Entrepreneur of the year goes to the old man on the street in Istanbul

Yesterday, I was at Emononu, a ferry station in Istanbul and spotted one of the most entrepreneurial person that I have seen. I was blown away by his entrepreneurial spirit.

IMG_6898.JPG
PC: Harpreet Singh

The Sultanahmet area in Istanbul is teeming with tourists and so if you are a tourist and have spent anywhere beyond a day or two, you get used to being approached by shop salesmen trying to entice you with their wares. I don’t want you to get an impression that these guys are in your face and asking you to see something without an iota of originality in their sales pitches (a la a phone vendor in a typical US mall). Almost all of the guys have a super interesting hook to start a conversation with you and bring you into their shops.

These sales guys set a high bar — they nail the cold call opening!

Perhaps the highest bar in selling was set by Ibrahim at the Tuncer Gift shop who by far has been amongst the best salesperson I have ever seen and I have worked with many. Ibrahim had a unique conversational style that differentiates him over everyone else. He differentiated himself as opposed to the goods while selling commodity goods through a shop. (See his TripAdvisor reviews). Perhaps, I need to write a blog about Ibrahim but I have digressed.

Now coming back to street vendors, my default reaction to street vendors — typically guys carrying tea, chips or other such sundries is a terse no. That’s just the way it is, I don’t want to hear or even see what the vendor is offering. I presume this is the reaction of most folks when approached by street vendors.

Anyways — so if I have painted the picture that between the high salesmanship standards by shop salesman, my general dislike to being approached by street vendors and the fact that this was my third day in Istanbul that it was a high bar for someone to standout.

Then, we saw him and lets call him Abu (Urdu for father) an elderly gentleman, perhaps in his late 60s or early 70s, with a weather beaten face. Not the ones that look tired and indicate a life endured by hardship but a weather beaten face with an underlying glow backed with a smile that shows a life well lived and worked hard with honesty and integrity. He was wearing a suit and in the middle of 24C day, it must have been genuinely warm. The suit was worn down too.

Abu had a canon camera around his neck and a a big bag slung over his shoulder.

The bag had a kodak photo printer hacked with a battery pack to provide power to the photo printer!

Abu, thus had positioned himself next to the ferry station of the Bosphorus tour and was reaching out to tourists who were waiting for the next tour to start at the dock and getting them to take a picture. His unique selling point, was a hard copy of your photograph. Not a regular tea vendor — that wasn’t for him.

Why did we give in and get a picture clicked?

He had a photo frame!!!

He was framing the pictures in a photo frame and I (Mr. Customer) got a choice between two colours. Totally unexpected and completely delightful (delighters anybody?).

This is interesting in itself while we were waiting and not really looking at him. We saw him from the corner of our eyes, he had just finished taking a picture of a Russian family and then get this — he offered them a choice of white or a black paper frame to go along with the picture. The guy had thought about everything — amazing.

When we saw the picture frame, my wife and me decided we have to take a picture from this enterprising human.

Here is the picture that he took for us.

Delightful product and elated customers

Now, I typically will not pose for pictures and Abu made us pose right for a great picture and he did that every other customer that we saw. All in the 30 seconds that it took him to take the picture while not speaking a word of english. Amazing!

I regret not taking his picture though :-(.

So Abu from my point of view has done everything right as a CEO of Abu, Inc.

  • Product — check. A high quality hard copy picture of your family while you wait impatiently to get on the Bosphorus tour. This is not the crappy grainy picture that comes from a Polaroid.
  • Marketing specifically packaging — a picture frame to enticingly frame your picture so that it doesn’t end up in a drawer somewhere. This is where Abu nailed it imo — he truly brought in the notion of a delighter and absolutely surprised his customers and delivered more than they signed up for.
  • Sales — Perfect timing to approach customers. There is about 10–15 minutes to spare between buying a ticket and boarding and people usually don’t have much to do but get bored watching the boats.

All this for 4TL or about $1!

I wonder how things could be so much different if he was in Silicon Valley — he could very well be running a successful company.

But then again, who says he is not successful?

One thought on “Entrepreneur of the year goes to the old man on the street in Istanbul

Leave a Reply