For 9 years, a marketing platform developer from Turkey has opened branches in Poland, Vietnam, Indonesia, Dubai, Russia, Australia, and 19 other countries. In the plans, an estimate of $ 2-3 billion and an IPO.
“Cool IT startups are launched not only in Silicon Valley“: Insider’s path from an office in an apartment to a $47 million investment
The founders figured out how to attract leads and extend LTV using a personalized approach: segment your audience, offer customized incentives to buy. Startups T he company began to grow and open overseas offices.
In this article, I, Vadim Mamedov, Managing Partner of Insider, will share our story.
Insider started with a rented apartment in Turkey
Before Insider, graduates of the London School of Economics Hande Chilingir and Serhat Soyuerel already had another business English school in Turkey – English & More International Learning Center. In 2011, after three years of business and $ 10 million in investment, the partners sold the school and decided to enter the e-commerce market.
Many startups started with garages, and Insider’s first office was located in a rented apartment in Turkey. For half a year, Hande and Serhat have researched the market and realized that it lacks a product that will help digital marketers increase conversions through triggered personalization.
In 2012, they recruited CTO Mehmet Sinan Toktay, Development Director Okan Edible, and Account Director Ard Katerina. Arda was also a graduate of the London School of Economics, working as a marketer at Colgate-Palmolive and an account manager at Procter & Gamble.
The team rolled out the Insider SaaS service in the same year, which combines customer data from all channels and provides website and app personalization tools.
A product director later reinforced the company.
The founders introduced options to employees from the start. if four criteria are met:
- compliance with the cultural values of the company;
- the employee’s importance to the company.
The founders were united by one big idea: a successful IT company can be opened anywhere. Employees who were ready to work day and night gathered around this idea to prove to the whole world that you could make an excellent IT product in Turkey.
The They immediately decided that they would open offices worldwide: each of the founders had the experience of working in other countries. StartupsThey understood that the problem that Insider was helping to solve was being faced by marketers worldwide.
They decided to sell the product from different points: in each region, the necessary local employees who know the language, feel the market, and understand what the audience needs. It is impossible to learn the intricacies of local marketing from the outside. Therefore, it isn’t easy to achieve great results when selling products and accounting from headquarters.
The founders developed the following strategy: Serhat came to a new country, opened an office there, made the first sales, hired employees. And when the branch “got on the rails,” Serhat left on.
They decided to start from Russia – Serhat worked for two years in a Moscow investment company and studied local entrepreneurs’ problems. He was sure that the Russian market was significant and that the start would be successful.
In Russia, we started with someone else’s office and old MacBooks
In 2013, Serhat went to Russia to open a second Insider office. This has become a real challenge for the company. It turned out that the Russian market is spoiled by technology. An insider had many local competitors, and it took a while to find customers.
Serhat invited me for an interview in 2015. I have spent several years in management positions in digital and e-commerce startups. It was interesting for me to participate in ambitious projects.
Serhat said that Insider is a large IT company with offices in Turkey, Russia, and Dubai (by that time, Hande had launched a branch in the UAE). He promised that with the best equipment and the best office in Moscow. Then it was funny.
When I arrived at work. Startups it turned out that the “best office” was four tables in the office of a third-party company, to which we were not involved. Serhat agreed with the CEO that we work there. Startups use the negotiations and other benefits.
The office was excellent. We spent a year there until we rented a separate room
I know many stories of how, having raised investments, founders bought white MacBooks so that everything in the office would look harmonious and Feng Shui. They didn’t think that the product needed to be finalized tomorrow.
Therefore, when Serhat promised to give me the best equipment, I expected something like this. But he brought in a four-year-old MacBook that barely worked. I thought the guys were crazy.
Even at the first interview, when Insider did not have serious assets, Serhat claimed that the company would be in Japan, Korea, and Europe in three years. He was so sure that it won over.
By October 2015, when I joined the project, Insider employed about 60 people: 5 sales managers, the rest – developers, product specialists, and support specialists.
Annual Retreat in Istanbul 2018
Poland has become a “European hub”
Through Poland, we planned to start working with Europe. Suddenly, the Polish market turned out to be larger than the Russian one. Local or European companies did not have the same expertise and product as ours. In addition, they did not seek to scale. There was no desire to grow into Xs.
And we at Insider were hungry for success. In the beginning, Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group, convinced the team that in 10 years, they would all be billionaires. He believed that they would beat the American market because they could work harder, harder, be more competent. Probably something similar happened with Insider. We tried to be head and shoulders above our competitors.
Serhat hoped to hire a local country manager. I was looking for top managers of large companies, but I could not find a person who could devote 100% of his time to work. During the launch of any business, it will not be possible to work from 10 to 19. It is always a load of 24 hours, almost without days off.
Employees quickly quit because they could not work in such a rhythm. Poland, an employee from Turkey who had worked for the company for a long time, knew the product well and shared the values of Insider. He headed the branch and took over the exit to other European countries.
Then we made an important conclusion: people decide everything. Having found a good specialist who will treat the company as if it were his own, you can free up the founder’s resources and quickly enter new markets.
Insider team in Istanbul in 2019
Stabilized a client from Singapore and entered the Asian market
In 2016, Insider began entering the Asian market. We understood that this is a region with low penetration of foreign companies. Japan and South Korea have different cultures, unlike the European ones. There is a very closed audience, which treats foreign products with distrust. Therefore, we started from Singapore, which is loyal to foreign IT startups.
Serhat started getting to know local venture funds and pitching our product to them. At one of the meetings, he sold the Insider service to Patrick Steinbrenner. Startups the regional director of Singapore’s most significant online clothing store Zalora Group. Zalora’s revenue in 2020 amounted to more than $ 40 million.
After six months of using our service, Patrick agreed to head the Insider office in Singapore, leaving his corporate career at the Zalora Group. He recruited four critical employees of the Zalora Group to our startups. One of them went to open an Insider office in Vietnam. And Serhat went to Indonesia.
It did not work to hunt the top manager there, so the co-founder hired three young guys, 23-24 years old, and taught them product and sales from scratch for a year and a half.
Indonesia is a developing country. In 2015, the average salary was INR 2 million – $ 140-150. For this money, it was possible to hire inexperienced employees and create the necessary skills on a “blank slate.”
An employee of our Russian branch
Nadezhda Rodyukova, moved to Indonesia as a country manager. She had to “set on its feet” an office in an unfamiliar country, culture, and in a foreign language – few speak English in Indonesia. Six months later, the first sales went.
I think that Nadine’s case is unique: Russians generally rarely move for work. It seems that this is not in our DNA, unlike, for example, the Americans. For them, migrating to different cities is a common thing. And Nadya agreed to move to Asia. And Jakarta is not Bali. It is a huge bustling metropolis.
At the same time, our colleague, a Polish country manager, went to China for exploration. It was necessary to understand whether it was promising to enter this market.
In China, he met with a potential partner and told him about the Insider product. Throughout the meeting, the interlocutor carefully wrote something down. In the final, the country manager asked whether he liked the development and continued to cooperate. And the Chinese partner praised our ideas and said that he would pass them on to his 30 programmers who would make the same product themselves.
I don’t know whether he succeeded or not, but we decided to postpone with China
Therefore, after Indonesia in 2017, Serhat went to South Korea and Japan. Realizing that the markets were closed, he hired experienced top managers who could assemble a team. Previously, the average age of an employee was 25-30 years old. In Japan and South Korea, people were looking for 40-50 years.
It turned out that the Japanese were not at all ready to go to unknown companies. They approach their careers very carefully. In Korea, it turned out to hire a manager from Oracle, who brought his team with him. And even with such sources, a twofold increase in revenue began only after a year and a half.
Received $43 million in investments and opened offices in Europe and the USA
By 2018, Insider began to grow by 100-150% YoY. We started to receive offers from investors for Series B. By this time, a total of $ 4 million was invested in us. In round B, three funds led by Sequoia Capital invested $ 11 million in us to increase penetration into the Asian market, to open a branch in Australia, and strengthen its presence there.
Having received the investment, we decided to hire more expensive specialists in new markets. We expected to get results faster with them. But it turned out that people who are used to working in a corporation need time to adapt to a startup.
Over the years of work in large structures, they have lost the “muscle” to do something with their hands, to test hypotheses quickly. They have great networking, management skills. But when they got into a small growing business, they had to deal with completely different tasks: holding meetings, preparing presentations, hiring employees. And instead of quick results, they slowed down.
We realized that such specialists need to be selected more carefully, allow time for adaptation and assign a person who will support them in the first stages.
With this insight, we returned to Europe and opened offices in France and Spain.
Two years later, in 2020, $ 32 million was already invested in us. We were looking for funds for Series C that would help us with entering the United States. And Riverwood, one of the three funds that have invested in us, is from the USA. He has a lot of expertise. He has connections that can quickly arrange business meetings and bring a product to market.
Over nine years, Insider has invested $ 47 million:
Until we were dependent on investors, every country manager felt like an entrepreneur. We went through all the company launch stages, hiring people, and getting out of the box office gaps.
It seems to me that our principal value is people who believe in the idea and put part of their life into it. Each Insider regional office was like a new startups. The headquarters acted as an investor, allocated a budget, and then built the work as it saw fit.
We used to dream of becoming a unicorn. Now we expect to be valued at $ 2-3 billion within three years. Startups In the future, we plan to go public or sell the company.