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Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal. Original article here.
By Ben Rooney
Among Turkey’s fledgling start-ups, Peak Games stands slightly apart.
For while the other big names of the Turkish start up scene — Yemeksepeti (online food ordering), Ciceksepeti, (an on-line flower seller), Trendyol, (flash sales) Markafoni, (private shopping club), and GittiGidiyor (an eBay clone)—are all big mainly inside Turkey, Peak Games under its charismatic founder Sidar Şahin, is getting big by spreading outside the country as well, mainly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
And it is big. The company claimed earlier this year that it has more active users than Electronic Arts and was the third most popular games maker on Facebook after Zynga and King.com.
Mr. Şahin, who was previously a founding partner at Trendyol, founded the company in 2010 after feeling he had done all he could at Trendyol and wanted to return to his passion, games. He started a gaming company as early as 2001 and a mobile gaming company in 2002. But he also wanted to do something much, much bigger.
“I started Peak to change the world,” he says with no equivocation.
“In Turkey there is no ecosystem. It has just started. Yes there is a big potential. It is just starting. It is not there yet.”
He is second to none in his admiration for what Google has achieved and is taking a leaf out of its book. “Everyone says Google is a search engine. No. Google is a culture. What they have created is a culture.
“How we want to change the world is we want to create a culture here. It is about creating vision and culture. It is all about people.”
He sees Peak as being something of a training ground for would be entrepreneurs. “We take people in and train them. Then they become leaders and go on. We take in new people, and they become leaders.” He speaks admiringly of the so-called PayPal mafia, the group of founders who went on to create a whole slew of other start ups. “I want a ‘Peak Games mafia’.”
For him it is not about games, “it is about changing something in Turkey. The only way to do this is to build product and engineering-focussed companies in Turkey.”
So his ambition is to build one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, and the biggest technology company in Turkey.
He claims some success. Not only has the company succeeded in climbing rapidly up the social games league table, but he said it is drawing in graduates. “Last year everyone wanted to join Procter and Gamble. This year when you talk to new graduates, they want to join us. They say they want to be part of the company that reaches millions of people.”
Mr. Şahin has a long history of running companies. “I have started many companies,” he says laughing. “Most of them failed.” His modesty belies a successful track record including a mobile games company in 2002, a video portal and several others both in Turkey and abroad.
“I need to conquer the Turkish internet,” he told himself so he set about it in what he now admits was completely the wrong way. “I burned more than $10 million of my own money. I was so stupid. I would see a good model and copied it. I tried to build a social network because Facebook wasn’t here in Turkey then. But you cannot do it [build a great company] if you have ego and a focus problem.
“I had a big ego problem. I hit the wall big time, then again, then again. I said enough. I learned a lot about myself but it was hard,” he admits.
But it was then in 2009 that he met up with the people who were to become the co-founders of Trendyol. “That year was amazing. We went from 3-4 people to 500 people.”
But ultimately Mr. Şahin wanted to go back to running his own business and doing what he wants to do—to transform the Turkish internet scene.
The company’s first games were based on traditional Turkish and Arabic card and board games and were aimed not only at Turkey but the Middle East/North Africa region. It was this targeting of both the under-served home market (few games were available in Turkish) and the larger MENA region that has been the reason for Peak’s success to date.
And hoping to cash in on the expanding penetration of smartphones both locally and abroad the company is moving heavily into mobile gaming.
Peak’s offices have an enviable office, overlooking the Bosphorus, the river that historically brought wealth and influence to what was then Constantinople, now Istanbul. Peak is looking to do much the same.
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