Being the first engineer at a startup with Alper Kemal Koç
We also talk about:
- why and how he joined this startup,
- how he decided on the right tech stack,
- how customer feedback influenced their direction,
- which engineering practices he values at this startup,
- and which relationship they have with their investors.
Alper Kemal Koç, was the first engineer building a low code platform called Kuika, that helps users develop mobile applications. Alper built this startup from the idea of serving over 15 customers.
Read the whole episode "Being the first engineer at a startup with Alper Kemal Koç" (Transcript)
Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Michaela, and today I have the pleasure to be talking to Alper Kemal Koc, who is a software engineer at a startup in Turkey called Kuika. Kuika helps users to be more efficient in building mobile apps. It's a low code solution so that users can build mobile apps based on already implemented building blocks. Alper has been there right from the start. He was the first engineer on the team, experiencing the whole startup life cycle from working on the initial idea, and implementing the prototype, to working with the first customers and getting his hands dirty, helping the company succeed. So there's tons to talk about today.I'm really happy that Alper, you're here. Welcome to the show.
Alper: [00:00:43] Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for having time for me.
Michaela: [00:00:47] Well, maybe let's start with, how did you come to work at a startup? Why did you choose that path and what led you there?
Alper: [00:00:54] Well, as, as like most engineers, we, most of us like greenfield projects. So startups usually give the chance for that. And, uh, I have always worked in relatively smaller companies. They were either startups or they used to be startups and they're just in the next, next phase. Kuika was, uh, when Kuika was starting I was living in Holland. And our founder is someone I knew already before. And he said, if I wanted to join, I said, yeah, I liked the idea. And I always liked startups anyways. So, uh, I moved back to Turkey for this actually in the 2015. And I've been working here since then.
Michaela: [00:01:31] So have you been one of the first engineers on that project?
Alper: [00:01:34] Indeed, I am. I am the employee number one. I, yeah, I have been, um, I have been doing the whole architecture and then we have been, it was just two of us at the beginning for like a couple months.Then we hired two more engineers and it was just four of us. We did only research and development for, I think, almost 20 months or something. And if you were making all the technical decisions or architectural decisions and technology choice, everything. So I have been deeply involved since the beginning.
Michaela: [00:02:07] So I imagine that this friend of yours comes with this idea to have this low code platform and then you're like fire for it. And then you start really from scratch, understanding if it's even feasible, what you're going to do and what your requirements are for that project.
Alper: [00:02:23] Yes, indeed. Our founder is much more experienced than me, so he knows the field. He had seen this opportunity every time they are building software projects. Most of the time you're repeating the same problems that every software engineer is solving most of the time, and they are taking a lot of times. So, we thought like, yeah, why don't we just wrap those up in, in some ready components? And the engineer really focuses on the business requirements, but not the, all the hassle around it, so they can just focus on the requirements. They just build their user interface and you'll get the app.
Michaela: [00:03:02] And when you start out with this idea, how do you decide on which technologies you should use?
Alper: [00:03:08] Well, I think for the first month we did a lot of research. We looked into all the popular technologies back then, and let me put it this way, there were two sides to the research. First of all, we were going to build the tool that generates tools, that generates apps. So we did research on both sides. So what should be the technology of the tool itself, of the platform itself, and what kind of technology and apps should be producing. And, uh, on the end product side, so what we generate, we decided to go with hybrid technologies, for example. So we wouldn't get into the problem of producing code for both Android and iOS. So that was like one, one decision we made and, and the popular technology back then was, was Ionic. But it still is. But I think it was only version one back then. And, and we kind of did some reverse engineering. So that was, that was one fun part of it. We didn't build our tool, we forget about it. We picked up a scenario. We actually built a mobile app. That's, you know, nice to use, easy to build. And from there we went back. So we, we talked like, okay, what should we do to produce this code.
Michaela: [00:04:28] So you mean that first you actually produced your use case. And then you produced a tool that would produce that use case.
Alper: [00:04:35] Yes, exactly. So we had the app at the beginning, like on the, on the first month or second month that we never use, but it would be kind of what our customers would, would want. Or what they would be aiming to build with, with Kuika. So that kind of dictated the decisions we made.
Michaela: [00:04:54] And did you change some of the initial ideas that you had on the tech stack? So did some of the technologies change over time?
Michaela: [00:06:03] Okay. And so maybe to give our listeners also some idea, how old is that startup right now?
Alper: [00:06:09] We started in September 2015. So, uh, in two months, it's going to be exactly four years.
Michaela: [00:06:16] And how mature is it?
Alper: [00:06:19] Well, for the first two years we did only the research, and on our, beginning of our second year, we released our product to our initial customers. And it has been growing up since then. It, I think this kind of project, it's difficult to say, it's okay, it's now mature because we are generating apps, we're generating software and that, and the technology is changing every day. So we always need to keep up to it. So it will probably never going to be mature. But currently we have, I think around 15 customers, uh, we are, um, we are capable of satisfying their needs. We have been building apps with, with the platform. Those apps are, are live and being used in those companies right now.
Michaela: [00:07:08] Well, if you're developing software at a startup and it's only you at the beginning, and then, you know, the team slowly grows, well how do you grow in the same time, the software methodologies and the best practices and things like that? Have you been conscious about that at the beginning, or was there a very different attitude when you did the research, than what you have now that you actually have customers? Was there some shift?
Alper: [00:07:31] Well, we have been through a lot of phases on that. And we have been, we have been strict on that since day one. Uh, I was living in Holland before, and I have been, I have experienced a lot of methodologies being implemented that are, like, strictly and, and tailored to the needs of the company, the organization. So even from day one, the first thing we talked about, okay, what's our methodology? How are we going to do this? Not what we are going to do it, but like, okay, what's the point of the process and everything? Well, the first month or two, it was just two of us, that there wasn't much, um, methodology, like, uh, rules and stuff. But we were talking about once we grew, we said, okay, let's do, let's look into Agile. Let's look into Scrum. Let's look into Kanban and how we can implement those. And I think like every three, four months we changed the methodology, or we came up with a relatively different implementation of the methodology ourselves, because our needs changed. At the very beginning, we were doing a lot of research, we were doing a lot of experiments. It was not very easy to make estimations. It was not easy to make long-term plans. Then we said, okay, here's a methodology, we are going to make quarterly visionary goals, and we are going to do Kanban. So, you know, we will have goals and we will define the topics, and we are going to pick those up one by one. After we meet those goals in the first quarter, let's say for the, for the next quarter or the next five, six months, I don't know, we have a more clear path to go. So we can, we could define what we are going to do. So we, we kept switching in between depending what we need at the time. And after two years we starting having customers, and that, that brought us to a whole new world where we had to run projects with the customers, and some of our customers didn't know about those methodologies, or you cannot apply some of those methods to the project management within two organizations. So we kind of, we kind of, um, picked, like we did some cherry picking from different methodologies and implemented something for every project or for our own work here within, within our, within our team.
Michaela: [00:10:08] So one of the things that, uh, stroke me when you were talking about why and how you use different methodologies, you said, well I have been in the Netherlands before. So do you think that culturally there is a difference between the Netherlands and for example, Turkey on how much, um, methodology-driven organizations, software organizations are?
Alper: [00:10:30] Uh, I think there is. I haven't worked in Germany, but what I have been hearing from friends, like Germany, Holland, or the more, countries that are, the more North you go, being on time, like being punctual, and being strict about plans has more value. People appreciate that more. But, but the more East or South you go that's, that's not, yeah well, it is still important, but not as, not as much. That, that makes a huge difference. And I moved to Holland and every standup meeting is so strict on the same time. Say minutes, not one minute later, not one minute earlier, if you're late, you miss it. Simple as that. But, uh, it is difficult to do it that strict here, here. So, so there's definitely a difference in culture.
Michaela: [00:11:23] So it means that in Turkey, if the stand up, if the people are a little bit late, it's normal, like five minutes later. (laugh)
Alper: [00:11:31] (laugh) Well, yeah, Istanbul is also one of the biggest cities in the world, and one of the cities that there's a lot of traffic problems, so people can be late. And yeah, also if you're a small team, yeah, you don't want to, you don't want to miss one person and then, you know, you can't just say, yeah, you missed today's stand up. So we wait for like five, 10 minutes, 15 minutes to get you. Yeah, you adjust to it.
Michaela: [00:11:56] So you're saying that, um, you looked a lot into different methodologies. What about, for example, testing, has testing been a part of your software engineering process from the beginning on, or is it just something that now that you're getting customers, more relevant? What's your experience there?
Alper: [00:12:13] Well, to be very honest, it has, it's been a problematic
part of our work process. We have tried, uh, different ways of testing, like.
Let's say one person from the team is responsible for testing, but that's that's
manual. Okay. So something is released. You want to check something that we have
not broken the, in the graphical user interface, or we are still producing the
same car and yeah, every person is different as, as, as, but they will.
They agree. So people are not that. So careful then thing and, and manual
testing is when I think in the, in the past age. So we said, okay, we have to
automate this. We have to find a different solution to that. So just like our
methodology, our testing process has, has. Had its own phases as well. We
haven't unfortunately done a lot of TDD, so we don't have a good test unit tests
with, but six months through, after we started, we said, we are missing out some
So we have to automate this. And we came up with this idea of, uh, writing our
own tool. We said, okay. What's the most important thing for us. Okay. We are
producing apps. What's the most important thing we want to make sure we are
building the same app or the same code. And we make sure that let's say be the
liaison app to a customer.
And there's an update. Two months later, we should be losing that exact same
code. We should be generating the exact same code. Of course also, considering
if there are changes, of course, we need to accept those. So we wrote a tool
that we register all the, all the apps we are working on, all the projects we
are working with and it runs every morning or manually during the day and checks
that we are building the exact same thing again, if it is not the executive,
same, it gives us a warning.
We can look through the, it shows us the changes. And we can either accept it or
we catch, we catch the bug that we haven't noticed while we were writing the
code. It was a simple tool, but it has saved us a lot of time. And it has, it
has caught a lot of, uh, things that we hadn't thought while we were designing
the system did a new feature or the writing the code.
Uh, so that has been like pretty much the main, a backbone of our, of our
Michaela: [00:14:50] How about code reviews, for example, is that something
that you do in a small team of four right now? How many are you at this moment?
How many engineers
Alper: [00:14:59] currently? I think we are a seven. Um, we have always done
code reviews, maybe not very strict at some times, but we always did that.
There's also like our second insurance platform. We have, we have tried two
methods on that. And one of them was like, okay, I will be doing the code
reviews because, um, the structure we had most of the time, it was me and I
found the seniors and we had either junior engineers or maybe with a couple of
years of experience.
So we said, okay, let's, let's let the seniors do the code review. So we will
always do the coding. And that, that works fine, but that put a lot of, um, Uh,
obviously workload on us. And at sometimes we said, okay, everybody does the
code review. And we had this rule that each feature or each change goes
through three people, the developer, and that person is supposed to be doing the
development tests obviously.
And the code or the, or the, or the changes goes to the person B who does the
code review. And the third person would be manually testing it. So we had tried
to both methods and they both worked fine, actually. And at some point,
obviously after a couple of years, you have some experience, you have some
traditions of your own in the company.
So we have our own, yeah, you cannot resist notation, but we have, we have some
rules on, on how we write the code on what are the patterns and stuff like that.
And once, once people get used to it, most people follow. And that also works
Michaela: [00:16:44] So. So one of the things that you just mentioned was like, after
some time you get used to, and you also explained that at the beginning, you did
a lot of iterations and retrospective.
Do you think that right now, you're still doing that enough, that you're still
looking with the same critical eye on your processes? Um, and, and tools and
things, how you do it, um, as at the beginning, or do you think that over time,
there's something like, you know, you're getting very comfortable with how you
do things and you're missing out maybe on some of the improvements.
Alper: [00:17:18] Well, we are still strict on it. Just like we just, like,
we were on day one, we still do the retrospectives and, um, we still come up
with new ideas and sometimes we also drop something that we have been doing for
two years, because all of a sudden, it's not that. Useful anymore. So it keeps
changing. It's still just like the day one.
And we have new new teammates who also have their own ideas or simply they can't
adjust to the methods we have. And that that's also fine. Then, then we're just.
For them to, if it's the most important thing, is that the whole team and every
individual, this is a small team. So every individual's contribution is really
So if I'm person is not comfortable with, or yeah, we can't end the benefit art
from something. We talk about it during the retrospective and we drop it or we
change it. So we still, we still keep it writing.
Michaela: [00:18:18] It sounds really important. As you say, in a small
team, everybody should be able to provide the best work that your he can.
Is there an example that comes to your mind where you actually dropped one of
the methods? Because of one person. And how did you address that?
Alper: [00:18:35] Well, what we had, for example, what we wanted to start
this month at the beginning of this year is there was this thing called Google
heads, like 20% thing, you know, engineers would have 20% of their time to work
on their own projects.
And we said, okay, let's do that. And not everybody could contribute to it, not
the area where they have ideas. People are really happy with, with the work that
they are cleansing to do. And they are not. Yeah. They just simply, don't like
to come up with something new and okay. If not everybody is benefiting from
that, and there is an imbalance in the team because we reserved some time for it
and some people can do it.
Some people can't. Yeah, we just. Drop it. And another thing we dropped was that
the actual code reviews again. So, and we have a few junior engineers
right now, and I started doing the code reviews like, uh, with, with all of them.
So I said, okay, everybody is going to do. The rooms and it just didn't work out
for some of them.
Maybe it was too early. Yeah. They, they simply didn't know what to do with it.
So we dropped it. We will probably bring up the topic again, six months after a
little bit more experienced, then maybe we will start doing it again.
Michaela: [00:19:58] So that's really interesting. And I like that it's so
well, so personally adjusted, but how do people address those issues?
So I imagine if I'm a junior and I'm not comfortable with doing the code
reviews, do you just see that those person doesn't contribute or are they
walking up to you and tell you that they are not comfortable with it? So how
does that actually work?
Alper: [00:20:22] Yeah, one of the advantages of being a small team is.
Like we are literally sitting one meter away from each other and we don't really
do one-on-ones. So if somebody wants to say something, yeah, we just say it out
loud in the office right now. Right then that's, that's the kind of culture we
want to have. And if, if some person says, yeah, I am not comfortable with doing
this, or I don't know how to do this, we encourage them to say that one thing we
keep telling our new team members is.
The most important thing that you should do is say. Tell us, if you can't do it,
if you don't understand something, just say it that's the most value you can add
that I believe that are two things the engineers are hired for. One of them is
to say no. And the second thing is to say that they can't do it.
That that's so valuable. That's really important because then we can change,
like, okay, let's. Let's switch the person. Let's say someone else should do it.
Or maybe you should do it with another person, like a pair program. So you ex
you exchange your methods, you exchange your perspectives. And that also
So that's the kind of culture we impose. And also in the retrospectives, we do
round Robins. So everybody has to say at least one positive thing and one
negative thing about the last week or the last two weeks. That also encourages
people to say things loud. So nobody is running the meeting, but, uh,
everybody is saying something about it.
Michaela: [00:22:02] So you said that for example, this 20% rule didn't work
for all of the people, but it worked for some. So if you're, if your decision
then is to drop those 20% project time, what about the people that actually like
that idea? How do you deal with that?
Alper: [00:22:20] Yeah, but they, they were free to keep working on that and
they actually did what did one of our friends that's this one?
Funny story, actually, that we also tell our customers, it tells a lot about our
product. We had this new team members that started at the beginning of this
year, who was going to get married in a couple months. And, you know, I mean,
well, in most of the countries, they, they, you know, they send out invitations
or his family was going to send out some invitations and the family was having
Okay. What's the lift list of people that are supposed to send those
invitations to, and who is going to give to who and which ones have we delivered
already? And our friend here said, okay, I can, I'm working at this company that
I can build mobile apps with now. And it's really first. So he said, can I build
Can I use my time on that? I said, yeah, sure. And had he built this small app
in a couple of days and his family used it for those invitations data just said
all the people they want to invite. So, so yeah, that person I was benefiting
from that thing. So he kept on doing it. Yeah. I can
Michaela: [00:23:34] imagine that if people can use somehow work time also
to learn, um, that can be beneficial for both sides from this project.
He probably learned a lot about the use case of your product yourself. Right.
Because he was sort of like the customer and could give feedback. Was that the
reason why you decided that you can do that?
Alper: [00:23:55] Exactly. Yeah. We had like two reasons. One of them
was like, Thanks to that thing here. He did hear experience how a person or a
company can approach for a project.
So he had to collect his requirements. You need, he had to talk to his family.
He had to decide what he needs to make. He had, he had his own time limit, so he
had to finish it in a certain time. So he made his own priorities and in feed.
Considering the features and he completed that, that, so that was a lot of
benefits to him.
Another benefit was he, he became a customer of our own product. That's
something really important. We can keep writing, we can build this awesome tool.
We love it. It's great. But we will really understand the value. We will really
understand what we are doing if we are. The customer of our own product.
That's, that's the thing that, that was real nice for him. He became our
customer. So he had a much better perspective on our tool. He had, he had a lot
of feedback and when he was building new features, he knew what it literally
would. Mean to, to our users.
Michaela: [00:25:18] So in general customer feedback, I think is something that's really valuable and very, very important for, especially a startup that maybe even has to find some product market fit first. How do you engage your customers? How do you communicate with them? How do you understand what their needs are? And if you are fulfilling that? Alper: [00:25:37] Yeah, because we are still at the beginning, we don't have a lot of customers. So if you don't really, they haven't. Um, we haven't had a need for the tool for that. So we are talking to them one on one, we talk to our users and we get a lot of requests from them. We also integrated some ticketing and feature requesting system in that, in our tool. They can also fill in the form there. One important thing, though, for a startup that's really risky. You can always get a lot of feedback from your, from your users and they will have some feedback, especially if you ask for it, the more you will get. But, but if you're building a new product and you're trying to find your way, you really need to think through those requests because they can also easily take you off your path because every customer will have their own needs and they will be asking specific thing. So you should be, you should be searching for patterns. So let's see, we have this customer A who is asking for a feature. Nobody else wants. And, and that also comes with its own cost. So there's almost like doing a custom development for that for the person. But if this customer B is asking for something that also our customers C and D kind of needs it, that's that's, that has a higher, so that, that has been actually a real challenge for us to prioritize. I mean, first collect the user feedback first, collect the requests, then think them through. Then prioritize. And also actually the third important thing is to ask the user or ask the customer, why do you need this for, because we had this and that has to be a long conversation. You really need to, uh, dive deep. The reason for that is most of the time we have seen the customer needs something and they are thinking, how can I implement this? And they come up with the solution. That's not always the correct one. And for that solution, they are asking for a feature. If they, they had told us the initial reason why they got into this loop. Maybe they already had a, had a feature for that, or it could be a lot simpler or it could be maybe for everybody. So we always also try to understand what the user is asking for that thing, because there is usually something else lying on there. Michaela: [00:28:10] One of the things that for a startup also interests me is the deployment process. How does that work, is that a click of a button that deploys a new version of your system? Or is there more manual labor also involved who can do it? Alper: [00:28:24] But unfortunately I cannot say it's fully automated, but it's not a manual either. So it's kind of a mix. And then we have three stages. We have a testing environment and alpha environment, then a live environment. And we deploy to our test environment every day, every night or every morning, like every 24 hours. And there's also the environment that we run those, our testing tool on. And to our alpha and live environments, we, uh, we release like once a week. Most of the process is automated, but it's supervised manually. I mean, it's like kind of a script. And then one of us sits in front of the computer, runs a script. And, uh, just make sure everything's fine. Also the test environment to test with part, yeah. That that's kind of a manual. I mean, like you click a button, right. And it gives you the results and you need to look through them except the differences or, and, and or if something is awkward, then that person raises a flag and say, okay, something is wrong in dress in yesterday's it changes. So, yeah. So it's kind of a mix. Michaela: [00:29:38] You're employee number one. What were your biggest, um, useful resources? How did you learn? How did you grow? How did you know how to implement which architecture, which methodologies to use and all of that? What was your North star or what was your, your fuel for learning? Is it books? Is it bought cars? Is it other people. Alper: [00:29:58] Well, I would say Google most of the time and, and yeah, we do have a small library of books here and, and we thought, okay, we can go through the books, but yeah, the books at least, we had would give us more information for a specific technology, but just like you said, at the very beginning, the initial questions we had was like, okay, what should the architecture be? And what should the technologies we should be using. So we get the first pick dose and then dive into the books. That, that was one thing we were lucky about and, and our experiences are, uh, from our previous previous jobs. And. Uh, software development experiences. Uh, we had been exposed to a couple of architectures like software oriented architectures or multi-tiered, uh, setups. And obviously we were first talking about the things we already know about, and that already sounded like a click. So we didn't really dive very deep into alternatives. We of course search through them. Like, we'd be the be Google. We asked our friends who have, uh, you know, software architecture experience and We kind of already, already solved it. What we are already good at is a good click for, for this product. So. There's this how we started, although we didn't, didn't spend a lot of time on that one thing we had to spend some time on it, though. That was the language, the technologies we had to pick. And for those, we looked into a couple of alternatives. Yeah. Back then. It was not a very difficult decision either. Yeah. Or our opinion was also, so the best architecture, the best technology for the product is the one that you are already good at. So, because, because you are skipping the learning, learning, learning phase. Michaela: [00:32:00] So I imagine that if you're building up this startup and if you're iterating and learning, there's a lot of you have to go back and actually redo my cleanup, um, change, you know, what you have, have seen or done. But on the other hand, you have this tension of the market that you think, well, I have to make progress after dividend features. And, um, do you feel like have enough time to actually go back and redo things to rewrite or to, well, Clean up some mess you made in the learning phases or is that also challenging? Alper: [00:32:35] Actually, that's one of the things that we first talked about, we already knew that one of the challenges we would have on the way was keeping up to date and being responsive to customer requests, new features and everything. So we made sure our setup is as modular as possible. It is, it has very few dependencies. If I am, if I want to add a new component is as easy as possible. So we usually need new features. You can just plug them in. And some of them are not used as much. Some of them are used a lot. If it's not used a lot, sometimes you just look into it. Okay, nobody's using this or this is useless and, and we drop it. So, I mean, they didn't really have to change, but we removed stuff. Michaela: [00:33:26] Do you have sometimes the feeling that you have a lot of pressure from outside schedule pressure from your customers, or is the product in a way that you don't experience that? Alper: [00:33:38] There is a lot of pressure. Well, I think we had our first customers at, um, the end of the second year and it's almost fourth year now. So it's literally like two equal phases of the company. The first two years was especially from a perspective of a software engineer. It was really fun because we were just in the office. We were imagining this great tool and we were building it and it was fun. And then we went out, we had customers and then the real, the real world hits us. There were deadlines that were customers calling in our customers, usually one to build the first project together with us. So they buy the platform and they can use it, but they want to do the first project. So we also do some projects using our own tool that comes up with datelines. That comes up with maintenance that comes with, uh, support that, that puts us some pressure. And yeah, we were, we were rookie on that as well at the beginning. Yeah. People were not great on it and we kept iterating and yeah, after that, after some time it got better, but it was painful at the beginning and it's getting better and better every day Michaela: [00:34:49] in these first two years were basically doing research and you're building out the platform. Did you somehow contact potential customers? Did you talk with them? Did you, yeah. Did you reach out to them or did you just think you have a good idea of your previous experiences of what software should look like? Alper: [00:35:12] That's a real nice question. And I'm going to, to be very honest on that we did some talks with some potential customers. We did talk to some people, but right now, when I, when I look back and think about it, I would say it was not enough that there's a dilemma for most of the, uh, some of the technology companies I would say, or software engineers. You think your tool is awesome and you build it, you lose it. Is it, the real world can be different sometimes. And what I can say that the, what we build on the first two years, some of it never was used. It was nobody needed it in the real world. So maybe we should have gotten more feedback earlier and more, and from, from people from different fields maybe, or from different potential sectors or something like that. So yeah, we did it, but not enough. Michaela: [00:36:07] Yeah. That's um, that's something that comes up quite a lot because yeah, I think it's also hard. I mean, you hear that you should. I'm engaged with customers or potential customers, but it's not that easy always, as you said, you're asking them what they want to have. And also those answers are not really a North star for where you should go. Right. So it's a little bit the fussy, fussy road that you have to. Alper: [00:36:30] Yeah. And another challenge though, is. Let's say you are in the development phase and you want to get feedback from people and they are not, your customer was yes. Right? So you ask people, okay, this is what they're building. Do you like it? And they say, Oh, it's great. I would definately buy it and it would solve all my that and that and that problem. And I would build that and that, and that project. And those are the features I would expect from it. Most of the time that list chains once they are really the customers, because then the whole company is involved or a lot of stakeholders is involved and the real project is always different than an imaginary project. So yeah, that's, that's the challenge that you can get feedback, but the real feedback is always going to be from the real initial customers. Michaela: [00:37:24] So, you're saying that at the beginning, you had those two years that you're were building the backbone of your company, and then you're going out to the customer and you showed them and they like parts and they don't like some of the parts or they don't use those, those parts. But how did you get the first customers and how did you acquire those, those feedback? Um, On the different parts. Alper: [00:37:48] First customers were difficult. The thing that we were lucky about is we had a good network. And, and our founder is quite experienced in Turkey and did a lot of projects with Microsoft. So he already did some, some networks, so he can, he could talk to people. He could, we could do some demos and yeah, we, yeah, I don't remember number two kind of convinced a couple of people, but, uh, it, it was thanks to our, our network. So we didn't really run commercials or anything like that. But, um, it was the people that, that we already knew. Okay. Michaela: [00:38:25] And I know that your company is actually funded, right? So you got some initials seeding. How did that happen? And when did that happen? When did you feel. That it's right to ask for external funds. And how did that help you in developing your vision and your company? Alper: [00:38:40] It was around the second year or something. We got investment from, uh, from two people. I think you can call it seed investment. Actually. It's not really a series a, but, um, we got investments from, Murat Ihlamur, and Süreyya Ciliv uh,. Those are two big names in Turkey. Actually one of them were not as Lamar was the founder of. The second biggest software company in Turkey. And he sold his company to the first biggest one. And then there, they are building the enterprise ERP software and he did his exit.Right. And became an investor and it was looking it up. Yeah. And he, he also knew was, was the CEO of Turkcell the biggest GSM operator in Turkey. They heard about us that they look into the product. They thought it was promising. They came in as investors. They also want to be involved on the day to day, uh, operations. So they, they are like our board. And they attend all our meetings like weekly meetings. And they are literally in the, in the process of running the company. So they're not like just investors and checking on us like every six months or anything, and to just looking at numbers, but they also are deeply involved in our daily work. Michaela: [00:39:56] And did that change somehow? Did you feel that that changes how you develop the software? Did that change your, your course or your North star? Alper: [00:40:04] Well, it didn't really change the, the, the, the, software development part. Yeah. They already trusted us and they just kept completing what we were doing, but it obviously helped a lot with finding customers. Yeah. As I said are thankful to our network and it's also, it's also them. They are network and their names that got a lot of attention to the company. And yeah. When people heard that they are the masters, they were more interested. Michaela: [00:40:28] Okay. That's really interesting because I had another guest recently on my podcast and his experience was quite similar that with the funding that came also a lot of advice and a lot of knowledge, a lot of network as well that the company can profit from. So it's not only the financial advantages that you get. If you have, I think the right investor, it probably depends really. If you have the right or the wrong fit. Between the investors and your company as well. Alper: [00:40:58] Yeah. Now that you say it, and I think our club that's actually exactly what I wanted to say. It's not that much about the funds and money it's it's experience and perspective they are bringing, bring, bring in. And that, that changes a lot that has a very high value. Michaela: [00:41:12] And when you talked about them, you said day actually came across your company. So were you approached by the investors or was it the other way round that you approached investors? Alper: [00:41:23] Our founder, uh, used to work with, uh, Murat Ihlamur, so they already knew each other. So did they, they had the first contact, I guess Murat Ihlamur knew, uh, Süreyya Ciliv other founders. So they brought each other in, I would say, but, uh, yeah, our founder knew, uh, knew him that they worked together Michaela: [00:41:46] before. So when maybe one thing that's related there is, is what I said before is that I think there has to be a good fit between people, um, be it, the company and the founders and the employees and the investor, but also the employees themselves. So hiring can be quite challenging for a startup. I mean, it's, I think it's a challenging topic per se, also for larger companies, but individual person, obviously on a seven team person team has much more impact then on a 700 person team. Right. So how do you make sure to hire the right people? What's your approach there and yeah. How, how did you hire the first several, uh, employees that you have at your habit company? Alper: [00:42:32] You have a good point. It, it, it has been difficult. It has been one of the biggest challenges we had, um, because of a couple of things. But first of all, you are a startup and you're small. You're just set it up. And yeah, many people want to do that. Like people, most, mostly engineers, like they like the big names they're working for a big company or some operator or something like that. And again, here comes into cultural thing as well. You know, in Turkey, people communicate with their parents, their families a lot. So that plays a huge role when they are making such decisions. Especially if you're a real new graduate, for example, it's kind of difficult to explain your family, like you're joining this company that just started two months ago and it's just two of them. Yeah. They don't have a product yet. And. Yeah, that raises eyebrows. So the desk difficult. So because of that, we had a smaller pool of people that we could attract, luckily with, we could find people, but then another challenge is again, also probably Turkey specific, but the average. Average time an employee stays in the company is quite short in Turkey. So, uh, I dunno how that is in, in, in Europe or the States, but yeah, it's kind of also difficult to hold on to people. And especially if it's software. Yeah. First three, four, five months is still your investment phase. You're still in, you're still investing in the person. You're still training them. And if they are leaving on year one, Uh, yeah, that's a, that's a shame because of that, we try to be very careful while hiring people. One of the things that we valued the most during the interviews was the personality you want to make sure the person is a good fit and you want to make sure that the person is going to like us and is more likely to stay longer. Michaela: [00:44:41] So maybe to, to wrap everything up, what do you think are the next big goals that you want to achieve with Kuika right now? What are you heading towards and what brings the next year for you? Alper: [00:44:53] Well, we have around 15 customers, but, uh, it's always more, the more, the better, another challenge is the tool itself is it has been four years, so we need to keep adding new features. And keep up with, with the news technology. So those are the things that are on our roadmap. Michaela: [00:45:14] Yeah. Sounds reasonable. Yeah. I'm from my side. I'm really happy that you have been talking with me that long. Yeah. I learned a lot about your startup. It sounds amazing. It sounds very challenging and very diverse. And I think you're doing a great job. Thanks for being on my show. Alper: [00:45:30] Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for your money. Thank Michaela: [00:45:32] you. Bye. I hope you enjoyed another episode of the Software Engineering and Unlocked podcast. Don't forget to subscribe. And I talked to you again. Bye.
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