Feature below courtesy of the Founded Project, an online publication featuring interviews with rule breakers and risk takers from around the world to learn how they got started.
How much do you know about Turkey? Thirty-one-year-old Emrah Kaya believes the most important thing you should know is that 50% of the population is under the age of 29. Over the past decade, he’s created a mini-media conglomerate designed to focus on youth marketing, engagement and sales. In 2001, he launched Youthholding, which currently generates $10 million in revenues and employs 143 people. Along with Aslı Caner, Emrah was selected as an Endeavor Entrepreneur in 2010.
What is Youtholding?
Emrah: Youtholding is the umbrella name for a group of five Turkish companies specifically focused on developing marketing strategies that embrace the unique culture of young consumers. Our businesses are The UniClub, Youth Media, Eğitişim, Youth Research, and Firsatciyiz.com.
Five businesses dedicated to the Turkish youth market? Tell us about the opportunity you see.
Emrah: First, let me give you some context on Turkey: The population is 72.5MM; 51% is under the age of 29. Social media penetration is very high; we’re ranked 4th worldwide for Facebook usage. The youth marketing segment is valued at $50MM. So when you connect these dots, it becomes very clear that one of the most exciting and dynamic opportunities from a business perspective is harnessing the youth of Turkey. One of the gaps I saw back when I was in college was that traditional Turkish advertising agencies don’t really “get” how to connect and captivate young people.
What do you think the more traditional agencies in Turkey are doing wrong?
Emrah: They are still trying to reach the youth sector via TV, newspapers, print magazines, and radio.
But we know that for young adults and teenagers, TV commercials have transformed into viral videos; print-magazine ads will soon be replaced by interactive iPad apps; radio transmissions are out, and mobile messaging is the way forward.
So what is the vision of your youth media conglomerate?
Emrah: We want to be the hub for all youth-related marketing and create trends and social change for future generations in Turkey and beyond.
What are some of the most innovative businesses in your portfolio?
Emrah: The Uniclub: The first and biggest youth marketing company in Turkey; made up of 5,000 youth influencers on almost all university campuses (90 campuses in 64 cities).
Youth Research: Youth Research is the only research company that focuses entirely on young adults. We study the lifestyles, spending habits, buying behaviors and brand awareness of young adults through qualitative and quantitative projects on various ethnographic platforms.
Firsatciyiz.com: This is a youth-focused online sales channel. It has a unique e-commerce model that is formed according to young people’s buying behaviors through a demand-aggregator web platform. Sales prices are determined by the amount of demand generated within a given campaign period. For example, if 100 customers buy a specific product, the price will be discounted by 15%. If 250 people buy this product, the price will be discounted by 25%.
As a 31-year-old co-founder, what has it been like to build a business in Turkey?
Emrah: It can be tough in Turkey sometimes because most businesses are run by senior-level executives who will always try to prove the validity of their own opinions. You have to be comfortable challenging but also collaborating with the old guard.
Any advice you’d give young entrepreneurs?
Emrah: Try to sell something. No matter how small or silly it is, sell something.
When I was in college, a friend and I planned to launch a huge event on campus. We got some funding from Nescafé, but we severely under-budgeted for marketing expenses. We weren’t going to let the event flop, so we had to get creative—and entrepreneurial.
We decided to sell cheap finger cymbals outside of concert venues where Turkey’s “Prince of Pop,” Tarkan, would perform. These cymbals were a signature part of his music videos, so his fans really loved to see us after the show. We sold almost 5,000 and made US$19,000.
This experience ultimately inspired us to start our first business, The Uniclub, which leverages college students to serve as brand ambassadors.
My main advice is this: There’s no golden moment when you transform into an entrepreneur. If you have ideas, start bringing them to life.
A special thanks to the The Founded Project for conducting this interview.