How This Turkish Entrepreneur Is Turning Albania Into A Hotbed for Startups

Baybars Altuntas is a global entrepreneur, best-selling author, angel investor, columnist, star of the Turkish version of the television show Dragons’ Den, President of the Business Angels Association of Turkey (TBAA), President of Deulcom International, Vice President of the European Trade Association for Business Angels, Seed Funds, and other Early Stage Market Players (EBAN), and the World Entrepreneurship Forum’s Ambassador to Turkey and the Balkan countries.

He has been recognized by the European Trade Association of Business Angels (EBAN) and received the Best Individual in Europe Globally Engaging with the World Entrepreneurial Ecosystem award in both 2013 and 2014. He was the only entrepreneurship guru to be granted a special audience by US President Barack Obama at the White House.

You have been in Albania before. You seem to be intrigued by it. What keeps you coming back? Is it that you see potential here?

Albania is one of the most promising emerging early-stage start-up markets in South East Europe. The population is young and well educated. It is very close to Italy, which has one of the most important economies of Europe. And you have many universities providing education for the new generations.

As soon as the Albanian translation of my book became a popular title in Tirana bookstores, I started receiving emails direct from readers — entrepreneurs. I understood from their messages that there are innovative Albanians who are potential entrepreneurs but who are unable to implement their business ideas for lack of angel investors in the country.

All over Europe, angel investors are looking for good business ideas and good entrepreneurs to invest in. Unfortunately, Albania is the only country of South East Europe without a business angel network. So I decided to develop a relationship with my readers, the entrepreneurs in Albania, by organising an investment delegation — people who listen to the pitches of Albanian entrepreneurs and help create an awareness of angel investment.

Wearing my author hat, I come to Tirana to meet with my readers. With my TBAA President hat, I come to Tirana as the head of the investment delegation for start-ups. And when I come to create an awareness of angel investment, I’m wearing my Vice-President of EBAN hat.

What lessons from your own experience can you share with fervent but fledgling Albanian entrepreneurs?

First of all, they should understand the difference between wannapreneurship and entrepreneurship. They need to be aware that wannapreneurship comes before entrepreneurship, but it means nothing without taking a step towards the entrepreneurship stage.

Secondly, they should also differentiate invention and innovation. With an invention that isn’t marketable or doesn’t sell, they will never have money to deposit into their bank account — they will have only patents to hang on the walls of their office to prove their intelligence. If, on the other hand, they can sell their invention, they have become not merely inventors but also innovators, and this can lead to the entrepreneurial stage and healthier bank accounts.

Thirdly, I would like to draw an attention to the important difference between raising investors and raising investments. In many cases, entrepreneurs and start-ups try to raise investment funds when in fact what they really need to do is find an investor who will provide know-how, mentorship and networking.

Fourth, fervent fledgling Albanian entrepreneurs should pay attention to getting investments from the right teams, and by the same token, investors need to be sure they are making investments in the right teams. Securing money from an angel investor team can carry your project all the way to Silicon Valley, whereas getting money from an individual investor might carry you only as far as the next street.

Last but certainly not least is a specific skill that needs to be developed: how to convert idle capacity in the economy to cash to generate finance for their potential businesses.

What is your general assessment of the future of start-ups in the Balkans? How far can a start-up go when so many markets are plagued by corruption?

I prefer using the term ‘South East Europe’ instead of ‘Balkans’ because most Balkan countries are candidates for or members of the EU and cannot legitimately be separated from developments in the European entrepreneurship ecosystem.

On the 7th of May at the EBAN Congress in Eindhoven, I moderated a panel on developing the South East Europe entrepreneurship ecosystems, with speakers from Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro. All the speakers agreed on the importance of entrepreneurship education, which was identified as the main keyto connecting the entrepreneurs of this particular region of the world with global start-up markets.

Regarding the corruption issue, I think the new generation, if they develop the right entrepreneurial skills and a global mind-set, will be the ones to find the solution to this challenge.

What are the essential skills that a successful entrepreneur must be armed with? 

Entrepreneurs must possess 3 important skills:

They have to be able to actually see opportunities, not just look at them. So smart eyes are very important for an entrepreneur.
They have to be keen and discriminating listeners, to differentiate between legitimate and irrelevant criticism. Entrepreneurs will hear many comments, both positive and negative, as they start out in their businesses. Smart ears are therefore critical for the entrepreneur.
They have to be able to sniff out money before setting up their business. In this respect, entrepreneurs need smart noses.

Can you explain in broad terms the essence of your unique system that you call ‘The map to success: Your rise to entrepreneurship’, and tell us the conditions for this system to work successfully?  

In this system, I lay out the key details of each step of the entrepreneurship journey. I have categorised all the steps that an entrepreneur will take during his entrepreneurship journey, from beginning to end. I refer to those steps as ‘the rising map of successful entrepreneurship’, and I have given hundreds of speeches on this topic all over the world. This map, which I produced for world-class entrepreneurs, is also used in the workshops and training programs of various universities.

The essence of my system is a different way of doing business that is known as the Altuntas Applied Theory: CICIC©Converting Idle Capacity Into Cash©, which has been examined by numerous academicians and featured in internationally refereed professional journals in management; academic researchers refer to it as the Altuntas Formula. I am delighted to be not just a role model for entrepreneurs but also a source of inspiration for academicians to study and discover unique and beneficial methods for entrepreneurs. I aim to show entrepreneurs and start-ups a different way of doing business in case their funds are insufficient to implement their business ideas. This different way of doing business is dependent on developing a mind-set which will allow entrepreneurs to perceive the idle capacity of their network. They (and you) will not need money to start a business in applying the CICIC technique.

In my opinion, the journey to entrepreneurship resembles the four seasons of the year.

The first season is the level of wannapreneurship.
The second season is the stage of starting a business. This stage has three important sub-steps: innovation, entrepreneurship, and marketing and sales.
The third season is the growth stage, which comprises branding,institutionalization, and
Lastly, the fourth season is the maturity stage: leadership and angel investment.
In the absence of a business angel network, I encourage entrepreneurs to become, in effect, their own business angel by applying the CICIC technique. What they have to do is apply the CICIC technique to initiate the business and then follow the rising map of successful entrepreneurship. The combination of these unique systems is called the Altuntas Principle of Doing Business From Scratch.

You are the pioneer of the franchising system in Turkey and the Balkan countries. Do you think that Albania, along with the Balkans in general, has shown enough readiness indicators for franchising?

In 1990s, when I introduced the franchising system to Turkey, there was an interesting paradox in the market: When you visited a popular Turkish kebab restaurant, you would see a sign on the front announcing  ‘We have no branches anywhere else’ and this entrepreneur was proud of that. However, when McDonald’s opened their first franchise in Turkey, they were proud of opening their 5 thousandth restaurant in the world.

So I took notice of what McDonald’s was doing to expand their business, and I created my own initiatives to bring an awareness of the pros and cons of the franchising system for the Turkish economy. I believe that, with a re-engineered mind-set, entrepreneurs in Albania and South East Europe will start to see the franchising system as an opportunity to foster their local economies and expand businesses globally. Coming to your question, I think every country has unique products to share with world; even if they are not yet quite ready, they may be on the brink of readiness — and Albania and South East Europe are part of this picture.

Why do people keep reading your bestseller Off the Bus, Into a Supercar?

As the son of a teacher and a retired army officer, I would never in my wildest dreams have thought that the company I started without a penny to my name would become a multi-mullion-dollar business. Or that the president of the United States of America — in the land of entrepreneurs — would invite me to the White House to talk about entrepreneurship, or that the Turkish prime minister, leader of the 16th largest economy in the world, 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 most important entrepreneurship TV show in the world, Dragons’ Den (Shark Tank in the US).

I had no money, no one to help me or back me up in the beginning, but all those things really happened. I wholeheartedly believe that our beautiful world is one where dreams are capable of becoming reality so long as we work towards the realization of those dreams.

I wish for everyone to be able to look at the world in the same optimistic way as I do, to see the bigger picture in the same frame. If the son of a teacher and army officer can achieve huge success, then I am sure that you can too, but probably much more easily.

In the final analysis, I am saying that if I did it my way, so can you! And the to-do list in my book is an excellent reason for people to keep reading my book.

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