Gather-in is a promising tech-based startup in the video communication industry. In my interview with Memet Ali Alabora, co-founder of Gather-in we discuss his experience with building a business model based on digital technology in a highly competitive environment.
Agnieszka Węglarz: Memet Ali, before we come to Gather-in, could you unveil a little bit of your background? You are a film and theatre actor and director. What was your way from an artist to the founder of a digital startup?
Memet Ali Alabora: Pandemic has changed our lives. I would have never imagined that I would become one of the founders of a tech startup at the beginning of March 2020. I was on tour with my new play and I came back home because we had to cancel the show on the 16th of March that was supposed to be staged in London.
So at the beginning of the lockdown we came up with the idea of creating an online meyhane to meet with friends and enjoy conversations, raki and meze no matter where we were in the world. I am originally from Istanbul, so is one of the other founders, Tan Morgül. Meyhane is the beating heart of The City for Istanbulites. It is a type of tavern, but it is so much more than just a place where rakı and meze are served. It’s a place to celebrate, grieve, commiserate and catch up, a place for laughter, a place for tears.
In a very short period our idea of creating an online version of meyhane grew and grew way beyond our close friends to become an online phenomenon. During our online meetings we were joined by old and new friends from all over the world.
So we decided to develop new video software which will become an online platform for all sorts of social gatherings and events. That’s how gather-in was born.
Agnieszka: So like in many other startup stories, the impulse for the business came from the real life observation of an unmet need or unsolved problem.
Memet Ali: Exactly. Before the pandemic Tan Morgül was organising pop-up meyhanes in London and my creative agency was helping him with the communications. Yes, I also have a creative agency 🙂
It became clear soon enough that it was not going to be possible to meet and have gatherings like he was doing with the pop-up meyhanes, or for me to continue touring. So one day he asked me whether we should try to create an online meyhane. I said “We need table setting, we can’t just gather 30 or 40 people on a Zoom or Google Meet session and expect them to have a conversation. We need tables and people, they should be able to have a conversation at their tables while seeing others and they should be able to change tables if they want. Like in the real life experience”.
So I started researching and soon realised that there was no technology out there that could provide this. As being the geek of the team I came up with an idea. I opened 4 different Google Meet sessions on my computer, tiled them on my screen and shared my entire screen with each session. So each session became a table.
I turned my mic off so that the people on one session/table could not hear the others but still could see them. When I wanted to make an announcement to all the tables, I turned all four mics of each session and everyone could hear me. They were also able to speak from one table to the other. And when I turned the mics off again, they continued their conversations at their table. I also created a simple page with buttons with hyperlinks to each session and named them as tables, so people could flit from one table to another.
Agnieszka: What was the initial offer and how did you start to commercialize it?
Memet Ali: After the trial with 4 tables, we tried with 6 tables. I thought I could fit 6 different sessions on the screen hoping that the CPU would allow and it did. After seeing that it worked and people enjoyed the experience, we decided to open it to the public every Wednesday and Saturday. We created a simple website and a Google form for booking tables. We used Instagram to promote it.
Soon people started booking tables. We also enhanced the way meyhane looked on the screen. We placed images to cover Google Meet’s “You are presenting to everyone”, and also added a “Meyhane Elsewhere” sign on top. After a couple of events, we added an option for people to leave tips and people started leaving tips. And after a while we made a sponsorship agreement with Turkey’s biggest rakı brand Yeni Rakı, a subsidiary of Diageo.
We keep on doing the online Meyhane every week. We still haven’t launched the software and we have 1200 email subscribers with 30% growth every month, we had 1600 visitors to the online events and 8200 followers on Instagram with 30% growth every month.
Agnieszka: What were the key challenges of the initial business? Usually startups at that stage are often confused in the area of segmentation and thus have difficulties in identifying the right and unique value proposition.
Memet Ali: After we decided to develop software, the main question for us was whether to stick with the one use case we have already been doing or try new use cases. We knew that the idea we came up with had great potential beyond the Meyhane use case, but we were not sure how the transition from this use case to others would take place.
When we first saw the UI designs of the event page, it immediately became clear for us that gather-in was going to be a platform where anyone can create an online gathering. And Meyhane was going to be one of the event series on gather-in.
We soon realised that we were concentrating too much on organising events and selling tickets. Enabling users to create their own events/gatherings wasn’t our priority. During the Business Model Mastering programme organised by Google for Startups Campus we realised that we need two business models. One for gather-in as a platform, and one for event management. The segmentations for these two models are almost completely different.
Agnieszka: What were the incentives to start working on your business model? Why did you decide to use this tool?
Memet Ali: From the very start we always asked for help from friends and acquaintances who had been through a startup process. We listened and took notes. However we were in need of a more structured approach. Being a startup means being all over the place and a structured tool can really help tidy things and give you focus. Being part of the Business Model Mastering programme was the type of process we were looking for.
Agnieszka: What were the key “aha moments” when working on your business model?
Memet Ali: The first aha moment was when we were working on the brand essence. We worked on the brand model and specifically on the brand essence for about 3 months. Thank you for pushing us hard to come up with an actionable brand vision and guiding us throughout the process. The day we watched Simon Sinek’s famous talk on TED about the golden circle was when we found our brand essence, answering ‘why’, not ‘what’ as we had been trying to do. “We love bringing people together.” This is our brand essence, that’s why we do what we do and that’s why we develop software, the functionalities of the software may change but why we do it, won’t.
The second aha moment was when we found out that we needed two business models, one for gather-in as a platform and the other was for event management, when we were discussing our concept during the feedback sessions in BMM with you.
Agnieszka: If you were to sum up key benefits of using the structured tool of business model canva and approach – what would it be?
- Bird’s eye view of your own business
Agnieszka: What would you recommend to startups at the beginning of their road? What kind of knowledge, tools, approach and help should they look for to jump-start their business?
Memet Ali: I don’t think there is one simple roadmap for start-ups. It is a bumpy but a very exciting road. The key thing is resilience. Bear in mind that it is not your idea but perseverance that will take you to wherever you want to go. I think it is important to learn the basic lexicon as quickly as possible, like seed funding, Serie A, VC, pitch deck, etc. Learning from other’s experiences is helpful.
And finding a mentor is crucial. At first, the word ‘mentor’ may sound like an authoritative figure, for me mentor is a person or organisation or are people who have been there and who can help you with shortcuts without imposing their ideas on you, trying to share their knowledge and experience.
Agnieszka: In Business Model Mastering we put emphasis on structured approach, also in the area of mentoring and organised feedback for our participants. I have heard many times from startups that they have had many pieces of advice from different mentors, but they sometimes turned out to be contradictory. From my experience it happens when mentoring relates to a fragment of your business without embracing the full perspective. Would you agree?
Memet Ali: Absolutely. I don’t think there is a mentor out there who can provide help with all the aspects of the business. That would be a business partner who himself would also take responsibility.
Also, there will always be contradictory advice from different people. I think it all comes down to the “gut feeling”, that’s one important quality that makes a startup successful. I don’t think you can take a mentor’s word as one and only truth, at the end of the day you need to decide for yourself. And sometimes it is about talent as well.
Let me tell you a famous story. Towards the end of Mozart’s life, a young student asked his advice on how to write a symphony. Mozart said: “It is a difficult and complex form. I would suggest that you first write a few keyboard sonatas, and maybe a string quartet or two, before you start thinking about writing a symphony.” “But Herr Mozart,” the student insisted, “you were writing symphonies when you were far younger than I am.” Mozart replied: “I never asked how.”
I am no Mozart so I will keep asking. 🙂
Agnieszka: What are your plans for the future, how do you intend to grow further?
We want gather-in to become a platform where people organise all sorts of social gatherings online. Have your business meeting on Zoom or your big conference, trade one of the new platforms, come to gather-in for the after party, to have fun, to share, for chance encounters.
We are also designing gather-in to become a platform for people to organise gatherings and make money. A film geek can create a night where people watch a film and then discuss it at their tables and the host can flit from one table to the other.
A wine expert can organise a wine tasting event, football fans can invite an old football player and promote it to other fans. All these events will be on gather-in’s website for people to buy tickets and book tables or seats. We will also help organisers with promoting their events.
We also have an idea of creating a host database. This will be a database where people who want to throw a party will be able to choose a host from. For example you want to organise a birthday party and you want someone who is an expert on Star Wars, to host it, welcome people, talk about Star Wars’ characters and so on. You will be able to pick such a host from our database. The host can also enable people from different tables to meet each other since they will flit between tables, allowing room for spontaneous encounters.
Agnieszka: Memet Ali, thank you very much for the interview. I am really happy that I had the opportunity to go along with you and your team in the process of mastering your current business model. I’m pretty sure you haven’t said the last word yet 🙂 I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you!
Memet Ali: We are so happy to have met you, thanks to the Google for Startups team, especially Michal Kramarz and Zofia Kłudka. A special thanks to Yonca Dervişoğlu for introducing us to the team in the first place. And I want to THANK YOU with capital letters on behalf of the team for all the time and effort you put into our startup. You have really opened our eyes in a lot of aspects of the business.
Agnieszka Węglarz is an independent consultant, business strategist and practitioner in B2B and B2C, as well as lecturer, speaker and blogger. She has over 20 years of professional experience working as manager in both large corporations and SMEs, where she was responsible for strategy, marketing and business development. She uses her long term executive experience and training expertise to assist companies and their managers in building their business strategy through a series of workshops. She specializes in business modelling, segmentation, value proposition, sales and marketing strategies and consultative selling. She runs her business blog on www.agnieszkaweglarz.com and her own YouTube channel – Biznes Ring by Agnieszka Węglarz. You can contact her by writing to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by directly sending a message via LinkedIN.
Memet Ali Alabora is a recognised Turkish actor in theatre, TV and cinema, as well as a theatre director. He was one of the founders of garajistanbul, a contemporary performing arts institute in Istanbul. He is one of the founders of Actors’ Union of Turkey and served as the first president until 2014. Alabora has also produced several classical music shows for stage as well as producing and presenting special events for children. In 2018 he founded b a k, a creative agency and he is the Creative Director of the company. Pandemic has changed his life. A series of online gatherings inspired him and his partners to develop dedicated software. He is the co-founder of ‘video gathering platform’ gather-in.