Inspirational Woman: Safak Erkol | Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer, Fastbag

Safak ErkolI’m the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Fastbag, a Berkshire-based start-up which is a new player in the on-demand grocery delivery market offering 15-minute delivery through its app and its hyperlocal dark stores with a dedicated delivery team.

My experience as a marketing consultant to global brands including Amex, Barclays, ING, and Coca-Cola and high growth start-ups in the UK coupled with my passion for business led me to become the co-founder of Fastbag which launched in the last quarter of 2020. Following our success in Maidenhead we’re currently planning to expand in other towns across Berkshire in the next few months.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I started my marketing career around 12 years ago, working both in consulting and managing global FMCG, financial services and technology brands from Barclays and Amex to high growth start-ups.

New product launches, product and brand development and first-time projects in these environments, especially for high-growth start-ups are what excite me the most and it’s this passion that led me to launch Fastbag in the last quarter of 2020 with my business partner Aydin Gunal. Fastbag is a Berkshire-based start-up which is a new player in the on-demand grocery delivery market offering 15-minute delivery through its app and its hyperlocal dark stores with a dedicated delivery team. Following our success in Maidenhead we’re planning to expand in other towns across Berkshire in the next few months.

I’m passionate about all things tech, innovation and marketing as I strongly believe they have the power to change our world for the better.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always incorporated planning sessions, sometimes with the help of a coach or mentor, into my career journey. What’s really changed for me in the last few years is my approach to success.

Previously, I used to have a more linear approach. For example, I would set my eye on a specific role at a specific company and would plan out the steps I would need to take to reach my goal. Nowadays, with my experience and learnings, my plans are more agile and more aligned with opportunities that arise instead of focusing on very strict and linear goals.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Definitely- I would be lying if I said that it’s always been a smooth ride!

After working as a product marketing manager at Coca-Cola for a short period of time, I transitioned into a digital marketing role and learnt on the job. It was challenging as I was doing new things every day and the role required a hands-on approach not leaving much room to digest training and reflect on my new learnings. However, this meant that I learnt how to execute projects in a very agile and speedy way which embraced the digital business strategy and digital transformation. Later on in my career, I switched to working in marketing for the financial services industry, so I have worked across different environments and teams with different requirements.

Moving into a consulting career later on in the UK where I needed to build a network and reputation as a skilled consultant was another challenge but I think I used a lot of what I learned to move forward during this period: I knew how to tackle difficult situations better and be more resilient.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I prefer to focus on the latest thing I’m doing that is pushing me out of my comfort zone instead of fixating on ‘greatest achievements’. I believe that by evaluating my growth and achievements on an ongoing basis helps me to want to become better at what I’m doing.

This way of thinking led me to be involved with Fastbag. I was already established as a freelance digital marketing consultant and trainer when Aydin asked me to work with him on his new venture. I knew that starting my own business was going to be the next thing that challenges me to push beyond my comfort zone.

I have a very commercially focused retail and FMCG background and an in-depth knowledge of brand marketing, whereas my co-founder is the tech/product management and operational whizz so I quickly realised this was a good match and decided to take on the challenge. Developing the app and launching it in just two months was quite an achievement, especially since we achieved impressive customer traction in the two to three weeks after launch.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I believe in reinventing yourself by improving and learning new skills, delving into a new unfamiliar project/challenge so the key achievements are not just new jobs, businesses or promotions but also taking on new challenges. In today’s landscape, it is true that knowledge, training, mentorship and also opportunities to try/test/fail are available without much cost, however our time, attention and energy are limited so focusing on your purpose and what you want to achieve in your career with a positive attitude pays off.

From my perspective focusing on what you set your sights on, what you are looking to achieve and being open to taking bigger steps each time is key. The rest heavily depends on taking action no matter what, as the initial progress might seem small but it all adds up to success.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have been both a mentor and a mentee; I think mentoring is underrated as it can really help you see your blind spots, inspire new questions and signal new opportunities. The perspective I received as a mentee helped me to adjust my path so far and I’ve  been lucky enough to see what an open mind and full attention/active listening with someone can achieve in their next challenge.

I’ve previously volunteered as a Startup Mentor at Startup Direct in London which was a rewarding experience, helping new business owners understand how to grow their awareness and sales with limited resources and manage marketing on their own.

I’ve also mentored female entrepreneurs from several countries and continents under the Women in Business Challenge – ING Group. As part of this mentorship, I have helped women with everything, from their business plan to time management. I’m currently mentoring two young female professionals on their career journey: building a roadmap, beating imposter syndrome and managing uncertainty. Non-linear careers are the focus of our work.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I strongly believe that  empowering young women, starting from teenagehood, is  really important if we truly want to speed up the progress made on this front. We need to support them in building their self-esteem/confidence, give them the tools they need and reinforce their belief that they can achieve any challenge. I believe that each of us has a role to play, taking small steps every day instead of simply philosophising. This is why I’m passionate about mentoring because I think it’s a practical way to support women. Accelerating the pace for Gender Equality is everyone’s responsibility and we need to take a step back and look at how we can make it happen.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Worry less, don’t overthink and just keep going. Earlier in my career, I had a tendency to focus a lot on every single detail and analyse all decisions with too many scenarios. As I advanced in my career, I built an inner compass to gauge whether a decision is a significant one that needs careful and slow consideration vs decisions where I should rely on my experience and where making the decision quickly without hesitation to move forward might bring more benefits. This way of prioritisation and categorisation helped me gain confidence in my decision making, and I also make sure I have time and headspace to reflect on a few decisions to get the learnings rather than spending that time and energy on worrying or being indecisive.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next challenge is to scale Fastbag and expand my impact as an entrepreneur. I hope to make an impact both commercially with the growth of Fastbag across Berkshire and beyond, while also scaling our team with Aydin.

My main focus right now is to continue growing Fastbag and leading with purpose. As part of this, I want to continue supporting other women entrepreneurs or women who aspire to be entrepreneurs. The two young women, who I am currently mentoring, are looking to start their own businesses so I want to help them access the resources they need. Helping other women achieve their dream of becoming their own bosses is a key priority for me and I will continue to share my knowledge, experience, contacts and time with everyone who needs help. Being part of a wider community of entrepreneurial women is what keeps me motivated even on tough days!

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