Duygu Oktem Clark is the founder of DO Venture Partners. She invests in early-stage tech startups. She also serves as a startup evaluator for the European Commission’s Innovation Council.
Before that, she worked for the European Investment Fund, where she led 8 investments. Before that, she founded Turkey’s first startup accelerator (Turk Telekom Pilot), where she led 22 investments. Before that, she worked for the National Science Foundation of Turkey.
She represented Turkey at the European Commission and facilitated R&D projects with a total budget of $150M between Turkey and Europe. She serves as a jury member and mentors at many startup programs, including Chobani Startup Program, Founder Institute, United Nations Clean Tech and Entrepreneurship Association of Turkey. She is a Computer Engineer with a Master’s Degree in Information Systems. She is based in San Francisco, California.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Duygu says:
Work from Home culture is happening all around the world due to Covid-19. So, that will stay, at least in some capacity, for sure. But even if WFH is great, it comes with many problems. For example, new graduates are learning from their peers and through observing their managers/colleagues. This is not happening on Zoom calls. So, I think the startups that solve WFH problems will be popular.
I’m lucky since I do what I love. If you love your job, you find your own motivation easily.
Read on to know more about Duygu Clark and her journey.
What background and domain expertise do you have?
Duygu Clark: I studied Computer Engineering for my undergrad and Information Systems for my graduate degree. I have been working in technology for 15 years as an operator and investor. I worked at the Turkish National Science Foundation, where I represented Turkey at the European Commission, led R&D teams of Turkey’s largest technology company, and founded and managed Turkey’s first startup accelerator. Recently I worked for the European Investment Fund’s specific fund for Turkish founders. Since 2018, I have been investing in startups through my angel fund in Silicon Valley, where I’m currently based.
When did you first think about starting a fund?
Duygu Clark: When I led Turkey’s largest technology company’s R&D teams, I decided to collaborate with startups to launch new products faster. That’s why I launched Turkey’s first startup accelerator in 2013 and invested in 22 startups back then. I worked with brilliant entrepreneurs to develop products and realized that one of the best ways to make an impact is entrepreneurship. I decided to dedicate my career to help entrepreneurs. I moved to Silicon Valley from Turkey and started to angel invest in startups in the San Francisco Bay Area. My friends from Turkey, who are successful entrepreneurs, wanted to invest along with me. That is how I started my angel fund.
What kind of startups/ sectors have you invested in till now?
Duygu Clark: I invest in early-stage startups (pre-seed and seed). So far, I have invested in developer tools, remote working tools, AI, fintech, and sustainable technologies.
What types of companies do you look to invest in? And What’s your mental model for investing?
Duygu Clark: The founding team of a startup is the most important thing for me since, at the early stages of a startup, the team matters the most. You can’t know what the road to company success will look like when you first begin. You need a team that will overcome all the inevitable challenges that will stand in their way. The team itself weighs about 80% of my decision. Other factors that I consider are market and traction.
I’m looking for founders who are passionate about the problem that they are trying to solve. It is harder than it sounds since most of the time, founders are passionate about their solutions.
What is your typical investment range, and how many startups you invest in per year in general? Additionally, can overseas headquartered startups get funding from you?
Duygu Clark: I usually invest with $50K. This can be up to $100K. I invest in 6-10 startups per year.
Currently, I only invest in startups in the San Francisco Bay Area.
What would be the KPI that you usually check about the startups’ growth? It may be diverse in each industry like LTV, CAC, MoM, etc., but it will be helpful to understand more about your additional investment factors.
Duygu Clark: KPI’s differ based on the industry and the stage of the startup. For example, if it is a B2B startup, I look closely at the startup’s time to close a deal. If it is a B2C startup, then CAC and LTV become important.
How do you handle this COVID-19 outbreak situation for your fund’s survival in the future?
Duygu Clark: Since I’m a tech VC, I have been using tech tools to do my job. Therefore it wasn’t a huge shift for me in terms of my working style. Also, I have been investing in tools that make people’s lives easier, many of which are still relevant during times like these. With Covid-19, we saw an acceleration of the technology adaption. That might be a silver lining of the current pandemic.
Right after being an investor, like in the early days, there must be some tough times in building up the first fund along with building up a second fund or giving back the good returns to those LPs. If there is any similar tough time like this, please tell us more about it and how you (or your team) overcome the difficult times?
Duygu Clark: I founded Turkey’s first startup accelerator back in 2013. I started a startup inside Turkey’s largest technology company. I had to convince all the C-level executives and the directors of the company to launch the accelerator. My promise was to develop innovative products by investing in startups. For a 180-year-old company, that was a disruptive move. Convincing people and managing cultural change were challenging. Having a great team, working really hard, and not listening to people who try to discourage you were the key to overcoming the challenges.
Additionally, Do you have advice for anyone looking to start a fund?
Duygu Clark: My path was kind of different. After successfully launching Turkey’s first startup accelerator and investing in 22 startups, people encouraged me to start an angel fund. For people who want to launch their own fund, I advise them to work on their investment thesis that will differentiate them from the other VCs, create mechanisms to get great deals and start fundraising with people who already know and believe in them.
What mistakes do you see founders make when raising money?
Duygu Clark: They fundraise for so long, and I advise them to set a fundraising deadline and create an urge among investors.
If founders go to VCs and angels after getting early traction, then they can get better terms.
Don’t talk to every investor. Please make a list of investors that invest in your domain and stage, then start with them.
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs who have a chance to meet investors like you? What are the top 3 questions that you always ask the founders?
- Why did you pick this problem to solve? I’m looking for founders obsessed with the problem they are trying to solve, not the ones who are obsessed with their solution/technology
- Tell me about your team. In the early stages, the team is the most important thing
- What do you understand about the problem you are trying to solve that other people don’t understand
What kind of startup or tech industry will impact the world in the future, like 2-3 years locally in your view?
Duygu Clark: Work from Home culture is happening all around the world due to Covid-19. So, that will stay, at least in some capacity, for sure. But even if WFH is great, it comes with many problems. For example, new graduates are learning from their peers and through observing their managers/colleagues. This is not happening on Zoom calls. So, I think the startups that solve WFH problems will be popular.
In addition to that, climate change and space-tech startups will be more popular.
What are the top-three books or movies (TV series) that changed your life and why?
- Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey: An in-depth biography of Ataturk who revolutionized the backward ottoman empire and brought 300 years of modernization to the country in 10 years. So many lessons about leadership and execution during very hard times
- Power Up: How Smart Women Win in the New Economy – Packed with practical advice and tips for women in business. Life-changing
- The Swordless Samurai – Great leadership lessons for any entrepreneur or leader of any organization
How do you keep yourself motivated every day?
Duygu Clark: I’m lucky since I do what I love. If you love your job, you find your own motivation easily.
What are the top three life lessons that you want your (future) sons and daughters to know?
- If there is a will, there is a way
- A good reputation is more valuable than money
- Your education is never complete
What would you like to be remembered for?
Duygu Clark: I would like to be remembered as someone who contributed to making the world a better, fair place.
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