What Startup Istanbul taught me about my startup

A few months ago, while minding my own business, I came to learn about this startup centric conference that was due to be hosted in Istanbul. Another way to spend money we don’t have.

The person through whom I came to know about SI was looking for a sponsor to help her get there for garnering awareness and goodwill for her work in the area of ICT training for women in underdeveloped and rural Pakistan.

In me, she found a willing person who not only thought to contribute to her participation, but also to use the opportunity to take foona Review out on the road, again.

After all, we were getting 3 entries for the price of 2 – what a bargain!

There has been a lot of talk around the value of attending a conference such as this or even the Web Summit – hosted every year in Dublin, Ireland. Some even solicit my thoughts as a former exhibitor in 2014. I don’t indulge.

The first thing I believe is that when you have little money to spare, you need to be extra judicious about where and how you burn it – as the term burn money goes.

You are not profitable or even at break-even, so any money you spend is basically burnt. This doesn’t mean it isn’t or won’t create value, but it does mean every penny counts for 5.

As a 2x exhibitor (Web Summit and Startup Istanbul), I have found comfort in the ‘investment’ made each time, both for different reasons. Like setting mile markers for progress – to measure where you are, where you need to go and how well you got there if and when you did.

Web Summit marked the start of when my mind assured my heart that I must move ahead and invest in myself, my (old) dream and my team. So we officially launched foona.net (beta) and established that this would mark the beginning.

Startup Istanbul came at an opportune time because it marked a 1 year period since launch, for us to launch the next stage of growth and development, including a new online experience, a mobile app and a massively larger database of information.

Between these two time frames (Nov ’14 – Oct ’15), one has little idea of what can be accomplished. The details are for another post, but in summary we grew our team from about 6 people to about 25, started another business that my wife runs to support foona.

More than money, it took quick thinking, a will to survive and a bullish ambition to create value.

For those who seek validation, attending a conference, whether as a window shopper or an exhibitor, can have just as much value as you make of it. I like to keep an open mind and expect nothing – that way everything is a pleasant surprise and a +1.

Other than making some pretty cool contacts, I learnt how to better explain what foona aims to do. It’s amazing how language barriers make you choose your words more carefully.

As you discover how people respond to how you explain your business/model, you realize simplicity is pivotal!

To start, let’s (re)define foona Review.

Put it simply, it is a marketplace or platform for anyone who wants to offer food to anyone who wants food. Doesn’t matter whether you are a

  1. Roadside dhaaba

  2. Home-based kitchen

  3. Fast food chain (local or international)

  4. 3 star Michelin restaurant*

  5. Regular home-cook, or even one who likes to experiment

Maybe you have 3 generations of recipes that the world can experience, or you seek opinion leaders to influence where you eat out, what you order in or how you best prepare a chicken cacciatore.

The recipes are global, the eateries are local. That means for one reason or another, our users can come from anywhere.

Though our current recipes are curated from scores of sources around the world, we are repurposing them to be relevant with local foodie experiences. And you can add your own as well!

Basically, we’re trying to give you the power to do more with food, with fewer clicks, in a single, continuous journey, without having to go to another site.

A few key things I learnt about having a startup and what it takes to go further than just standing safely in your booth;

  1. There is no perfect product or a perfect pitch; both perfect each other over time

  2. Clarity and brevity in describing your offer, especially where language is a barrier, is key

  3. Keep having a shit load of fun, while following your heart and the rest will work its way around

In the end, I realize that attending a conference is more than just ‘finding investors’ or ‘revealing new products’. It’s about connecting with like minded entrepreneurs, all seeking validation, ideas, support and a network to depend on.

I made some really cool friends, from India, Slovenia, Turkey, Poland, Romania and even Pakistan. Everyone has a dream, and as someone wisely asked me, “How can you trust one another with your ideas – what if they steal it?”. As startups and entrepreneurs, all we have is our trust in one another.

But in the end, it is a race to see who can do something with an idea, faster, better. Meanwhile, we are stronger as a community than isolated as fearful ideators. After all, investors look for 2 things:

  1. A solid idea – mediocre, good or awesome is relative to a problem it may solve

  2. A solid executor – just because you thought of it doesn’t make you best suited to give it life

Go out, have fun, share, learn and fail well.



*Corrected from 5 star to 3 star Michelin

Zohare Haider

Published 08 Oct 2015 by Zohare Haider @ foonaReview



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