When Nevzat Aydin, founder of Yemeksepeti, Turkey’s first online food delivery portal, launched his company around ten years ago, there was no entrepreneurial ecosystem in Turkey. Today the competition is tough. We bring you a portrait of an entrepreneur whose career epitomises this transition.

Yemeksepeti combines the menus of restaurants in a given neighbourhood and enables customers to order meals directly on its site. CEO Nevzat Aydin has just launched another online service, Lokum, which enables users to search out the best regional produce and order it online.

L'Atelier: When it comes to digital, we think of Turkey as a relatively new market. Yet you’ve been in business for around ten years. Back then were you doing something exceptional?

Nevzat Aydin: In 2000, I’d just got back from Silicon Valley, where I’d gone to study various successful business models with the aim of launching my own company. A food delivery business seemed to me to be a promising idea in Turkey, where people are very keen on food. At that time there was only one competitor in this type of business, and that company wasn’t on the Internet. It struck me that the potential was enormous, especially when one added the flexibility that the Web could offer.
At the time, there were no venture capitalists around, nor any business angels. Turkey was also going through a difficult time: we launched in January 2001, and in February of the same year the country suffered a major financial crisis. Many people at that time thought that the Internet wasn’t about to change anything.

L'Atelier: Did the company enjoy immediate success?

Nevzat Aydin: Yes, it did, but growth peaked later, in 2005-2006, following the
privatisation of the telecoms sector. Turkish people began to have Internet access at home, in addition to having it in the workplace. We reached another sales peak in 2010-2011. Up until then, the Internet had been mainly used for searching for information or for chatting. With the growth of online banking and daily deal sites, e-commerce increased rapidly. At that time our business increased to 30,000 orders a day; we’re now at 60,000. For many people, we’re the site which first introduced them to online ordering. A business segment of this size might of course have reason to fear hacking, for example. But with Yemeksepeti you can order online and pay on delivery. Our customers found that reassuring.

L'Atelier: Why don’t we see more such ‘success stories’ emerging on a regular basis? Is there a shortage of ideas?

Nevzat Aydin: It’s not so much the idea that counts, it’s the ability to carry it through in practice. It’s the team. Competition is tough and you have to be able to grow fast. The other problem is money. Access to financing is easier in the United States and western Europe. Funding is especially important these days because as soon as an innovative idea is launched, you can be sure that there’ll be ten clones following on its heels. The problem is that there are plenty of companies just at the seed capital stage – businesses valued at between €500,000 and €1,000,000 – and then there are very much bigger companies. But there’s a wide gap between these two profiles, because investors tend to hold back until they’re sure they’ve made the right choice.

L'Atelier: Are you saying that it’s better to reproduce something that’s already been done rather than launch something entirely new?

Nevzat Aydin: No, not at all. If you think you have an innovative idea and you can get it going, you’ll always be more successful than if you clone someone’s else’s idea. This is especially true in emerging markets, which move faster and more easily than other markets. In Turkey, the general public has at last been won over and people are now, on the whole, naturally inclined to adopt new services.

L'Atelier: When you launched your business, it was pretty much virgin territory. Today, competition has become much fiercer. What will the market look like in two years’ time?

Nevzat Aydin: I believe it’ll probably be twice as large as today. E-commerce will clearly remain very popular, mainly because everyone will be going in that direction. Perhaps you know that these days there are many major retailers that still don’t have an online version of their business. But things are changing.
Other business models will also grow fast, such as services based on social networks, crowdsourcing, and above all services built around geolocation and mobile.
Today, some 20% of our orders are made via smartphone, compared with 3-4% last year.

By Mathilde Cristiani
Head of Media