How to become a millionaire?
What makes an entrepreneur? Interview with Baybars Altuntaş
Turkish businessman and entrepreneur
by Annemarie Robson
Baybars Altuntaş is an entrepreneur, international conference speaker and author based in Istanbul, Turkey. He founded Deulcom International in 1992 and currently serves as President of the executive committee of Deulcom. He is also a Dragon on Dragon’s Den Turkey, the Turkish adaptation of the BBC reality show Dragons’ Den.
In 2011, he wrote “Off the Bus, into a BMW”(Otobüsten İndim BMW’ye Bindim). The book has been reprinted 24 times and translated into five languages. Altuntaş was one of 40 innovative businessmen profiled on Turkey’s national television channel, TRT, and was awarded Dunya Daily’s Prize for Civilian Entrepreneurship.
Can you tell us something about your background?
I am a serial entrepreneur who started my very first business from scratch. I established Deulcom International, my first business, in 1992 when I was a university student living in a dorm. My entrepreneurship journey began with an innovative business idea but without money in my pocket. At the end of the first year, my chauffeur-driven BMW was waiting for me in front of the dorm. This inspired the title of my book, “Off the bus, into a BMW”. Eventually I became an angel investor, creator of a global business principle, best-selling author and regularly speak at conferences worldwide.
How did you become the entrepreneur you are today?
I always try to see the big picture in whatever I do. The big picture showed me that creating wealth and jobs are two important issues that individuals and governments have always tried to address. So, building a business that would help create new jobs would be a very logical business. This vision inspired me at the age of 22 when I created my first start-up in the education industry. I established a vocational training course for would-be flight attendants and secured jobs for its graduates with various airlines. This was the first time in Turkey that a private vocational school was offering training for potential flight attendants and providing job placement.
What do you think was the most important factor in your success?
I had developed a unique skill that many would-be entrepreneurs didn’t have. With no access to financing at the beginning, I tried to convert idle capacity of other institutions into cash. In the global business world, this has come to be known as the “Altuntas Principle” and is featured in the international journals of management.
It is actually a very simple concept. You don’t need to prepare your business plan first. You can always develop that later. The first thing you have to develop is a business model that makes use of idle capacity of other people or institutions and creates value. This value will do the same thing for you that financial assets will. In this way, the most important factor in my success was, and still is, the ability to convert idle capacity into cash.
What type of support from your environment empowered you the most?
I had no support from my immediate environment. My father was a retired army officer and my mother was a schoolteacher. Both wanted me to get my university degree first, complete our compulsory military service, get married, and then I could do whatever I liked! As you might imagine, the steps outlined by my family were not particularly appealing to me. So I asked myself a simple question: Instead of waiting ten more years to do whatever I want, as my family was proposing, what if I were to spend all the money I had at the time (US$400) to advertise for a business I wanted to start? What did I stand to lose? The result of my decision: I got “Off the Bus, Into a BMW” at the age of 23.
How were you able to become one of TV‘s “Dragons“?
Following my meeting with President Obama in Washington DC, my popularity in Turkey increased. The team from Sony Pictures Turkey sent me an e-mail saying that they were about to produce the Dragons’ Den TV show in Turkey and they invited me to become one of the Dragons on that programme.
I had enjoyed watching the BBC version of the show but, to be honest, becoming a Dragon was not something I had ever thought about. But when I received the invitation, I didn’t hesitate to accept because I felt I was a perfect match for the Dragon profile. One main criterion was that Dragons must have made their fortune by themselves, and totally from scratch.
What has been the most challenging event of your professional life so far? And how did you overcome it?
As my business grew, I realised I wasn’t particularly good at management. I never really enjoyed dealing with details and wasn’t good at managing people either! I am a very carefree person in everyday life – with a great sense of humour – but in the office I am ‘Mr. Excel’, concentrating purely on the bottom line.
I can easily say that the most challenging time was the moment I knew that I wasn’t any good at management. I knew there and then that I needed to hire the right people to deal with that aspect of my business.
But my weakness in this area led me to develop my business into a more profitable one. Since I didn’t enjoy working with 500 people under my control, I decided to convert my business into a franchise. In this business model, every independent entrepreneur would be responsible for running his own business by using my know-how and my brand, which had a good track record as a successful business model. I now own a 17-school chain across Turkey and Cyprus and, even though there are more than 500 people working as part of the larger organisation, I am not responsible for the everyday details of running the business because each franchise has its own owner. I’m much happier doing business this way.
With the rising rates of unemployment, do you feel that young people are more entrepreneurial than ever before? What advice can you give to young entrepreneurs?
Rising unemployment is only one of the factors that push people to set up their own business. But I think the source of true success in entrepreneurship is the spirit within, not external forces. If you love what you are doing, you become successful. Entrepreneurship is not something that you can do because you have to.
Young entrepreneurs must be better than most people at using three important senses:
- their nose should be able to smell money better than anybody else
- their eyes must really “see” instead of “just looking”
- their ears (and the space between them) must be kept clear so that they can listen to good advice as well as let certain things go unheard especially in those cases where what is being said to them is not useful.
Additionally, they should also have a loving relationship with these three numbers: 7, 24, and 365. They have to be willing to work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Entrepreneurs generally ask for financial support from friends or relatives when they have a business idea in mind and have been using their nose-eyes-ears effectively. However, if the entrepreneur takes loans too quickly without making any plans, he/she can get dragged into what we call ‘death valley’. That’s when the real problem starts: friends, relatives, business angels, venture capitalists, and banks are no longer willing to provide money. Yet there is an accumulated debt (the original loan) without the ability to repay it. At this point the only source of finance is the customer.
If customers value your product or service, you sell and go on your way and make a detour around death valley, avoiding it altogether.
Otherwise, you’ll just have to forget the rest of the entrepreneurial journey. So with this in mind, I’d like to outline 8 key words for young entrepreneurs to remember if they want to guarantee success: Nose – Eyes – Ears – Death Valley – Customer – 7 – 24 – 365.
Finally, how do you manage family life at the same time as travelling so much?
I am married to the most kind-hearted and the most beautiful woman in the world. I married Rakibe while she was a sales manager at Deulcom International, just 6 months after we met. I am now the father of two daughters, aged 18 years and 14 years. After 20 years of marriage, it is not difficult to manage my family life and travelling because I always travelled a lot even before we were married. That’s the way we started out. I think it might be even more challenging for me to manage my family life if I didn’t travel!
Do you have any final thoughts?
As the son of a teacher and a retired army officer, I would never in my wildest dreams have thought I would start a company without a penny to my name, or that I would own one of the top 100 franchising companies of Turkey.
Neither did I think that I would be invited by the President of the country of entrepreneurs, the United States of America, to talk about entrepreneurship, or that the Turkish prime minister, leader of the world’s 16th largest economy, would hand me a letter to deliver in person to President Obama. I couldn’t have imagined that I would one day be on CNN International commenting on President Obama’s Washington Summit, or that I would be one of the 110 Dragons from 22 countries on the world’s most important entrepreneurship TV show.
When I started my journey, I had no money, no one to help me or provide backup of any kind, but all these things actually happened.
I wholeheartedly believe that our beautiful world is one where dreams are capable of becoming reality as long as we are prepared to work towards realising those dreams. I wish everyone could look at the world in a similarly optimistic way and see the bigger picture in the same frame. I did it my way, and so can you.