Interview with our CEO Demirhan Büyüközcü: We will be the 2nd largest player
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your initiatives?
I was born in İzmir in 1983. I completed my primary, secondary and high school education in Ankara. Then I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering in ODTU, MBA Degree in Bilkent University followed by M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the Cognitive Sciences Program in ODTU.
We moved frequently until the 4th grade of primary school since my father was a civil engineer, therefore, I had to start a new school, make new friends, adapt to a new environment and then start a new school again in each city we moved to. Years later I can see that the way I grew up made me a person who can easily adapt to changes, new places and people.
How many startup have you had so far?
Four. These are V-Count Teknoloji AŞ, Wudya, Onedio and Istonair.
You are partners with the CEO of Onedio, Kaan Kayabalı. How did you come together?
We were in the same class at university. Doing assignments together, studying for exams and playing team games such as ‘counter strike’ strengthened our friendship. When we were in the 4th grade at university, I was standing out with my technical skills and Kaan with his sales skills. We had set our mind to establishing a company together, producing something and becoming entrepreneurs.
Throughout the 4th grade, we asked ourselves “What should we produce and what problem can we solve?”, looking for ideas. We were reading and researching a lot about image and video processing. We tried to develop, produce and sell many products such as sports analysis on football field, detection of vehicles with LPG, player analysis in tennis courts. But we could not succeed due to the lack of market need.
How did you come up with the V-Count idea?
We came in second and won a small monetary award in an entrepreneurship contest called “New Ideas New Businesses” (YFYI) that was held for the first time in 2006 when we were in our last year in ODTU. Using the award we won, we stepped into the business life with our first company called KADE (Kaan-Demir) Bilişim in the ODTU Teknokent. Then we successfully developed and started to sell the projects that we realized based on the ideas we received such as sack count, olive count, vehicle count and license plate identification. These products established the infrastructure of the people counting based company that continues to grow rapidly.
The software we developed for the purpose of tracking the balls on football fields started to be used for counting sacks, olives, vehicles and people over time. Our first slogan was “Bakan değil gören kameralar” (Cameras seeing rather than looking). We named our people counting device the V-Count. The name is derived from the terms “visitor counter” or “vision counter”. We had called other products “V-Traffic” and “V-Secure”. Over time, our people counting product started to be used by huge companies in Turkey such as Kiğılı, Defacto, LCWaikiki, Vestel and Arçelik.
How long did it take for you to realize this initiative?
Upon the establishment of Onedio in 2011 and after it attracted investments, Kaan became the CEO of Onedio. And I became the CEO of V-Count. Soon after I started my new position, we decided to discontinue all our products and works except for the people counting. Aiming to focus on people counting technologies only and become the best in that field across the world, we renewed the mission of V-Count as being the best visitor analytics company worldwide. This year is the 12th year of V-Count, and 6th year of Onedio.
Which sectors are using the product mostly?
While our products were used mostly in chain stores and shopping malls at first, now they are being used in supermarkets, banks, airports, duty free shops, libraries, museums, pharmacies, gas stations, car showrooms, casinos, amusement parks, concerts, festivals, smart buildings, mosques, churches, temples, restaurants and bars, any place where there is a need to count people actually.
How much investment did V-Count get?
V-Count received a total investment of $3.5 million from Revo Capital in 2016 and DCP Capital in 2017. We are planning to accelerate our growth by getting new foreign-based investments at the end of this year.
Where would you like to see V-Count in 3 to 5 years?
V-Count is now listed among the first 10 companies in its field across the world by international independent reporting companies. We are aiming to rank among the first 2 and bring our global market share over 10 percent in 5 years. We are now focused primarily on retail stores and shopping malls, but there are many sectors we want to enter such as airports, banks, supermarkets and amusement parks. We dream of living in a world where our analytic systems are used when you enter an airport or an amusement part, store, pharmacy in any country around the world in five years.
What roadmap will you follow to achieve this?
Our target is to have offices in 20 countries around the world, more than 200 team members and a turnover of over $100 million. With V-Count, we have an opportunity that will mark the Turkish technology history once it is used at millions of spots across the world. We want to make very well use of this opportunity. We are trying to establish long-term plans. We would like to sustain the V-Count brand forever by taking the company public rather than selling it to another company.
How have you moved forward outside Turkey so far?
We sold the first V-Count product abroad to a chain store in Hong Kong in 2013. We thought that people show similar behaviors all around the world, and if we handle this business well here, we can do the same anywhere in the world. We got our first corporate investment in 2016 and opened our first foreign office in Miami. The second investment came in 2017, followed by the opening of our Dubai office at the beginning of 2018, and London office later the same year.
Which countries are next?
We are opening our Singapore office within this year. We aim to reach out to the world rapidly by opening offices in countries such as China, Brazil, Japan, Indonesia, Malesia, Vietnam and Thailand in 2019. By this year, we are selling our products to 100+ countries around the world directly or via dealers. We have over 120 business partners. Our export has grown by 125 percent in 2018. Our 2019 target for export is $7.5 million.
Are there any other projects you are focusing on lately?
At the moment, I am all focused on V-Count and Kaan is focused on Onedio. I’m very interested in blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Kaan is interested in e-sports. Maybe we might have initiatives or investments in those fields in the future.
How did you get investment?
Investors are mostly interested in the team, business model and expandability of business. While a prototype is sufficient for earlier stage investors, the investors in our country are more prone to making investments in companies that already make a turnover. Our business model is based on device sales and the monthly subscription fee received for each device (SaaS). The possibility of continuous income has been appealing to investors. Besides, the facts that we are a market leader in Turkey and we already export our product to many countries whetted the appetite of investors.
“WE CARE ABOUT THE TEAM”
Another thing we are proud of and care about is our human resource and company culture. We have a very smart, dynamic, ethical, hard-working and fun team that has been with us since the establishment of the company or joined us over years, and that works with team spirit following our vision. We have a management that adopts the “Work hard play hard” culture. We work very hard but enjoy ourselves in our entertaining office parties. Our investors express their respect and appreciation for our team on every occasion.
How many customers do you have?
We now have over 550 corporate customers in 100 countries around the world.
“EACH YEAR WE ARE FACED WITH NEW CHALLENGES”
Before getting investment, we barely escaped bankruptcy 3 times. I remember the times we sat with Kaan and said “This time we are definitely going belly up, there is no escape”. We have overcome it all somehow. But they were tough times. We attracted the attention of investors after gaining larger customers, and got our first investment. The date we signed our first investment was July 14, 2016, one day before the coup attempt in Turkey. I think that we were lucky on this when I look back.
Struggle and challenges were not over in the next stages. This time we started to open foreign offices for expanding overseas. Each market has its own culture and challenges, which we learnt in time. Faults we made there cost us money since we had received investment, but we kept on learning. Now we are planning to open our 4th office abroad and we intend to have opened 5 more foreign offices by the end of 2019. Even though we are in our 14th year, each year we are facing new challenges and we will continue to overcome challenges in the future.
“WE ARE INCREASING EFFICIENCY”
V-Count is now producing and analyzing information such as people counting, density analysis (heatmap) queue counting, age/gender/emotion identification. It provides benefits for retailers and shopping malls such as increasing the efficiency of employees, reducing the check-out queues and measuring the effect of interior design changes in stores. At the end of the day, we are increasing the efficiency, profit and turnover of retailers.
The product is used to reduce queue times in airports, increase corridor efficiency in supermarkets, and also to increase the efficiency in casinos, auto showrooms, banks, pharmacies, gas stations, sanctuaries, parks, fairs, restaurants and bars. It improves the energy efficiency and reduces power consumption by providing data to air-conditioning and lighting controls in smart buildings, and actually in all buildings, as a new field of use.