Valuable Lessons In Unexpected Places

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

The thing about entrepreneurship is it doesn’t always look like the business world we are used to seeing every day.  Entrepreneurship is not a model or business structure, it is a spirit.  It can appear anywhere, and when you open your eyes, you can find some of the best teachers appearing in the most unlikely places.

Next time you want to escape the craziness of Istanbul for some green mountains, fresh air and soothing streams, try taking a trip to Sapanca.  Up in the hills lies Istanbuldere Aile Pansiyonu, a small family operation owned and operated by a local honey producer.

Aydin bey, the pansiyon’s owner, has kept honeybees for 37 years.  He still keeps the bees a short distance from the hotel, and he still actively produces a unique and delicious honey for sale to customers around Turkey.  A few years ago, he saw the growing popularity of the Sapanca area.  He decided to build a business around it, so a year and a half ago he opened this 6-room pansiyon, which he calls his “retirement business”.

We can learn a lot about entrepreneurship from Aydin bey.  For example, the pansiyon currently has no internet connection, and Aydin bey probably rarely, if ever, surfs the web.  But he has a website at istanbulderepansiyon.com.  Some major hotel chains in the south of Turkey don’t have a solid online presence, but this small pansiyon in the mountains east of Istanbul does.  Aydin bey’s cell phone number is clearly displayed on the website, so you can easily call him and make reservations.  The page even includes a photo of him, so you can put a face to the voice when you call.

Aydin bey doesn’t use the web himself, but he knows his customers do, and he makes sure they can find him there.  He knows how to reach out to his customers on their terms, not his.

Aydin bey also knows how to connect with people on a personal level.  He enthusiastically greeted me in the pansiyon’s unassuming dining room, pulling up a chair next to the nice, warm, wood-burning stove and inviting me to sit and chat.  He offered me tea, and asked how I found out about his pansiyon.  He wanted to make sure that I was well taken care of.  The conversation wasn’t him doing market research, he was genuinely curious and wanted to know about me.  In fact, he was so welcoming and full of life that I stayed longer to chat, instead of going up to my room to rest.

Aydin bey knows who to please and how to please them, telling me that when couples come to look at the pansiyon, he makes a point of showing the women around the rooms.  He says, “If the women like the rooms, the couple stays. The women are the ones who decide.”  He doesn’t speak in the professional language of “demographic intelligence” and “market research”, but he is closely tuned in to his market nonetheless.

Aydin bey does another thing well, which is to manage expectations.  His pansiyon has a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is not clear up front that you need to order your food 30 minutes beforehand, and picky customers, especially the hungry ones, wouldn’t like realizing this at the last minute.  But somehow, Aydin bey doesn’t build in the expectation that all requests will be handled promptly, so when people find out about it, they are not surprised at all.  They understand instinctively that the pansiyon’s kitchen operates like the ones back home, where food doesn’t magically appear just because you snap your fingers.

A weekend at this Istanbuldere pansiyon reminds us that the entrepreneurial spirit is not about a formal dress code, an upper crust way of speaking, or a certain educational pedigree.  Just let Aydin bey show you the value of enthusiasm and how to reach out to your customers, connect with them genuinely, and promise only what you can deliver.  Harvard will charge you a hundred thousand dollars to teach you those lessons, but Aydin bey can demonstrate them for free.

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