Startup Istanbul wows entrepreneurs with casual networking and focused mentors

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iMote's cofounder Ali Elouafiq says that Startup Istanbul, held on September 30th, was the event he had been waiting for. This is what he took away from the day.

Despite its casual beginning – friendly students managed the informal registration process – the event featured serious networking opportunities and world-famous speakers.

As soon as you stepped inside, seemingly endless trays of Turkish snacks were on offer, which was great for obvious reasons. But also, this provided a perfect atmosphere for networking. The tactic was very smart; other event organizers should learn from this.

At any entrepreneurship event, especially an international one, it will take time for many attendees to arrive, as they will not have been to the venue before. With that in mind, organizers arranged for the first phase of the event to be casual: a simple one-hour speed networking session.

From my experience as a hardcore networker, the setup of networking was ideal, with no differentiation between castes depending on levels of experience in the field, like in the Web Summit or the Webit conferences.

To add to that, every speaker was approachable, making themselves available after their talks, spending time engaging with mentors in the VIP room. The startups that participated in the program were spoiled by the expertise and friendliness of the mentors.

Pitches from the startups were very sophisticated; the selection of those presenting was very smart, and each pitch taught you something.

Dave McClure, founder and GM of 500Startups and Startup Pirate, impressed the public with his sincere, expletive-laced speech, pointing out the challenges of startup ecosystems, placing much of the blame on shy investors. Three important points he made were:

  • Startup founders should not complain that they are not in Silicon Valley; it is startup founders who made the Silicon Valley as successful as it is.
  • Startup founders are equally skilled all over the world. MIT and Stanford don’t impact someone’s ability to successfully start a company.

  • Investors are to blame for the slow progress of startup ecosystems. Investing small amounts progressively is the way to go.

Michael Siebel, a part-time partner at Y Combinator and founder of, impressed me with his dedication to founders. He spent six hours straight advising one founder after the other, even skipping lunch! He gave the following tips:

  • DIY customer service: never outsource customer relationships, this is your core power. Miss it and you miss everything.

  • The faster the fundraising the better. Fast cash increases your progress; less cash optimizes your effort, which increases your valuation. Don’t be picky on equity, and share it equally between founders.

  • Be as instructive as possible in your pitch and you accelerator interviews. Your mom should understand your pitch. And leave the judges with something new to learn.

Rahul Sood, General Manager of Microsoft Ventures, ex-founder of Voodoo computers (a pioneer of high-performance desktops) also gave three sharp pieces of advice:

  • Figure out one thing you want to nail, and stick with it until you’ve got it down to a science. Money is a very weak motivation.

  • Launching a startup is painful and difficult, and you should survive the different pressures and uncertainties. You should be open and surround yourself with support, or you will just crash.
  • China is the fastest growing startup ecosystem, and venture valuations are insanely high. Get in on that market if you can. 

Overall the Startup Istanbul event over delivered on its promises. The event was so compelling, so simple, so connected, so casual. I felt completely comfortable, and ended up making lots of friends on the startup scene throughout Turkey. The quality of the startup pitches was high, the speakers gave useful advice, and they were open to engaging with founders one-on-one.

Having attended the famous Dublin Web Summit 2013, the Webit Congress 2014, and organized startup events in the past, Startup Istanbul is the best event I have attended so far, and the one in which I formed the most genuine and useful bonds with my colleagues.

All photos by iMote's cofounder Ali Lakrakbi.

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