First of all, could you tell us about yourself?
I’m Osman Koç, the co-founder of UserGuiding. I work in sales, customer development, and finance at the company. I’m 27-years-old, I graduated from Bogazici University with a degree in Management. UserGuiding is our first product. Before UserGuiding, we had a software development company with the same team. We founded UserGuiding with the experiences we gained there.
What is UserGuiding, how does it work, where did the idea come from?
UserGuiding is a user onboarding product. Basically, it makes web applications easier to use. At the same time, it enables value propositions to reach end-users more quickly. It does this with product guides created by coding. In short, while UserGuiding offers a non-stop onboarding experience, the end-user gets used to the product faster. So, end users can adopt developed features more quickly. When it comes to where this idea came from, we already had a software company before UserGuiding. We developed 10 or 11 web applications. The biggest problem we had during the products’ delivery was the process in which these web applications’ guides were formed. There were several open-source libraries, but rearranging of product guides already formed, segmenting the customer, and following the other product guides were quite difficult. When we were in San Francisco, we saw that forming a product guide and designing onboarding were no problems only for us. Many agents and SaaS companies, all the companies forming an important part of the web application business, were facing such difficulties. So, we started to build UserGuiding with the goal to develop a product where user onboarding flows can be prepared easily and quickly.
Let’s talk about your adventure in San Francisco, what happened, what kinds of things did you observe there?
I classify San Francisco under 3 different titles. First, both entrepreneurs and investors research every single issue about their business blow-by-blow. I mean they don’t progress like we do saying “I think it will be like this, do you think it will be like this”. They really do research like an academician. This is what I like most.
Another thing is that entrepreneurs place their customers at the center of their business. I don’t come across such a thing here. The customer is the last one to talk about in our case. The progress goes like this; “Let that be ready, let this be ready, I will omit that feature, I will be launching this, then I will talk with the customer last.” This is not the case in San Francisco, though. Even at the very beginning when there is nothing, they talk with customers; they receive feedback from the customer. They make the decisions of the product that they will release and its features together with the customer.
And the other thing is that they do tests like crazy. They put every progress into the A/B test. They don’t start with a landing page and pricing and continue for years as we do.
What kinds of strategies do they have regarding capital and funding? That is the place where you can find a lot of capital, but not everyone can access investment under equal conditions. What did you observe there regarding this?
Firstly, the profile of the entrepreneur looking for investment is really important. When you arrive there from Turkey, Persia, India, no one welcomes you at the airport. Because, without a pre-introduction, meeting with investors, an investor’s making you meet with another investor, getting together and talking about investment with them is quite difficult. However, if you come from California, or simply you are an American and graduated from schools like Stanford, MIT, Harvard, etc. it may be easier for you.
For Europeans too?
For Europeans too, yes. Anyone coming from outside of the U.S.A is seen as a “tourist” there. This is what I think, of course. They think you go there on a whim; but if you are an American and graduated from a reputable school, it is really much easier. For example, two doctoral students can get 250.000 USD as a seed investment in the first month of product development.
Can you explain these profiles?
This is related to previous questions too; they know everything about what they do. Domain expertise is a very important case there.
In our case, you do a doctorate to be an academician or to get the doctor’s title. They do a doctorate there to be an entrepreneur, not to get the doctor title.
To save time?
No, to learn about it all-round. We left in the first seconds of several AI and blockchain events that Muhammet and I attended because they talk so specifically and pedantically. Everyone has spent time on that issue for at least 3 or 4 years. You need to study hard in order to be able to understand what they talk about in those presentations.
How did the team get together, how did you achieve to be in accord with each other?
Well, all of us graduated from Bogazici. I even heard a couple of times that we were criticized for this.
Don’t you accept anyone who didn’t graduate from there?
We don’t have such situations. The school made us get together, that’s all.
Knowing each other since high school and university makes it easier when we include someone new in our team. We tell the profiles we want to our friends and can choose teammates by reference. Our current team has been formed by doing so.
We don’t have a problem in harmony, for now. We have weekly meetings every Monday. It has a certain time. We try not to change it. Apart from that, we have a duty centered way of working. It doesn’t matter where or how many hours we work. It is enough for us to be ready or at least have a satisfactory answer if it isn’t done for the next meeting in which we talk about what should be done in the previous week and what has been done.
How do you motivate yourself and your team, what are your sources of motivation?
For myself, I stop working and take a break when I lose my motivation. We are people that love working as a team. When we take a little break, we want to work right away. But there are weeks when the churn increases or an agreement doesn’t happen that we wait for a long time. We try to support each other at times like this.
Even though we have similar backgrounds, we are not so similar in personality, though. It’s heterogeneous. In a team of 8 people, an issue that upsets 2 or 3 people can give a new idea to the other 2 people. We can have important “insights” about how we will be through that crisis. Our heterogeneous team enables it to happen. For example, while a problem in an enterprise sales channel may upset me and Mert, Muhammet, Osman Cüre, and Alican can say “we can do these in the SaaS channel.” A problem in software can be overcome with the support of the growth team. I believe we overcome it by doing so.
We get so many questions from the people who are at the idea stage and don’t know how and where to start, let me ask about your experiences regarding this. What do you suggest about finding capital, managing it, the team, and operation?
First of all, it’s never too early to search for investment. Finding investment here already takes so much time. If an entrepreneur at the idea stage can reach the investors, contact them somehow, there is no harm in asking for investment. It’s never too early or too late. Even though we are not at the level that is enough in capital intensity, I think the ones who manage the capital are really talented people. They are the ones who read thousands of business plans and listened to hundreds of entrepreneurs. Any feedback received by them can create a remarkable added value at the stages of foundation and growth.
The second issue is, for example, the entrepreneurs met with an investor, and the investor said, “We do not invest in the start-ups at early stages.” It’s a quite possible answer. In such cases, when a minimum viable product is out, launching is done, the first customer is received, the team gets bigger, a fund is collected from somewhere and they get a promotion, the investor may update his or her candidate. These updates are important remarks regarding how things improve if the investor is interested in it. These reminders are the signs that the entrepreneur is loyal to his or her business and eager to improve it, which is an assuring situation for the investor, I think. Entrepreneurs must take action about both receiving feedback and sharing the current indicators. As I said it is never too late or too early for this.
If you ask me what the other things are to be done, I can say that they need to be in touch with potential customers. I suggest them to start with their directories on their phones. For example, regarding SaaS, at the early stages of UserGuiding, as a former worker in the angel investor network, I had the phone number of so many people who have a SaaS company. Before starting UserGuiding, I called many friends of mine who work in SaaS and asked them what the dynamics of SaaS are its good sides and its challenges. I remember that these calls were so helpful for what kinds of things to pay attention to. I want to elaborate more on the phone directory. For example, we couldn’t have started directly driverless car business if we hadn’t taken our phone directory into consideration. Because let aside an entrepreneur friend of ours working in the driverless car sector, we didn’t even have a friend who had a driverless car. This means that you don’t have anybody to ask your tens of questions about from where you should start.
Besides, if you want to create a global company, it is so important to keep up with global publishing and channels. In other words, if you want to become a global founder, you need to read and watch what global founders read and watch. I suggest “A16Z”, “How I Built This”, and “How to Start a Start-up”. It is important to spend a certain time on Medium & Quora. It’s so beneficial to stay away from the country’s agenda.
Another issue that many people wonder about is the investment process. What happened, how did you prepare?
Well, our ecosystem is small. Since it is not a large ecosystem, I didn’t attempt to choose an investor. I attended events and presentations of investors as much as possible. Apart from these, I spared time for everyone who wanted to meet with us. After that, it progressed with the investors that we were in touch with and received term sheets. Especially in the process of due diligence, I paid attention to take necessary actions at the right time to make the progress finish faster for our company.
Also, no matter how concerned and fast the investors in Turkey are, there are lots of paper works. Even the finishing process, which comes after everything is clearly understood, takes quite a while. We had some troubles with these processes. At the times when we needed cash money, our families and friends helped us to stay afloat. I want to thank my team a lot for this. They have continued working in UserGuiding getting salaries that were half or even less than half than they would get in other companies normally.
What are your goals from now on?
To be honest, I’m a little obsessed with the number of countries where there are active users. Now, the number of these countries is 15. My goal is to make it 50 as soon as possible, then 100 and then 200. So, I really want to have to pay customers in all countries of the world, this is one of my biggest dreams. In terms of the product, you know Photoshop and Canva, you know Photoshop is a more complex, more extensive product, but you can design on Canva more easily. Also, Canva’s price is more affordable than that of Photoshop. And we have an aim to become Canva of the user onboarding market, not Photoshop. I mean, we want a person to be able to use UserGuiding so quickly without the need for any technical knowledge.