Tugce Bulut

Keep moving

Queens of Tech Podcast

60+ questions with female tech influencers about their journey into STEM

#14

Tech Queen

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Tugce Bulut - Founder & CEO - Streetbees-Queens of Tech

Tugce Bulut

Founder & CEO

Streetbees -the world’s first human intelligence platform.

Tugce Bulut is the CEO and founder of Streetbees, a London-based global intelligence platform founded in 2015 that allows customers to gather data and insights on how people behave, and why, by analysing real-life moments collected from its worldwide users and communities around the world. Streetbees is rapidly emerging as an innovative pioneer in helping organisations better understand consumer behaviour. The application of machine learning and natural language processing to consumer data is providing new and more accurate insights than is possible from traditional surveys and methodologies.

Tugce is passionate about the power of data and the positive change it can bring to the world. She is a published author and Master’s graduate from the University of Cambridge, specialising in poverty alleviation and global living standards. Before founding Streetbees, she spent six years as a strategy consultant advising technology and consumer companies on how to accelerate growth in international markets.

Over 3.5m users, or ‘bees’, across 189 countries worldwide use the chat-style Streetbees app to share moments from their daily lives via videos, photos and text, giving as much or as little information as they like. Streetbees is backed by some of the planet’s most renowned investors and entrepreneurs and in October 2020 closed a £30m Series B round led by Lakestar, to accelerate the development of the world’s first human intelligence platform.

Full transcription

In this episode, I’m very excited to welcome my guest, Tech Queen Tugce Bulut founder and CEO of Streetbees.

How are you?
I’m just flew in from LA back to London, so a little bit jet-lagged.

Now let us dive into your journey into tech. Hope you’re ready for the Queens of Tech’s 60-plus questions.
I’m ready.


***FUN FACTS ***

1. How would you describe your personality in three hashtags?
I would say #energetic, #curious,#doer.
2. How would you describe your life in three sentences?
My life is full of meeting very interesting and exciting people, which I feel very lucky about. And also have the luxury of being curious, asking new questions, finding new ways of doing things. I did other jobs in the past, and I think this is like one big difference of being a founder, that you can keep that curiosity. Live all the time.
3. What kind of music stimulates and motivates you the most?
Oh, it’s a whole range. I love anything from K-pop to classic. It totally depends at the moment,
4. What’s your personal motto?
“Just do it”.
5. What is your favorite book?
That also changes a lot depending on what I’m reading. Cause there’s lot to discover. There’s a new one, I’m actually listening called “Dare to Lead”. It’s one of my favorites at the moment.
6. What is your favorite podcast?
I really like Esther Perel podcasts about embracing your sexuality.
7. Mac or PC?
Absolutely, Mac!
8. Say something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
I actually have ADHD, which most people wouldn’t guess if they’ve known me. there are very different types of ADHD, so I have a hyper-focused one.
9. What is your hidden talent?
Being fearless. I think there’s nothing that would actually stop me from doing something that I want to do.
10. If you were going to write a book about your life what would the title be?
Keep moving.

***CHILDHOOD***

11. Where did you grow up?
Istanbul in Turkey.
12. What was your dream job as a child?
I always wanted to be the president of United States, but I didn’t know being born in Turkey meant that I couldn’t be the president of United States.
13. What was your favorite subject in school?
Literature.
14. What was your least favorite subject?
Chemistry. Never got my head around it.
15. What would you say is your earliest memory of technology and the arrival of the internet?
Oh my God. Growing up in developing country, we had dial-up. That sounds like trying to catch a line. I never forget that.
16. Which were then the three first technology gadgets you owned
Probably a PC computer at home and a few years later, a mobile phone. We also had this translator thing like a palm thing that you could translate languages. We used to love that.
17. Who was your female role model and why?
This is interesting one because I found role models, not necessarily in like celebrities or valuable people, but I remember meeting someone in India. A girl who had actually a traffic accident, a bit like Frida Kahlo, and she was never able to leave bed again. Her enthusiasm for life, her like stamina and actually still having the joy for life. Was absolutely. She has become one of my key role models growing up.
18. How do you think where you grew up and the school you went to and the generation you come from influence your education and career choice?
We can’t talk about that for three hours, it forms who you are, right? I grew up in a developing country in a state school being millennial. For us, choice was always about doing the right thing and personal wants and desires were very much sacrificed if necessary, and I can see that has now generationally significantly changed.


***CAREER PATH***

19. What did you study at university?
I studied political science, which has nothing to do with what I do today, but remember I was wanting to be the president, so that made sense at the time.
20. Who and what influenced you to get into your chosen field?
I wanted always to go into politics upon until maybe age of 25, that was always my goal, and then I changed direction into technology.
21. What professional roles have you had before that led you to the current one?
I worked since I was 18. From hosting restaurants, librarian and babysitting. Most recently I was a strategy consultant for eight years, just before I started Steetbees.
22. What does your company do, and what is your title?
Steetbees is a deep tech business that connects the largest brands with the  people on the ground to be able to better understand their lives. And I’m the founder and the CEO.
23. Why did you start the company, and what are your main responsibilities?
I started the company cause having worked as a consultant for eight years, it was clear to me that we need to better connect the world’s largest consumer businesses with what people, whose lives they are touching every day and what they want. I wanted to create a technology platform that’s basically connect two sides of the equation together seamlessly. And my main responsibility as a founder, you do everything. I remember from waiting in the canteen of one of our big customers to be able to get a meeting in early stage to today, running strategy meetings and setting the company’s goals and KPIs. It changed a lot.
24.What does a typical work day look like for you?
There is more such thing as a typical day. On Mondays and Thursdays, I do all my internal meetings, so these are recurring meetings, team catch ups, KPI catch ups. The other three days are very varied. I might be on site with clients, I might be investor meetings or I might be just taking the day just to think.
25. What do you love about your job?
It’s really seeing other people achieving their goals is the most motivating part for me.
26. What is the best experience you’ve had in your role so far?
We hired people with high potential from a lot of different countries, including like India, Indonesia, countries in Africa,
27. What is the biggest challenge, you have encountered so far, and how did you tackle it?
The same way the part you love is people, the part that’s most challenging is also people. Absolutely the biggest challenge is you get humbled every day that everyone is so different and as a leader, you have to keep learning every day how to work best with different people.
28. What do you wish everybody understood about your role?
Oh, that’s a deep question. I think the one big challenge is when you are pressed for time, that makes you short and  that’s not because you don’t care about the person or what’s being discussed. I wish everyone understood the demand on our time coming from all directions and not take it personal.
29. What is one of the common myths about your professional field that you want to disprove that everybody?
People think being the CEO or founder is you make a whole lot of decisions and people report to you and this is how we work. It’s so not true. You are basically enabling a lot of other people to make a lot of decisions every day and then more like an orchestrator, you coordinate their work, which is, I think, quite different to the common understanding of what the role.
30. What do you love about working in the tech industry?
The sky is the limit. That’s the answer, There is nothing that can’t be done with technology, and that really excites me.
31. What has by far been your biggest achievement in your career?
Think the technical side of this, I  don’t wanna bore everyone with technical details, but we manage to build a knowledge graph technology, which can detect where people’s desires are and decode their behavior without using any human brain power. And I think that’s single handedly the biggest achievement we got in the last eight years.
32. What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful? Any success habits?
Listening. I would say I’m a very intense listener and I don’t always come across that way because I also love talking about things I’m passionate about. But actually, even when I don’t look like I’m listening and I think that taught me so much to be able to build the business.
33. How do you measure your own performance at work?
There are objective metrics. We look at companies grow, trade and revenue growth. We look the runway a bit, the profitability, etc. These are very straightforward, but I also look at my team’s satisfaction. If my team is happy and they are coming to work and wanna be there, to me that’s the most important performance metric for a CEO.
34. What is your biggest failure in your career, and what did you learn from it?
There have been times in the past where although we were doing really great growth wise, the company was growing 200% year on year. It wasn’t a happy place because we were all the time stressed and trying to catch up with the growth pains and that’s definitely something I learned a lot from in terms of how you actually still maintain a happy workforce while you’re actually experiencing that kind of growth.
35. What is inspiring and motivating you the most in your role and career right now?
Able to change. I feel every year as growing business, what role expects from you is different and that’s very motivating.

***MENTORSHIP AND ROLE MODELS**

36. Do you have a mentor today?
Not an official one, but there are four or five people I go to for advice.
37. Who is the female role model you look up to in your field?
I actually can’t think of one right now.
38. How important do you think it is to have a role model mentor during one’s career?
I have never been one for the role models. I think people get demystified in your eyes over time, but mentor absolutely is very important because there will be times that leadership can be very lonely and you need to have people in your support network.
39. What does leadership mean to you?
It’s enabling people to achieve their dreams.
40. What do you consider a good versus a bad leader?
Someone only who focuses on their own dream versus someone who makes space for other people’s dreams.
41. Who would you say is your favorite female tech leader?
Sophie Adelman, she’s an amazing tech leader. She built this apprenticeship business called Multiverse, and now she’s building another one called The Garden, and she brings a very female approach to leadership. Which is not only about growth, but also about the factors. We talked about compassion and building a hip environment. And I think she’s finding a really good balance there.
42. How would you describe yourself as a leader?
It’s a very difficult question you should probably ask my team. I would describe myself as someone thoughtful and decisive.
43. What values are most important for you as a leader?
That’s a very good question. One of them is to share. I don’t believe in competition. We don’t compete with each other and we are creating something great. We encourage everyone in our team to share their experience and their learnings. And another one is to dare, we have to keep trying new things that are never done.
44.What leadership lessons have you learned that have formed you into the leader you are today?
That you need to keep listening. You should always be the last one to talk in any meeting. If I’m doing more than 10% of the talking, that’s not good.
45. What would you say are your three strengths and three weaknesses?
My key strengths, I would say that I can make decisions in uncertainty. And I can communicate them with a lot of faith so that we can make it happen. Like you were saying earlier, you make the feature, you create the feature. On the flip side, the same thing is also a weakness at times because I would always prioritize moving at pace over doing detailed analysis, and sometimes that can be a hindrance.


***DIVERSITY, EQUALITY, INCLUSION & BELONGING***

46. What do diversity, equality, and inclusion mean to you personally?
For me, that’s a very important topic, very close to my heart, and what it means is we get to be who we are. No matter where we are, we shouldn’t need to leave  our characters at the door when we are entering the workplace.
47. What do you consider to be three to five signs of good company culture if you were to join a company?
It’s simple. The first thing is, do I get to feel comfortable as who I am so I can be myself? I don’t need to change how I dress, how I talk to be able to fit in. And the second one is, am I allowed to think question things, do things differently?
48. As a woman, what has been the most significant barrier in your career, and how have you overcome these challenges?
I don’t think as a woman you encounter necessarily challenges that are unique to you. There are a lot of underprivileged groups, right? Depending on not being a native English speaker, not being Christian or not being a computer scientist, your color, etc. So are a lot of ways I think you fall into that underdog group and, it’s not necessarily a barrier, but you need to be more picky in terms of who you choose to work with. If you’re in the mainstream group, your options are larger. It’s as simple as that. You can, for example, if you’re choosing an investor, you get to choose from a pool of hundreds. Whereas if you are coming from a different background, your pool drops to. So you gotta try a little bit harder to make sure one of that converts.
49. Why do you think it is important for more women to join the tech industry, especially as leaders?
Because of diversity in thinking . Our brains work differently. Again, it’s not just about woman, but different characters bring different ways of looking at things.
50. Do you, and how do you speak with your female colleagues and male colleagues about diversity quality and inclusion challenges, especially salary gaps?
Very openly. This is a very hot topic for us. We do constant measurements on salary gaps. For example, we discovered that although there is no salary gap in the same role, we do have more senior men than woman in tech. And that’s still a problem for us that we are actively working on to be able to change.
51. There are many public and internal discussions about the barriers women face from reaching higher positions in the tech industry. How do you feel it has affected and is affecting you, and what is your advice on how to best unlock these roadblocks
If you don’t like to place, you are in, there’s a really good saying, move. We are not a tree. So that would be my advice to people that I worked in a company where I learned a lot, but there were also definitely some ceilings. I started my own business instead, we don’t have those ceilings at all.
52. As the tech industry finds it hard to attract and retain women what is your best advice on strategies for how companies can work to build a stronger corporate culture that engages gender diversity? 
I think if we adopt simply a policy where we let people be. And be flexible around that, then it’s not that hard to attract and retain woman or any other groups. It also applies, for example, to a father who wants to take a paternity leave or wanna be a hands on father. It’s not really a gendered thing, but if we let people just organize their own lives around work, then that works.
53. What would you say then are the few challenges and possibilities of implementing diversity, equality, and inclusion in a workplace?
Most of them are just not genuine. You see all these organizations appointing a DEI leader and that’s it. That’s the title, that’s the rule. But do they actually mean it in their day to day operations, that’s usually their challenge.
54. Why and how do you think companies would benefit from having workplace gender diversity especially better gender representation at C-level?
It’s the diversity of thoughts in decision making. That’s the most important thing.
55. How much do you think the tech industry has changed regarding this subject since you joined?
Massively in a positive way. 15 years ago when I started working as a strategy consultant, we were still asked to wear high heels team meeting. And like today, you can’t just do that. We came a long way. Absolutely. It’s slow, but it’s going in the right direction.
56. Looking back on your own career what one thing would you have changed in your working environment to break the bias?
When we look at people, if we stop seeing color, gender, ethnicity, but we just see the person, I think that’s the best way to be able to break that bias.
57. Looking forward what will you do as a leader to improve the bias for the next generation of women in tech?
We, for example, do CV reviews that are blind. We don’t know if the person is what age, what gender. We don’t even show their names, so you can’t guess their gender. And you just basically call people to the first entire without even knowing their background, which really helps.

**MENTAL HEALTH AND WORKPLACE BALANCE***

58. I’m sure without a doubt you have a busy lifestyle, so how do you take care of yourself to maintain good mental health?
It’s super important. Sports really helped me. I was mentioning I was in LA for work and on a Sunday morning when I got a few hours, I just meant for surfing and I go for a quick run when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. I find that exercise really gets me grounded.
59. Have you ever experienced burnout?
Multiple times. The first time was very bad because I didn’t even notice what was going on. But that was the first experience. Unfortunately, I had it again, but this time I knew it I saw it coming, and it was a little bit easier to start slowing down, take time off. But one thing I would leave everyone with as I thought is.
Being tired or exhausted is not burnout. If you do experience a real burnout, it takes six months to a year to recover from it. So you should do anything in your power to avoid getting there, because recovery is actually really painful.
60. What motivates you every day to get out of bed?
To make a change.
61. What is your advice on how companies can create a more mentally healthy workplace in the new now?
Make it mandate to talk about it even in our, like weekly all hands with the company. We encourage people to think about their experiences with their therapists or any mental health challenges they are facing, and that makes the topic no longer at taboo.


**WORDS OF WISDOM***


62. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given that has helped you during setbacks in your role and career?
One thing really helped me is as a founder, you juggled a lot of balls like customers, team office investors, and someone who is very experienced had told me that, Tugce, all those balls are rubbish. So they would bounce back if you drop down. So don’t sweat too much. You’ll make mistakes, but the balls will bounce back. There’s only one ball that you are juggling, which is a crystal ball, and it would get smashed into pieces if you drop it. And that’s cash. And I thought that was fantastic advice. As a founder wanting you can’t take your eye off is cash.
63. What is the worst advice you have ever been given, and how did you tackle that?
This is a really interesting one. Very early on I was advised by a few founder friends that I should keep control of the business no matter what, and that caused a lot of tension [00:21:00] between myself and the investors very early on. And I’m glad that very quickly I realized actually that’s not how you build a great business. You should allow other peoples to also have control. Initially it took me a while to realize that.
64. Is there something you wish you would have known or a skill you wish you had when starting out in the tech industry
Probably one best thing is to really rely on your people, to bring in other great people, rather than spending a lot of time on recruitment, dealing with agencies, asking your own people to recommend someone that makes all the difference.
65. If you have the ability to go back in time when you were just the beginning of your career what advice would you give to your younger self
Have more fun. was a lot of pain. It was a lot of hard work I would tell myself, just makes more time for fun.
66. What advice would you give to young girls and women, wanting and trying to break into STEM fields today?
I would advise them to reach out tech companies leaders with very personal emails and asking for an apprenticeship. [00:22:00] Most of us very open to that. If someone writes to me that, oh, I’m trying to get into technology, I would love to come and do like an internship in your company. We would be, our doors will be wide open and that would give them a lot of new ways of getting into the phase.
67. What is next for you in your role and career in tech what are your career aspirations?
It’s a full circle around. I haven’t given up on politics, so I still probably have a few more years in tech, but eventually I would love to get back rolled off politics and hopefully have a chance to give back to the society that allowed me to create everything we have today.