Antler VC Cast Episode 11 — Providing a pain killer e-commerce product with Hande Cilingir

In this episode, we speak to Hande Cilingir, co-founder and CEO of Insider, an integrated growth management platform that is changing the game for e-commerce businesses globally. Backed by investors such as Riverwood Capital, Sequoia, Wamda and Endeavor Catalyst, Insider is helping over 800 global brands drive their digital growth through highly individualized multichannel experiences powered by AI.

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Key Highlights From Transcript

[4:25] Hande shares about Insider's mission to become a pain killer for the current pains and challenges that online businesses face.

[5:59] Hande shares her goal of proving to the world that breakthrough product companies can be created and thrive outside of Silicon Valley.

[19:04] Hande explains her leadership philosophy and journey with personal development as a young female CEO that has built a Global  company.

Where Insider comes in on the e-commerce metric game

Puja Bharwani: So, tell us in your own words: What is Insider and what is it offering?

Hande Cilingir: In the last 10 or 15 years, e-commerce has continued to grow and especially in the last year, COVID has accelerated the growth of online shopping or businesses. The biggest challenge of any online company that provides service or content, is growth. When we look at e-commerce and its success metrics, it's not like a single metric game. It's a multi-metric game. And you need to optimize your metrics, and this is actually how Insider comes in.

On how they are helping marketing teams Globally

Hande Cilingir: We are a growth measuring platform and we help enterprise marketing teams to unlock growth across the funnel through the acquisition of their users, activation of the users, retention and increasing their revenue. How do we do that? We actually deal the other way with personalized experiences across different channels, including desktop, web, mobile web, mobile app, and messaging sites. As a growth management platform, we combine personalization with insight, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies with a predictive engine at its heart.

On wanting to be a pain killer for e-commerce companies

Jussi Salovaara: Nice. Congratulations on the journey so far! World domination is on its way but if we go back to the beginning a bit further still, how did you identify this problem?

Hande Cilingir: We always knew that we wanted to be in the digital sector because as the CEO of Microsoft said once, "One day, every company will be a software company." So, this is why we always knew that we wanted to do something in technology or in the digital side. The first idea that came to our mind was building an e-commerce company because e-commerce was growing. There's potential there. But after talking to the founders of a couple of e-commerce companies, we realized that actually, it's a high-potential business but at the same time there are a lot of operations. And yes, you use technology but not very advanced technologies and there are a lot of pains involved.

So we decided to be a pain killer for the pains of the e-commerce companies.

Conventional optimization was one of them because the challenges for e-commerce companies are all about the optimization of conversion rates. They spend lots of money on advertising and manage to bring users to their website or mobile or other channels but are not able to convert them. So this is why after talking to them, we have decided that we should create a platform which is going to optimize their conversions, and this is actually where the idea came from.

On having a Global mindset from day one

Hande Cilingir: If you would like to build a Global product company, then you should have the Global mentality from the very first day. This mentality is so important because it also defines who you hire. It defines which language you are going to use when you are building your first website. It defines your first product. It defines your first go-to market strategy. After having this Global mentality, we started from Asia which is a high-potential market.

On the co-founder dynamic

Jussi Salovaara: But I think it's fascinating as you get spot on with this born Global mindset. Everything doesn't need to come from Silicon Valley. And actually I can see a lot of analogies between Antler and Insider. We started up in Singapore. You have six co-founders. I wanted to ask you about that. We have five co-founders at Antler and sometimes it feels like it's too many and messy to manage. How did your early journey go? Decision making, any founder drama, how was that to manage the six of you?

Hande Cilingir: The good thing is we live like the Beatles. Of course, we are not as excellent as Beatles, but just like The Beatles model, we complete each other. Three of us come from technical backgrounds, three of us from business backgrounds. So when I look at this harmony, I would say that we complete each other from this perspective. It's great.

Also when you have five co-founders, it helps you to manage your own psychology because if one of you guys' psychology is damaged or fails for a while, then the other pushes through.

And when you are down, the others are up, so you balance each other. And the second thing is, when you share the same values in life, and you're motivated and inspired by common values, and if you don't have any conflict about ego, power, and money, then you really stand well together.

On developing a leadership style

Puja Bharwani: Nice. I think this actually leads into something I did want to ask you about because you talked about the psychology of being a CEO. As a young female CEO that has built a Global company, what would you say your leadership style or philosophy is, and how has it evolved?

Hande Cilingir: There are many things that I take into account while trying to lead but what I'm trying to do is basically, leadership is an endless journey. And when we take into account that it's all about people, leadership is mostly about giving the comfort to people to make their own decisions. I think learning from other CEOs who have faced the same challenges in the past is the best way to learn.

I think leadership is pretty much relevant with feeling uncomfortable. I'm uncomfortable most of the time.

I'm uncomfortable about my personal development. I'm uncomfortable, or let's say, not satisfied with my own speed. I have this feeling of, "I'm not enough. I need to develop myself more. I need to grow myself more," is a healthy feeling at the end of the day because it pushes you to develop yourself more. So I try to read more, learn more from others.

What is leadership to you?

Hande Cilingir: I learned that 95% of leadership is all about confrontation. You need to confront your strategy. You need to confront your weakness and strength. You need to confront other things you do well or you do not do well to your inner self. Once you confront the people around you, I think it's okay to feel moody or tired or exhausted sometimes, but you will recover. This is also how life works, right? You work, you become tired, you rest, and then you wake up again, and then you are inspired, and then you just roll up.

Puja: So what I'm hearing is, basically, you've got passion, motivation, and you have a clear mission. And that's what keeps driving you, but you're very open about mistakes or things that went wrong. And you share that.

On the importance of supporting women's education in STEM from a young age

Hande Cilingir: We should definitely support women to have more roles in tech or startups. But I think first of all, anyone should learn coding. This is the first thing. And this is what we are trying to do. We have a special program for that. One plus one plus one. And we dedicate 1% of our revenues, 1% of our salaries, and 1% of our time to teach coding to high school students, especially women.

I see this empowerment as much more important and stronger than other things that we do for women.

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