Interview with Zeynep Zorlu: Team Diversity Means Better Business

Does a career have to be built on a particular value? And which value do you prefer to build your career on? I personally feel that my own career value motivates me everyday. I am the content manager at Pisano where we help businesses improve themselves on making their customers happy via tools like blogs and social media posts. I’m pleased to state that we try to create new ideas everyday ardently in the direction of this goal.

I share the same emotions and thoughts with many people. One of them is Zeynep Zorlu. Zeynep Zorlu works in the fund management team at TRPE Venture Partners. She has a particular interest in companies that address real customer problems, those with high growth potential in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector and with a greater focus on B2B solutions. She is also a board observer of Pisano, which creates B2B solutions.

Zeynep stepped into the business life with Pfizer Turkey. Then, she started to work with the Zorlu Property Group. Lastly, she joined the fund management team at TRPE Venture Partners. At the same time, she enlightens new entrepreneurs’ paths as an angel investor.

Zeynep has a son; she is also a scuba diving and pilates instructor. Which values give Zeynep power to create time for such diverse things? I think this interview should be a guide for everyone, especially business women.

1. What are the three “must-have” features of entrepreneurial spirit? Which features do you pay attention to as an angel entrepreneur?

I don’t think I should use the term “must-have”, I haven’t been an angel investor for that long. However, as far as I see, practicality, optimism, and persistence are the common points of successful entrepreneurs. I pay attention to the personal characteristics of the founder teams, to see whether they have “iyi hamur” (Turkish idiom meaning “well-bred”).

When a potential investment is being evaluated, many parameters like business and revenue models, the solution offered to the market, size of the market, competitive advantages, scalability, and exit strategy can be used. Even a short Google search can help you list these parameters. I also use them myself of course. However, what I actually try to focus on is what kind of people entrepreneurs themselves are. After all, it is the entrepreneurs who will make the project work at the end of the day. Business plans, sales projections, and even business models have a high chance of not proceeding exactly how they were planned in the presentation slides given to investors. This is the point where I think characteristics of the co-founder team and entrepreneurs make the difference. According to a Chicago Booth Business School research by Prof. Steven Kaplan, named “VC Deal Structure” which is yet publicly unavailable, 97% of participants among top 450 VC founders in the US list “team” as one of three critical success factors, while 47% of them state that “team” is the most critical success factor.

2. As an angel investor, what do you think about the ratio of female entrepreneurs to male?

I don’t have any statistics about the ratio of male and female entrepreneurs in Turkey, so I can’t really comment about the numbers. My opinion here should be regarded as mere ‘observation’ and ‘insight’. In actual life, I’ve met more male entrepreneurs than female ones in the companies I worked with, but yet again, I usually work with people in early technology enterprises.

Of course, entrepreneurship does not just mean startups. Let’s think about this issue in relation with the US market since it offers the best environment for technology companies and thus, able to provide more data. According to the 2014 Diana Report published by Babson College, out of 6,793 company which had received VC investment, only 15% of executive teams have one female member or more on board. Also, merely 2.7% of these businesses have a female CEO. A 2015 study named Crunchbase Female Startup Founders has found out that within 14,341 enterprises that have VC investment, only 15.5% of them have one female co-founder or more.

According to my observation, the situation is similar with female entrepreneurs in Turkish startups. However, Alacrity BC’s July 2016 article “Startup Environment in Turkey” wrote that the number of women working in the technology sector is higher in Turkey compared to other locations. Endeavor Turkey states that 1/3 of entrepreneurs in Turkey are female, whereas Endeavour Worldwide implies the rate is around 9%.

I think the whole point is not about the female-male ratio it is about providing cultural diversity in a company. I’m not simply stating this out of habit, it was proven by both Illuminate White Paper in 2015 and Bloomberg Backtest in 2016 that executive teams maintaining cultural diversity achieve higher profitability and return on equity shares. This indicates that the matter on hand is a financial return issue, not just a social one.

3.What do you think about Pisano women, especially since they are working in a male-oriented sector?

All Pisano members are hardworking, helpful, and practical people. I especially would like to highlight the helpfulness part. In the entrepreneur sector, work tends to get over one’s head most of the time. With this kind of atmosphere, it is not easy to say “how can I help you” and keep your promise. In this sense, Pisano has a very different company culture. I think this is due to its team consisting of people who come from different cultures: Women, men, Turkish and foreign people. The multitude of voices helps make a difference in business. Pisano can share happiness, which is the core value of the company, with its customers and team members.

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to Zeynep Zorlu for sharing her invaluable opinions with the Pisano team.

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