Turkish car-sharing company founder sits down, for once

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AA spoke with YoYo co-founder Berkman Cavusoglu, whose restlessness has characterized his entrepreneurial style.

By Tuncay Kayaoglu

ISTANBUL – “Let’s do the interview right now. I will be busier next week.”

A welcome answer as it took several days and dozens of emails and phone calls to arrange a meeting with Turkish entrepreneur Berkman Cavusoglu, who proceeds to pull up a chair energetically.

In his office, converted from an apartment, in Istanbul’s desirable Bebek neighborhood, the 41-year-old trailblazing Turkish businessman shows the vitality that his busy schedule commands.

After all, he is one of the founders of the successful car-sharing company YoYo, operational in three Turkish cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Bodrum – with 145 cars.

The three-year old company has claimed to capture 98% the country’s carpooling markets. Its 14,000 members have travelled a total of 6.2 million kilometers.

Cavusoglu first thought of the idea of during his travels in Paris or London,

He discovered bicycle-sharing, which allowed him to explore the vestiges, the tales of these two cities at his leisure.

“It was a wonderful system that had me wondering whether I could introduce a similar scheme in Turkey,” he says.

In Istanbul, the overabundance of hills and valleys, the lack of bicycle lanes, and a perceived natural Turkish reluctance to bike-riding made a bicycle-sharing system unworkable.

Then came the epiphany: “Why not cars?” he asked himself.

He thus explored the car-sharing programs in Turkey. Through his research, he found out the global success of  U.S.-based car-sharing company Zipcar.

But Zipcar was not present in Turkey at the time. Instead, two other companies were providing a similar service.

“But Turkish companies had limited appeal: they mixed car-sharing with car rentals. I wanted to put ‘sharing’ at the heart of my approach,” Cavusoglu says. “I wanted to give people the convenience of picking up a car at a certain location, drop it elsewhere and another person can pick it up from that location.”

Confident in his marketing skills, Cavusoglu partnered in 2011 with Can Turanli, his longtime friend. He would write the computer codes that would take the company online.

But neither had any expertise in cars. “Haven’t lifted a hood to date,” Cavusoglu confides.

The duo met Yavuz Barkin who had the experience with cars and vehicle rental service. Barkin was also in the process of exploring car-sharing schemes to implement in Turkey.

Thanks to funds from Tunc Yalgin and Bora Samman, both angel investors, all the pieces were in place and YoYo was launched in 2012.

The company’s early success brought an additional investment of $5.5 million in May 2013 from Istanbul-based Partner Fleet Solutions, allowing YoYo to add new cars to its ever-growing fleet.

“Now we have no problems with (our) car supply,” Cavusoglu states.

In recognition of its success, the company was rewarded with a golden medal by London-based International Public Relations Association in 2013.

Berkman Cavusoglu comes from a well-off family in Adana, a province in the south of Turkey, where he was born. His father was manager of a petrochemical factory.

Right after obtaining graduating from Bogazici University in Istanbul in 1996, Cavusoglu joined Panasonic’s sales team, unlike most of his classmates who joined the banking sector. His decision was in part motivated by his desire to know his country better.

“I knew Istanbul well but not the rest of Turkey,” he says. “My position in Panasonic required me to travel first in the Marmara region around Istanbul and then, later, I had the opportunity to travel all around Turkey.”

These sales visits allowed him to develop a sense for how to deal with customers and how to appeal to people coming from different socio-economic, regional, and educational backgrounds than him. He also learned how to better listen:

“There are various profiles. You cannot make a move without knowing them first,” he says.

His job at Panasonic also frequently took him to Japan where the company’s headquarters are located.  A transformative experience: “I am a hyperactive person. But in Japan, I learned how to be a patient.”

Eager to see new horizons, he joined the executive MBA program at Harvard University, in the U.S., in 1999.

There he came across a different style of education.

“At Harvard, teachers show you dots, you have to connect them,” he explains. “It’s more about clarity and creativity of thinking outside of the box, rather than memorizing a set of answers.”

In 2004, he joined Digiturk, a pioneering Turkish satellite television company. Promotion after promotion, he rapidly climbed the company ladder.  Within six years, from junior official he became vice president of the sales and marketing division.

Then, in 2008, a profoundly life-changing experience changed his business-centric outlook on life: the birth of his baby boy.

His own father’s long working hours as a manager had not allowed him to spend time with him.

“Now, he is trying to make up the lost time by visiting and playing with his grandchildren,” says Cavusoglu.

Fatherhood prompted Cavusoglu’s desire to start his own company, in which, as his own boss, he could balance work and family life.

Always aiming to be a pioneer in Turkish development, he first co-founded a voice recognition company. But the slow appropriation of the system by Turkish companies led him to look for other opportunities.

One of these turned out to be YoYo.

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Cavusoglu remains restless, constantly chasing new challenges. He recently introduced an app, called CupsOnMe, which allows users to buy coffee, wherever they are in Istanbul, via their cellphones.

“I will establish a global brand from Turkey,” he asserts.  He has already agreed to a deal with a Singaporean company to introduce the app in the Asian country.

Yes, Berkman Cavusoglu will always be busier next week.

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