The entrepreneurial journey

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One of the highlights of Groundswell is expected to be the new Out of the Box breakfast event, at which Kiwi serial entrepreneur Ezel Kokcu will be a speaker. Kokcu will also be speaking at the Business Women’s network event.

“I’ve had such a varied experience over the last seven years so I’m really excited to share my journey and some of the mistakes and learnings,” she told Bay of Plenty Business News.

The 26-year-old dropped out of Victoria University to co-found startup STQRY – an app that allows people to discover museums and events in their area that match their interests. Now known as Area360, the app was a success, raising $5.5 million in capital before Kokcu decided to sell it off.

She is currently developing her largest start-up to date, Passphere, a ticketing and analytics platform aiming to take on the major global players.

Kokcu was a finalist in the Women of Influence Awards, has featured in Forbes and was Te Papa’s entrepreneur in residence for Mahuki. She has now done business in five different countries and her talk will focus on some of the nuances of each country and the challenges of developing a product in New Zealand and then scaling it up globally.

Key learnings for Kokcu have included getting the right personnel, the difficulties for small New Zealand startups in securing local support from customers, and the importance of not falling into the trap of spending too long perfecting the product before getting it validated in the market.

“The people around our cities should use new local products and support local entrepreneurs,” she said.

Kokcu also said one of her mistakes when venturing offshore was to spend too much money on costs that turned out not to be essential.

Another was hiring the wrong people, and not acting quickly enough in letting them go.

Talent could be difficult to source, so hiring wisely and firing fast if it didn’t work out was essential, she said.

“We all have inklings when someone just isn’t right for the job,” she said.

You need to take the idea out for early validation – if you’ve got customers who are willing to buy, that’s all the validation you need.” – Ezel Kokcu

“It can be really confrontational, letting somebody go, but if they’re not fit for the business they’re not. I really believe in hiring right and if they’re not right, then firing fast.

She also warned against the dangers of over-focusing on product development at the expense of validating the product in the market.

In her first startup, the partners managed to secure investment in the first couple of months and were then out selling the product.

“I think that’s what a lot of companies are hesitant to do,” she said.

“People always want to perfect the product first. But you need to take the idea out for early validation – if you’ve got customers who are willing to buy, that’s all the validation you need.”

As she works on her new and biggest venture, Kockcu acknowledged that it was a massive challenge for small companies that were trying to make a big difference.

“But that there is a difference to be made is really encouraging.”

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