Cemil Turun is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious people I've ever interviewed. He wants to create a currency that works in both the online and offline worlds. Facing my obvious journalist's skepticism, he hurries to add that his company, Yogurt Technologies (yogurt.com.tr) is one of the first six Turkish companies to receive VC financing. So some people take him seriously. What's his plan?
The first step was the creation of Yogurtistan.com, "a 3D world that's very different from Second Life. It's built on Adobe Air, and it works on all browsers. From it you can access iTunes, read books or watch full-screen TV, just like at home."
Just as we go from one store to the next, on Yogurtistan."you go from Migros to Quick Silver [two companies popular in Turkey] without changing tabs," Turun said. This creates "a new web" that lets users better mimic offline behaviors. "When we are watching a movie and listening to certain group's music, or buying a jeans, we're creating data about our preferences," he said. "Today, these preferences are not connected to my social networks in a meaningful way."
The next step is the creation of a currency that allows users to pay for services or complete transactions online, as well as "paying at the restaurant you eat dinner at," he said during a meal in Istanbul. The secret is adding "a fourth dimension based on online 'engagement,'" Turn said. "A virtual sword generated by your actions in the last ten hours has value but does not buy you a glass of wine, does not record your engagement." This is what his team hopes to change: "We want to bring the value of your virtual engagement to the offline world.
"We're working on creating a special currency that will work in both worlds. It's unique, and very disruptive," Turun said. He called it 'Kayme' – an Old Turkish word that was used in the nineteenth century when bank notes were first introduced – and it has value both online and off.
In Turkey, Turun relies on a well-developed system of loyalty points. "We have agreements with most loyalty-point systems for exchanging with our virtual currency."
This is where the endeavor is huge."The big internet companies don't think about offline behavior, the most important part of our lives. One day, when you go to a restaurant, you'll check if you can pay with Facebook Credits. They're going to have to change if they want to survive long-term. Friendship is great, but spending money is an essential part of our lives. We need a currency that can be used in both dimensions."
His clients already include Coca-Cola and Turkcell, Turkey's largest mobile company. These companies are also interested in user-behavior data (having it collected is opt-in). "The brands will be reaching users via small apps that we will serve in Yogurtistan. Those users who have opted-in will be paid Kayme by the brands. So the virtual currency, Kayme, will be backed by actual advertising budgets."
The idea might seem crazy, but that's where things are trending. Mark Andreessen (who created the first web browser and today is an influential Silicon Valley investor) is convinced that "software is eating the world." And Reid Hoffman, co-founder of PayPal and Linked-In, writes in Forbes that "We’re at the early stages of a massive wave of innovation in the payment industry."
Turun is not alone in trying to innovate in this area. But can he succeed? Here's what he thinks, via email: "A company like Facebook would be in a better position But it's too big for a turn like this This is the essence of any start-up. We have only our desire to make this work. I think that if we succeed, it'll because I'm crazy enough to think we can."