A startup pro moves from the Bay Area to Turkey and talks about the extremely innovative and "gender agnostic" scene she found there.
By Peri Kadaster (Head of Strategy & Marketing, Pozitron)
I remember laughing a couple of years ago when my relatives in Turkey saw a photo I’d taken of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco and thinking it looked like the Bosphorous Bridge, connecting Europe to Asia in the heart of Istanbul. The two were so completely different to my eyes, but when I took a second look I realized how similar they in fact were.
If you told me six months ago that I would move from San Francisco to Istanbul, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was VP Marketing at a mobile e-commerce company in San Francisco, and living life to the fullest in the Bay Area. During the summer I took a one-week trip to Turkey to visit family, and during that time at a Friday happy hour in Istanbul – like so many in San Francisco – I met a group of tech entrepreneurs. One woman took me aside. Hale was a fellow Bay Area transplant, recently made the move to join Pozitron, the leading mobile strategy, design, and development company in Turkey. The more she told me about her move, the company, and its fit with my background, the more excited I became – and was further thrilled upon meeting with a co-founder who was another kindred spirit. So a chance happy hour and impetuous decision to try working in Turkey led me to quickly join Pozitron to head strategy and marketing.
There are many nuances in comparing my experiences from these two corners of the world. In San Francisco I loved the fact that I was in the “epicenter” of tech and innovation – Google! Facebook! The-next-big-thing! – but I also took it for granted. Conversely, it’s easy to slip into having Bay Area blinders, or not following innovation in other markets. There’s also the subplot of being a woman in tech in the Bay Area. As so many other Women 2.0 posts suggest, it’s not a level playing field yet.
Not Taking It for Granted
I was happily surprised at some of the contrasts of the tech ecosystem in Turkey – first and foremost, I have been blown away by the talent level of the designers and engineers I’ve had the privilege of working with. Not just the quality of development but the hunger and passion for innovation has been amazing. There’s a tremendous energy and excitement in this high-growth market. If anything, the pace may be more frenetic than in SF as consumer adoption of internet and mobile technology in Turkey has leapfrogged the gradual penetration we witnessed in the States, so too the speed of advancement here has to keep pace.
At Pozitron specifically, when our CEO was able to get the first Google Glass in Turkey, a few people worked around the clock and quickly pulled together a handful of Glass apps, from banking to sports betting - that went straight to market. Product development - in areas like digital wallet, security authentication, sales force – are quarters, if not years, ahead of similar initiatives I’ve seen in the Bay. There is no "taking it for granted" here. That being said the culture – young, laidback, friendly – reminds me much more of San Francisco than what I had expected. It’s a testament to the CEO and founding team that they created a culture like this by placing so much importance on the quality as well as the fit of the 120+ and growing members of the Pozitron family.
The starkest contrast between Istanbul and San Francisco is really how it feels to be a woman in tech in Turkey. At Pozitron, women are in present across all levels and functions. I remember looking around the table at our first executive team meeting and realizing there were more women than men in the room. Several of our most technical functions – Software Engineering, Quality Assurance, Finance –are all led by women. Oddly – or perhaps, tellingly – there isn’t an artificial "women in tech" push at Pozitron. Gender just isn’t perceived as an issue either way, it just is. Either you are a rockstar coder, or you’re not. A rockstar designer, or not. A rockstar account manager, or not. The focus on constant innovation, and the absence of a focus on gender, is what drives this gender-agnostic culture. I’ve heard both inside and outside the company that Pozitron is rare, a “best-in-class” example, as opposed to what is typical in Turkey, on women in the workplace. That may be true – I have fewer data points than them - and if it is, I’m thrilled to be a part of one of the fastest-growing, most respected companies in Turkey, so that it can be a vanguard of women’s career paths not only in tech but across all industries here.
I think of Turkey in general and, selfishly, Pozitron specifically as the best kept secret in tech. Trading my Bay view for one of the Bosphorous has allowed me to arbitrage my learnings – not only about technology but more importantly how to influence a culture – across continents.
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About the guest blogger: Peri Kadaster leads strategy and marketing at Pozitron. Prior to Pozitron, Peri was VP of Marketing for CoffeeTable, a catalog shopping app that reached #1 in its App Store category. Peri also co- founded Kadaster Ventures LLC, where she provides angel investment and advisory services to growth-stage companies.