Today’s consumers invest in brands that align with their personal values. But they are also inspired by marketers who are passionate about the brand and show their enthusiasm on social media and via creative campaigns infused with humanity and humor. In episode #414, Peggy Anne Salz talks with Sertaç Taşdelen, co-founder of Faladdin, an AI-powered fortune-telling app that counts well over 25 million users globally and going strong. Sertaç shares his journey from his start at Ernst & Young Business Advisory in Dubai and Singapore practices to his professional and personal successes as an entrepreneur, digital nomad, photographer, DJ, and model. He shares how he has literally become the face of his brand and how that approach has allowed his app to grow its audience and appeal. It’s a fun and frank exchange – providing you a blueprint you can follow to be “real” and really outstanding in 2021 and beyond.
Thanks, Ricky, and thank you for joining Mobile Presence. I’m your host, as always, Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst, tech consultant and founder of MobileGroove. And yes, it’s the end of the year and we’re all focused on the future, you as marketers, our audience, my friends, I know from social you’re asking questions – how do we grow our business, how do we grow our audience, how do we grow our app?
And we are going to do a hot trend show, obviously everyone will, but I just wanted to do something different, you know, we’re getting near the holidays, I want to turn it upside now, I want to try something new and, boy, have I found a guest to do it with, right? We are going to answer these questions from a company that has, let’s just say it’s made future its business. More specifically, how to tell the future, so my guest is the Co-Founder of Faladdin, an artificial intelligence fortune telling app that counts well over 25 million users and going strong. You’re going to be hearing about it in the States as well and in other countries – we’re going to get to that because before founding this cool company my guest was a technology entrepreneur who worked at Ernst & Young Business Advisory in Dubai and Singapore and before all of that, he made the decision to dedicate himself to his entrepreneurial and artistic endeavours. I’d like to introduce him, he’s a digital nomad, photographer, DJ and model – Sertac Tasdelen
What an intro.
I love the model part, Sertac, so he’s with me today from Turkey, Sertac Tasdelen, thank you so much for being here on Mobile Presence. Great to have you.
That’s such an intro, I’m so happy.
Well, I mean now we’ve got video so we can see there’s something to it – I’m just kidding, just kidding there. But I will say that we will be hearing a lot about your app, I have to actually, it’s been a busy time since we spoke last on a webinar, I’m going to take a look at this because it is a viral app as well. So tell me about the experience because not only did you shape the experience from like a tech perspective, you’re shaping the experience from a marketing perspective as well.
Thank you. So, let me start with a small story. It was back in Dubai 2010 and I was still working for EY Dubai as a business consultant. It was my farewell dinner, I was being transferred to Singapore and all my friends, we went to a big dinner, so everyone had Turkish coffee because we were at the Turkish restaurant. We have a little gimmick, once you have the Turkish coffee, you turn the cup upside down and we believe you can tell the future by just looking at the coffee residue.
So my friends told me, I wish your mum was here because my mum is actually a pharmacist but she’s really good at this, she gives positive energy, she’s a super laugh, she has this super persona. They said I wish your mum was here. I said, okay, why don’t you take a photo of your coffee cup and I’ll send it to my mum. They said okay, let’s give it a try. So I sent it to my mum and my mum replied back in a few seconds saying, let’s say it was for you, they say, oh, dear Peggy, I see that your kid is growing up and is going to go fly away, live in another country and become a very important person and Peggy was like, oh my god, how do you know that? I would pay for this experience – I was like, really? They’re like, really, really.
So we talked about it, we laughed about it, it was such a cool little idea point. Then I went to Singapore, I started to work for our EY Singapore office. After six months I realised my calling is not in corporate life, I wanted to travel the world, I wanted to do crazy things, I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I wanted to do photography, I wanted to do modelling around the world, I wanted to go to Mongolia with a motorcycle, I wanted to go surfing in Bali, I wanted to go to Mongolia – all those crazy things. How would you do it? I was like, you know what, I’m going to do it.
I started a very little website called binnazabla.com, which is my mum’s name and I said it’s free if you want to reach out to my mother, take a photo of your coffee cup and send it to my mum, I just posted it on Facebook, no marketing whatsoever. People started to send these photos saying, oh dear, Aunty Binnaz, I know you from Sertac, can you please read my cup and stuff like this. My poor mum, she’s now seventy, she’s sitting in front of her laptop with her glasses reading people’s emails and replying to them saying, Dear Peggy, Dear George, Dear Whatever – seeing all those nice little stories.
And we said, it’s free, we are not making money, I recycle. So we said okay, let’s make it $10 and our demand was zero, everyone started laughing saying, dude, are you crazy, you worked for Singapore EY and now you’re becoming a fortune teller and you’re making your mum work for you? Shame on you, it’s not going to work, people are never going to pay money to a fortune teller online and then one person did pay $10, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another and then my mum said, Sertac, my dear son, I can’t do it anymore because too many.
We found another reader, and then another reader, and then another reader and then another reader and then this thing become a business. Now we have more than a thousand people all over the planet reading tarot cards, you know, the Turkish coffee cups, astrology readings and all that in Turkish, in English, in Arabic, in Kurdish, in Albanian, in Hebrew, whatever languages you can imagine.
However, this is a real person experience, it’s like me talking to you on Zoom – how many readings can you do in one given time, just one person because it’s a very private experience? So we always had this wall against our ideas of expansion, we had to find a way, we had to hack this. So, three years ago, we still kept the Binnaz one, but we three years ago we started to build up an algorithm and that algorithm just reads exactly the same thing by looking at some data points. So instead of a real fortune teller, I ask a fortune teller, I said how do you make your reading? She said, I look at, for example, the customer’s age, I look at the customer’s, you know, sexuality or education or similar things and then I create a story.
So, we trained the algorithm in all those data points and then this thing started off a very, very humble beginning with no marketing budget whatsoever, it’s just a name called Faladdin and why Faladdin? So basically, well, we were thinking like the more AI technology resembling names because we were going to say this is AI, it’s not a real person but it was never, you know, it was never felt right for me and my co-founder, and one of those days I was having potato chips in my mum’s apartment and my brain is still thinking for a name. The brand was Sinbad and – you remember Sinbad’s outfit and he’s wearing his big clothes, his little funny shoes – he looks like a funny character, maybe a fortune teller. I said, Sinbad looks nice but it doesn’t really talk to me so who else is there? Aladdin and the magic lamp. There’s magic and there’s all those diamonds and the flying carpets and all that.
So, there is an F in front of Aladdin, F is for Fortune Telling, so Aladdin is Aladdin without fortune telling. And then funny enough, once we were creating the character, we were looking for someone who resembles the Aladdin guy and guess who that is?
I happen to know the answer because I know… the audience doesn’t know the answer so let’s say it.
So, it was me because I am not trying to but I do resemble this guy, I mean, I’m a little more exotic looking than an average Turkish guy and everyone people, like every other people that I met throughout this business, people said, oh, who is this guy on the photos, the cover page? They said it’s the CEO Co-Founder, and they said, oh, I thought it was a cast, I thought it was an actor. But then, it’s a funny story – I believe in these magical stories, I read just recently Phil Knight’s, the founder of Nike, book, I’m not sure if you’ve read it – if you haven’t, please do…
It sounds like something I have to watch for – what was the takeaway for you?
The takeaway for this book is a similar story of me resembling Aladdin. The guy, Phil Knight, when he was trying to find a name, the factory in China calls him and says, Phil, we are making the shoes and we’re about to press the brand name – please tell us, haven’t you thought about it? And Phil doesn’t know and his co-founder steps into the room and says, Phil, I know the name. He’s like, what? Nike. He’s like, Mike? No, Nike. He’s like, what is Nike? The co-founder says I’ve seen it in my dream and that is like, oh no, what, okay, fine – it’s Nike.
But then he realises when he was backpacking before he makes Nike dreams, once he dreamed of having a shoe company and he was in Athens at the Temple of Athena and at the Temple of Athena there is a huge statue of the God, Nike. He dreamed of this huge Nike in front of the statue of Nike and then he realises later saying was I born to do this? Was it all a coincidence and a few, I’m not going to tell all, I’m not going to spoil it for you, but please read it, I was in tears. I had goosebumps.
I’ve seen it actually, okay, I get it because it’s inspiration, it’s hard work.
It’s hard work, I believe there is certain messages and if you follow them, if you kind of have a harmony with you and your calls, you’re about to change the world, you’re going to do something big and just keep on working, keep on having fun. So that was my mojo and I always – we’re at the very, very small baby steps at this stage, I’m 37 turning 38, hopefully I will do what I do until I die. I enjoy it to the max.
You’re going to do it, and we’re going to talk about this story, I’m heartbroken, I have to go to a break, right, but we’re going to talk about your story because you have a growth story, we’re going to talk about your expansion, a little bit more about your inspiration and something else you brought up yourself which is the motivation of the CEO and putting yourself out there – you are the face of your company and maybe that’s also going into 2021, if we talk about the future, that may be the future of business.
So we do have to go to a break, so I’m going to leave you right there and, audience, as I said, we’ll be back in just a moment with Sertac and loads more, so don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And welcome back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, as always, Peggy Anne Salz. We have Sertac Tasdelen, he is the Co-Founder of Faladdin, an AI future telling app, fortune telling rather, and telling us about the future. So on that note, just a little bit more about this growth, Sertac, because you are in a number of countries, you’ve also hit top ranking apps in a number of countries including the US. Tell me a little bit about that growth and maybe also what’s powering that. I mean, is it the AI, it’s just a super app experience or do you think it’s more the marketing?
Okay, well, you know, there’s two sides for this answer. One of them is a no-brainer, yes, we have a team of data scientists and we have the priority, data is the priority, we look at every number. Second, yes we have a budget, we burn amazing cash for the US market and the Saudi market and the Middle East and the Turkey. So that’s the easy part.
Remember that if you pull from a group of CEOs or the CMOs or the product managers, they’re going to give you the same answer – I have a data team and I look at every number and we’re super-careful with the AI and everything.
But there’s another answer. There’s another answer is we put ourselves in there in our quest of existential questions. We try to make stuff that we can be proud of, we are having a signature on whatever we do. We are branding, we are loving it, we are having so much fun so I’m going to give you an example.
Like I said, I am the face of the brand and it’s not a coincidence because I’m so proud of what we do. The other day, so, my social media team said hey, we have a TikTok account and we have the Instagram team creating some stuff for it – they say, we’re thinking to create a flying magic carpet ride on the Istanbul Bull Square region. So, we found a miniature scooter, I personally went down there and found the magic carpet to fit on this, so I had this gear on it, and I wore stuff like Aladdin and the magic lamp and I actually rode this magic carpet on the street for a while and then there was drone shooting, and cameras and these people shouting and saying who is this crazy man?
At that very moment, I said to myself, it was early morning, it’s cold, I’m like freezing – at that very moment, there is a secret, I told to myself, hey man, I mean, what am I doing here? I’m flying on a magic carpet – it’s nothing to do with a number, it’s nothing to do with a KPI, it’s nothing to do with a data scientist saying hey, man, there is a better campaign out there and you have to put down your budget – we all do that. But there is this existential journey that we all experience in this company we believe in so much.
I’m just out for meeting, like I just came out to join your podcast, in the room I was saying to my people saying, guys, vision 2021, what do you want to achieve, what is your biggest dream? What do you want to achieve in 5 years, 10 years – do you want to exit, do you want to sell your company, do you want to have crazy amount of revenues all round the world, what? And the answer was we all want to create something that becomes a world-renowned brand that’s a giant that everybody knows, that consolidates a few industries together, maybe the fortune telling is a start but why not become a super app that feeds the customers from a dating point of view or maybe the future prediction point of view or maybe the predictions about your financial situation or your eating habits. This becomes your best buddy, this becomes a Siri that tells stuff from the future.
I like that, a Siri for the future.
It’s a Siri, it tells you about the future. Imagine you can tell Siri, Hey Siri, where’s the best burger joint? Siri will tell you just turn the corner. But if Siri wakes you up tomorrow and says, hey, why don’t you just go to this burger joint today to meet the girl of your dreams because he or she, the Siri thingy, the Faladdin’s AI knows what are people expecting in their crazy dreams, what they’re looking for – for love or for money.
So, that’s a big, big, big bold dream, you’re trying to create something that’s never been done or created. But what is preventing us to achieve those dreams is just the limitations in our minds so once you off that limit, you are about to create magic. I do actually believe in fortune telling, funny enough, I believe – see, the Covid situation, people lost the sense of smell. Once you lose the sense of smell, you realise what a magical thing to smell something. Imagine, there’s somebody next to you who could smell and there’s somebody that you know that he or she couldn’t smell. This is such a magical thing – imagine you smell something and then you can’t really explain the experience, you can’t really say oh, there’s this molecules travelling on the air, comes through my nose, it goes to my brain and you analyse that and you know what’s an orange peeling somewhere.
I think seeing the future could be something similar to this, I actually experience myself, I see dreams very realistically and my mum experiences all the time so I do believe in fortune telling. This could be the sixth sense that we could never explain how it works but sometimes it works, there are people, there’s experience that I know, it’s mind blowing.
Experience is key to what we’re talking about here in that you can think about a super app. You’d have to have something there, Sertac, to be fair, it might have to say hey, this isn’t really the future but you can see it stringing together and linking up a super app, you can imagine saying this is dating, this is finance, these are areas of your life, you know, I’m offering you advice. I mean, Siri doesn’t do anything differently, it’s not a contract where if Siri gives me the wrong answer we’re going to be in court, right? I think this is a fun way to bring in experience from an app to other apps. Have you been exploring that? I’m just curious, are you talking to some other companies out there, Sertac?
Well, basically you know what, the idea came to us from first of all Tinder’s Turkey Head of Operations, so she said hey guys, we know that you have humungous data of single females who want to get married and I’m like, oh yes. She said, let’s collaborate because we have all those male dates that wants to meet girls, like okay, yes. So we said, let’s collaborate, it’s a match, but then we realised, okay, Tinder’s operations are outside of Turkey, they’re huge, it takes time to pitch an idea and all that. We said, why don’t we just do it ourselves – why don’t we create an algorithm just to tell you hey, this is a good match for you by not looking at a photo because the photo is just a façade but what’s inside – I know if this girl is single, if this girl is going to school, if this guy is interested in science or this or that.
So, I have the data about these guy’s demographics and personality that I can match this to someone else’s personality, if they’re in a similar region, if they have the same diameter. So we are trying to crack the science behind dating even though it’s not easy to crack but it’s such a challenge.
My personal view is for maybe a short-term kind of experience you can just go for a Tinder, but if you want to have a long-term relationship, this is basically not just a physical swipe, there’s much more than that. So Faladdin’s algorithm can roll out matching algorithms soon in 2021 so this is also in the radar and there’s no harm trying, this is just we were talking before this podcast like I said, this is one of those things we want to crack some other areas that this data needs because there’s already a lot of people and they love the app, they love the brand, I think we need to capture more services to those people because this is where the world is going so this is my view on that.
Absolutely, and it’s a fantastic goal for 2021 and beyond, and to think about your team, you know, if you want to be that type of brand, that type of blockbuster brand, then you become synonymous with an experience of some kind, you know, Nike with not just fitness but the entire experience around fitness. It’s lifestyle, it’s self-expression, it’s reaching your goals – it’s something bigger than shoes.
Hold on a second, let me show you something…
We do have to go to a break. Alright, you can show me this…
I’ll show you after the break.
We are going to have to go to a break a final time but I love this conversation, I think it has a lot to offer to our audience to talk about how to put themselves out there, so when we come back, why don’t you do that, why don’t you offer us some advice to CEOs who have never done this before or managers, you know, how to be the face of the brand. We’re going to talk to you about that so don’t go away listeners, we’ll be right back.
And we are back to Mobile Presence, final segment with Sertac Tasdelen, we have been learning a lot from you today, Sertac, definitely how to express ourselves, how to go after stretch goals, even formulate them. You have an ambitious goal, I think it stands as an example to a lot of our listeners, it’s saying hey, 2021, take the chance, seize the day, just do it to take it from our Nike friends, right – but not everyone can do it and not everyone has a cool app either, right, you have an advantage, you’ve got a cool team, you have a cool vision, you’ve got a cool app. Give me some advice for people to say yes, you do have to be out there, you do have to put yourself forward as the face of your brand, the face of your department, CEO, VP of Marketing, whatever it is – you have to be part of the product and the experience. How would they start that? I mean, not everyone can get on the magic carpet ride, you know?
You know what, Peggy, I live in a residence and it’s 25th floor, when I look down from my balcony, I see the biggest cemetery of Istanbul, I live near a cemetery and sometimes I walk to the office and there’s a shortcut, I walk through it – I see the biggest, the richest people lying out there. We all die, we all die and you have limited time. I’m 38, the life expectancy in Turkey is 75, half of it’s gone and the rest you sleep 8 hours a day, so you have a very limited time. I’m sorry but that’s the reality, we all die.
And one question, one question – what are you going to do with this limited show, are you going to be like super humble saying sorry, I just can’t do it, are you going to be in the relationship that you want to do, are you going to be in this boring job and sit in front of a computer doing your Excel stuff? Or, are you going to say, you know what, I’m going to be out there, I’m going to do whatever it takes, I’m going to get rich or die trying – you know, it’s whatever you want to do.
I was sitting in my office back in 2012 and they said – I’d just read an article, I never believed in it, nobody believe in it, it was an internet thingy – 2012, end of the world, the Mayan Calendar says we’re going to die, there’s an asteroid coming, whatever. I never believed in it but I thought, what if it’s true? What if the life offers you sometimes 75 years but if you come out of your office and you die, I said, you know what, I’m not going to die unhappy, I’m not going to die unsatisfied. I literally, I swear, I stand up, I walked to my boss’s office and I said you know what? I quit. He said, woah, what? I said I quit and I’m going to follow binnazable.com, this is my dream, I’m going to do it, I’m going to travel the world and I’m going to do crazy stuff, I’m going to do things that you can never imagine. He said, you know what, Sertac, I wish I was at your age, I wish I had an idea and I wish I had the balls to do it – please go and do it, you have a place here if you fail, you come back.
Okay, great segue, Sertac. Let’s assume we’ve got people listening in, they want to come away with this with like one thing to take back on Monday morning or what have you and it’s like, okay, I’ve got to have a vision, I’ve got to have guts, I’ve got to go after it and my time on the earth is limited. But, what can they like tactically do? Should they pick up something to start a campaign with, is it about whatever you do let’s just start with TikTok? I don’t know but there has to be a place to start, everyone starts somewhere.
The starting point for me is to know yourself, ask yourself what I like, what makes me happy, what I’m good at – ask yourself, know yourself. This is the first step. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur, you don’t have to ride the magic carpet, you can be a sportsman, you can be an athlete, you can be an artist, you can be a podcast, king of podcasts, but you have to know, you have to ask yourself what I want in life, what I want in life unless you have a solid answer.
And then once you know the answer, go and dream big, you want to do the world’s best and then you put goals, just not dreaming big, put goals – I’m going to do this first and then the second and the third and the fourth and then there’s a whole stream of sprints that you have to run and then the fourth – work, work, work, work, work so hard that you go crazy. That’s my strength.
Someone have a quote for like a t-shirt here. Sertac, I won’t interrupt you but I want to pin you down to something that they can take away with themselves. So, what would you say – would you say, for example, do they need lessons in speaking, how do they present themselves, how do you present yourself? You seem to just have a natural born talent for it, they have to put themselves out there – what do they need to do?
Is it just like drink something and get rid of your stage fright or find something you believe in and start talking about that within your company? I mean, this is the time, you know, we’re in Covid, everything is virtual, we’re virtual so there’s no way to get out there on stage at an event to sell your stuff, right, you’ve got to sell your product, your service through yourself, through your presence, through your social media, through all of the above. What would you tell them to do? The science, the vision.
Well, my latest takeaway would be like just one liner, just believe in yourself, just believe in yourself – you don’t have to prove nothing to nobody, this is just your own life, this is your show, do your own show. If people love it, if people love it, they love it – if they don’t love it, they don’t love it.
I think one of the strengths that I have is I don’t really care of what people think about me, I just give really give nothing, no, zero. It’s just like, you know, that’s my own show, I’m in a dream and I just live in my dream and this is what it is. But if you think this guy’s going to say something or they don’t like it, I’m going to be – people laugh at me – well, you know what, people laugh at you, let them laugh at you. People laughed at me when I said, you know what, I’m going to create a fortune telling website – they said, are you crazy, you’re going to quit Singapore Business Consulting Manager role, $10,000 blah, blah, blah bonuses and then, yes, here we are. There’s always this believe in yourself but really just be your own god. I think that’s a nice ending – be your own god.
I always ask my guests for a motto, that’s a good one, that’s very good one actually and probably beyond that some blog, some social media, something is going to come of that if I know your team and I have spoken with your team. On that note, we do have to end, Sertac, but I think we’ll have you back again definitely, I love your energy, love your vision, love your ideas but I do want to just give the listeners also an opportunity, and we so have show notes later, but how do they keep up with you? I mean, can they keep up with you maybe is the question but how do they keep up with you? Is it best on social, you’re in Instagram, you’re everywhere but what’s the best way if they want to continue the conversation with you – maybe they want to ask you, hey, Sertac, I want to put myself out there in 2021, how do I do it – how do they get in touch?
Well, I love sharing my experience and I love to create the wind of motivation, I love it. People please talk to me, shoot out ideas, reach out. I’m available with my name and surname everywhere. If you go to Instagram, there’s just me, there’s nobody else with the same surname so such a unique name in Turkish. So, my brand is Faladdin, so it’s there, it’s Instagram, TikTok, whatever, everywhere it’s there.
So, please reach out, I love bouncing the energy and I think this is the new age of thinking, open entrepreneur’s minds, so we have to create a bigger neural network that makes a bigger, bigger brain, a bigger consciousness so that we as humankind create bigger stuff together. So please reach out.
Absolutely, and to think about that, you know, not just your goals as being a super app and growing continue to grow Faladdin, it’s also I think there’s something else here about 2021 which is about becoming more a part of your product and service and that becoming more of a partner product of yourself. So, it’s really about your blueprint, I think, as a company leader and a company voice. So, love to continue that conversation, we do have to go as I said.
Listeners, friends, if you want to keep up with me throughout the week, find out how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, mobilegroove.com is where you can find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.
You can check out all episodes of our series by going to wmr.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify, Amazon and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. Sertac, thank you so much for sharing your story, and for also taking the time.
Thank you very much, it was such an honour, thank you.
Absolutely. And of course, for everyone else – remember – every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. Stay well, keep safe and we’ll see you soon.