Exclusive Catch-up with Turkish Investor Dr. Victoria Van Zhong
You are an American businesswoman with a doctorate who has chosen to make Turgutreis on the Bodrum peninsula your permanent home. What made you decide to move to Turkey, and why did you choose Turkey over other countries?
A few years ago, I noticed that large corporations were starting to recognize Istanbul as the next Silicon Valley. I did my own research and found that there were more than 20 million people in Istanbul, 60 percent was under the age of 30 and almost all, avid mobile phone users. This is the population of people who understand technology and are able to quickly test, approve, or disapprove of new technology. I felt inclined to at least visit the city and further investigate its landscape and potential for technical innovation, and to finally satisfy my fascination with Turkish culture and food.
What is your line of business?
I founded Cypromus, a new line of artificial intelligent yacht security products in Seattle. It was initially a revolutionary intelligent home security company – a first of its kind. It’s definitely not the same as the smart home concept but more specifically, an intelligent operating system. I was looking to create a niche and take my company into a new direction.
Tell us about your product’s development, from inception to market.
Instead of just luxury homes, I wanted to expand focus onto luxury yachts. Quoting strategy.com, the Eastern Mediterranean global luxury yacht industry is projected to reach $74.4 billion by 2022, driven by rising interest in luxury cruising among high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals particularly in developing regions of Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
The market is richly benefiting from the growing trend towards marine tourism and water-based sports and leisure activity. Super yachts are projected to witness strong demand. Manufacturers are focusing on luxury features, and that’s where Cypromus comes in. My product fits well into this line of luxury yachts and the new demand for futuristic but thoughtful technology that is compatible with luxury yachts and cruiser yachts.
Turkey is a great place to start developing my product because there are hundreds of ports and marinas with thousands of luxury yacht owners and crew waiting for new and innovative technology and products to improve and enhance their daily lives and protect their assets and crew. The business environment in Turkey is more relaxed than in the USA and many countries. The government welcome new business ideas and encourage female entrepreneurs to start new businesses. So it has been a very supportive environment.
Statistically, and according to the UK’s publication ”Overseas Business Risk,” Turkey has the following very favorable conditions:
- Turkey is the world’s 18th largest economy (and Europe’s 6th). It aims to be in the world’s top 10 by 2023.
- Turkey has the youngest and fastest growing population in Europe (700,000 graduates per year).
- Istanbul’s economy alone is larger than the collective economies of 12 EU countries.
- Turkey has the world’s second largest contracting sector, after China.
The most challenging part of starting here in Turkey is understanding the business law and tax system. I got around this by putting together a great team consisting of an accountant, a legal adviser, a community liaison (the person that everyone calls the local informal mayor – get to know that person), and industry experts. At the same time, I maintained a great team of experts in the USA. It’s important to get the right assistance because being CEO is already a difficult and challenging job so I let the experts do their jobs. Being CEO does not mean I should also be my own accountant and attorney. I have certainly learned how to delegate.
How and why did you focus upon Bodrum?
I made a few visits to Istanbul and other potential tech hubs around the world. I was entranced
by how Istanbul was so technologically advanced and connected. I was also further drawn to the people and culture. I continued to visit Istanbul, and I discovered beautiful Bodrum, a resort and port town surrounded by the Aegean Sea. The Bodrum peninsula boasted myriad sea ports with thousands of yachts and super/mega yachts. Additionally, it was less than an hour by plane from Istanbul. I was drawn to Bodrum personally and professionally.
When you arrived in Turkey permanently, your child was 5 years old. What challenges did you both face with integrating into Turkish culture?
I intuitively knew that Bodrum was the perfect place for a single parent to raise a child. The first 6 months were tough for Lizzie. She missed family and friends back in Seattle. She also missed a lot of the Asian American cuisine and places that we used to frequent. After she enrolled at TED School, she adapted quickly and learned to speak Turkish very well. She is now fluent and has developed great relationships with children and adults in our circle. We are fortunate to have met some very beautiful and open-minded Turkish friends here, as well as English-speaking friends. People see her as a Turkish girl now. It’s quite endearing how quickly she integrated into Bodrum life.
What has adapting to life in Turkey been like for you?
The most difficult part of integrating for me has been due to the language barrier. I believe that proper Turkish is one of the most difficult languages to speak and write. Fortunately, I am surrounded by English-speaking staff and friends who translate for me, and online tools help immensely. I will also enroll in a Turkish course this year.
Did you rent or buy your property on the Bodrum peninsula?
I initially rented, as I wanted to decide on where along the peninsula to settle long term after studying my family’s lifestyle. I’m planning to purchase a home here in Bodrum in the next year.
What do you miss most about the USA?
Sometimes I miss real American food and diverse ethnic food choices. But then again, Bodrum has great Chinese restaurants, ethnic food ingredients at many supermarkets, and decent shopping. I love to cook, and have really enjoyed creating Asian-Turkish fusion meals. If I really get homesick for Nordstrom’s, Manhattan is just a plane ride away.
What has been the biggest pleasant surprise about living in Turkey that you did not anticipate?
I was pleasantly surprised by how similar Turkish people are to Midwesterners back in America. Everyone is more relaxed and super friendly than on the East or West Coasts. They love to get together and have a good time – just like back in Chicago where I am from. More interestingly though is that Turkish family tradition and culture is very reminiscent of Asian tradition and culture. I am of Vietnamese ancestry and I feel comfortable and at ease here in Turkey. Lizzie and I are lucky to have found a very supportive and loving extended Turkish family here in Bodrum.
What’s been the most difficult challenge?
Learning the language as an adult is quite challenging. I think Turkish is a very complex language. It is closely related to Mongolian, Manchu-Tungus, Korean, and distantly, Japanese. Turkish is a very ancient language going back 5500 to 8500 years. It has a phonetic, morphological and syntactic structure, and at the same time it possesses a rich vocabulary.
How has the Turkish language challenge impacted your business product?
Great question. While trying to learn the vernacular phrases and everyday basics, I also incorporated the language into my Cypromus security system (Cyp). My engineering team successfully built the first-ever offline Turkish language database and are poised to start our line of artificial intelligent products. My goal is to have Turkish-speakers speak to the Cyp system, and have it respond to the voice command in Turkish and English. By creating the first-ever offline Turkish language database, I hope to show the tech industry that my company is ready to corner the luxury yacht artificial intelligent security system business.
What resources did you use when researching where to locate your company and family?
When I was doing research about Bodrum to see if it was a good fit for me as a single-parent, I found many online resource that led me to Bodrum English-speaking residents. When I finally arrived to Bodrum in the winter of 2016, I met these folk and learned a great deal about Bodrum and Turkey. The rest is history.
What are some of the resources that you used when settling in Turkey?
I am an active member of Internations which provides a great social and business platform bringing together expats and local Turkish citizens. I also utilized the local newsletter Bodrum Echo Community, as well as the many local facebook groups for ex-pats, whether it was items for sale, social activities, holiday events, or cooking groups.
What advice would you have for a family contemplating a permanent move to Turkey?
Turkey is a beautiful country but it is not for those who are not serious about becoming a permanent resident. You should learn in advance the culture, language, and history before coming to Turkey. Each region is different but people are very connected and cultures comming from one region to the next. It is important to pick a place, like Bodrum, commit to it, get to know the area, and then integrate into the community. Get to know the English-speaking community in your new city prior to coming to Turkey. Do ample of research about schools for your children, shopping options, food options, and living expenses so there are no surprises.