In the summer of 2017 my co-founder and I moved to San Francisco from Zurich, Switzerland to build Kosmos School. We’re both Swiss. Well, that’s not completely true. She also holds a German passport and I hold a Turkish one. While I was born and raised in Switzerland, my parents are both Turkish.
For this story, it’s also important to note that I speak Turkish pretty fluently, and that my co-founder is also my partner and that we don’t have any kids. We do have a cat though, but that’s easier to move from country to country.
Anyways, we moved to SF to create a new startup in the education space. Previously, we were both working at a different company that I had co-founded in Zurich. I always said that if I ever start a new company, I want to do it in Silicon Valley.
Interestingly, the most common question we got was “why Silicon Valley?”. Not only from our Swiss friends, but also from folks living in the Bay Area. And it’s always the same answer. Ecosystem, investors, talent, the Hollywood of startups, etc.
It’s true, though. The concentration of talented, hard-working, smart people in SV is astonishing. So is the number of investors. Futhermore, the mindset and the culture of the Valley is great. Most people migrate there with a goal in mind, and work hard to get there. Getting to know these people, being in the environment, really helps to stay motivated. I’m not going to go deeper into this topic right now, I think it has been covered enough by others.
Two years later, we moved to Turkey. Right now, we’re in beautiful Bodrum and moving to Istanbul next week, where we’ll stay for four months. After that, who knows.
Why did we move to Turkey if SV is so great? The main reason was that we ran out of cash. See, our grand plan was to move to SV, generate some traction, raise a round of financing from the many investors who are there, and then grow quickly. Initially, we financed ourselves from our savings. Later, we had to ask our families for a loan and did a small friends and family investing round, too. We tried to raise money from VCs in SV twice, and we failed. Why? Our product wasn’t good enough and we didn’t have enough growth.
After two years, instead of getting more into debt and staying in SF, we decided to move to Turkey, where life is cheap. Especially if you have access to Swiss Francs. To finance ourselves, I now work 16 hours a week for my old company remotely. That cash helps to pay the bills for two people in Turkey. Not only that, we have a much higher quality of life compared to SF. We don’t have a roommate anymore, we can eat out as much as we like (although we don’t, we like cooking), the weather is great, we’re taking sailing lessons and can go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea whenever we want (the last bit is true for Bodrum).
Now that we don’t loose cash each month, we can go on as long as we want without pressure. We can focus on building a great product without thinking about fundraising (which sucks hard, btw) all the time. Also, it helped us gain a new perspective on the world, learn about a new culture (although I’m Turkish, I’ve never lived here before).
As the great Isaac Asimov once said: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
Is it better for a startup to be in Turkey than in SV? In our case and for the time being yes. Obviously, this is not a universal truth and we might move back to SF or somewhere else in the future.
So, what don’t we have here compared to SV? We can’t grab a coffee with a random investor tomorrow. We don’t meet as many driven people who are interested in tech. We can’t go to fancy networking events. And there aren’t millions of coders who live nearby to potentially hire (although, as a startup in the Valley, that stopped being an advantage because of super high salaries driven by Facebook and friends)
You see, for us those points don’t really matter. In general, we believe that physical location becomes less and less important. Obviously, VR will transform the nature of remote work. Therefore we want to grow as a distributed company, so we don’t care where people live. More than that, I think being distributed, if done correctly, is an enormous competitive advantage. As for investors - if you have a great product, you don’t need that coffee with that random investor. If you really want to raise money, it will be much much easier if you have a great product and good investors won’t care where you live.
Let’s see where this adventure takes us. Remember that it’s important to enjoy the road to your goal, people often forget this. If you’re in Istanbul or Bodrum, drop me a message :-)