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Meet Demet Mutlu, the 30-year-old founder and CEO of Trendyol — a fashion website that is breaking boundaries in Turkey in more ways than one.
Since launching her flash sales service and fashion brand less than 18 months ago, Mutlu has rapidly become known not just as one of the country’s top female entrepreneurs, but one of its top entrepreneurs full stop — a reputation that will only be underscored by the official announcement that the company has closed a $26 million round of funding from Tiger Global (LinkedIn, Zynga) and perhaps more importantly Silicon Valley royalty Kleiner Perkins.
The site — its name means “become a trendy person” in Turkish — is centered on the increasingly familiar model of flash sales: customers sign up to get access to sales where the latest fashions are available at heavily discounted prices.
“We are similar in our business model to Vente Privee and Gilt Groupe,” admits Mutlu, “But we’re not just a discount site.”
So how is it different? Well, it’s a highly social business with a focus on customer service — which it achieves mainly through being deeply embedded in conversations with users and trying to be as reactive as possible to their needs and desires. For example, the company uses its Facebook page (which has 500,000 fans) as a customer service tool; they’ve built a full end-to-end shopping service that means users can browse and order goods without ever leaving the social network.
At the same time, the company regularly uses the page to ask users what sort of celebrity photo shoots they want to see next, and gauge what styles they are interested in.
But the most significant difference, she suggests, is that Trendyol also runs its own fashion label, Milla — which happens to be the fastest growing portion of its business. All of this has helped the business expand rapidly since launching early in 2010, to the point where it now has 4 million users and $100 million in revenues. It appears to have really struck a cord with people and tapped into a user base that others had struggled to hit.
“Turkey’s a very interesting market, and not just because of the population of 80 million people,” she says. “The infrastructure’s there… ”
Plus there’s a lot of emphasis on fashion among the increasingly young population, who see brands and style as a hugely important status symbol. That makes it an attractive investment for a company like Kleiner Perkins, which doesn’t often make significant deals outside the U.S.
“But it’s not just about the market, it’s about the company too — the culture, the DNA,” says Mutlu. “We have really top talent that we have brought in; two ex-Amazonians, the former CEO of Reader’s Digest here in Turkey, a lot of well-educated managers, and many expats.”
As well as relying on her own experiences gathered at NYU, Harvard Business School and major firms like Procter & Gamble, she says it’s been important to bring in a lot of other experienced hands. It’s not easy, though, because Turkey’s culture prizes a certain sort of success that means the potential cohort of startup entrepreneurs have largely been wooed into well-paying corporate roles around the world.
“People who had my background in Turkey just wouldn’t have done this,” she says. “In the past, entrepreneurship was seen as something you do if you can’t get a job with a multinational.”
So what next? News of a deal with Kleiner Perkins and Tiger had been bubbling for a while, but now that it is fully public, Mutlu says the company plans to use the money to grow inside Turkey — though through organic growth, not acquisition — and then take the show on the road. Early targets include other countries around the Middle East and North Africa, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.