It’s hard enough to start your own business. Now, try to do it in a foreign country in a foreign language and…succeed! Meet Serkan Toso, a One Young World Ambassador from the 2013 global summit in Johannesburg, South Africa who has since planted roots here in Japan.
Serkan attributes much of his entrepreneurial spirit to his experience at the One Young World global summit in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013. It was there that he discovered his mission of building his own business that could also contribute to the well-being of others. With a strong network of new friends and colleagues, he headed back to Turkey to get started.
Back in Turkey, and riding the momentum from One Young World’s summit in South Africa, Serkan sought out larger opportunities and began working in digital marketing for Turkcell, the largest telecom in Turkey. He liked the digital field so much that he decided to pursue a masters degree in it. After some considerable research into available programs around the world, he found the International University of Japan in Niigata and decided to apply for their e-business management program. Even though Serkan was accepted to the program, he realized that the cost of the program and the move to Japan might be beyond his means. He needed a solution and he needed it fast.Serkan managed to find the Turkish Education Foundation (TEV) and attended an event to learn more about their offering. Unfortunately for him, the scholarship offered by TEV was only about $1000, not nearly enough to attend IUJ. Fortunately, though, the Chairman of TEV, Mr. Ömer Koç was also at the event that night. Everyone who lives in Turkey knows who the Koç family is. The most respected family in Turkey, they are the owners of Koç Holdings, Beko (former sponsor of Barcelona FC), and a number of other companies in Turkey. Serkan decided he had nothing to lose and appealed directly to Mr. Koç for assistance. Mr. Koç gave Serkan his email address and said that he would see what he could do. Hopes high, Serkan sent an email that night after the event and the next day…the money was in the bank! He was on his way to Japan!
After arriving in Japan, Serkan found himself in quite a new world. Tucked away in the countryside of Niigata, he was surprised to find a campus that seemed to emerge out of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields and the nearest supermarket or convenience store a considerable distance away. He began his one-year masters course in an entirely English-language environment surrounded by mostly foreign students and very few Japanese students, despite it being a Japanese university.
Serkan completed his masters degree, graduating with honors, and was quickly headhunted by an e-commerce company. It was here where is new idea was born.
While at IUJ, Serkan had come up with an idea focusing on tourists traveling with food culture as their primary purpose for travel. The first iteration of the idea was born from the idea of offering cooking classes at restaurants during their downtime. Serkan approached many restaurants in Tokyo with the idea but they all rejected it for the simple reason that the restaurants are constantly preparing for lunch and dinner rushes. So, it was back to the drawing board.
A chance encounter with a Filipina business woman set in motion the creation of what would become byFood.com. The business, which now focuses on offering unique gourmet experiences in Japan, has become a big hit with both domestic and foreign tourists. Japan boasts some of the best food experiences in the world and Serkan is committed to finding and sharing them all! If that weren’t enough, each experience sold also includes a donation to a non-profit organization.
The Food For Happiness program (https://www.byfood.com/ffh) is one way that Serkan says One Young World influenced him. “By giving people with modest to considerable means a unique gourmet experience here in Japan, we are also able to provide quality food and water to those who are not so fortunate.” FFH, to date, has raised over 7,000,000 yen for non-profits and continues to look for new and innovative ways to contribute to society. Serkan is optimistic that with additional VC funding, the business will grow to encompass even more unique experiences.