BY KERIM ULKER
YILDIZ HOLDING’S THIRD GENERATION LEADER, YAHYA ULKER, HAS ALREADY BEGUN BUILDING THE FUTURE OF THE COMPANY WITH YILDIZ VENTURES TO SUPPORT THE ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM IN SECTORS THAT WILL ADD VALUE TO THE HOLDING’S STRATEGY. ISTEGELSIN, TURKEY’S FIRST ONLINE SUPERMARKET, HAS BECOME HIS BIGGEST INCUBATION VENTURE EVER, WITH AN INVESTMENT OF USD 30M. WHAT NEXT FOR THE LATEST YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR FROM TURKEY’S STORIED ULKER FAMILY?
Yahya Ulker, the son of Murat Ulker and the next generation of Yildiz Holding’s leadership cadre, is already proving to be a 21st-century businessman who will no doubt make a name for himself in the near future. Before taking on a role at the holding, Ulker made a career in banking at the London-based Kantar Agency, Swiss-based biscuit manufacturer Kambly SA and Credit Suisse. He then joined the family business in 2018 at Northstar, Yildiz Holding’s innovation company, and played an active role generating new ideas, particularly for university-industry collaboration projects. These will now be the future investments for the holding, which started out as a biscuit producer back in 1944. In addition to managing the future of the holding, Yahya Ulker established Yildiz Ventures in 2019 to support a new generation of startups. Ulker spoke to Dunya about Yildiz Ventures and its most popular startup, Istegelsin, in his first interview to the Turkish media.
The current transformation in the business world, which started as a digital revolution but whose effects have gone far beyond, is not just about a business idea that spreads rapidly around the world with the emergence of new business areas or needs that did not exist before, according to Ulker. “Our experience is that every process that we have defined as work can be done differently, and these new ways of working turn into new standards quickly. Everything that is rigid in the business world suddenly becomes flexible. This change is happening very quickly and it directly concerns all companies, not just new generation startups,” he says.
With this awareness of the new generation entrepreneurial culture and seeing the opportunities created by the ecosystem, Ulker established Yildiz Ventures in 2019, with the goal of directing the development of innovative business ideas as well as transforming the holding ’s current operations by adapting new approaches to operating existing business lines.
INCUBATION, INVESTMENT, EXPERTISE TRANSFER
The main focus of Yildiz Ventures is the strategic and operational support provided at the point of incubation, financial investment and centralized expertise. On the incubation side, Yildiz Venture is particularly interested in business ideas that will support the holding’s current businesses and areas of activity. Therefore, it focuses on initiatives related to the retail sector, where Yildiz Holding has a wide network across the country with its SOK and Bizim Toptan brands as well as its well-established brands such as Ulker and GODIVA. “We provide the opportunity to develop innovative ideas, to produce projects from these ideas and to create new initiatives, which we believe will support our business strategically and technologically,” Ulker says.
The company has a more open structure on the financial investment side and is open to initiatives from every sector. “We make investment decisions about the startups that want to move forward with us by making an overall assessment according to a comprehensive set of criteria,” he says.
Yildiz Ventures also finances a food-focused acceleration program at which they first evaluate the applications of entrepreneurs then start a six-week acceleration module with startups that they think are strategically appropriate. Yahya Ulker says that Yildiz Holding executives also provide mentoring for the startups accepted for
the module. “We invest in startups that are successful after six weeks and become their customers. We also offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to cooperate with other companies from their early stages with the reference of Yildiz Ventures so that they can test their products on a pilot scale. Thus, they can receive feedback on product-market compatibility, which makes it easier for them to steer their ventures with real data from the field.”
USING ALL ITS TOOLS
Startups supported by Yildiz Ventures not only receive investment support or the chance to become top customers of the holding’s companies, they also benefit from other opportunities the holding offers, such as strong corporate know-how, market knowledge and technical infrastructure.
Within Yildiz Ventures, there is a highly talented cadre of experts in marketing, business development, finance and human resources, Ulker says. “Besides managing our own business processes, they also provide the ventures we are investing in with strategic and operational support in order to help them develop and grow. We develop new business models and strategies in areas such as marketing and human resources, and then integrate these strategies into the operations of companies that we invest in.” Istegelsin, Turkey’s first online supermarket, which is quickly becoming a household name, has become Yildiz Ventures’ biggest incubation investment. As a result, Istegelsin, developed into one of the major players in the sector, delivering more than 7,000 products to its customers within the time period chosen by them. Reaching 2.5 million users in 2021, it is expected to continue its rapid growth.
FOOD STARTUPS ON THE RADAR
“We offer an opportunity to invest and support early-stage food startups through our acceleration program with our global partner, Chicago-based Sente Foundry. As a result of our second acceleration program in 2020, with a total investment of USD 150,000 in Arkim, Paragon Pure and Nom, more than USD 300,000 were invested in a total of 6 start-ups in the two acceleration programs” says Ulker adding that they plan to invest in at least three more early-stage start-ups in the food field this year.
Finally, on the financial investment side, Yildiz Ventures has been closely following activities in areas such as FinTech, SaaS (software as a service) and artificial intelligence. “We will continue to closely follow high-potential startups seeking financial and strategic support in 2021, and include start-ups that fit our portfolio strategy into our ecosystem,” Ulker notes.
Last year, Ulker says, the entrepreneurial ecosystem grew and he witnessed a growing interest in new ventures. He now expects 2021 to be even more active compared to previous years. “We believe that more startups from Turkey will find their place in the global arena. At Yildiz Ventures, we will follow the trends and continue our investment focus on new ventures, especially in areas within the framework of our group’s main activities.”
WE WENT BEYOND BASIC NEEDS: ULKER
“While doing research during the establishment phase of Istegelsin, we saw that companies that implement this model only focus on simple, basic needs items in terms. Many companies were not willing to sell products that required cold chain. The main goal of Istegelsin was to deliver fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh meat and dairy products to the door of users without breaking the cold chain. We made our investments accordingly. Istegelsin distribution centers have four different rooms: a bakery, a fruit and vegetable room, a meat and dairy products room, and a frozen products room. Fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products and frozen products are kept at ideal temperatures and kept under constant control with online temperature monitoring.”
THE ISTEGELSIN PHENOMENON
► Istegelsin was started in January 2019 with a USD 30m investment, operating only on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. Then, it rapidly expanded its activities to meet the high demand that came with the pandemic. Currently, it operates a total of 17 distribution centers in Ankara, Izmir, Kocaeli, Bodrum, Eskisehir and Manisa, as well as in Istanbul.
►The company grew 10-fold in 2020, with its customer base increasing by 138% compared to 2019. Currently, Istegelsin has over 4 million downloads and 2.5 million active users. 7,000 products can be ordered from the site, which has more than 240 suppliers.
►CEO Sedat Yildirim, who has been working in this field for many years and is experienced in retail technologies, is leading Istegelsin’s young, dynamic and innovative team. Focusing on rapid growth without losing its start-up spirit, the team bases every business on a digital foundation with the claim of being the best in the world.