When Opportunity Knocks: An Interview with Ezel Kokcu

14 September 2017

It’s hard to believe just how much Ezel Kokcu has achieved in six short years. As an 18 year old, she finished school unsure of just what she wanted to do. Now this enterprising 24 year old is about to launch her third business, having realised outstanding success in her first two start-ups.


Ezel Kokcu

“I left High School feeling really lost, not knowing what I wanted to do. I ended up taking a gap year, moving away from the city I grew up in and getting straight to work. Turns out nobody really wanted to hire an 18 year old so I went months without work which was really tough but in the long run, it helped me to deal with rejection,” says Ezel.

It was during this gap year that the initial seed was planted for her first business, STQRY.

“That year I also went to Turkey and while there, I came across clunky audio guides in various languages that had been executed so poorly, but were still being charged an arm and a leg for.”

Upon her return to New Zealand, Ezel began studying at Victoria University Wellington towards a degree in Computer Science. It was there that she met her STQRY co-founder and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Smack bang in the middle of my first semester, we had come up with a business plan, found a launch partner, and successfully raised money to grow STQRY.”

STQRY was started in 2013 as a storytelling app for museums across the world to share their stories and market the app as their own. Acquiring their own custom app was unlikely due to available time and money resources. Ezel wanted STQRY to be a global business from Day One and she worked hard to achieve that goal. She discovered that the biggest pros and cons of starting your own business revolved around the same area: relationships.

“The biggest pro for me was building long lasting, personal relationships with my customers that I will always cherish. The biggest con was having to justify my passion and knowledge to people in our organisation and outside that. Yes, I may be young; yes, I may not have the experience they had as board members but I did have the drive and persistence to grow my company and that never changed.”

I didn’t know what sacrifice was or what taking real risks were, until you really have nothing to lose so you end up putting everything into it. I don't know what really helped me prepare for that journey but what I learned, I couldn’t have learned in any other way. It was truly taking the fast track and jumping off a cliff straight into life,” she says.

STQRY realised tremendous success. In 2015, the organisation raised $5.5m from US-based venture capital company to grow the business, expand into new markets and develop its new ticketing programme.

In 2016, Ezel left STQRY to establish another start-up, Non Stop Tix, a ticketing platform for venues and gigs. She sold this business in the same year and in October 2016, kick-started her third business, Passphere, a bespoke ticketing management and analytics system where the client takes control. She’s hugely excited about its upcoming launch in October 2017.

“It’s truly my baby and I have the greatest team backing it. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted to create all in one platform for event organisers,” she says.

Ezel was a recipient of the inaugural Minister for Youth’s International Leadership Award in 2016. She credits her experience as part of a Ministerial delegation that travelled to China with giving her the motivation to develop Passphere.

“Receiving the Minister for Youth’s International Leadership Award couldn't have come at a better time for me; words don’t do it justice. I had just gone through major changes in my life, having been working 80 hours a week on companies that I had put everything into. Now having all this free time after selling Non Stop Tix (I think they call that having a break, wouldn’t know what one is), I found myself not knowing what to do with my time.”

“Visiting China, having the opportunity to meet other like-minded young people, and being inspired by everyone I met on the trip, gave me the fire I needed to start Passphere. I was hugely motivated and it will always be such a pivotal time in my life. I’m greatly appreciative of everyone that was not only on the trip but for also giving me the sense of purpose again,” she says.

Ezel is a huge believer of embracing any opportunities that come your way and is always looking for ways that she can improve:

“Being so young and starting STQRY, taught me if I didn’t know something, I was the only one standing in my way to figure it out. Name the course, name the book and I’ve taken it or read it.”

She has this advice for young people thinking about launching their own enterprises:

“Just have perseverance. There are always a million things that can, and will, go wrong, but you just need one thing to go right until you find your groove. Nothing will be handed to you and you better be motivated and not give up. Know when to really buckle down and be amazing at one skill and know when to start looking. Never undervalue your worth because once you start, others will too.”

Sounds like advice well worth listening to.