In Silicon Valley, the common drill is that you don't start a company for revenue, you start it because you want to "change the world." The money follows.
But in Turkey, changing the world means changing the Middle East, an old, proud culture not known for modern innovation. There is plenty of entrepreneurship in the culture, but it is around producing and selling physical products and services: atoms, not bits.
Peak Games is different. It is trying to change Turkey and the Middle East, to find a way to grow the developer culture as well as the future prospects for Turkey's young people. The company is now two years old, started by Sidar Sahin and Bugra Koc, two friends who were experienced in emerging market businesses on the Internet. One day they told each other that Turkey needed a homegrown company like Google that could grow large enough to spin off an ecosystem. They decided to start a company that could do that—right in Istanbul.
Their first challenge was to find like-minded people — people who think they can do things. A Google begets a Facebook, and a Facebook begets a Peak Games. All the Peak Games leadership team were working in other companies, and decided to start this company not for money, career, or meeting new people, but with the purpose of taking a big journey from which everyone can learn, from a startup to a company that could be a linchpin for modern entrepreneurship in Turkey.
They chose to make it a gaming company because they could reach many people quickly with games. They wanted to reach out from Istanbul to find employees who wanted to work for a startup in Turkey, and that 's still a tough sell, although gaming companies are sexier than most. They've had to grow their own talent, and their 200 employees are mostly inexperienced passionate, smart hard working people, learning as they go.
Peak Games is focused on social games for the Middle East and Turkey, aimed primarily at the Arab population. Although its games are developed for the web first, theyre moving over their current catalog to mobile, and are planning to focus on mobile in the future, because while smatphone penetration in Turkey is still low (10%), Peak Games is seeing 30% of its revenues come from mobile. Its current leading game is called Okey, and the next is a farming game that's popular in the Middle East and Africa. There are already TV shows about these games, and the virtual goods used in them are very real to the people who play them. One person even called the police because someone stole his virtual sheep.
Virtual goods are usually the business model for companies targeting the bottom of the pyramid, and Asia pioneered the virtual goods model in 2001. Virtual goods are a time-tested model now, although outside of Facebook and a couple of tween social networks like Penguin Club they have never caught on in the United States the way they have in the rest of the world. Sidar Sahin, co-founder of Peak Games, moved to China in 2005, learned about the potential for virtual goods, and came back to Turkey a believer.
Peak Games is a leader in a growing tech culture in Istanbul. While the juxtaposition of early Coptic churches, Muslim daily prayers, and technology can sometimes be surprising, Itanbul's tech culture is definitely establishing itself among global VCs. A young and growing population, increasingly mobile and technically literate, will put Turkey on the technology map very soon.
Editor's note: The name of Peak Games cofounder Bugra Koc has been changed; it was previously misspelled.
[Image: Flickr user laszlo-photo]