In this post, I am going to give a brief summary of how did one of my projects: Botego turned into a real commercial product and the reasons why I am not a part of it any more. The best lesson to be learned from the story below might be understanding how important it is to sign legal papers.
Edit: Ekim Nazim Kaya, old partner of mine stated that he will be taking legal actions against this blog. He stated that he will go to court and ask wordpress.com to shut this blog down. Even though I am nearly sure his application will not get any result because of the facts I presented in this article and also because I am not demanding anything, I’ll keep this post updated about what is going on in this issue. I also use my personal website: http://www.denizoktar.net
Edit2: Things are getting serious. People from botego started to insult me. Check it. ( TURKCE )
Edit: Added some information about the early steps of the project. They will be in this colour.
The part that concerned me is the last sentence in which Erhan Erdogan, an author of the Turkish website called: Webrazzi, says something like: “I thank Botego for letting me see that there can be some good start-up s in Turkey. I think botego has a story everybody should consider as an example”
Erhan is not the only person who is excited, but there is another side of the story which is probably not known, that is, my version of what happened. 🙂
I have come across many people filled with joy about a start-up like Botego is on the verge of being successful. A start-up that shows people how business can be done in Turkey! A start-up that gives young entrepreneurs hope ! A start-up that many want to be a piece of it. So, people talk about it, people write about it, the media is always interested in it and Ekim Kaya, my old partner is on the TV, Press and the Online media.
Lets see how much botego got attention: Here is a video of my old partner on national tv, and there is an article about Botego in Forbes Turkey.
But what is inside the box? What is the other side of the story?
— First of all,
I wish Botego success because many people worked on that project for a time and because simply it is my brainchild.
Surely it is far away from being the best project I have created and I think in some aspect, botego has limits. But it is one of the few projects of mine that turned into real product. The reason I am writing this has no material motives. My main motivation is to clarify the truth and share this priceless experience. These kind of experiences are fundamental for life ! In a sense, I am lucky for that. So if you are some of the few lucky people who can learn from other peoples experiences,(I can’t) this post might be good for you. On contrast to any negative aspects this post might contain, I always knew the difficulties of turning a project from paper to real life. For this matter, I accept that Ekim did a difficult job. I also accept that, in the process that I am going to talk about, I also could have made some mistakes.
— end of: ‘First of all’,
As you might remember, I told the story of me creating the Botego project before. Let me explain the steps that lead to project: Botego, then I’ll talk about some issues occoured between me and my partner.
A very brief summary would be something like that: Botego was a project I’ve worked on about more than 1.5 years. About 2-2.5 years ago, I had developed the first steps of Today’s Botego project. At that time, project was called RobotDostum and it was probably the first Turkish speaking MSN Messenger Bot. RobotDostum was a very primitive bot developed by me as an addition to: Mayabot. This prototype helped me to prove my point about the attention a chat-bot can get and gave me some statistical data about my points. RobotDostum was online for less than 2 weeks because of the exponentially increasing user numbers. After 2 months of experiment, I prepared a first draft of RobotDostum project and prepared a presentation explaining the project. This was the first and non-professional presentation I prepared and used as a starting point. These kind of presentations are quite helpfull while brain storming.
12/25/05 : First draft of botego presentation created as below.
At that time, I was having a break from my university education and was working in the marketing-communication fields. I’ve seen the opportunity that RobotDostum project holds and decided to turn it into something more professional. After a time of work and research, I’ve created a project plan. I had presented my project to firms like: Coca Cola, Snek TV, Dogan Mobil and BenQ to get some feedback. Some of these firms turned into potential clients.
I have added some sample documents here showing the little pieces of the work done. There were more documents, including some financial ones haven’t been presented in here. (all in Turkish)
– A small brief of a Rock n Coke Buddy project below. (Rock n Coke Bot)
So, most of the companies were very interested on what I’v been presenting to them. The next step was to prepare an action plan and the first financial documents showing that how does project: RobotDostum can turn into life.
My first action plan had those steps:
- Create marketing bots for firms – First income : invest on technology [Botego : Tefal Bot]
- Create a female bot that will grab the attention of public : Media & Press covarage and conversation database [Botego: Merve Bot ]
- Basic FAQ bots to enter CRM field [Botego: Standart service bot ]
- Build bots (some backed-up with real operators) to convert Call Center services online (typecenter): A good built chat-bot can cut down up to %25 traffic in Call-Center’s. [Botego: Turk Telekom – Yemek sepeti Bot]
- Build/Use bots for marketing research, little campaings and HR projects.[Botego: ?]
- Use bots as a salesman/marketing agent in online stores. For instance: a Nokia recommender salesmen bot as a banner in hepsiburada.com. [Botego: not yet]
- Using Turkish Language Processing techniques, build systems for fast and efficient retrieval of information to be used by Call-Center operators [Botego : Avea and TEB bot]
- Build some search engine optimizer with a Natural Language backhand. For instance: Ask to a bot, let google answer. [Botego: not yet]
(As you can see, these steps became the steps Botego is trying to take)
Edit: I am not saying I build up those spesific derivations of bot idea that botego has taken. I am saying that these were the steps I have planned for the project and some of them can be seen on documents presented. When I was in the project, we didn’t have customers like Avea and Tefal yet.
All of these steps concluded into the need of an investor. In 2007, my search for an investor to support my project ended as I found a partner who was very interested about investing on the project.
Finally, the project: Botego was initiated. I have shared all the information and documents I had prepared about the subject with the new partner. Foundation of a legal company was taking time, so we started working on the project even though no legal agreements have been signed yet. While attorneys that my partner had arranged were working on preparing the charters and contracts, the first steps of the Botego project was being taken in a rush. I did my biggest mistake right at the beginning by trusting my partner too much and starting to work before signing any kind of papers.
First of all, we needed a name for the project and the firm. Finding the project name: Botego was a gift from Cem Argun, a senior partner of an advertising agency, also a friend of mine. The logo of Botego was the work of a talented graphic designer, supervised by me. That designer was also the designer who created RobotDostum logo. The company name: Yapayzeki was also suggested by me and accepted by Ekim in a very casual meeting we had.
We created the first and temporary version of botego.com. Here is first version of our website from trusty archive.org. Since archive.org sometimes doesn`t arhive images, the website is a little broken. (archive.org keeps snapshots of websites on some time intervals). I’ll also put a JPG version here in case of the disposal of archives. Click to see our names.
After that point, the 3rd partner: Volkan Kurt joined the project. This partner used to be an assistant grad student of the Koc University professor Deniz Yuret. Mr. Yuret is one of the few academic people who had specialized on Natural Language Processing and is the head of NLP team in Koc University. He is also known from the start-up he built in USA after graduating from MIT: inQuira inc, which has many common points with Botego. So, Volkan was our “academic guy”.
These were the first steps of the Botego project. I can say that most of the steps Botego had been taking till today were the ones I have projected when we were establishing the project or the ones we have discussed while trying to build up the company. (excluding the bad-aiming videos) Surely, after some time, now I can see Botego creating new projects and openings in the business. This is good.
After getting into contact with Microsoft USA, who had recently acquired Colloquis, we were invited for a meeting in Microsoft Turkey with MS Developer Evangelist Mehmet Emre. This was a critical meeting for our project. Here is the very primitive presentation I prepared and we presented on our little meeting.
Yet another detail some people close to me can remember: After 2 days of Microsoft meeting, when the time came to sign the legal documents, the clouds which were painted white and pink by our trust-giving partner, started to turn into dark. When we were just about to sign the papers, we found that our VC changed his mind about the project and claimed that he is not happy about the division of shares. I found myself out of the project even before I had a chance to discuss this matter deeply. On the other hand Volkan, the second partner of me shared a very similar fate with me. Details of how this happened are not relevant to public, but I can tell you that they could be considered at best as unethical. The partner who wanted to invest on my project initially is now the founder of the company. On the other hand, I am the guy who has only a story to tell about Botego.
Surely, both sides, me and my former business partner had mistakes and disagreements, but in a freshly started company, disagreements should be used as opportunities to discuss and to improve. And I believe due to business ethics, a Venture Capitalist partner should not find the right to take away a whole project and get all the credits by himself in any circumstances. Especially if these circumstances are open to debate.
But it didn’t happen this way on Botego. To be honest, when this happened 1 year ago, I was angry but I wasn’t really surprised. This was one of the possibilities that could have happened when I decided to work with a small-budget VC. Considering the circumstances I was in, I had no choice to trust my old partner if I wanted to breathe life into my project.
The question to ask is that: What if we had a legal contract in the beginning of the project? Would any excuse or claim will give a partner enough rights to take away the project?
For more than a year, I haven’t talked about this issue in public. This was because even though it always reminds me of some bad experiences; I truly wished for Botego’s success. Today, I continue to get happy hearing that my project is alive and improving. I am happy because I know there is more where it comes from.
However, there are still friends telling me to go to the court but I’m rather focusing on future projects instead of handling bad experiences. On the other hand, since I do not have any legal signed papers giving me rights, It’s hard, (but may be possible) to get a satisfactory result in such an attempt.
To be honest, I have to say that I believe instead dying on the paper, it is better to see my project alive even if it belongs to somebody else. This is why I share my ideas with people in this blog.
And as Erhan Erdogan did, I also thank Botego for being an example that thought me a lot about being more careful in the future.
This is the other side of the Botego Story.
EDIT : Since me and Volkan got out of the project before the technology behind Botego was developed, we can not be held responsible of the current quality of the technology.