Turkey: The land that embraced Facebook, FriendFeed and startups

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Twitter's Project Mayhem Dilemma

For the past couple of days I’ve been in Turkey, absorbing the tech scene in Istanbul (tomorrow I’m in Munich, Germany, for DLD). I was invited over by the Nubridge Venture Summit which brought together a panoply of European VCs to listen to Turkish tech companies set out their wares. What emerged is a picture of a country in high growth, as this economy and its entrepreneurs latch on to the possibilities offered by the Internet and mobile platforms.

But first, let me tell you a story. Two years ago I contacted Turkey’s pre-eminent “Web 2.0” blogger, Arda Kutsal of Webrazzi. I said let’s do a TechCrunch Europe meetup in Istanbul. Duly, a few weeks later I took a flight out, got to the hotel he mentioned and figured Arda had organised the meetup in the bar. No, said the receptionist, “It’s in the Grand Ballroom.” I headed down the hall to find about 400 people. That was the kind of thing that was going on then.

Two years on, with a packed room full of European VCs and private equity people hearing pitches from a wide range of Turkish technology companies, it’s clear the investment community is keenly interested in this market.

This was an event that probably couldn’t have happened two years ago. Even though Turkey is going through a period of high growth, it took the perfect storm of wider internet adoption and social networking (particularly the rise of Facebook here) to turn Turkey into an emerging startup market. As I said to about 30 journalists from the Turkish press on day two of the event – you don’t actually see all these investors in one room very often, unless it’s at something like TechCrunch 50, or events like Le Web. Something has happened to Turkey in those two years. So here’s some context.

Turkey is now the third largest country on Facebook according to ComScore (see illustrations).

It’s a few million behind the UK, and with 75 million people in Turkey (26.5m of whom are online) it’s likely to become the second biggest behind the US fairly soon.

How on earth did that happen? I’ve spoken to Facebook and people here in Istanbul and what emerged was the story of a campaign by early adopters in Turkey to get Facebook to release them the tools to translate it into Turkish. After that the site exploded in use. There was no local social networking clone with the same functionality, and the young popuation (over half of Turkey is under 30 years old) made Facebook look like the hip Western site to “be seen” on. See below:

It also helped that there is a large ex-pat Turkish population in Germany, with Facebook increasingly acting as a networking bridge between families spread across the two countries. On journalist here told me that many people don’t even have normal email addresses – they just use Facebook email.

Furthermore, last year ComScore released a report showing Turkey has the third most engaged online audience in the world, with 30 hours spent online each month – that’s actually behind the US and Canada. See below:

The EU average is 29 hours. Turkey is also home to the world’s 12th largest Internet market and has 6th largest internet use in Europe user base with 38% penetration. In 2012 it is forecast to grow to 35.8 million users (which will make it the 5th largest internet population in Europe).

In other words, the internet is insanely popular here, where entertainment alternatives like the relatively tame content on state-regulated TV just doesn’t cut it amongst the youth. As you might expect, Google and Microsoft sites dominate, followed by Facebook, but then local content sites kick in:

There is also widespread credit card availability (with 44m+ credit cards in use) unlike some parts of Europe (Germany being the quintessential anti-credit card example). It’s actually the number two market after the UK for Visa credit use, according to Visa.

Key e-commerce verticals such as travel, electronics, and private shopping are exploding and online gaming – both casual and MMOs – is widespread. Colleges and internet cafes remain an important part of the access landscape, especially in gaming (PCs and Internet access at home is still just slightly too expensive for the average person), but the cafes are widespread and cheap to access.

As well as it’s fascination with Facebook, Turkish people have latched onto Microblogging in droves. But it’s not Twitter they turned to first. It turns out FriendFeed is the platform of choice. A simple check on Alexa confirms that Turkey is the biggest user of FriendFeed on the planet.

That is going to please Facebook, since it now owns FirendFeed. But Twitter, whether by accident or design, is being used increasingly more by celebrities in Turkish society (film stars etc). That should help its position, gradually.

The iPhone, which launched in Turkey in September 2008, is also gradually making headway. It was facinating to see my taxi driver from the airport get an iPhone out to answer a call.

There remain of course hurdles in the Turkish tech market. YouTube was been famously banned by a court in Stanbul after someone uploaded a critical video of the nation’s modern founder Atatürk.

However, outside impressions can be deceptive. In reality I had no trouble accessing YouTube from the hotel, and when I asked around absolutely everyone told me that the ban was considered a joke. Knowledge of changing your DNS to avoid the ban is now so mainstream that even some street corner shops regularly post DNS numbers people can use to get around the ban.

As with a lot of European markets, there are of course the copycat/clone startups, many of which are owned by almost family-run conglomerates of sites which have grown up from the early Internet scene since the 1990s. These have ended up hoovering-up small startups, which makes the exit market a rather small business sized affair. The problem is a lack of capital (hey, remember all the VCs who turned up this week?) to let new startups grow, so they tend to exit to a mid-stage player which then locks them in to a regional play rather than thinking globally.

Having said this, it is also fair to say that Turkey has a very healthy combination of local Internet giants and some innovative players… which I’ll be writing more about in a later post. Stay tuned.

  • http://www.botego.com/english.htm Ekim Nazım Kaya

    Mike, you deserve a lot of credit for your efforts on your emphasis on the Turkish market. I was in the press conference, and you acted as if you were a Turkish journalist, hosting the event. The fact that most of the Turkish journalists were unaware of the importance of the event was remarkable, and you helped them notice it. Thank you for the heads up, we wish to see you more often here.

    • http://blog.shonzilla.com Shonzilla

      Indeed, Mike really made an effort to understand the Turkish internet. If I may put in a nutshell Mike’s explanation of internet success in Turkey:
      Facebook + young population + credit cards

      Surely, this is not the recipe for success but it could be a good hint for other countries struggling with internet adoption.


  • http://eflomi.de Koray Kapon

    Great that somebody sees this at the end. I also live in Turkey/Antalya and people here in Turkey are, you can say, internet addicts.

    People here love communicating, with mobiles, by internet services and of course offline, face to face sitting in a cafe and drinking a mocca (turkish coffee ;o)

  • http://www.volksjobs.de Jobs

    The turkish market is huge and the Istanbul Area bringing lots of innovations from food to technolgy. And they are on the way to the EU :-)

  • http://www.marketoloji.com Mert Canlı

    Definitely a great review. thanks mike for pointing out the importance of turkish market in the internet world.

  • Kevin

    It’s an enormous market. Turkey brings a value to the internet by their very young generation. I believe there will be more going ons very soon in Turkey for the internet and mobile technologies.

  • http://www.41-29.com Alemsah Ozturk

    Thank you Mike for great insights about Turkey. Couldnt find to talk with you while you were here ;)

    I have to add a few things ;

    – Turkish entrepreneurship is on the rise as well, we’ve been seeing clones, innovative ideas from young people with determination. In the last two years, small projects increased and this year I’m sure we will be seeing great projects from Turkey.

    – It’s just starting. Digital advertising business is just starting in Turkey and we will see very fast growth in market with big brands pouring money from their TV budgets, this will also effects the quality of projects, insights and global success for Turkish Digital Market.

    – Furthermore, Turkey is a key to middle east where digital market is almost none. So in the next 5-10 years, Turkey will be most probably natural leader country for entrepreneurship for most of the Middle East countries and we will see great VCs from US&Europe investing in this geography.

    thanks for everything ;)

  • http://www.komuneo.com Serhan Büyükişcan

    That was a great review Mike. So much data summarized, and very nice conclusions.
    As a Turkish web developer it makes me glad that the picture from outside looks promising, too, it’s the same from the inside. Hopefully we will see the economic/financial results of that huge potential in the near future.

  • http://www.nucro.org Nucro

    thank you mike for these good detections about us. i think, this situation is not all yet. the turkish marketing area doesn’t realize how important social media and blogs are.

  • Girisim

    For those who are looking for investors to their projects, Özyeğin Univeristy offers a great oppurtunitiy. For more information please go to:

  • elvirs

    Nubridge was a big move forward in VC space but unfortunately it was for serial entrepreneurs who have previously built startups and now have something new to work on. Turkey needs angel investors to help entrepreneurs take off with their ideas with a little cash (lets say 100k range). That would really move.

    I have been working on my idea for a year now and I have drafted tens of pages of documentation for this project but I have difficulty to find some cash to hire programmers to develop at least the prototype. I cant write all the code myself because it consists of many different technologies on both client and server side. Well I am not loosing my hope :)
    thanks for the stats Mike, even I living in Turkey did not most of them :)

  • http://roadtweets.com RoadTweets

    Exciting stuff. I just checked to see if we’re getting many downloads of RoadTweets iPhone app from Turkey. So far not so much (unlike Japan and South Korea which are exploding).

    Anyone know what the iPhone penetration in Turkey is?

    • Kevin

      iPhone is ridiculously expensive in Turkey. I believe the average price is about $1000 because of some stupid government taxes and regulations. Can’t everybody afford it!

  • http://www.41-29.com Alemsah Ozturk

    Hi Roadtweets,

    The number is around 350.000 ( iPhone )

    • http://roadtweets.com RoadTweets

      Thanks Alemsah and Kevin. that would certainly explain it.

  • http://www.ontablemedia.com Adnan Pamukcu

    Great Great Great Analytics. Being a Turkish person who lives in US, and seeing these improvements from here makes me so happy.

    Apparently I am no the only one realizing this.

    Thanks Mike

  • Arnold Waldstein


    This is a great post. Thanks.

    On two levels it interests me.

    1. Facebook and its international distribution is a topic I blog on and interested in connecting with folks who are working in this area. Check out http://bit.ly/8M2sGH

    2. I’m working with an interesting social video company that has been rolling out its app with Meet Ups in the states and am taking it to Istanbul, Rome and London in March. Would very much like to connect with folks who can provide some guidance and assistance.

    Thanks again and love to connect live with you.

  • http://www.stars-of-europe.com Ozan Isinak

    I’ve been here (in Istanbul) since 2007 and I can tell you that within only 3 years, there has been an explosion in new innovative companies and a sense of entrepreneurship that is on a similar tone to that of Silicon Valley (obviously on a much smaller scale). None-the-less, it is an indication that the country is in a very serious transitional phase in its development and growth.

  • Michael

    If the numbers are correct it should be an incredible country.. Will be glad to hear more about that

    • http://www.41-29.com Alemsah Ozturk

      Feel free to contact me, I can provide more data and guidance alemsah@41-29.com

  • http://rhxo.com Raj Kumar

    I work for a Turkish technology company. The company has offices in New Delhi and Ankara, and New York. We’ve been working on a government project for a while and other half of us are currently developing web projects for Turkish audience. I didn’t know personally that there was a huge potential in the area.

  • http://www.youtholding.com Joseph Ciprut

    Excellent synopsis of the enormous potential this dynamic country offers to savvy investors with a win-win mindset. Turks are early adopters of consumer tech and despite high numbers of social media users and fast increase of landline broadband subscribers, the mobile platform is still in its infancy here, 3G having just been introduced a few months ago. It is growing fast though, with all three gsm operators as well as TurkTelekom in heavy competition with one another for value added services.

    It may be good to remember Turkey has a median age of just under 28 and almost 30% of its population is under 14 years of age. Indeed much promise here, especially for those companies (and their brands) that embrace the best tenets of youth marketing such as honesty, fairness and relevant yet entertaining messages aiming to create a dialogue. They will reap huge benefits, while feeling the exhilaration of appreciative cooperation.

    Besides, it is a beautiful, fascinating country well worth a visit – and extended stays :)


    • http://www.41-29.com Alemsah Ozturk

      Thanks for the kind words Joseph ;)

  • Ilgaz

    One of the rather amazing things is the rise of MS Messenger (Live messenger) and the basic reason behind it. MS was talking about 30M+ unique users which they had hard time believing first.

    Reason for such rise and being de facto presence utility? 2 reasons in fact. First, AOL/ICQ banned entire Turkish broadband IP space in 2000s citing spammers. People wondered around with open proxies for a while (high security risk and not reliable) and they stared to their desktop for an alternative. There was Windows/MSN Messenger which is also Turkish and they adopted that instead while entire planet was joking with such a basic IM application compared to ICQ/AIM.

    If one talks about AOL’s mistakes, they should start with ICQ first.

  • Thio

    Of course we have to remind to the readers of this article who do not know the territory that Istanbul has nothing to do with the rest of Turkey and all the exciting stuff happening there will be coming in years (or decades) in the rest of the country.

    • Utku

      @ Thio, Decades ?, yeah right, all modern communication technologies, dsl networks, wi-fi hot spots of ISPs, broadband cellular networks are nation wide available, except cable, which is hard to find in rural areas. I am Turkish, living in Istanbul and have been to almost every region in the country, I’ve never witnessed something took decades to be widely available. The reason of late 3G arrival is a legal fight between major cellular networks, edge was ok for mobile browsing anyway.

    • Utku

      If you want to have an idea about Turkey’s opportunities, UK Trade & Investment has an informative video about Turkey’s on youtube which you can find by searching as “turkey more than you know”.

    • hari

      i have been even at the farthest parts of Turkey. ADSL connection was always available and reliable.

  • Mert Can

    Just a quick hint for Twitter to get a huge number of applicants from Turkey: make twitter available in Turkish. Unfortunately, most Turkish people still don’t know English. Facebook and MSN messenger achieved such high rates in Turkey with the availability of them in Turkish.

  • http://www.onlyjust.net Mark Y.

    TO All Turkish Google lovers,

    I liked this article, but I think you all will be interested in this site that put all of Google’s features on one site.



  • http://www.technologyslice.com.au Tech

    Facebook is mentioned a lot even in turkish television/theater.

    • http://mehmetatar.blogspot.com/ Mehmet Atar

      Yeah, here is an example:

  • Jack

    You are wrong about the entertainment on Turkish TV: Turkish people are probably leading the world in watching TV, too. And no, your state-watched remarks are not really correct: You can see much more naked women on Turkish TV than you would on US TV. The same is true for newspapers. Just take a look at the most commonly read newspaper #4 site after Facebook on your rankings: Dogan Yayincilik and its leading newspapers (Milliyet being the most popular one). Would you ever see that many hot women pics on NYTimes or Washington Post.

    So your assumption about why the Internet is so popular in Turkey is not really a correct one; the actual reason, I would say is the relaxed and lazy nature of Turks. Turks love to just drink their tea and smoke and just chat or watch stuff on TV or online, instead of work which is what people in the US do most. Americans work at least 12 hours a day, whereas Turks go online/watch TV/smoke/swim, etc. like 16 hours a day, the rest being reserved for sleeping and eating. Work will be limited to half an hour to one hour a day, if the person is a hardworking one…

    How do I know? I am Turkish, living in Canada, and lived in the US, too.

    • http://www.stars-of-europe.com Ozan Isinak

      Huh???? I think you’ve been living in Canada for a little too long, my friend. Maybe you should come back to visit. No worries, there is still some nudity on TV :)

    • http://buzzlr.com serdar

      I live and work in Turkey, and if you know a place where people work just 1hour a day, in any business, just let me know!

    • M. Sevim

      Well, actually in some aspects you are right, but your last remarks are not really correct. Turks like spending time watching TV, going online, meeting with friends and drinking tea because they just love to entertain themselves – and this for centuries -, not because they are too lazy to work. That is only about culture and the way of live.

    • Hasan Sabri Kayaoglu-Aka Dedegi

      @jack:I really don’t know your living duration on Turkey.Seems to me that, you don’t know about your native motherland well enough.
      As a retired Academician-who have been in US as a student, and an teacher-for a long time, I recommend :
      You should kindly focus closely, read the scientifical research reports, articles, evaluations etc. about Turkey.
      Then show evidences, official reports,stats, clues,which should support or back up your allegations etc. supporting your claims on the subject .
      Otherwise, I’ll have to consider your claims as pleonastically said views, based on hear say…
      Best Regards…

    • Hasan Sabri Kayaoglu-Aka Dedegi

      Mark, Thank you very much for your invaluableness coverage about Turkey…
      Best Wishes,

    • http://www.dol.com.tr Kivan

      Dear Jack, Sorry but very wrong assumptions:
      1) #4 on the list is Dogan Online, not Dogan Yayincilik, so this is not about Milliyet and the content you are suggesting.
      Dogan Online owns Eklay.net- a horizontal portal, leading verticals being, News, Gaming (multiplayer experince, Turkish games and other MMOS and flash games ) , Women, City Guide and Entertainment (TV; CİNEMA, etc.)

      Please also share with us where people work for only 1 hour a day, as I hadn’t worked for less than 50 hours and more likely over 60 hours thruout all my career.

      Thus, you should consider Turkey again!

  • http://robusttech.net/wp/2010/01/24/turkey-the-land-that-embraced-facebook-friendfeed-and-startups/ Turkey: The land that embraced Facebook, FriendFeed and startups | Robust Tech

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