Spotlight: Hayal Koc 03C on the Future of Work

Hayal Koc 03C, co-owner of Expertera, discusses the Gig Economy and its impact on the workforce. Companies now access top talent and expertise solutions on a flexible, on-demand basis.

By Hayal Koc 03C
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Name: Hayal Koc

Profession: Partner & VP of Sales and Business Development, Expertera

EmoryWire enjoys a conversation with international entrepreneur Hayal Koc 03C.

EmoryWire: Describe your current position and one major lesson you have learned since assuming the role of Partner & VP of Sales and Business Development.

Koc: I’m co-owner of a start-up called Expertera, where I manage Sales, Marketing and Business Development. Expertera is a curated on-demand talent platform where companies can access top talent and expertise solutions on a flexible, on-demand basis. Companies of all types and sizes from all over the world use our services – they simply indicate the type of expertise they need, when and how long they’ll need it (for example, an expert in the US business process outsourcing market, for a 2 week project). With a growing database of over 13K+ experts and a technology-enabled operations team, we’re able to match companies with the best expert for the project in 4-72 hours. Since our projects range from a 1 hour consultation to several months-long projects, our experts vary in profile - some are fully-employed, others are MBA/PhD students or freelancers, and others are retired executives.

I’m responsible for overall revenue generation at Expertera, including developing and implementing growth strategies to gain new clients and enter new markets, increasing market penetration in existing markets and launching new service offerings, pricing models and partnerships. I also oversee our public relations, marketing (direct, digital and content marketing), and social media presence.

My biggest challenge is that there is so much that I want to accomplish, but only so many hours in the day! With limited time and a small team, prioritizing and delegating have been my biggest lessons by far. I’m naturally a perfectionist, so it’s a daily struggle! But I’ve had to become strict about time management and have learned to delegate more. I’ve also had to accept that sometimes “done” is better than perfect. 

EmoryWire: Explain The Gig Economy and how professionals can prepare themselves to be desirable talent?

Koc: The “Gig Economy” is the emergence of an environment where temporary positions/jobs are increasingly common and companies prefer to contract with independent professionals for short-term assignments.

Although initially thought to be a trend, this type of flexibility in the workplace is now being called “the future of work” and is slowly but surely gaining traction worldwide. This is because professionals prefer the freedom and flexibility of temporary assignments (of their choosing) and employers benefit from working with top professionals on an as-needed, on-demand basis without having to commit to full-time hiring. Additionally, the rapid rise of technology makes it possible for professionals to work remotely and for online marketplaces such as Expertera to connect large numbers of professionals with customers seeking such services.

The Gig Economy presents enormous opportunity for professionals with self-discipline and the ability (and desire!) to promote themselves to gain clients. For those who don’t excel in sales and marketing and want to save time and effort, joining online talent marketplaces is the best approach. Marketplaces take a significant burden off professionals by bringing potential clients to them, but even so, building a solid reputation takes time and is critical to success. 

To prepare for what will become the “new normal,” professionals should make every effort to stay current in the industry or subject matter where they’d like to take on new gigs by following relevant websites and forums, attending industry events, and maybe even taking courses or obtaining certifications. Having said that, I don’t suggest investing significant time and money without being certain it will be useful, as most clients prefer on-the-job experience. Professionals should also update their resumes - I suggest creating a couple different versions, as you will need to emphasize different skills and provide different examples based on the opportunity. It’s also helpful to provide examples of previous work and accomplishments via videos, presentations, written examples, recommendations, etc. Next, review your social media presence – make sure you have a presence and are active on the “right” outlets (this differs by industry/subject matter), keep your profile updated, and remove any misleading information, pictures, etc. Lastly, don’t be shy! Tell your network that you’re open to new gigs. And don’t be too selective with your first projects – regardless of the client type, size or assignment, ensuring that you’ve met or exceeded the client’s expectations is your primary objective. Client satisfaction will bring with it new projects and clients.

EmoryWire: Who are your influencers?

Koc: Without a doubt my parents inspire and influence me the most. Their wisdom, business insights, guidance, generosity and compassion are truly invaluable. They are the first people I call when I’m facing a tough decision, both personally and professionally.

I’m also inspired by numerous leaders who are passionate, determined, business savvy and give back to others. A few that come to mind are Oprah, Richard Branson, Howard Schultz, Turkish businessman Mustafa Koc (who recently passed away) and Turkish businesswoman Guler Sabanci. Lastly, I regularly follow Prof. Adam Grant’s articles – I find them both inspirational and helpful! 

EmoryWire: How have you identified mentors or sponsors and cultivated those relationships?

When I think back, I met my mentors and sponsors when I went outside my comfort zone in some way. For example, when I took on a project at work that I initially wasn’t very interested in, attended an event that didn’t seem very promising at the time, moved to a new city, or tried a new activity. By trying new things (despite my initial hesitations) and saying “yes” to seemingly random opportunities, I increased my chances of meeting potential mentors and sponsors. You really never know where you’ll meet someone who can impact your career and being in a slightly vulnerable position (out of your comfort zone) makes you more likely to seek and follow advice.

Finding and cultivating mentors and sponsors can take time, so I’d suggest being willing to invest the time and not rushing or forcing it too much. Once you identify someone, instead of directly telling them that you want to them to be your mentor or sponsor, try to first help them in some way and find opportunities to connect with them in ways that don’t inconvenience them. I’ve offered to organize events, shared travel tips, offered to introduce them to someone else, etc. Even if they don’t accept, it’s the thought that counts. Then try to connect with them in different ways, such as attending an event where you know they’ll be, or by sending short emails about recent news/events that may interest them. Lastly, once you’ve formed a relationship, it’s your responsibility to let them know exactly how they can help you (the more specific the better) and to follow up with reminders if necessary. For example, if you want their help in getting a specific job or project, tell them why you want it, who they could contact, what value you could add and a deadline. This makes it easy for them and if you’ve developed a good relationship, they won’t mind helping out. While mentor/sponsor relationships can eventually become mutual, initially, it’s up to you to make it work.

EmoryWire: Describe a recent professional challenge you faced and how you overcame it:

Koc: Transitioning from years of working in large corporations to running a start-up has been challenging at times. I was used to structured environments, where I had a specific role and responsibilities, a clear career path and back office support. In a start-up, you’re responsible for pretty much everything - from hiring the right team, to cultivating structure and guidelines for your team, to selling, promoting and executing! On any given day I’m wearing so many different hats, trying to do a million different things. This could be running client meetings, updating our website, organizing an event, designing marketing material, writing press releases, teaching an intern, or negotiating with vendors!

I’ve overcome this challenge by constantly educating myself (I’m never without reading material), by seeking advice and guidance from experts and relying on my team. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, I reach out those with expertise in the subject and learn from them. Building a team with complementary skillsets has also been very helpful – we each know our strengths and weaknesses and can rely on one another. I also have an excellent relationship with my business partner - we’re usually on the same page, but even when we disagree, we are still collaborative and supportive of one another. There are times when it can still be challenging, but it’s so fulfilling and fun to bring your passion to life! Lastly, it’s true that sometimes you need to “fake it until you make it” – the more you convey confidence, the more you begin to believe it and then others believe it, too!

EmoryWire:  What makes you most proud?

Koc: I’m proud that I took a leap of faith and left a fulfilling, yet comfortable career and personal life in the US to try something new.  I successfully re-launched my career at age 30 in a country that felt like home in some ways, but also completely foreign in others. I had never worked professionally in Turkey, had a limited professional and personal network and barely knew how to use the Turkish computer keyboard! (Yep, it’s quite different than American keyboards). I’m proud to say that I’ve come full circle in just over 3 years.

EmoryWire: Best career advice you’ve ever received?

Koc: My dad gave me a piece of advice early on in my career that really stuck with me – always put yourself in place of your manager/client and think about what you can do to make their lives easier. In the long run, this approach also makes your life easier, as managers/clients like promoting people who make them “look good” and make their lives easier.

My business partner also reminds me to “put my blinders” on sometimes – there will always be distractions and naysayers, so it’s important to stay focused, believe in yourself and not allow anything to get you off track.

EmoryWire: What skills or personality traits are necessary for a professional who wants to work at a firm that serves clients around the globe?

Koc: I would say excellent communication skills, patience, flexibility, empathy and agility.

Often times you are dealing with a language or cultural barrier, so you need to be able to quickly and smoothly transition between communication styles, provide alternative suggestions and solutions, and most importantly, you need to be able to convey empathy. The client should always feel like you “hear them,” regardless of what the final outcome may be.

EmoryWire: You have worked at JP Morgan Chase, Ernst & Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.  What do you miss the most and the least about working at a large corporation?

As much as I’ve embraced start-up life, I do miss the structured environment and back-office support that a large corporation can provide. It can make completing tasks so much easier and gives you time to focus on value-add activities. Having said that, I do not miss the complete lack of control over my own schedule! I thrive in environments where I’m passionate, have flexibility, can take ownership and can work with a team.

EmoryWire: Thanks Hayal!