Dr Ozan Özerk’s Take On Entrepreneurship During COVID-19

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In the wake of the pandemic, everyone has adopted new technology and re-thought their jobs, which has led our economy to shift toward independent employment.

COVID has been a great accelerator for digital transformation, putting software in the spotlight.

In the aftermath of the great loss and uncertainty of the past few years, we have accelerated trends that will support our evolution as humans: greater autonomy, meaning, and creative expression. Therefore, today, it is more important than ever to focus on the timeless entrepreneurial traits and skills that contribute to business success.

In conversation with Dr Ozan Özerk, serial entrepreneur and founder of OpenPayd, we find out what makes a good entrepreneur, and how to avoid common pitfalls when starting and running a business.

Q: Tell us about you and how you founded OpenPayd.

Dr Ozan Özerk: I was born in Nicosia, Cyprus but I grew up in Oslo, Norway. Having been an outgoing and social person my whole life, I have had the privilege of trying and mostly failing, with a lot of different start-ups. I worked on startups long before I got into medicine. Entrepreneurship was never about money for me, but about freedom. Being able to try to do things my way and having an impact on my community was important to me. In my early twenties, I took my first step into commercial entrepreneurship. I co-founded an online media company focusing on mobile-based services and content, and in 2005 created our first big success, the social media website Biip.no. As I began moving into more online services, I noticed that payments were a significant source of friction. Traditional banks and payment service companies were failing to keep up with the likes of Google and Amazon. So I started several smaller payment companies that were ultimately merged and expanded under the OpenPayd brand.

Q: How do you stay motivated when things get difficult?

Dr Ozan Özerk: Rather than rely on outside confirmations, you should lean on your own convictions. Try something if you have a strong gut feeling about it, even if you end up being wrong. Stay true to yourself. You have to focus on what you believe in – and work in that direction.

Q: What’s your advice to entrepreneurs who are struggling?

Dr Ozan Özerk: I am more intrigued by failure stories in the entrepreneurial world than success stories. To me, that is where real learning takes place. I have had plenty of failures as well as successes. I advise people to try something new in the post-Covid world, without fear of failing. People who never try, never fail, but they also never succeed. True entrepreneurs embrace their failures, even when they are painful.

Q: But shouldn’t money matter?

Dr Ozan Özerk: Money always matters, but entrepreneurship is not about whether private jets or Ferraris should belong to your personal collection. Many entrepreneurs are chronically underfunded, and they do whatever it takes to stay afloat. If you’re fortunate enough to raise money, you’ll become even more focused on the needs of your business. Taking the money of other people is a huge responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to be honest with yourself. The road to success is not easy and shortcuts are not an option. If you cut corners, you are guaranteed to be more broke, isolated, and unhappy than before you started.

Q: Do you have any general advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Dr Ozan Özerk: Over the past 20+ years, the world has moved toward a digital economy, driven by an e-commerce boom and a growing online social community. We’ve seen an acceleration beyond our wildest expectations since the pandemic, and it won’t slow down when everything settles down to a somewhat normal level. In the post-Covid world, I encourage people to try something new without fear of failing.

In general, the message is not to give up, but to learn from your mistakes and not to believe that anyone is better than you. Although talent matters, hard work and perseverance are far more important. It is important not to view failure as a negative experience. In many cases, it is merely a stepping stone leading towards success.