We talked to Mutlu Yildirim on how Airsqreen provides programmatic and automation technologies for the digital out-of-home advertising industry, and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mutlu Yildirim: We’re doing well, thank you. The only positive side of this pandemic was; I could spend time with my daughter. She’s almost two years old, and from this perspective, it’s been the best time in my life. I could watch her grow, say her first words, mimic animal sounds, and so on. I’m very grateful for all those moments.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Airsqreen?
Mutlu Yildirim: Originally, I’m a computer engineer, worked at companies like SONY, and developed cool technologies. Then I’ve found myself in the advertising industry; I fell in love with it for some mysterious reason. After many years of work on advertising technologies, I’ve noticed that the digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising industry is still using technologies and processes from the previous century – unlike internet advertising, where advanced technologies are used to show ads. This is a problem for the industry and slowing its growth potential. So we’ve decided to help the DOOH advertising industry become much more efficient and modern by providing advanced technologies, just like internet advertising companies have.
How does Airsqreen innovate?
Mutlu Yildirim: Well, although DOOH advertising has its dynamics, we still use many internet advertising ideas to modernize our industry. Think about it; when you want to advertise in multiple cities or countries, you need to go through many painful and manual processes. With our platform, all you need to do is select the towns on the map, or maybe some specific screens if you want, and that’s it. Magic happens. We have a fantastic team of 17 people, all of them brilliant, creative, and simply perfect people. And we’ve decided that “innovation” must be one of the core cultural elements at our company, which wasn’t surprising of course, since that’s usually what smart-creative-perfect people want.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Mutlu Yildirim: One of the first industries pandemics has hit was ours. You see, we create technologies for the digital out-of-home advertising industry, but nobody was out-of-home for a long while. We had to pause everything for some time, as it wasn’t clear where things were going. Being a start-up with limited resources is already challenging, but now there was this virus hitting us and our growth trajectory. Thankfully, we humans are brilliant beings, and we discovered the vaccine. Now we’re back with even a more outstanding team, getting ready for the post-pandemic days.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mutlu Yildirim: We were approached by some VCs before, but I wanted to have product-market fit and become profitable before accepting any VC funding. Now I see that wasn’t the ideal decision. I’d start considering funding earlier. Because you never know, one day you may wake up, and a once-in-a-century virus may be at your doorstep. We were already cautious with our spendings, and that confirmed to be a wise decision. When we had to pause, we informed our team members that we wouldn’t continue to pay any salaries. They were very supportive, and they knew we didn’t have any other choice. So choosing to work with fantastic team members proved to be a very wise decision as well.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Mutlu Yildirim: Easy; wake up at night and think of them very carefully until morning. Joke aside, I think every entrepreneur should have some savings to sustain them if trouble happens financially. I knew I didn’t need money for a while, and that helped a lot. Business-wise, I had to face the reality that I didn’t plan for such a pandemic. “But,” I thought, “who did?”. Humans are odd creatures; comparing ourselves with other humans gives us sometimes comfort, sometimes stress. In this case, it gave me comfort. Last but not least, this is not my first start-up experience. I always know that some unexpected trouble can hit you anytime. It’s just the nature of entrepreneurship. So I’m used to stressing, I guess. I wake up less frequently at night now, and if I do, I can go back to sleep before sunrise!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mutlu Yildirim: Well, we have really good competitors in a few countries, but our main competition is the current way of doing business in our industry. We’re disrupting this industry, and we should, as existing business flows are truly damaging this industry. It’s a change management activity at an industry-scale, and hopefully, we’ll be able to do it. We’re sure we’ll stay in the game in the long run by continuously innovating, improving our product and service, by putting our customers at the center of everything we do. We’ve been doing this for the last few years and have made significant progress. Now that vaccine is ready and our team is back, we can see great days ahead.
Your final thoughts?
Mutlu Yildirim: “Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song, and make it better.”