Bulent Osman has always been driven by a passion for learning and a curiosity to explore the unexplored. That inspired a diverse range of twists and turns in his career as he squiggled from accountant to consultant to salesperson and team leader within several large tech companies.
After he built and successfully exited his own tech startup, Bulent decided to embrace a portfolio career that focused on all the things he loved to do: helping people solve problems and leveraging technology to improve business processes.
Now, as a board advisor, mentor and podcast host, he gives back by sharing his expertise with those that need it most. For our latest Community Voices article we sat down with Bulent to find out more about his journey and all the amazing things he’s learned along the way.
Hi Bulent! Could you tell us a bit about your background and what you do now?
I split what I do into three different buckets. First, I work with boards at a number of different tech companies, either as a non-executive director or as an advisor. The second area is focused on one-to-one mentoring, typically with founders. I’m currently doing TPC’s Mentorship Programme to build out this specialisation even further.
And finally, I run a transatlantic business podcast called The Startup Sensations Podcast, which is a weekly show where we interview prominent guests from the startup world. I co-host the show with Shelley Bays in California as we look at startups from both sides of the pond. We’ve had some amazing guests so far from the US, UK, Argentina, Singapore, France and Ireland.
Have you always worked in the startup tech space? Or is that something you progressed into?
The reason I’m doing what I’m doing today is because I started my own tech business in 2014. It was a mobile-first enterprise SaaS solution that allowed non-desk employees to connect with their brand. Lots of large companies employ thousands of people and many aren’t given laptops, phones or even have access to an email address, but they represent the brand. So we connected them via a mobile platform to ensure they didn’t feel disenfranchised and that they had a voice.
We started building it in early 2015 and then, later that year, I had the opportunity to work and live in Silicon Valley. I set up an office in San Francisco and started working with the US market, closing some large contracts in California and on the East Coast. That’s how my entrepreneurial career started. In 2017 I came back from the US. We were looking for more funding in 2018 and, as I had plenty of good contacts in California, I reached out to VCs over there. One was a private equity firm in Los Angeles. To our surprise, they wanted to buy the business outright, making us a very generous offer to buy the company and completely clear the cap table. They had a bigger picture in mind as they had just bought a much larger firm in New York that they wished us to merge with.
I sold in 2019 and helped with the merger before leaving in December. That was my first taste of being an entrepreneur, which gave me some great experience and insights that I now use to advise other startups. As I’ve been through the startup journey myself, during which you inevitably make mistakes which you learn from, I feel I now have plenty of great experience to give back and share with others.
I find it incredibly exciting and rewarding to meet interesting people who run interesting businesses that I can add value to. I enjoy being able to help others succeed.
Wow, that’s quite a story! We’d love to learn more about your podcast and how you got started with that.
It started at the beginning of the year when I began thinking of new ways I could give back. The idea of doing a podcast, where I could speak to lots of people, was interesting to me. I’ve enjoyed listening to them over the years and I really enjoy learning, so I watched a number of YouTube videos on how to start a podcast. Once I had an idea of a format, I called a few producers to ask their opinions.
In the end, I decided to focus on the topic of startups from both the US and the UK – how to grow them, how to fund them, how to hire the best people and to avoid typical mistakes. There are lots of disciplines centred around being a founder and CEO. You’ve got to be good with numbers, understand customers and create the most amazing products. You need to be able to sell, you need a marketing strategy, you need to find investment, to look after your investors and you need to be able to communicate effectively – there’s so much to consider. And no founder is good at everything, so I thought it’d be an excellent subject matter.
When I looked at other podcasts, there were none that were hosted from both sides of the pond, with a UK and a US perspective. As I have an extensive network in the US, I started reaching out to people who would make a great co-host and that’s how myself and Shelley Bays started collaborating. It’s been super fun, we’ve met some amazing people and it’s so rewarding to host and hear how much people have enjoyed the show.
I Unlocking Success with a Diverse Portfolio Career | The Startup Sensations Podcast
The most important thing is that we attract great guests, like Ben Legg, who was on the first episode of our second season. It can be difficult when you first start to get the download numbers up to where you want them, but I’m delighted to say that part way through Season 2 we surpassed 25,000 downloads and sit well within the global top 5% of all podcast shows across all categories.
That’s great, congratulations! You’ve clearly got an entrepreneurial spirit and have had for some time. What initially attracted you to having a portfolio career?
I started off life as an accountant. But, I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to be, so I pivoted into the world of consulting. I trained as a project manager and ran some large programmes, initially to implement new technology to improve the way businesses work. A theme surrounding my work – and something that I love to do – is improving business processes with cutting edge technology, and that’s been a thread throughout my career right from the beginning.
After that, I moved to a global software company where I worked in sales, moving my way up to being the Sales Director. I later had roles as Country Manager or Managing Director for smaller startup businesses and that is where I thrived.
During that journey, I worked at big companies like Microsoft and Oracle. When I was at Microsoft, I had an epiphany moment where I thought, “I don’t really enjoy this anymore. I just want to sell solutions, grow a business and make customers happy.” So I left my corporate career and started my own thing.
And it sounds like you already had quite a diversity of experience. Do you think that helped you start your portfolio career?
Definitely! I was an accountant, so I could do finances. I sold software, so I knew about sales and marketing. I looked after customers, so I knew about relationship management. When I first started my company, I had at least some value to add in all of those areas. That’s when I realised that I loved variety and doing lots of different things.
We can definitely see how that experience would be useful when it comes to building a startup and creating a portfolio career. One final question from us, what piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a portfolio career?
First, think very carefully about what drives you as a person. We’re all different; we all have different motivations, aspirations and things that make us happy, fulfilled and content. Try to be introspective, take a moment and just learn about yourself and really filter down what truly makes you happy at a deeper level. And then from that understanding, be true and authentic to yourself.
This leads to my second piece of advice, which is to just go for it. Don’t be scared. Be bold, throw caution to the wind, don’t listen to your inner demons and just make it happen. If you’re committed, you’ll end up finding success that’s defined by yourself rather than defined by society.
A lot of people asked me, “why are you starting this podcast, is there any money in it?”. I always say, “no I’m not getting paid, in fact I’m paying people to help me produce the highest quality show possible that I can be proud of.” At my core, I always knew I wanted to do something that would benefit many people; to give back. And my podcast is a brilliant way to do so.
Inspired by Bulent’s story? So are we! It’s a wonderful example of how being curious and proactive when it comes to learning and embracing new things can lead to a truly inspiring and fulfilling career.
If you’d like to meet more professionals who are forging their own career paths, then join our community and start engaging with our members. You never know what you might discover about yourself or your potential.
Think this sounds like the right path for you? Come along to our monthly Get started event for new members to find out what a portfolio career could look like and how The Portfolio Collective can help you take those first steps towards professional success – and don’t forget to connect with our community!