Written by Andrew Seale
For Turkish startup Twentify, it was clear Canada was going to be a part of their story before they’d even set foot in Toronto. In fact, Canada was already written into the company’s DNA before it even launched.
University friends and coders Ilker Inanc, Tolga Bakkaloglu and Çağlar Bozkurt met while studying at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, kicking around ideas for startups that never took off. But their determination and glowing clout in Istanbul’s startup ecosystem earned them the eye of the Netas Wesley Clover Tech Fund run by Istanbul’s TRPE Investment Partners.
The fund, which props up Turkish startups, also happened to be partially funded by legendary Canadian entrepreneur Sir Terry Matthews, who brought Ilker and his entrepreneurial partners to Ottawa for a six-week crash course on building a successful startup.
They returned home in winter 2014 and by the summer, launched Twentify, a mobile insights startup which allows companies to conduct market research through crowdsourcing.
“It could be a five-question survey where the users are answering questions on their smartphones and they get compensated fifty cents or it could be a brand asking shoppers to take photos of the recent branding installations (and gives) them five dollars for a photo,” explains Inanc.
Twentify picked up a Turkish bank as a client and started gaining traction in their home country. But the allure of the North American market held their attention.
“North America is a huge market – half of the global market,” says Inanc. The next question was where to focus first. “We could sense that if we landed in the US the chances of us failing would be higher than to land in Canada.”
In 2016 they made their move. Investment firm Wesley Clover in Ottawa provided a soft landing for Twentify and helped connect them with their first Canadian client, a multinational shopping firm that wanted to use the technology to run a mystery shopping campaign across the country in over a hundred different malls.
“It took ten minutes for us to say yes,” says Inanc. But then they had to scramble to translate the app from Turkish to English. They called the app Bounty. “We acquired a couple thousand app users from Canada in just one night.”
The mystery shopper campaign was a success and the client came back with more projects so Twentify opened a proper office in Ottawa. They started getting more traction amongst retailers, consumer packaged goods and banks, most of them headquartered in Toronto.
“Our salesperson was commuting every week from Ottawa… it wasn’t efficient,” says Inanc. “So this summer we decided to move all our employees, three full-time Canadians, to Toronto.”
They set up in the OneEleven scale-up hub in the heart of Toronto. “There are 30 companies here and every one of them is doing great stuff with really cool technologies.”
The Bounty app has since grown to 35,000 users, coast-to-coast. But Inanc admits he misjudged the Toronto startup scene before opening an office here.
“I was always hearing the stories how Toronto is up-and-coming in terms of startups: the investment and tech ecosystem, AI, blockchain… but it felt like a PR stunt,” says Inanc who’s explored startup scenes in San Fransisco, New York and throughout Europe. But he was floored when he actually started to dig into the scene in Toronto.
“Once I landed here I felt that it's quite underestimated there should be more buzz about it,” says Inanc. “I don't think I've seen a community more open to startup and technology than Toronto… I feel good because we picked this place.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)