can go into one of these universities and explain that you can create extra value for them by using their classrooms at weekends by converting them into your business premises.

People need to have the confidence. How do you build that confidence, that mindset? They will think “this university is so big, they will not talk to me because I am so small”. How do you overcome that fear?

I was trying to do the same thing in Istanbul. In the 1990’s there was no certified English language course in Turkish universities. I spoke to the Dean of my school asked him to talk to the president of the university to let me use the classrooms at the weekends. All my friends said “the president of the university won’t talk to you or make an agreement with you. You’re a student here with no money!” But I said “What do I have to lose?”
I faced the same thing when I wanted to make an appointment with President Obama. People said “Why will he want to be in a meeting with you?
“Because I have a brilliant idea for the world and I have nothing to lose by trying.” I replied.
Migrant entrepreneurs should know they won’t lose anything if they take a step.

So you believe more in creating the opportunity than opportunity just coming to you and you taking them?

Of course! Many entrepreneurs don’t see opportunities that are at their doorstep. Looking at something and really seeing it are two different things. Most people look at their environment but they don’t see it. I was one of the few students who saw the university. I saw the strong sides of the university and I converted these strong sides of the university into a business.

So once you found the place, because you wanted to run a course, you used the credibility of the university for your business, to be able to get your customers? It was a very clever move to say that the university is behind my business. So do you think that everyone, in a way, should partner or should try to get into a business where they can use someone else’s credibility to grow their database?

I was just a 21 year old student, what credibility could I have in this competitive market? In order to gain credibility, yes, you have to use the institution’s credibility. But after that because I made the business really work, everybody understood that if Baybar’s not in the game, then this business will not run.

So you used the credibility to build a reputation?

Yes, and this reputation became my own asset. And this asset then brought new business.

Now, for migrant entrepreneurs there is a mindset, the fear, the language and all of that. Obviously now you do business in English as well. At the beginning, did you have issues, even though you have a successful business, if you start doing business in another language? Did you have that fear or not? Once you have a successful business, then you kind of loose the fear for anything else you do, is there a correlation there?

Yeah. I think you are asking this question to clarify the issue for migrant entrepreneurs. I made my business in an environment where I could sell the business in my own language. This is essential because the most important thing is selling the product. If you can’t sell, you won’t get far. If you can sell, then the next steps will come. Branding, institutionalization, franchising, leadership etc. So if you don’t speak the language of the customer, then it is better to appoint someone who can.

I was 21 years old, and my customers were not young people in their 20’s. My customers were their parents, because parents were paying their course fees. Their parents were 50/60 years old. In order to sell to them I hired someone older. In order to be successful it is really important to be able to relate to the customer. Body language is just as important as the spoken language.

It’s much more trust?

Yeah. So, I think that migrant entrepreneurs should find a local person of the correct age with the correct body language to interact with the customers.

Okay. Now you do a brilliant job promoting Turkey. Apparently, Turkish people are voted the most entrepreneurial people, is it in the DNA, to do business? For those who want to do business with Turkey what is your advice? If you want to either export goods to Turkey or services, what is the interaction, how does that start, what would be your advice then?

First of all, wherever you do business, China, Turkey, Germany or in the UK, they all have different dynamics. In order to deal with the local approach, you must have a local partner. The first person you have to convince is not the customer, it’s your local partner. If you find a very good local partner, then you will be one step closer to success. I tried to take my business to Germany so I went to Berlin. Why Berlin? Because there are 300,000 Turkish citizens living in Berlin. There are some places where Turkish is spoken not German. I visited Kreuzberg and thought “why not set up the same system in Germany for Turkish migrants?” They also want to learn English, to work in trade and business. I first tried to do it for Turkish migrants before moving to German consumers. First I learned about the environment with the Turkish diaspora who knew more about Germany than I did, and then I went to do business with the German investors. There are migrants in every country. If you go to China, I’m sure there is an Albanian diaspora, or Turkish diaspora etc. First, go to this diaspora, and try to enter the market, in co-operation with the people who speak the same language and who have more experience than you in this market. Then expand your vision to local consumers with the help of these migrants.

Where would you go to find a local partner? What would you suggest if people want to go and find a local partner?

Chambers of Commerce have lists also networking is really important. People never come to you. You should go to people. If I was a 20 year old Turkish entrepreneur, who had limited money in his pockets and came to London, I think I would start by visiting hotel receptions and see what kind of conferences there are. I would go to these conferences and start networking and give my card out. Print a business card and find networking opportunities. People have many connections in other industries and you never know where an opportunity may come from. Go everywhere, try to understand what is happening and try to link this environment with your project.

What do you think is the key skill that a migrant entrepreneur should have if they want to start their business?

Marketing and sales is the main skill. If you cannot sell your business idea, or your product, or service, how can you go ahead? Everything starts with sales. Even when you’re looking for an angel investor, the investor tries to find out if you are a good sales person. He knows that if you cannot sell then that responsibility will fall on him and he does not want that. Migrant entrepreneurs should develop their marketing and sales skills to the best standards.