We talked to Cenk Sener, CEO and Sales Director at True Item on how the firm delivers what truly matters and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Cenk Sener: We are fine, thank you, and isolating ourselves in a small village in Turkey. Covid-19 started right after the birth of my first son, so my new hobby has emerged from Jan 2020. In parallel with work and baby, I kept with my reading. I usually revisit books I liked to get even more out of them. In recent months I did so with Patrick Lencioni’s books along with Lean Startup and Lean Product Playbook, Measure What Matters, and Negotiation Genius. In whatever time left, I caught up with some movies I missed in the past, and as a Star Wars fan, I loved Mandalorian 2nd season 🙂
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded True Item?
Cenk Sener: All the co-founders and the first 10+ members of True Item have been working together for almost 10 years in a BSS company, which got bankrupt in 2015. We just thought that it would be a pity to disband, as we were functioning great as a team, so we stuck together. Well, we were more than a team, more than a crew; we were a family.
How does True Item innovate?
Cenk Sener: By listening to the customers and trying to understand what their problems and needs are. Customers/Users care about their problems, not about your products. Your products have to fit the market, which consists of Customers with their needs. The best way to do that is to listen to them, come up with an MVP, show them, and get their feedback. If we come up with an idea ourselves, the same procedure applies, build an MVP, show it to the customers and ask what they think if they would use such an idea. By default, even your greatest ideas are bad until Users tell you otherwise. Yes, I’m aware of Henry Ford saying, “if I listened to the customers, I should give them faster horses”. Well, not really, customers were asking for better transportation, better/faster cars, not faster horses. Model T is a great example of product-market fit.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Cenk Sener: Surely it affected negatively as we banned any business travels abroad ourselves even when the flights resumed. And we actively encouraged the team to work from home as much as possible. Still, we are in the 21st century, and you can keep in touch via a lot of tools – our preferred tool is Google Meet.
Even though we faced requests for discounts, delays in payments, and some cancelled CRs, I can’t say it was a bad year. On the contrary, we got 3 new customers in 2020 – one of them is an MNO we have been trying to get our foot in for years.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Cenk Sener: Yes, quite a few of them. First of all, you cannot afford to keep people who do not fit into the company culture. It’s unfair to them because eventually, you will part ways with them anyway, and it brings down the morale and productivity of the team. Second, you have to test fast and fail fast. We spent huge and avoidable amounts of effort on some product development and features, which we eventually had to drop. They were “Muda,” as told in Japanese in Lean methods. That’s where the Lean Startup method is invaluable, and you have to bring the MVPs up as soon as possible and bring them to the customer – not postponing this crucial step for months only to find out that what you spent efforts on is irrelevant to the customers, to the market. Third, don’t rely on an existing strong team/organization to work on its own. Clarity is everything; about goals, expectations, and roles. So, don’t fall into the trap named “ah, our guys are not new kids on the block, they can figure it out themselves”.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and True Item in the future?
Cenk Sener: I take my time to meditate, well, not always accompanied by some calming down the music but some grunge and heavy metal songs 🙂 You need to detach yourself and take a breather regularly. Even when you stop and breathe for a few minutes, you can easily refocus on your goals, company goals and remove tasks that are not relevant to your goals. I intend to make True Item as #1 choice for IT talent in Ukraine. Having the right people on board is the most crucial part. In order to achieve that goal, there are many subgoals that have to be met first, and these subgoals fundamentally leap your company forwards. Personally, I target to find a good candidate for my CEO role, someone whom I will work with, groom him, and then hand over the role. There are plenty of people who can do my job better than me. This is in line with our talent attraction goal, and it is vital for the company’s future.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Cenk Sener: Many people focus on competition. Frankly speaking, I do not. In an innovative world, there are competitors who do not exist today and will disrupt the market tomorrow. Do you want to stay in the game? Stay next to the customers. That is a better way to become aware of new trends than following your competitors and their ideas.
Your final thoughts?
Cenk Sener: Never ever forget to have fun at your job. If it’s not fun anymore if it’s not challenging you anymore, move on. That goes for our company as a whole. We do not want True Item to become a comfort zone trap; every new day should bring new fun and new challenges. That is the way to happiness at work.
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