October 22, 2010 – Feyzi Celik , an entrepreneur and innovator from Turkey now living in the U.S, has always been fascinated by science and technology. He created a company whose products and services are now offered by mobile operators around the world.
You are from Turkey. This is the place where you were studying and working. What made you come to the United States?
I completed my undergraduate study in engineering in Turkey. During my college years and after graduation I worked at Tisan, Inc, a leading Turkish construction firm specializing in dam and hydroelectric power plant construction. My father is one of the three founders of the Company. I moved to the United States to pursue my master’s degree. I earned my master’s in engineering at Boston University in addition to a master’s in business administration at Babson College. In parallel, I continued to work at my family’s business during the summer. When I completed my education in the United States, I married my exceptional wife Jill, a Boston native. She was the biggest reason why I stayed in the United States.
When did you realize that technology is your passion?
I have always been fascinated by technology and innovation. Even during my early childhood, I was the first adopter of virtually any new technology. Growing up, I drove all the family decisions on what technology to buy for our home. During my college years, I devised several innovations and continued researching and exploring many types of technologies. I strongly believe that young people live closer to the future.
You were the CEO of the North American division of Koc Group from Istanbul. When did you decide to start your own business?
Yes, I was the CEO of Koc Group’s North American Company. Koc Group is a Fortune Global 500 (listed #186 in 2008) with $40 billion in revenue. One of my job responsibilities included new business development and venture creation. Together with a senior team, I reengineered business development and opportunity evaluation efforts of 25 companies in 20 countries within Koc Group’s International Division. The overall effort was to help foster new businesses. During this time, I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley and communicated with the most innovative technology companies of the world. OnePIN was born during this time. The Internet was in its infancy and I thought, at one point, people will all be connected with each other all around the world. Today, we call this industry “Social Networking.” I discussed OnePIN, the innovation and opportunity with the Koc family and senior management; they supported my decision to move forward with it.
OnePIN delivers services to leading telecommunication firms. Could you tell me something about your products?
CallerXchange, OnePIN’s flagship service, transforms today’s mobile phonebooks into the hub of subscribers’ social networks — the first touch point for every call, SMS, IM or e-mail. With one-click, CallerXchange transforms static phonebooks into social address books that become the catalyst for more communications. Larger and dynamic phonebooks help mobile operators increase revenue and improve customer retention. We continue to focus on developing solutions that are universal in nature – meaning they appeal to an extremely broad user base regardless of nationality, age, or job function. One of our core competencies includes developing mobile applications and technology solutions that are simple – Simple for mobile subscribers to use, and simple for our customers (the mobile operators) to launch. Few people have an appreciation for how difficult it is to build a simple solution.
You filed several patent applications. A few of them have been already approved. Are you currently working on new ideas?
Yes. Currently I have multiple global patent applications. Ten patents issued, and more than 10 patents pending. As an early stage company, we need to focus on our core business. However, innovation is part of OnePIN’s DNA. In order to protect our global leadership, we need to continue to innovate. Thus, we deal with new technologies every day. As a Team, we built a strategic roadmap for OnePIN for the next decade. With this roadmap, we tried to predict the future by almost looking at a crystal ball. Today, we focused on contact management and social networking. Our next innovation will be in connecting phonebooks into financial services, particularly into mobile money solutions.
I have heard that OnePIN was planning to start cooperation with one of the telecommunication companies in Poland. Can we expect that in the near future your product will be available to mobile subscribers in Poland?
We have been in communication with mobile operators in Poland. These projects have 18-24 month sales and deployment time frames, as operators often take a long time to make decisions. The more successes we have with Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile in Western and Eastern Europe, the greater the likelihood of a CallerXchange deployment in Poland.
Do you think the Polish market is attractive to foreign investors?
Poland has been going through a huge transformation. Poland is a very attractive market for foreign investors. The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) numbers in tens of billions of dollars is the proof of this trend. FDI is the most desirable form of investment. Poland will continue to grow its economy and will become an integrated part of the European economy. The Polish mobile market, due to its size and infrastructure, is an important target market for us in the region.
Could you tell me how does the IT/mobile market situation look in the United States right now? What was the reaction of that market to the financial crisis?
America is one of the main driver’s of technology and innovation on a global scale. However, when it comes to the mobile industry, the U.S. is a follower. Until relatively recently, SMS was unknown to the average US consumer. You can find very advanced mobile services in underdeveloped or developing countries; but I think it will take years for Americans to adopt some of these technologies, such as mobile banking. This is not because America is behind; their infrastructure is very strong in the services sector and there are alternative ways of bringing these services to the consumers. The financial crisis impacted all industries in the United States but the impact to the mobile sector is relatively small. The mobile market will continue to make significant progress towards the future. Mobility will continue to be one the drivers of future economies in the United States and the rest of the world.
Which countries have the highest potential of growth in mobile sector?
Currently, our main focus is Africa. Africa is one the fastest growing mobile markets in the world. We see a huge potential for CallerXchange and for our near-term roadmap solutions in this market. By the end of the year, Africa will be accountable for the majority of this year’s growth in the mobile sector. We also view the CIS region, India/APAC, and Latin America as a strategic focus for our growth. We have customers in each of these regions already, and our focus will be to win new business and continue to deliver highly valuable solutions to these markets.
The market changes very quickly and new technologies are launched almost every month. Is it challenging to keep up with the pace of technology?
I agree with your assessment. Every night before I go to sleep I wonder what new technology will surface the next day which might jeopardize our business. This is not only me; all entrepreneurs have to be paranoid in order to survive. As a leader, I need to live on the edge so that OnePIN keeps innovating and continues to be the first company to bring the next generation of technology to the market. The challenge for a company of our size is to prioritize its resources into the right investment areas.
You hired a lot of people from different countries and you have offices around the world. It must be very interesting to work for such an “international” company.
OnePIN is an American company, with our headquarters located in Boston. On the other hand, we only have a few Americans working for the Company. Other than our headquarters we do not even have any other operations in the US. Boston is strategic to us in a sense that it is a technology hub and source for technology focused talent. Our team members are experienced global people. Everybody works very hard with never ending energy. From the start we knew that we had a global technology. We built a global team who would better understand how to successfully launch a mobile service around the world. In the end, we all live today in a connected small world.
Your employees are very happy to work with you. How did you achieve success in this field?
I believe there are many factors that helped us in this area. First of all, we have a very good hiring process. We hire the best of the best. Second, we provide a very pleasant work environment for our employees and promote a culture based on meritocracy. Third, we promote an environment where every member of the team is part of the innovation process – everyone has a voice and everyone contributes ideas related to enhancing our product portfolio, winning new customers, and streamlining processes. Lastly, we genuinely care about every individual’s happiness and success. We give each individual a lot of responsibility and help them grow their abilities in parallel to the Company.
How do you make decisions concerning hiring new people? What is your key to effective people management?
As I mentioned, we put together a very good hiring process during the early stages of building the company. We interviewed individuals to the nth degree. We measured the candidate’s fit to the Company culture as well as his or her expectations and made sure that he or she would be satisfied in his or her role at OnePIN.
I surrounded myself with the best people. Their successes made me and the Company more successful. I like to give full responsibility to my Team. I always have been very transparent: I share the good and the bad news. I consider everyone as part of my family. I care about each of them, their families and their well being. They all know that I have very high expectations from the team. They work hard to achieve and go beyond those expectations.
You have launched a new product to the world market and engaged many investors. You company is still growing – it seems you have achieved success in your career.
Yes, we raised $21 million from four American venture funds. We deployed our service to 60 million subscribers in 11 markets with 9 mobile operator groups. There are 4 billion mobile subscribers around the world. I believe we will be considered successful when we achieve a 10% market penetration around the world. We are still at the early stages of our journey; we have a long way to go.
Interviewed by: Tatiana Nowak