Mezun Group Assisted Turkish Students Abroad for Over 11 Years

Image was launched on the Millenium day (Jan 1, 2000) and grew rapidly to sixty thousand registered members at the end of 2000 and over hundred-fifty thousand the following year.
Each year, more than 10 thousand Turkish students have been coming to the United States for education for over ten years. This situation led to the emergence of a serious and a new market in this area.

Students living in Turkey do not have enough information about the education system of the United States. They do not know where to find reliable information about it either. Of course this is not only a matter for students trying to study in the United States, but also for those who are currently studying in the US as foreign students as getting used to the US system in general is not easy for someone who grew up in another country.
This was the need that Mezun Group identified 12 years ago.

Ali Hantal with his friends from college faced many problems when they came to the United States as students. This was in 1997 and the Internet was not widely used at that time. They launched their first
project on the Millenium day (Jan 1, 2000) and grew rapidly to sixty thousand registered members at the end of 2000 and over hundred-fifty thousand the following year.

2001 was the year they launched the company’s flagship brand Mezun Callingcard which became widely known among Turkish Americans in a very short period of time. Mezun Group’ s Chairman and CEO Ali Hantal answered TURKOFAMERICA’s questions.

Can you tell us about the birth of Mezun Group? What were your goals when you started this company?
Mezun Group's first project was, which later gave its name to the group. We started the company in April of 1999. It was one of three of four ideas that we had. Our main goal was to find a need that was not satisfied and fulfill that need. One of our ideas came out of our own need. I remember how difficult it was to search for schools and learn about their application process back in the late 1990s. It was a very time consuming process and the data that you could find was always outdated. Communication with school
reps was done via phone or fax. There was apparently a huge need in the market about studying in the US. I remember our marketing professor emphasizing the importance of providing solutions for needs that are not satisfied in the market. One day he said becoming a large company on the web, especially in those days when the Internet was very new, would be very easy and that providing a solution for a need that was not fulfilled would bring a huge advantage to the company providing it. He was talking about the web 1.0 back then, and he was right. However, I believe what he said is more true for today’s world as we are now experiencing a completely new world with the new web (web 3.0) and the platform store applications such as iPhone, Android and Facebook apps.

When I came to Turkey in the summer of 1999 I had an interesting incident that affected our decision. My mother and my father's friends' children knowing that I was studying in the US wanted to meet with me. Thinking that all would ask same type of questions, I arranged a tea gathering on a Saturday and invited everyone to our house. I was expecting couple of people to show up, however some three dozen people showed up and we had to move to a cafeteria close to where we live. The interest was amazing and everyone was asking questions about how to find a school, how to study for the exams and etc. At that moment, I felt very strongly that an online platform giving  information on education in the US could be the solution for this
huge need and that it could grow to a good size in a very short time.

We started with the motto ‘’Everything that you want to know about education and life in the US’’. When we returned to America that summer, we began to work on the first pages of and we launched the site on January 1, 2000. Couple of months later, in early 2000, began the Internet Bubble crisis. We had to give up the idea of looking for funding. This meant we actually would not have the funds to grow horizontally to other countries of origin, but instead would have to stay focused on our existing two markets: the education market in Turkey and the Turkish-American ethnic market in the US. We launched Mezun Callingcard, MezunUSA, Mezun Forum and Alo811 in the following years.

Mezun Group celebrated its twelfth anniversary this year. When you look back in time and think about these 12 years, can you remember a time when you said “we were really lucky!”?
Of course, we have a few lucky time in the past, but one of them is very imported for us. We had a private conversation with one of the telecom giant’s owner, Engin Yeflil in the United Nations. After this exclusive meeting, Mr. Yeflil decided to invest in our company and brought all of his telecom giant’s knowledge and buying power to our business. This was I believe a good occasion where we can say “we were lucky to have the chance to talk to him exclusively that day”

Can you list the “Firsts” that you as Mezun Group provided for the first time in Turkey or in the world?

I can say that we were one of the first sites (if not the first) to realize the concept of User Generated Content (UGC) back in 2000. The week following our launch at the beginning of 2000, we started a section called “Article of the week” and asked our members to share their experiences with Mezun community. This section attracted a lot of attention and when we started to receive over 10-20 articles a day, we launched a new section called ’Mezuns are Writing’’. Soon, hundreds of our members were writing about their own
experiences and traffic was increasing on a daily basis.

Another of our firsts came in 2004 when we made an agreement with Digiturk that gave us the web TV rights for the Turkish Soccer League to be offered to people residing outside of Turkey. It was the
first time Turkish Soccer League was on web TV and the games of the big three soccer teams (Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and BJK) were now available to all Turkish people living abroad at a very reasonable cost. I believe we might be the first company in the world to do live streaming of an official soccer league of a country for the whole season with no interruption of service.

You show activities in different areas such as in international education, telecom, e-commerce, and 's name was changed to Global. Can you give us more information about this change?

This was a change originated by our members. We first received inquiries from our members about education in Europe in 2008. Our members wanted to know when we would add Europe next to the US. This was why we started “the Europe” section at the beginning of 2009 and started to watch our web analytics very carefully as this gave us a great chance to test the market. The intense interest and increasing traffic proved us that we needed to expand our coverage to countries in Europe and we added European schools to our “School Search Engine”. Then, we decided to do a market research on the interest level about education in other countries. We found out that UK, Germany, Australia and Far East Asian countries are also attracting attention. With this insight, we decided to add 24 more countries to and change its name to Global. As true believers of mass collaboration, we created 10 logos and asked our members to choose our new logo for us. The logo that we are still using actually won 43% of the votes and became our official Global logo.

How many employees does Mezun Group have? How many of them are working in Turkey and how many of them are in the US?

Our team consists of 30 young very dynamic people 7 of which works in our Miami office.

Many companies are trying to do business in your area, however most of them disappear shortly after. What are the secrets to be a long-term survivor? Please tell us a little bit about the difficulties
you experienced and how you managed to survive in this competitive environment?

One important differentiator is that we have always done our business correctly, professionally and honestly. Additionally, our corporate culture is based on our CRM team. Our highest value as a company is customer satisfaction. Since we started, our goal has always been to achieve maximum customer satisfaction levels and provide a reliable service honestly with no hidden fees. For instance, our motto was ‘’you pay as much as you talk’’ for our telecom products. Our billing was very simple. We did not create complicated plans and did not include hidden fees within our billing formula to make extra margins. We have always provided 7/24 CRM services thru live operators and not thru automated IVR systems. I believe these differentiating factors made us one of the highest trusted and highly known (if not the most known) brands in the Turkish American community.

Since you entered this sector you came face to face with two major crisis (9/11 and the financial crisis) in the United States and many more crisis in Turkey. Can you give us some information about the Company policies that you follow during these periods of crisis?

One advantage that we have is our highly capable team consisting ofbright and highly efficient team members most of whom have been with us since the beginning. Twelve years of cooperation brings out a huge advantage. We are now sharing a unique Mezun Corporate Culture. It is a language on its own. We know each other, our customers and our markets very well.

I also believe what a manager thinks during bad times is also very critical. We believe what we think becomes our reality and that is why we always look at the events with a positive mindset while we try to be pro-active.

Mezun Voip is a service that we launched a month ago. It is actually an addition to our Mezun Callingcard service. Now our users can connect to our telecom platform using a browser, using an internet phone or a dialer box and using our iPhone and Android VOIP applications and we are getting a huge attention from our users. We have different but still very simple plans now for those who want to call mobile phones in Turkey or those who want to call the landlines. There are unlimited call packages for each of these services. Additionally, these new features can be used from anywhere in the world as the only requirement is to be online.

Ali C. Hantal is the co-founder and CEO of Mezun Group, a company focusing on Web and Communications technologies on one side to create products and services to Turkish Americans in the US and to Turkish people in Turkey, and continues to build a distribution channel on the other side, by utilizing its specific international education platform with over 500,000 members. Currently, group has two divisions. Namely: Mezun Education and Mezun Telecom.

Ali also served as an adjunct professor of Management Science and Marketing at the University of Baltimore from 1999 to 2002. He holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Baltimore, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree, Business Administration from Bogazici University (Istanbul).
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07