Today we are together with SERKAN PULAT, the founder of Urbansurf.me. We made an intimate interview with him, regarding from his experiences to the starting point of Urbansurf.me. We would like to thank Serkan Pulat, the guest of our twentieth issue, for accepting our invitation.”
1- Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is Serkan Pulat? What does he do?
Hello, I am Serkan, the founder of the Urbansurf application. The reasons that came up with the idea of Urbansurf can actually be considered as who I am. Because I enjoy traveling, meeting new people, and listening to their stories.
In accordance with my high school and university education, the subjects that cover my current job have been in my life for a long time such as software, application development, technology, entrepreneurship. I studied Electronics at Gültepe Industrial Vocational High School, Computer Programming at Istanbul Kültür University, and Computer Engineering at Beykent University. I started working after high school so I had the opportunity to get to know the industry at a very young age.
In addition to the software industry, I was also involved in social activities throughout my education life. We organized yachting trips, spring festivals, parties at the university. We even got the Best Spring Festival Award 🙂 At the end of my first year of university, I went to Malta for a month. This was my first trip abroad and after that, I continued to travel at home and abroad.
After school ended, I worked on different projects. But as a matter of fact, it was a time when I couldn’t find what I was looking for. But I kept searching and I was able to catch a new opportunity. I decided to go to San Francisco to improve both my language skills and my point of view, and to get new ideas. The idea of Urbansurf started to emerge at this stage.
2- How was the foundation process of Urbansurf? Which problem did you aim to solve? Do you think you are successful?
The idea of Urbansurf first emerged in 2015 in San Francisco, where I went to study language and to improve myself as an individual. I started by looking for a solution to both my own needs and the socialization needs of other people in the hostel I stayed in. I also included Tom, whom I stayed in the same hostel room, Qusai AlSaif, who stayed in the same hostel, and Anıl Erdem, whom I was introduced to by a friend’s cousin before I went to the city. Because I always believe that we can achieve better things together.
We started our development plan in Tom’s office for the prototype of the topics we talked about at an event that we went to for half a day with Qusai AlSaif. What shall we do, how to do it? I discussed with Anıl about the prototype and the idea itself for days. After we developed the product prototype, we moved on to the stage of naming the idea. I first discussed the application names I found with my teacher in the English course, regarding how do they sound, do you think they make sense, etc., and then I sent them to Anıl as a list. After eliminating all the other names, we decided on Urbansurf.me which means ‘walk around the city with me’.
We added it to our logo with the motto of exploring better together. When the costs of marketing the product were higher than I could afford in San Francisco, I returned to Istanbul. The Istanbul process has been progressing since then. The day we started, we had a logo with a bag on the back. Today, the is a location sign surfing in the city and the seagulls symbolizing Istanbul. Our motto is altered as “Engage in life & share your energy.”
It was a long process from the idea stage to the present day and I can’t say it was easy. We changed many teams, many designs, and finally technology. So far so good.
People need some change in their current environment. They need to meet new people, hear new voices, engage with new ideas and try new experiences. In today’s world, where people are constantly chasing things and even forgetting themselves in this rush, our chances of meeting a new person with similar interests and passions are decreasing. This is where we come into play with Urbansurf. We offer people a platform where they can easily meet people with similar interests and passions at various events, anytime and anywhere.
Success is a relative matter 🙂 We are still working on it. We still have good ideas. We have not yet reached our goals, but we are not unsuccessful either. This is a process and we will turn the Urbansurf application into the most actively used socialization application all over the world.
If the success criterion is making money, we haven’t made any money yet. We are adding methods to earn money into the application now.
3- Did you have a business plan when you started your business? Did you act faithfully to this plan? What do you think about business plans in general?
All of the people with whom we created the idea have changed due to their life circumstances. This includes the app itself, our own perspectives. Like the flow of life, our process also flows. I see change as a necessity of transformation. We always have short-term plans, but we are always open to change for transformation and we do not hesitate to change the plans when we find it necessary. For me, this is a risky but enjoyable aspect of entrepreneurship.
Our initial goal was to bring people together in small groups. We had plans in terms of technics and content in accordance with our purpose, but when we moved to the application process, we realized that we were not doing it right. Our goal and method just didn’t quite match. I find it right to have a plan to keep the team together and look in the same direction, but I do not believe in the necessity of taking every step according to the plan or seeing the plan as an immutable law. Because the user behavior is changing. We create possibilities for new plans with new ideas. We open up some space for ourselves to expand.
The most important change we made was to leave people to decide how to use the application. In whatever environment the users want to come together, we offer them options. We offer models that will bring people together with common interests or expectations. All of these started to fit into a plan. The features of the application have expanded within the framework of the plan.
4- What was the most difficult point in establishing your startup?
Starting a company and starting a startup are different issues. Of course, we need a lot of additional budgets to develop and market the application. So far, we have received support from companies such as İTÜ Çekirdek, Etohum, Amazon, Google, Startup School (Y Combinator), Radore. Thanks to those who believe in us, we overcome this challenge. On the other hand, we believe in this project as a team. That’s why we get the support of our friends who voluntarily share their expertise. If there is a problem, there comes the solution afterward. Any support we receive contributes to our efforts to produce a sustainable product.
I would like to thank my brother Hüseyin Pulat, my family, friends, and teammates (my cat for always motivating me) who supported us in overcoming the difficulties. Here, I would like to include the names of my teammates and friends who are not being a part of the team but being devoted supporters: Volkan Bilmiş, Ömer Avcı, Burak Büyükdemirci, Bahadır Özer, Gizem Taş, Hazal Günel, Devran Şimşek, Erdal Demirci, Yakup Demirci, Bora Aydın.
5- What mistakes did you make while establishing your enterprise? Could you compensate them easily? What should be done in such a situation?
The problems we have experienced so far have been that we were late in trying our product. This occurred because the teams we worked with before did not work cooperatively and who were not active, and at the same time, our resources were limited. We were talking about things that need testing but we couldn’t make the change in time.
Now our team is making sure that we follow these 5 steps when we work on a new feature:
1) developing the basics
2) running the user tests
3) examining the feedback
4) making improvements through the process
5) retesting, and moving forward faster.
Another point was that not leaving the control of the product features directly to the user caused us to lose time. In the future, we will shape our developments according to the behavior of the users in the application.
Finally, I can say that we have come to the part where we can run the marketing and product development in parallel. We will switch to a 70% marketing 30% product development model.
6- Do you have competitors, if any, what are your advantages or disadvantages compared to them?
As Urbansurf, we aim to plan all the steps of the user to socialize in the city or outside the city. At this point, we can say that we have competitors in more than one category. We want to be referred to as the best socializing app when applied rather than standing alone. Since we think that we have a lot to learn from our competitors, I can say that their presence gives us strength.
It also means that more users use such applications and feel the difference with the product we will offer. It is exhausting to get the market ready, explain that socializing from scratch is a good thing. Therefore, the more people use such applications, the less effort it means for us and talking about the right feedback.
Here are the features we offer briefly as an application, I think you can guess the competitors.
Urbansurf application features;
1- Chatting or meeting a kindred soul (interest and expectation match)
2- Meeting with the city experts (City experiences)
3- Meeting in online or face-to-face activities
4- Visiting the best food & beverage and meeting places
5- Sharing memories by scoring. (Meeting, food & beverage experiences, travel, accommodation, etc.)
7- What plans do you have for the future? What do you think about growing your business? How would you evaluate your own energy and motivation in this regard?
Our goal in the first 6 months of the next 2-year phase is to increase application awareness, add subscription models, be actively used in the cities we have determined, and receive investment. Especially with the effect of Covid-19, people all over the world have been locked in their homes for the last two years. I think Urbansurf will motivate everyone who is ready to go out again and who wants to meet new people. This also increases our motivation.
8- While setting up your business, did you get negative comments from the people around you? What did you do in such a situation?
When people around me say something negative, I see what they say and think whether they are right or not. However, I am also evaluating whether they know the details of the idea or whether they have such experience. I’m asking if they’ve ever met someone via an app before.
If they have not been in such a project before, I see this negative approach as their fear of an area they have not experienced before. Because the process is long, people sometimes say “Maybe it doesn’t work’’, ‘’maybe you should leave it.’’ Instead of quitting, I say that we continue by changing it little by little with the feedback we get. I can say that those who see the difference between the product we first made and the product we have now started to contribute with us, even if they thought negatively at first. As a team, we believe in our project and we try to receive positive thoughts from negative comments.
9- What are the things that take you one step further in your life/work?
If you ask related to the business, I can say the benefit we will provide. The desire to offer a solution to a problem or present an assignment better is the main focus of my work motivation. On the other hand, my family has an important role. When I come back home, I feel a different kind of peace. Afterward, chatting with my friends relaxes me. We have a monster cat at home. It has the ability to trip anyone passing by 🙂
I am an optimistic person. Rather than being a workaholic, working is not tiring for me because I like to be busy with something. I’ve always got something to do. Meeting new people and cultures increases my energy. Also, I can’t help examining the projects, thinking about how they can be done differently and whether they can be improved.
I believe that positive changes will start from family and your own environment. We usually assume that problems are created by people other than us, and lastly, we look at the mirror. Understanding the situation before yelling or judging often solves the problem. This allows you to focus on the solution, not the problem.
10- What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?
They need to question what they will do, how they will do it, with whom they will do it, not the idea itself. They need to talk about their ideas or talk with people who encounter the problem they are trying to solve. If there is someone who has established this idea before, if they can contact them, they should also consult them.
The more details they listen to, the shorter their paths will be and the stronger they can express their own private thoughts. Do not be afraid to listen to the experiences. It only matters who they listen to so that they can use their energies well. If everyone in the team is focused on developing the idea, there is a problem in that team. And if something is not going well, they need to continue by making certain changes. If they have the opportunity, they should not be too excited to get an investment. They should question what the investor identity will provide them.
Aiming the perfection is not a bad thing. Just trying to get it in one day will wear you out. It destroys your people.
11- Do you have a life motto that you can share with us?
Positive thinking and true communication will solve 80% of your problems. For the rest, it should be left to chance. If you have to constantly explain yourself to someone, you may be doing something wrong.