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How to ride the bumpy road of the entrepreneur

This is the first in my new series exploring the innovators journey, where changemakers share with me the secrets that help them successfully ride the inevitable ups and downs of their rollercoaster world.

Getting us rolling is Emre Ünay, entrepreneur in innovative startups…

Can you describe your business activities? In what sense are they innovative?

I am the co-founder of an aerospace company and a sports technology company in Turkey, the co-founder of a space-tech company in the Netherlands, and most importantly, the co-founder of a consultancy, project and innovation management company with my dear wife.

My aerospace, sports and space tech companies mostly develop measurement systems and sensors. As always, we have competition, or alternatives, direct or indirect. So, it is not enough to use the state of the art hardware and software in our products. It doesn’t give you a competitive advantage. You need to invent the state of the art. You need to develop innovative software and hardware solutions that give you a distinct advantage in terms of performance. Whatever you call it, moat, edge, differentiator, secret sauce, magic or anything else, you definitely need something that puts your products on the top, out of competition. This is where innovation kicks in – coming up with the solutions that ensures your supremacy and spares you from a competitive, fruitless battle for survival, a race to the bottom.

In my consultancy, project and innovation management company that I co-founded with my wife, things are even more interesting regarding innovation, because we are trying to bring innovation into innovation. We are trying to develop innovative methodologies and software tools about innovation management. Although the outputs of these activities will mostly be software and services, the development process already benefits us greatly by changing our mindset into a more holistic view towards our other activities, too. So, aside from the great joy I am having working with my wife, the fact that I am working on the innovation itself innovatively is a great experience.

What is your role as an innovator in these activities?

I am more of a technical guy as an aerospace engineer, but as a battle-hardened entrepreneur I can look at things with a broader view, too. But how broad it might be, I am aware that innovation is teamwork. Throughout my career I have observed that the best innovation is mostly created collectively. Hence I can consider myself as a team player regarding my role in innovation. One-man-shows rarely result in success and innovation.

Can you describe your path as an entrepreneur?

It has been a bumpy road, of course, with lots of ups and downs, but I never regretted it.

Regarding my tech companies, I started my entrepreneurship journey 10 years ago and there were some unprofitable, even no-revenue periods in the first few years. These periods put immense psychological pressure. After those first years, we got successful with our sales increased. In order to make our success sustainable, we never ceased to innovate, in fact, we increased our research and development efforts even more. That, in turn, resulted in more success in a compounding manner. Finally we entered a phase now in which we are making strategic decisions by opening offices abroad and initiating long-term high-risk and high-gain projects. Regarding my venture with my wife, we are still at the beginning of our journey, hopefully a success story to be told in the future.

What future projects are you looking at?

It is quite hard to predict the future of tech in this non-linear, chaotic, interconnected and complex world with our limited knowledge. But in my humble opinion, one of the new hot topics for the upcoming years will be ‘space’. Launch costs decrease, new use-cases emerge, systems miniaturise, tens of thousands of new satellites are planned to be delivered. There are many ambitious space programs globally, especially in Europe, India and China, which might even lead to a potential Space Race 2 between nations. Therefore, my tech companies initiated many internally funded projects involving space applications.

In our company with my wife, we have ambitious projects involving innovation management. We’ll see the outcomes in the years to come.

What advice would you give for about-to-be entrepreneurs?

Any action of a living organism can be regarded as an investment. To put it simply, all organisms consume some energy with the hope of acquiring more. In our modern lives, it also holds true. We invest our time, effort and resources into a variety of things like our jobs, our relationships, our activities, for a return on investment in terms of money, happiness or experience. Entrepreneurship is no different, you are putting your time, effort and money in order to build something that will provide you with more money and better life in the future. This is an investment. As an investor you need to identify your resources to be committed, in terms of time and money. Then you need to allocate those resources into a cleverly executed business plan to achieve the outcomes, with an investor mindset.

What I just outlined now is a no-brainer, but that investor mindset helps you to overcome the most challenging part of entrepreneurship, the psychological aspect. If you ever struggle in the first months of your journey when you carry the psychological burden of the no-revenue or no-profit phase, remind yourself that you just allocated your resources to a high-risk investment, you need to be patient and stick to the plan. Moreover, like a clever investor, you may want to diversify your portfolio, which means you may allocate some of your resources to short-term quick gains while allocating some other resources to more long-term visionary projects. Finally, as an investor, always be mindful of the risks, assess the probabilities of success and avoid sunk-cost fallacy by executing stop-loss in some of your projects if necessary.

Finally, I think entrepreneurship is not something summarized as a process of founding a company, developing a product and selling it. In fact, that is not even the correct order, maybe reverse order is better. You need to sell it first by talking to the customers, doing the research and unmistakably identifying the demand. While ‘selling before making’, avoid the ‘fake it till you make it’ mindset, play your cards open while showing your potential customers what you intend to do. Then, based on the demand and requirements you collect, develop your product or service that fits your customers’ needs. You can look it up, the number one reason why startups fail is the lack of product-market fit. Always do something people need. Your customers should need your product or service as much as you need their money. If you can create that situation, then congrats, you just became a successful entrepreneur.

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Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Eda has worked on several EU-funded projects, particularly the proposal writing of EU-funded projects, mainly Horizon, and projects funded by TÜBİTAK. Eda has a B.A. Degree from the Department of Economics, Bilkent University in Ankara; and speaks Turkish, English, French, Spanish and Italian.

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