Meet the 35-year-old who went from a kitchen-table startup to becoming a major tech CEO

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demet mutlu1

Demet Mutlu.
Trendyol

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — Demet Mutlu launched her e-commerce company
from her kitchen table as a student at Harvard Business
School while studying for an MBA and is now the CEO of the
largest employers in e-commerce in Turkey.

Mutlu dropped out in her first year of Harvard to concentrate on
her company but at only 35-years-old, she is the CEO
of Trendyol.com,
gained over $50 million (£41.5 million) in venture capital
funding and was annointed Young Global Leader in 2016,
which has been described as “the
most exclusive private social network in the
world.

Mutlu caught up with Business Insider at the World Economic Forum
in Davos, Switzerland and gave us her top tips on how she
achieved her success as well as how she has used her new status
as Young Global Leader to help get more women into tech:


(This interview was been edited for length and
clarity).

Lianna Brinded: You have grown an
ultra-successful enterprise from scratch. What would you say is
the recipe for your success as someone who grew a startup to
a huge e-commerce company?

Demet Mutlu: I think entrepreneurship is
all about being a lifelong student. I founded it seven years ago
but I am always learning and being a sponge for new experiences,
which is what you need as an entrepreneur. Each stage required
different skills. You cannot have an ego, you need to keep
learning. 

LB: All entrepreneurs make mistakes along
the way. What would you say are the key areas where you have made
mistakes or encountered hurdles, and how did that shape you as a
leader of today?

If you think about tech, it’s all about making mistakes a long
the way before you get the right end product.

DM: If you think about tech, it’s all about
making mistakes a long the way before you get the right end
product. It’s about trying a lot of things and finding out what
works and innovation and pioneering news things. You have
failures but you make it right.

We’ve made some mistakes with brands that were not successful but
we have relaunched the brands in different ways, or we have
tested brands along too smaller segments and small cohort of
customers. So if it works well, we will scale or if it does not
work, we will re-adjust. You can’t expect to launch something
perfectly.

That is what I love about it.

LB: Being the CEO of a tech company, being
young, and being a woman is a rare spot in the business world.
How difficult is it navigating in that space?

DM: It’s a huge [challenge] but being a woman is
a huge advantage in the consumer business. Women are key
consumers and being one of them and understanding what the
consumers want can be very impactful as a [leader],
especially trying to raise capital.

But where there is a huge challenge for women in tech and as an
entrepreneurs is actually through capital raising. Only 10% of
venture capital funding goes to women leading companies, this is
a problem. I was fortunate enough to raise around $60 million
fromy Tiger GlobalKleiner
Perkins Caufield & Byers, and the European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) but there needs to be more
VC backing of women for more development in the sector.

LB: As a female tech CEO and your accolade as a
Young Global Leader for WEF, how do you use your position to get
more equality for women in tech, as well as more women in the
sector?

DM: This is what I am passionate about — getting
more women into tech and entrepreneurship. Through the Young
Global Leader network we have worked with getting more women into
coding [and other areas] and I always want to promote the fact
that you can achieve anything. If you want to be entrepreneur,
you can do it. If you want to be a tech professional but
returning as a mum, you can do it. 

Through Trendyol, I also promote greater inclusion and support
for women in the workplace as well as in external areas. For
example we sponsor the Galatasaray Women’s Volleyball
Team. In the company, 
50% of leadership
roles are women and overall 55% talent force are female.

We need to get more women into STEM in order to be relevant in
the future

LB: At WEF, the biggest threat to businesses
this year is unemployment or underemployment because of the rapid
speed in adoption of artificial intelligence and automation. As a
tech company that is a large employer in Turkey (1200 staff), how
are you as a CEO making sure that a load of people won’t be
displaced in the jobs market while at the same time addressing
the gender gap that is more prevalent across the sector?

DM: I think a lot of retraining needs to be
done, especially for women out of the workforce, such as
returning from having a baby. But overall [in the new era of
technological development], we need to get more women into STEM
(science, tech, engineering, maths) in order to be relevant in
the future. 

This is why STEM is so important and we need more women and role
models in this area [to lead the cause]. 

As a Young Global Leader, part of my role as well is
envisioning the future and what the future holds and part of that
is [getting more women into the workforce and STEM]. A lot of
places are still not utilising the full potential of having more
women in their workforces.

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