How I Started an All-in-One
Automation Tool For Issuing Credentials
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Greetings, this is Arda. I am the founder and CEO of Sertifier Inc.
Sertifier Inc. is a learning company that believes in a transparent future where every individual is able to promote themselves. In order to manage this, we publish two products along the journey: Sertifier’s web application – the app that has given its name to the company and Verified application.
Sertifier’s application is a certificate and badge automation tool. Using this, academies can easily design and distribute their course documents digitally. Verified app is the latest product we developed for individuals who are easier to scale up their knowledge with the support of micro-learning based on skills.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I graduated from law school. Surprising, isn’t it? Many of my peers are still asking the same question: why entrepreneurship or the education industry?
The answer for me is not simple but I can point out one of the reasons here. My mom is a school teacher. She was teaching upper grades when I was a primary school student. I never wanted her to become my teacher. It is not because she is bad, on the contrary, she is magnificent. However, she is a bit loud-voiced in the classroom. Ergo having a mom whose voice decibel is the same at home could’ve turned into something we may call trauma.
Nevertheless, as Freud supported my argument here, the other reason for me to go through this way is that I tried a lot of different disciplines under the law and practiced as an intern in different scales of law firms. What I saw was that despite the fact law is a cool discipline to be included in the knowledge library, it is not something to alter like the TV series Suits. Based on my early experience and view, I chose my way as entrepreneurship and selected the learning industry.
Sertifier’s journey could be understood easily. I was president or organizer of different student communities during high school and university. I organized a lot of events with great teams and in which we promised something like a certificate of participation, we came across the same issue. Design – print – sign – distribute and whoops! I mean the year is 2018 but we are still using the same methods? Makes no sense. So we started Sertifier app.
Verified is something totally different. My question to pitch the Verified app here: why do you have watches? It is to measure time, right? You are learning something every minute that you are not sleeping- you might even learn something new from the white-bearded guy in your dreams, of course. You learn from Youtube, Coursera, EdX, Medium, etc. These are all scattered around. So, what if?? What if we design a tool to automatically collect all these learning and match them with your skills? What if we take it to a higher level and let the app decide what you should read. I mean a Google for learning and a Fitbit for your skills!
Why did we decide to develop this? It is because cumulative information carries the greatest importance nowadays since there are a lot of different disciplines that we can train ourselves on easily but none of us know how to become an expert on a topic. Easy: collect all your learning. How? I just explained.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
As we are based in Istanbul, Turkey I have to begin challenges with the unstable economy. The biggest challenge we are still facing is the economical situation here. Instability means a potential lack of courage to invest. Since that startup investment carries the highest risk compared to the stock market or similar investment types, receiving local support and money has been an issue for us. Despite the fact that the macro issue continues, we were lucky to meet great investors from Turkey. As Tarvenn, Lima, and TechOne ventures support us, we have this journey to enjoy.
Having said that we somehow handled the reach to investment, the other challenge we still face is human resource. Accessing talent is a global matter and there is no great solution or strategy to overcome this.
Building a startup or turning an idea into a product, are all kinds of handbooks but building a team from great talents does not have this handbook. If you can manage to find the source, then you should focus on building a team culture. By my luck and the hard work from all individuals in Sertifier, we built this great team culture with a young and eager to learn team with great skills.
Who is your target market?
As we have 2 different products here, they differ when it comes to the target market.
For the Sertifier App, who are we trying to reach in small or medium-sized academies. So, we aim to support learning institutions that consist of 2-10 tutors in total. We have been targeting this segment mainly in the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Our customers tend to have ages between 27-45.
For Verified, it is totally different. We have two different segments and again we focus on the same countries- being the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Our targeted users are aged between 18-25 as young generation and people aged between 28-37. What we are looking for in them is the determination to improve themselves with learning and having a dream of a better career.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Up until the third week of January 2021, we never used paid channels. What we chose to go along with was totally organic. We were happy with this but as we are a startup and there is a need to scale the process up, we barely began paid ads.
So, what did we do previously? We used social media for a B2B product and yes it succeeded. No luck but with contingency with our great marketing team, we have this community who follow and like our content on social media. The main magical formula here is to offer your followers the things they will like. Think as one of them and look back at your social media accounts. If you try to push your offers hard into their eyes, it will become something as annoying.
Apart from your social media channels, we used product market platforms such as G2 and Trustradius to promote our services organically. Since our potential customers are going to compare our services and prices with our competitors, it would be great to foresee how you will be located based on your competitors.
Lastly as active marketing steps and again organically, we used Product Hunt and AppSumo to offer our services organically to what everyone calls pioneers. Once you get the heart of your pioneers and enable them to talk good about your product to your friends, it means you are good to go.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Live chat. Simple as that. But hard to maintain.
As I repeatedly stated that we have this great team. The same team does not include customer success or support team. As 13 individuals, we are all customer support. We try to be online 25/8! In times of need, we directly answer the needs of our customers. Since they are our greatest priority, we do what is needed.
I see no need to repeat the importance of retention and the cost of it. It is an obvious fact and nothing to discuss. If you believe you developed the greatest product to solve the problems of your customers, it means we cannot leave you. Right?
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Feedback and peer analysis are our main priorities. When we welcome a new team member to our team, these are the top three rules -and yes those are rules- that should never be forgotten:
You will always be transparent, doesn’t matter the topic.
No place for passive-aggressiveness. Say whatever you feel right.
Leave, the day you will you are not adding new things to yourself more than the company.
Those are the top 3 morale goals of Sertifier. Always develop and always look forward. If you do your business, it is no problem to see that you woke in the middle of the day. If your community gives feedback, then you will become a great fit. I mean at the end of the day, your teammates are the only people who are included in your life’s first circle other than your blood relatives.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We love to try new tools in Sertifier. As a technology firm, it feels refreshing to get to know a better service for our needs. Since all the integration parts are onto the development team, please do not share that part with them.
As being a startup like us and as they offered a lifetime deal previously, we use Gist as our CRM. To hold meetings and communicate within groups, we use the Microsoft Teams application. Trello is still the greatest application for us to track our to-do lists. Even our public roadmap is located there.Lastly, especially during these times Discord came to our help. Being connected all the time and listening to the same music constantly, let us feel a bit closer nowadays.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Experience and network are two things that are more important than money. As a humble suggestion from this young founder, instead of focusing on money, focus on the experience.
Can you buy things with experience? Yes! You can even sell at higher rates. Jokes aside, if I could’ve started the journey from day one, I would’ve always focused on the network. The moment I realized this fact, I started to collect more people than money.
Last but not least the co-founders and team… it is kind of a traditional saying that business partnerships are like marriages. This statement is 100% true. Without thinking about the future of your marriage, it will fail at some point eventually. You have been clear and honest about your expectations. Once you feel that you are fulfilled about your engagement, the road ahead is clear.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Every day I ask the same question to myself: why? I am not trying to turn this statement into a movie quote, actually, I ask this question to myself every time. Every time I get the same answer, I love to do this job. What is so loveable about it?
I solve problems for institutions and individuals. Problems of actual humans. I use technology with this great team of ours. We dream of the future which we design. At every step, we take a look back and appreciate how far we have come along. And after, we do that we do not stop. There is a long journey ahead and since we believe in ourselves and every achievement is proof of our capability, we know that we can build that future.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The impact on my relationships. When I began this journey, I knew that I had to make some sacrifices from my family and friends for a time until the work stabilized. The hard truth: it never stabilizes. You will always need to dig deeper and think further. There is no endpoint. Actually, there is, but entrepreneurship makes you forget the phrase from your library “give-up”.
After putting some distance from some of my beloved friends and having to see my family fortnightly, I know all the sacrifices that I made. After making those, the only goal I have in my hands is to make it worth it!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
The Country of White Lilies is the book that has given all the inspiration to me, both businesswise and personally. This book is a recommendation that is given by the founder of our republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to all soldiers of the country. All the details located in the book have sprinkles of the will to revolution. Revolutions do not necessarily destroy.They should scale up the situation and living. Having witness Finland’s journey with all its citizens during the end of the 19th century, I have taken inspiration to disrupt education from its core with the use of technology.
There are a lot of podcasts, blogs that affected me but one of the enjoyable sources is a TV Series called “Silicon Valley”. I definitely suggest it to entrepreneur candidates. All details located in the series are realistic even thinking about these in Turkey.
If you want more suggestions, please follow me on Twitter.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
As our vision is to build a world where every individual is able to promote themselves, we will build the tools to allow them to do so. It is pretty easy with technology.
By using ads or complicated algorithms we could create a world where no one understands anything but pays a lot. No, we build our applications and offer them at affordable prices, even for free. By doing so, we aim to let people, including us, reflect our learning and development on a realistic infrastructure – with honesty and to have dignity.