« Back to articlePrint this article

From Kerala to Turkey: How I Made It

December 11, 2023 13:04 IST

'Everybody thought I was crazy to quit my job and jump into entrepreneurship.'

IMAGE: Thoufeeque Saheer with the award. All photographs: Kind courtesy Thoufeeque Saheer

Becoming an entrepreneur by accident is not uncommon.

Becoming an entrepreneur in India is also not uncommon.

But an Indian becoming an entrepreneur by accident in Turkey does not happen every day.

The story becomes all the more interesting when the entrepreneur wins an award for the Best Ed-Tech start up from Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The entrepreneur is Thoufeeque Saheer and his start up is Archi's Academy.

Thoufeeque Saheer tells's Shobha Warrier about his entrepreneurial journey so far, and the dreams he has for his start up.

IMAGE: Thoufeeque Saheer with his family.

From India to the US to Turkey

I was a software development manager for a software company in the US when I met my wife, an academic who is Turkish.

Five years ago, after the birth of my son Arman, we moved to Eskisehir in Turkey. As both of us were working, we needed family support to raise our child.

Becoming an entrepreneur by accident

Though Eskisehir is a university town, I felt a bit isolated because of the language barrier. Not many people spoke English in Turkey.

As I was working from home for the same US company, I didn't have the opportunity to go to an office and interact with people.

I was yearning to meet and talk to people. As I had been mentoring people in my company for a long time, I thought starting meet-up groups would make my life livelier.

I met the municipality and asked them whether I could have a free workshop on software development for young people. Like in Kerala, in Turkey too most youngsters understand English but they are hesitant to speak.

The workshop was a huge success, and it got good coverage also locally. It made news because an Indian from the US was conducting a workshop on how to create a software product.

The success of the workshop gave me the idea that there was an opportunity out there to train people.

This was in November 2019.

Then came the pandemic.

But I continued conducting online workshops, mentoring and training people. I realised that those who were attending the workshops were mothers, career switchers and graduate students.

When those who attended our workshop, found jobs soon after, they referred our workshops to their friends. So, initially it was only through such word-of-mouth reference that we got people to attend our workshops.

We didn't have to do any marketing or sales. Moreover, I was still working full time for the US company.

The idea taking shape as a start-up...

By the end of 2020, I started charging people for the workshop. But only a nominal amount.

And we had a new batch of 10 students once every three weeks.

The turnaround was in early 2021 when I applied for an Incubator and Accelerator programme at the Technical University where my wife was teaching statistics.

That was the first time, my idea got a business model. Till then, all that I did was training people on how to build technical products.

At this programme, I got mentoring from some industry leaders and I realised I could scale it up as a business model.

Pillars of strength from the beginning

Interestingly, there are only four Indians here and one of them is Muhammed Aslam from Kerala, a PhD student in finance and business administration at the Anadolu university. He started helping me from the beginning itself by posting about our workshops on various social media platforms.

Today, he is the director of operations in our company.

Another person who has been with me from the beginning was Dr Ece Metin, an academic at the university but now the director of training.

Aslam and Ece have been my pillars of support throughout.

Quitting the job to become an entrepreneur

In June 2021 I decided to quit my job and became a full-time entrepreneur. It was a big decision as I was earning in US dollars. It was not really a good time to quit a well-paying job as my wife was expecting our second child.

But I was juggling two jobs and working 24x7. It was impossible for any human being to sustain this. I felt terribly over-worked.

Everybody thought I was crazy to quit my job and jump into entrepreneurship.

The baby was born premature on the 26th week and had to be on an incubator.

I would say 2022 was the most difficult year of my life. I asked myself many times, why did I do this?

But then I consoled myself saying, because of us, so many people were getting jobs. I had also employed 8 to 10 people then.

IMAGE: Aslam, left, Ece and the others.

Archi's Academy is born

I named my start-up Archi's Academy, after my son Arman and wife, Çiğdem (pronounced as Chidem), and registered it in Turkey.

The only person who whole-heartedly supported me in my decision to quit a well paying job and dive into entrepreneurship was my mentor, Taner Baltacı.

Today he is an advisor to the CEO in my company, and I am the CEO.

Developing own Learning Management System

We realised we needed a proper Learning Management System (LMS) if we wanted to scale up in the future. The question then was, should we build it or buy it?

We decided to build our own LMS because we wanted to give consistency in our training so that the trainees don't drop out.

So, our early days were spent on developing our own LMS. Our developers worked 25,000 hours in the last 18 months to build what is our own LMS.

This is what gives us an edge over the others who train people. You can say, our LMS is our USP.

<pBest Ed-Tech Start-up award at the Turkey Teknofest

The Teknofest happens once a year in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, to showcase mainly its strength in aerospace and technology. This year, it was between August 29 and September 3.

There were ten different categories, and one of which was the Ed-Tech accelerator category.

We also decided to participate not even thinking about winning.

I did my pitch in English in front of the judges and juries consisting of professors from universities and top officials from various techno parks. It so happened that I was the only one who did the presentation in English.

After the 5-minute-long presentation, I had another 5 minutes to answer their questions. I got a lot of good questions, and I was able to answer all of them.

After that, I left Ankara for my hometown. In the evening, I got the message that we had won! And the award ceremony was the next day.

I rushed back, this time with my team and my family.

IMAGE: With Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Receiving the award from Erdogan

When we were going to Ankara, I didn't know it was the president of Turkey who would give away the awards.

In Turkey, it is a huge recognition collecting an award from the president.

It so happened that I was the only person from a different country who won an award that day.

It was widely covered in the media that an Indian from the US built a company in Turkey, employed Turkish people and won an award from the president. It doesn't happen often.

I went to the stage with my son Arman, and when the president saw him, he took out some money (200 liras) and gave to my son! In Turkey, elders always give money as gift to small children.

The advantages of a technical start up in Turkey

The start-up system in Turkey is only in the initial stages, and not as big as in India or the US or the UK. The tech sector is in still at a very nascent stage.

But they are putting in a lot of effort to have more tech companies. As a beginning, they have built more than 90 techno parks all across the country.

The advantage is, if you have an office in a Technopark, you need not pay any tax for a certain number of years.

Our HQ is in the Eskisehir Technopark which we got by 2022 end, and it gives us a lot of tax benefits. We also have an office in the US at the University of Illinois Enterprise Works in Champaign Urbana which takes care of the sales.

Because we are in a techno park, we get invited to various incubator and accelerator programmes within Turkey and also to many Tech-fests around the world.

When we got selected as the best incubator programme in Turkey early 2023, we got selected as one among 12 companies to go to London as a part of the Turkish delegation for the London Tech week.

After the award at the Teknofest, we are invited to go to Azerbaijan, Lisbon, Qatar and Las Vegas.

The whole world is the market

Once we built our Learning Management System, and started marketing it, we found that wherever we went there was great interest in the training we offer.

Today, a majority of our trainees are from Turkey, south India, UAE, the US and the African countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, etc. We have presence in almost 30 plus countries including Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc.

The advantage the trainees from different countries get is that they can communicate among themselves in English.

Now that we have our own LMS, we have started mentoring trainees in full swing. Last month, we had 150 people joining our programme.

Now, we are in a fund-raising stage for half a million dollars.

IMAGE: Team Archi with the award.

<pDream for Archi's Academy

I plan to move back to the US next year so that I can concentrate on the US market. Muhammed Aslam will go to Dubai.

Because I have lived in the US for many years, I know that the black and the Hispanic communities are far behind in getting good education. Naturally, good jobs in the technical sector elude them.

At the same time, so many tech companies need people at the entry level. It is a struggle for the companies to find professional junior developers.

And my focus is to build such professional beginners who can do any task given to them. This is the way I can fill the gap.

I focus on mothers too as I want to bring them back to the work force so that they can be empowered. I can proudly say the biggest success stories of Archi's Academy are mothers who got their jobs after 7 to 10 years of career break.

I am sure there has to be an alternate solution so that all these people are also part of the economic growth.

I want to concentrate on them, not as a business opportunity, but as a mission in my life.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/