This article was published on 27 July 2014
Did you know that a pelican can scoop up to 13 litres of water using its beak like a built-in fishing net?
A small fact, yes, but one that led to big things for a young Wellington entrepreneur. Reading about pelicans at Wellington Zoo – and wanting to know more – sparked an idea that would balloon into a phenomenal success story for Ezel Kokcu and her friend-turned-business partner, Chris Smith.
Within six weeks of late-night brainstorming with tech-savvy friends, Ezel (then 19) and Chris secured a four-year contract with Wellington Zoo for STQRY (pronounced story), a mobile app that helps organisations engage with their visitors by telling their stories.
A great example of the right people having the right idea at the right time, STQRY has been a hit with museums, galleries and zoos, both locally and overseas. Two years down the track, STQRY has never been turned down by an organisation it has pitched to. Ezel and Chris have over 250 clients, including Auckland Museum, Wellington Zoo, the Seattle Art Museum and the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco, and oversee a staff of 19.
Not bad for someone who had no idea what she wanted to do when she left school. “All I knew was I wanted to be big, a game changer,” remembers Ezel, now 21. “That has been my goal ever since I was 15, but I didn’t know how to get there.”
Reflecting that lack of direction, Ezel’s subjects were “all over the place” at school – chemistry, sewing and graphics sat alongside English, classical studies and maths. Although she and her parents (who both have university degrees) expected she’d go to university at some stage, Ezel opted for a gap year at the end of Year 13. The day after her final exam at Nelson College for Girls, she headed to Wellington where she worked in retail for several months before spending three months teaching English to children in Turkey.
“That was an amazing experience,” she says. “It allowed me to grow so much.”
Arriving back in Wellington, and still unsure of which path to take, Ezel enrolled in Computer Science at Victoria University, co-founding STQRY while she was there. For a few months, she juggled books and business until deciding to dedicate herself 100 per cent to STQRY, a decision she’s never regretted.
“I want to be a serial entrepreneur – it’s so much fun! I wake up every morning at 5 am and am up and ready to go.”
Ezel has lots of great advice for budding entrepreneurs. “Do a five-year plan and really think about what you want. If you want to be up on billboards and on the covers of magazines, think of an idea that will get you there. Think as big and as grand as you want.
“If you’re wanting to start a business and grow something, just start! Have confidence in your idea, understand your surroundings and do your research. It never hurts to send an email to someone and meet them for a coffee.
“Don’t think it’s easy though. You might need an amazing business partner, the right support systems and the right team around you to get an idea off the ground. But, if you’re doing something you’re passionate about, all the hardships, all the speed bumps and roadblocks won’t matter.”
And, even if your idea doesn’t succeed, Ezel believes you have nothing to lose, but everything to gain. “If STQRY disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter. I’ve learnt so much, and gained so much knowledge and experience.
“The hardest thing to do is start.”
This story originally appeared in Leaving school 27 July 2014.