This time, we’ll be talking with Esra Talu, the co-founder of GoGlobal and the Business Mentor at Microsoft for Startups. She’s also a University Lecturer, Board Member, and Advisor at multiple other companies. How does she do it all? Read below👇
Woman on a mission – with Esra Talu
During our conversation, Esra told us about her road to becoming the Business Mentor at Microsoft for Startups and the Co-founder of GoGlobal. We also discussed different aspects of running a startup, what kind of support programs we can find here, and much more! Check it out and get tips on how to lead your business career.
- Esra’s professional journey
- Microsoft for Startups program – how it started
- The story and mission behind GoGlobal
- Challenges of growing and expanding various startups
- The status of female entrepreneurship in the Middle East and Africa
- Lessons learned
- The Middle Eastern tech hub
- Emerging technologies in the Middle East and Africa
Esra Talu is a definition of a powerful woman. She is a highly energetic, enthusiastic, and self-motivated individual. Last year she joined Microsoft for Startups in the Middle East and Africa as a successful Business Mentor, where she’s bridging the gap between corporates and B2B tech entrepreneurs through tech enablement, knowledge sharing, and community building. But how did she get there?
In 2019, together with Tara Lutman, she co-founded GoGlobal, where they combined their 25+ years of tech experience. GoGlobal brings together Individual Investors, Corporates, Institutions, and Tech Entrepreneurs, facilitating sustainable growth and expansion opportunities. They provide startups with strategic & networking support for global expansion & growing the startup beyond its original market.
In the meantime, she became an Advisory Board Member at NaturaGrowth LP, Arya Women Investment Platform, and manibux. She also discovered her inner lecturer and keeps sharing her knowledge with the students of Istanbul University and Poliversity – a Turkish e-learning platform.
Recently, we also asked her a few questions to get to know her better – read them here.
Welcome to the ‘How We Innovate’ podcast presented by Applandeo hosted by me, Wiola and my co-host, Bryan. On this podcast, we talk with leading innovators, pull back the curtain on their industry, and get to know how they use technology to achieve success, as well as share the stories behind them and their businesses.
Host – Wiola 0:23
On today’s episode, we have Esra Talu, a business mentor at Microsoft for Startups Middle East and Africa, and co-founder and partner at GoGlobal. Esra is a renaissance woman, she’s present in so many different areas, including education, advising, technology, and innovation. She’s in tune with the startup and tech culture. And she builds bridges. So Ezra, welcome, nice to have you with us.
Guest – Esra 0:51
Thank you so much, Wiola, I’m so happy to be with you today.
Host – Wiola 0:55
You’re a woman on a mission, you’re active in so many different areas. So like, you know, my first question would be, what is your mission? What drives you to be there?
Guest – Esra 1:09
Wow, what a question. It’s, thank you so much, I love this ‘mission’ word very much, because I believe that all of us somehow, we have to have to have meaning in our lives, we have to have a mission. And life is not just about you know, travelling, having making earning money and spending it. And you know, this is not about it was never about it for me. I always looked for something more. And I think this comes from my childhood, from my very beginning of, you know, my education and all. And I always believe that people, when they grow up, they have experiences, not just professional experiences, but life experiences as well. And at one time, you know, you say ‘Okay, I look at my life and I feel like I am full, you know, for myself right now.’ And it’s time for me to give back to society, like to other people. And in that sense, my priority was always woman, other woman, because as a woman, I had many challenges in my life, I still do. But 25 years ago, that was more because no one was talking too much about it. It was like, you know, normal. By challenges, I don’t only mean just, you know, the business, but in life in general, as a woman, it’s not easy. First of all, and young generations, Wiola. I really like to work with young people support them, motivate them, because we are passing through a very difficult time period right now. It’s after the pandemic, and with the pandemic, and all these young people. Most of them, they don’t know where the world is going. And you know, what kind of life is expecting them. So we really have to I think motivate them, but it’s not like by words, I always prefer to be showing them by experience, like, I always wanted them when I talked to them. I wanted to support it with with my, with my life as an example. Because otherwise, it’s still you know, how can I say it’s not it doesn’t sound real, if you are not a part of your, this experience that you are, you know, giving as an advice to these people, to young people so that you know, question it. So really, I share my experiences, all the stories like funny ones, you know, difficult ones, sad ones, exciting ones. To do this. I wrote a book, a digital book, actually, it’s only in Turkish for the moments of of the 15 years of my career business career. Actually I call myself always an entrepreneur, because I am and I will always be as a character. And you know, in that sense, I really like to share my experiences. And because you said bridge – yeah, I am born and raised in Turkey in Istanbul which is, you know, already connecting Asia and Europe. It’s lovely city, Istanbul, it’s I’m sure you know it.
Host – Wiola 5:09
Oh it’s great. I was there. I love it.
Guest – Esra 5:12
I mean, exciting. I mean, I live part in States, all my family is here. And I’m so happy to be in the United States, I have a chance to live in three lovely cities like New York City, Miami Beach, and Los Angeles, where actually I am today. And it’s so lovely. I mean, to connect Middle Eastern part, including Turkey with Western world. For me, it’s important because my education is more Western. I’ve studied in Switzerland. And then I lived since I’m living since 1993, in the States, so I was always, you know, between these two continents, and I’m happy, I mean, to, you know, to share my experience, always.
Host – Wiola 6:18
Yeah, so what would be what will be the, like, the most important lesson, you like sharing with your students?
Guest – Esra 6:30
I think the best advice I can give to people, it’s life is so wonderful. And you know, there’s always something exciting to find in it. So this is my motto. And you know, I always update myself with what’s going on. And I’m always excited to, to explore what’s going on around me. And I, you know, you said you said a person of mission. I mean, no one is giving me any task. You know, if no one is asking me, I’m always like that, for example. After when I was 45 years old, right? Today, I’m 53 years old, by the way. When I was 45 years old, I said, Okay, I have to lecture at universities, you know, I have no experience at all. But I said, I have so much to share. So I can do this, I have to do it. So you know, no one offered me anything and I went to universities, I visited them. I said, look, it’s not about you know, the money or anything, I just wanna share, you know, this experience this or what I went through and support people through this. If you sit and wait for, you know, people to assign you with tasks or give you missions, this never happens. I mean, there’s less probability that it happens. But if you go for things, and if you you know, if you offer things to people, they accept it, and since then I’m lecturing at universities, and I’m really having so much fun. And I have so many students now. And you know, we do great things, and I really like it.
Host – Wiola 8:27
Yeah, that makes sense. So and what brought you to the, you know, the Microsoft for Startups program?
Guest – Esra 8:35
Well, you know, yeah, of course, Microsoft is, of course, always everyone’s dream, probably. But to me, in 2019, my partner, Tara Lutman, and me, we started GoGlobal, as an advisory company for young generation – entrepreneurs, especially. And we, our company is in Miami Beach, and we work in three continents, in Europe, America and Middle East. So for me, when it comes to business, it’s very, very important to have business partners, local business partners. So because through GoGlobal, we support startups in one hand, we support investors, like different types of investors, it can be VCs, high net worth individuals, or angel investors. You know, it can be any of these groups, and also we support corporate companies, corporates. And we try to bring all together these three parties to work together in a more thoughtful way. And we’ve focused on growth and expansion. So this is our expertise with GoGlobal and as the as the name – we are global, we work globally. So at the beginning, I met Microsoft for Startups Middle East as a mentor, business mentor. And I started when I started to work with, with the companies from their pool, they have a great program accelerator program, by the way, which is called Growth X focuses on on companies, which is a bit late seat, serie pre serie a founding stage. So they yearly turnover, it’s a bit like $1 million, and plus, so most of them are looking to expand and grow regionally. So that fit meets so well. And the first company I had, was a company, the company is called Vera fax, it was great solution, a SaaS company, they are from UAE. And when I started to work with them, we both so that, you know, we can do a lot of things together, that my experience and my company’s experience was very helpful to them. So they asked to be a client to GoGlobal. So this is how it started, then, you know, with Microsoft for Startups, we became somehow business partners, like, you know, I was being a mentor, but also supporting their growth and expansion through GoGlobal, and we had wonderful examples through this, you know, Alliance, and it’s going perfectly well, it’s really exciting, Wiola. I think one of my mission is that too. I mean, in Turkey, or in any Middle Eastern country right now, the technology is becoming more and more important, and they invest a lot of in making it a hub, especially for example, you hear Dubai, more and more becoming a tech hub for you know, for the region, and there are incredible entrepreneurs doing working on incredible solutions that can become become global, and help really underdeveloped also regions. And countries surrounding Middle East with one of them can be for example, Africa. They create great solutions. And geographically because they are close these countries it can be really can have really wonderful create wonderful examples.
Host – Bryan 13:50
Yeah, maybe speaking more in general about startups, the culture or the infrastructure, right. So Microsoft for Startups sounds great, right? Do but do you think there are enough programs? Or infrastructure to help startups? Or do you see, you know, you’ve been in the market for a long time. Right. So has how has that changed over time? Do you feel that startups are getting more of that infrastructure and having support?
Guest – Esra 14:17
First of all, yes, I think so. There are more and more. And besides that there are a lot of examples that they can look at to and see why people are failing, why they’re succeeding. This is a great advantage, first of all, and on the other hand, why I prefer to work with Microsoft for Middle East, because everyone I still will. This is not to, you know, to discourage people. But everyone cannot be an entrepreneur. You know, this is very important. I mean, there are 1000s of other jobs also, that the world needs for for other people. So people can try, but they cannot be entrepreneurs, because of many reasons not for the for the business they have created, but also for their, you know, as a character you have to be, you have to be really resilient, strong, even more emotionally strong. And you know, you have to have this mindset. Like, for example, I always tell people, if you have, like, you know, four children, and the big family, being an entrepreneur is really difficult because it’s like rollercoaster, you have no guarantee that you’re gonna make the same amount of money every month, you don’t know, you maybe sometimes you have nothing. So when it comes to programs like Microsoft or other, you know, really strong programs from, like, you know, there are a lot of technology programs right now in the market, everywhere, they also teach you and tell you and test you, from the very beginning that this is a very, very difficult journey. And you know, you really have to be ready. Because, you know, we see, some companies, even when they raise funds, they cannot exist, like in two, three years, they disappear from the market. So it’s not just about that, it needs a lot of dedication, and continually you need support to your question. I mean, you need support from mentors, from advisors, from people from corporates, from podcasts, for example, I found them very, very helpful. I listen all the time. And I learn a lot. I mean, it’s very important, this is an ecosystem. And right now, I think the new generation entrepreneurs, they have a lot of, you know, helpful tools around them to succeed, because the system is working that way, you know, like it when you you know, this is what we call it, the American dream, you know, it’s, it’s not about having, you know, things, it’s about having opportunities, and this is what it is right now in you know, in the world, back to your there are a lot of opportunities right now, all you have to do you have to see them, you have to be social. And you know, you have to really be working hard to be one of those Microsoft for Startups, you know, companies. So it takes also some effort to go there. It’s not like just you know, ‘why they don’t choose me?’. Because, you know, you have to prepare yourself to be there too. But after that, you know, they really the support, it’s amazing. I really appreciate so much.
Host – Bryan 18:25
Yeah, and, you know, as a company, right, so we’re a software development company, right. So most of our clients are either US based or European based. We’ve had some clients from Dubai, the UAE and right. But, you know, we, as you said, you know, Dubai is especially becoming such a hub for innovation, right? You know, we kind of also feel that, you know, it’s an opportunity for us to get into that market. Right? So, how like, what sort of advice would you give maybe to a company like ours, who is looking to new markets, like, especially like ones that are maybe not culturally similar to us?
Guest – Esra 19:00
Yeah, work with us! You know, for us, it’s, what’s important is the trust is very, very important. Your word is, it’s like, it’s very much related to your personality, if you’re grew your reputation. I mean, if you say, Okay, it’s deal deal, we’re going to do this, you, you have to do this, otherwise, you know, you’re not respected. So, for some people, I don’t mean you, but you know, for someone, I mean, who has no experience with this type of, you know, culture, it can be very difficult to adapt at the beginning. You know, even sometimes the jokes you make, it’s can be taken, you know, it can be offensive, or you know, that kind of stuff. So you have to be careful. So you know, besides being a business mentor, or business advisors, we also help people we seriously give briefs, to, sometimes to Western clients, we say, Look, you don’t have to say this, or you don’t have to do this, if they, you know, you are offered to, you know, you are invited to lunch, dinner or anything, don’t try to pay, because and, you know, you see that kind of stuff that, you know, that stuff that, you know, makes all the difference.
Host – Bryan 20:39
Great. And I think, you know, previously, when we when you were talking about several industries that you kind of found, like exciting in worse agritech climate tech, or there’s some other ones that you really think are emerging, especially maybe in the Middle East, in the African markets that you’ve been working with, or you just see as new trends in terms of technology.
Guest – Esra 20:57
I mean, how thick it’s in the, in the street in the Middle Eastern region, it’s important, how is timing globally important. But also, you know, FinTech for example. It’s number one in Middle East FinTech, it’s very important. People more and more I think, it’s related to everything, you know, everything is changing lately, like you know, and also, if you know, the both regions, if you are from US, it’s totally different here, everything is related to our you have credit scores, and you know, you can’t even rent an apartment, if you’re, you know, whereas in the Middle East, there’s no such thing, because, you know, what economies governments are trying to do is encourage people to become a part of the economies. So, you know, they are supporting people, and they’re trying to find different micro, you know, supportive financial systems what’s I think it’s very, very motivating, encouraging. It’s in, even in the most underdeveloped countries in the Middle East, Asia and in Africa. People are they really, they are really engaged with mobile phones. This is how they are related to technology. So everyone, they don’t have anything, but they have a really good phone. So and that makes them very engaging to to tech solutions.
Host – Wiola 23:01
Yeah. Oh, and slightly changing the topic, as we know, you’re a big supporter of, you know, women in leadership, and, and you’re the president of the Arya Women Investment platform. And this is actually a very fascinating area. Also, like relating to, you know, this culture of Middle East. And, obviously, you know, this brings, like a question in my head of, you know, how is the, like, what’s the percentage of female leaders and founders in the Middle East?
Guest – Esra 23:43
Well, what I can say, I mean, this is not just, you know, a problem regional or local problem, the women entrepreneur percentage, I mean, of course, it’s less than men. But it’s a global problem. But what I like about it, it’s changing, and it’s changing really fast. And women, it’s, you know, as a woman, and as a woman who is leading organizations, female organizations, we never ask for anything we don’t deserve, like we care about. We want to be treated equally. So that I think makes a difference. So it’s not like because we’re women, give us that seed. Now. It’s not about this. It’s about given equal rights, equal wages, I mean, equal social, you know, supports and also in in the in the decision making, like, you know. And I started as a tech entrepreneur to my career in the in the mid 90s. And when I was making pitches in front of investors, it was all men, first of all, the investment world, it’s all about men it was and still. So when you when you talk about, you know, women services that that can be exciting for women consumers, they cannot have any empathy. And this I don’t I don’t criticize that men, because it’s normal. The problem from the beginning, I think we first of all, for women entrepreneurs, what is needed is capital. And because they are mostly producing women related products or services, men cannot have empathy with their businesses. So what we need is more women, investors, more women in investment positions in the VCs. First of all, I think we have to start from there. So when you pitch, if you have equal numbers of people, listening to your services, or product, or solution, it woman will have more chance to be funded. So the problem starts from there, basically. And more of women entrepreneurs mean more women jobs, because women give more opportunities to other women.
Host – Wiola 27:02
Yes, we totally agree.
Host – Bryan 27:05
Nice. Oh, wait, we actually think we got one more question. I think this would be very applicable. Right. We’ve spoken so much about your experience and everything you’ve been through. Right. So what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Business advice, life advice? Anything.
Guest – Esra 27:24
I think yeah. During the pandemic, I was having a bit of problems. Because we were stuck and all of this, maybe I was overthinking too much about things. And one of my female woman colleague, she said to me, you should not overthink that this much. Just let it go, you know, just let it go. I mean, and, you know, she said, it is okay. Also to ask for help, you know, to to ask for help, because for some reason, I’m always programmed to help other people support other people. But I never asked, I realized that I really seriously never asked support from anyone. So she said, It’s okay. I mean, it’s okay. You can’t know everything you can, you know, help everyone. You can support everyone. You can, you know, and it doesn’t mean that you are weak, when you ask for help. So, since then, I’m practicing this, it’s not easy, because up until now, it wasn’t something that I was doing. But I ask, help. And I share more my feelings. I was not used to do that neither because of, you know, in business world, they this is what they tell you to do. Don’t be sentimental, you know, as, especially as a woman, you know, don’t don’t cry at all. Don’t show your feelings. Don’t show your emotions. You know, even do it at home. Don’t do it. You know, meetings, do whatever you have to do there and then come, you know, and then I realized that it’s not about that. I mean life, it’s you can eat we are all human beings. And that was a great advice for me from a colleague that you know, that I really respect at work. She’s a role model to me. And yeah, I’m trying to practice that more and more, showing my emotions and being sentimental. It’s okay, time to time.
Host – Bryan 30:02
All right. Esra thank you again so much and we’re excited for this podcast to be released.
Host – Wiola 30:07
That was Esra Talu, business mentor at Microsoft for Startups and co-founder and partner at GoGlobal. Thank you, Esra.
Guest – Esra 30:15
Thank you, bye!
Host – Bryan 30:16
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