Ilker Köksal, who wrote the Founder’s FAQ book, which is among the 30 young entrepreneurs selected to the “30under30” list of the global business magazine Forbes in the USA and which is a guide for entrepreneurs, says that the question “Why am I starting this business” is the basis of creating a startup. According to Köksal, it is extremely difficult for others, especially investors, to believe in startups that cannot answer this question clearly or fully digest the answer.
This month’s guest of our pages is a startup entrepreneur who has achieved global success at a very young age and entered the “Forbes 30under30” list, which includes the 30 most successful entrepreneurs under the age of 30. The main topic of our conversation with İlker Köksal was the Founder’s FAQ book, in addition to his experiences in the field of entrepreneurship. We had a pleasant conversation about this book that appeared before start-up entrepreneurs and gave answers to the most frequently asked questions. Let me leave you alone with our conversation with the recommendation that those who are interested and curious about startup processes should definitely read this book.
Hi Ilker. First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your life story?
Of course, I was born in Ankara, I studied at Bilkent University Computer Engineering. I was one of the founding partners of a startup called Referbase at the university. After school, this company was bought by Kariyer.net. Then I did an MBA at Koç University and went to San Francisco to start a new startup. My partner and I started a startup called Botanalytics, and then I got on the “30under30” list on Forbes America. I recently wrote the book “Founder’s FAQ”. I’m working on a new d2c platform and also helping startups that want to grow in the US. Besides, I play professional tennis and sail as an amateur. I live in every moment of reading books, discovering and learning new things.
You are a very successful entrepreneur who has been on the “Forbes 30under 30” list. How would you describe the most prominent success stories in your entrepreneurial journey?
I can summarize it as trusting the process. In fact, they are all made up of a process and a combination of small and small parts. When we established Referbase while still at university, it was 2012, the startup ecosystem was just forming in Turkey. We were able to come up with a meaningful product and it came to a conclusion. This pushed me to live in San Francisco for the next step. There, a new process started from scratch and I was able to enter the 30under30 list in Forbes America. The process there also led to the writing of the Founder’s FAQ book, and the book entered the best-seller list on Amazon in the Venture Capital category the week it was published in the USA. In general, I can describe it as trusting the moment and the process, good or bad.
How did the idea to write the Founder’s FAQ book come about? I would like to hear the story of the book from you.
I met so many entrepreneurs in San Francisco. Their problems and the questions they asked were very similar. They were having trouble either looking for product-market fit, getting the right investor in the right way, creating a network effect, or attracting A+ talent. This list could be extended. I decided to write the book at a point when these started to cluster, their numbers increased and I could not return to e-mails. I also included interviews with important investors in San Francisco, successful founders who “exit” high amounts. It was important that entrepreneurs who read the book could easily see different perspectives.
When I read the book, I see that it deals in detail with all the critical success factors that may come in the way of entrepreneurs in the startup process. How would you summarize the target audience, content, and main messages of the book?
Founder’s FAQ as a guidebook, a guide to find answers to possible questions in all processes that concern the startup. In the book, the views of entrepreneurs who have brought their startups to large scales and debuted, partners of VCs such as First Round Capital, General Catalyst, Redpoint Ventures, Pear VC, Betaworks Ventures, Susa Ventures, sales, marketing and product leaders of large-scale startups. I also included. The book is aimed at early-stage startup founders, but appeals to anyone who has been or will be in the startup world. Founder’s FAQ is the right book for those who are not yet entrepreneurs, but dream of becoming an entrepreneur someday. Because there are plenty of mistakes they can make when they start a startup, and they will most likely make most of them. Founder’s FAQ will help to minimize the number of these errors as much as possible.
The insurtech ecosystem in our country is about to form, so we see more early-stage initiatives. What would be your advice, especially for early-stage startups?
First of all, they need to know very well the answer to the question of why they are starting a startup. This is the biggest support point they have on this bumpy journey. So the reason for going on this journey must be strong. Startups must solve an important problem and they must be at the center of this solution process. The rest is really about how hungry the founder is to learn. Questions such as how hungry is to ensure product-market fit, to establish an A+ team, to grow. But the most basic is the answer to the question of why I am starting this business. If they don’t believe it and digest it very well, the people around them, teammates, investors, customers will not believe it at all. The other most important point is the founding team. This journey is a long one, at least 6-7 years are required for a possible good exit. The founding team is experiencing this ups and downs together. Just like a marriage. Even a marriage that is not so easy to divorce. My advice is to create a team that has spent a lot of time, already shared something together, everyone knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and can demonstrate open communication. Don’t be in a hurry to do so. A mistake here means they lose the game from the beginning anyway.
So what are İlker Köksal’s future plans? Will entrepreneurship and writing continue to be in your life story?
Definitely yes. It’s a great feeling to write and enlighten people, I’ve experienced this in Founder’s FAQ, and I have book projects for the future. Entrepreneurship is and will be in every part of my life. I spent the pandemic period in Ayvalık after San Francisco. I started a growth-oriented formation that sprouted there and again in America, I will announce the details soon. In my remaining time, I deal with startups that I advise, especially in their growth and investment processes in America. In Turkey, we are working with ScaleX Ventures to create great success stories here.