EGEMEN ALPAY / F+ VENTURES, GENERAL DIRECTOR
“With the advent of digital technologies to the automotive, a revolution took place, waiting to be understood better in the future. A revolution as influential as switching from carts to motor-driven vehicles. Moreover, it transforms other sectors as well. The Fark Labs is a center which researches and learns these new disciplines, and make use of such information. “
Egemen Alpay is the managing director of the Fark Labs’ investment company F+ Ventures, and also has a crucial role over the management of Comodif, the platform for connected vehicles. He feels he is lucky because he can make contributions to the development of mobility sector: “There are a number of ways to make money. Here, we are a team of people that want to gain by doing good. I do not say others do bad jobs but to gain money by producing benefits, by creating a value – this is really pleasant. Therefore, I totally feel myself to belong to here.”
We mostly spoke about work but did not neglect to mention mediation and yoga that have shaped his personality and contributed to being flexible in business world. Discovering Egemen layer by layer is a big joy to an interviewer. I hope our readers will feel the same way, too
When you say you work at an R&D and Innovation Center, how do you explain these notions to people who have not heard of them?
R&D is to uncover an idea after doing the required research and development. More like science, the invention. When we say innovation, we refer to the making a commercial product out of an innovative invention and get financial gain from it. Both are of course intertwined. So, an innovation center has two different missions: to manage R&D work and to create the channels required for the commercialisation of such work.
In this sense, what kind of work is carried out at the Fark Labs? Assume you are explaining to people who are not familiar with the topic.
If we are absolutely short of time, I say I am in computer profession! If the person before me is somehow familiar with the area, I say we develop software for automotive sector. All joking aside, with the advent of digital technologies to the automotive, a revolution took place, waiting to be understood better in the future. A revolution as influential as switching from carts to motor-driven vehicles. Moreover, it transforms other sectors as well. So, I explain that we are a center which researches and learns these new disciplines, feeding the central company Farplas with such information.
And if people see this explanation not satisfactory and want to hear concrete examples… Just like I do now…
Begin with, the name of the sector has changed. We call it not automotive anymore but “mobility sector.” When mobility is concerned, we can imagine any vehicles that a person uses between A and B locations, access systems for such vehicles and in fact everything that the passenger needs during their travel. You can want to have a meal, need to park your car or make transfers, also you must get on the right vehicle at right time, you can make a phone call, a safety need can come into being, you can prefer environmental-friendly vehicles or you may need to draft your meeting notes during the travel… You see, sectors that meet such and many other needs are today intertwined. And this is what people call mobility. That’s why we are at Fark Labs: to discover and learn this new world and take our positions within it.
Shall we talk about your role at Fark Labs?
I take roles both in F+Ventures and Comodif, and I see myself so lucky. I feel assured to have colleagues that I can trust when it comes to friendship and also technical talent. It is a unique chance to collaborate within a team that has managed challenging projects together. I carried out quite different projects at large, global companies. I realised the most important achievements in these projects thanks to cooperating with professionals working with an amateur spirit. What motivates me the most is to see and live such spirit in the team at Fark Labs. My role here is to achieve a lot in a short time together with my friends. Comodif is the platform for connected vehicles, and F+ Ventures is our investment company. We invest in promising start-ups or projects in Turkey, Europe and America. Investments we make overseas are less risky and make further progress. Our focus is mobility through which we can learn the sector better. Fark Labs is at the same time our learning area.
What does it mean to learn by investing? Why is it not possible to learn the sector by reading magazines, reports or books?
To choose start-ups and technologies is an important and illuminating process. Before we made our decisions, we talked with more than 500 start-ups. More than 500 people or groups of people shared their own dreams, explained which problems they wanted to solve or how they would solve them. Everything aside, we learn a lot even just as listening to them. You need to understand these companies at least as much as them so that you could assess the situation better. They explain themselves as there is such and such problem, we will solve it with this or that and in the end we will provide these benefits. The amount of information you get in the end exceeds a level of general culture – you learn about the problem the person talks about, the sector in question, whether such a problem indeed exists and it can be solved or not. All these are necessary to be able to understand how this story makes sense. We have research teams. So far, I guess, we have contacted with almost 2000 start-ups, 500 of which we had serious meetings. 100 among them were transferred to the next stage. We do our own research about sectors for each of these start-ups. And of course, there are larger companies such as Chargepoint.
““LARGE AND CORPORATE COMPANIES ARE DESIGNED IN A WAY THAT DOES NOT ALLOW THEM TO MAKE MISTAKES. AND IT IS NOT WRONG BECAUSE WHAT THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY NEED. HOWEVER, R&D STAGE IS FULL OF UNCERTAINTIES. YOU CAN DO NOTHING IF YOU TRY NOT TO BE MISTAKEN. AT FARK LABS, WE WORK WITHIN A CULTURE OPEN TO MISTAKES. FREEDOM IS WHAT IS NEEDED IN SCIENTIFIC CREATIVITY JUST AS IT IS IN ART.”
What did you learn from Chargepoint’?
Chargepoint was an investment that contributed to us greatly. We invested in it in 2016. Nowadays, electric cars are much more on the agenda and seem more possible to us, here in Turkey. In the past, we were listening to stories talking about “there is something called Tesla somewhere there, in the far.” We had a general knowledge about how we could solve energy transmission problem, a reality of electric cars, and what kind of work we needed to create. With Chargepoint, we gained deeper insights. We considerably increased our knowledge on electric vehicles, its benefits to the customer, networks needed to be established and the most effective technology for this job. As Chargepoint is a Silicon Valley investment, we could also form a concrete opinion about how works run there. We found ourselves within a fertile relations of network.
What kind of a path did you follow until you have reached this point in business world?
If we do not count some summer work I took during secondary school years, I worked as an intern in Germany for eight months before I completed my under graduation. I graduated in industrial engineering from Yıldız Teknik University. I did internship on new media technologies at Verlagsgruppe. DVD broadcasting, internet broadcasting, search engines… all of them had recently arrived. There was a team created to find answers to how the company had to position itself strategically according to these new technologies. And I was the intern of the team. To people who asked where I graduated from, I was saying that, before completing my undergraduate, I graduated from AIESEC. I worked at the central office and Istanbul branch of AIESEC. I learned about strategical planning, management, projects, coaching and many other things. At AIESEC, I took training on advanced management systems which Turkish firms had not known about at that time. Before my last year at university, I had received almost all trainings on leadership development programs. We organised both national and international meetings four times a year. We witnessed how you could organise and motivate a community. I went to work, telling my mother that I was going to a party. She was concerned because I worked hard. I learnt to take responsibilities and initiatives there. And I achieved to reflect them to my business life in which I mostly offered project-based consultancy.
I am asking this especially so that people, but more the young, could understand it better: what is the difference between working at/managing an institution and working at Fark Labs?
Surely, managing an institution is quite different from managing an innovation center. For one thing, large and corporate companies are designed in a way that does not allow them to make mistakes. And it is not wrong because what this is exactly what they need. However, R&D stage is full of uncertainties. You can do nothing if you try not to be mistaken. At Fark Labs, we work within a culture open to mistakes. Flexibility is a must to manage the processes. Freedom is what is needed in scientific creativity just as it is in art.
We have talked too much work but we’ve touched upon really important points. Speaking of flexibility, let’s go outside the office?
I remember that, when you mentioned flexibility, you practise yoga and also tango. When did you start dancing tango?
My older sister needed a partner. She almost forced me to the dancing course. I was 12 years old. My sister gave up the course and I went on dancing for next eight years until I began studying at university.
What did you love about tango? It seems to me as if it does not aspire young people so much.
In fact I was doing all kinds of ballroom dances. Flamenco, tap dancing… But dancing was not widespread in Turkey and we had only Tolga Han (a famous dancer of the time) and my instructor Umit Iris. After years, in 2008, I started from scratch. This time I developed an interest for Argentine tango that I did not have a chance of trying in the past. I am still dancing. My wife also started dancing tango, following our acquaintance. She does not like it as much as I do, but we still dance together too. During my business trips, if I have enough time, I look around to see if they organise Milonga nights. I have almost 100 tango friends from all over the world. My last dancing was in Paris, Eiffel Tower rising above me. It was magnificent.
You started dancing at an early age. So, how did it shape your personality?
At tango, two people take shape according to the music. This is not different in business world as well. At work, you can have stressful moments, sometimes colleagues discussing seriously with each other. And this is normal. But you must fight over work. You must feel stressed just to fulfil your job. If you discuss because you are afraid of certain things, then this struggle is far from being constructive. I practised this with tango. You have difficulties in learning the figures, you become angry to yourself and your partner but when your goal is to dance well, even your arguments begin to seem pleasant. In business life, I do not like fighting over unnecessary things. Dancing teaches you to be flexible against issues, you feel the need to be always in the flow. Tango nourishes this need as well.
Being in the flow is also related with mediation.
Mediation is essentially a state in which an individual turns into self and listen to what their intuition says. Learning how to be in the flow is one of the things you gain by mediating. It helps you to turn down, even turn off the voice speaking non-stop in your mind.
When did you start mediating?
It was the year of 2005. I was at my early 30s then. I was going through a period making me want to change a lot of things in my life. At that same time, I read Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. There was a sentence that drew my attention so much. It said that modern people were so accustomed to getting inputs that they could not stand still, without doing anything, even for 10 minutes. This was quite provoking for me. I put the book aside and began sitting there, doing nothing. Indeed, it was as if the time had stopped passing by. I realised how difficult it is for the person to turn into their inner selves. Still, I began sitting for 10 minutes every day, doing nothing.
So, you gradually discovered mediation.
There is not in fact such a notion like discovering or acquiring mediation. It naturally came to my senses that what I was practising was like mediation. In the following two years, I tried many different mediation types. If you ask me, what lies behind it is this: the true you and the you living in your consciousness are different kinds of energies. And it is only possible through mediation to make them come together. Mediation offers you an open door. It is up to you how far, how deep you will take yourself from this point. Of course these are my personal ideas, my own senses. Mediation is like tango – everybody lives however they want to live.
Interviewed: Zeynep Güven Ünlü