With acclaimed universities and a predominately young, educated populace, Istanbul was a shoo-in to make Inc.'s list of the top five Global Cities of the future. The city is also home to the e-commerce titan Yemeksepeti, a food delivery company which its co-founder dubs the "biggest kitchen on earth."

Yemeksepeti was founded in November of 2000 by Melih Odemis, Gokhan Akan, Cem Nufusi and Nevzat Aydin, who is now the company's CEO. Aydin had just returned to his native country after pursuing an MBA from the University of San Francisco. Effectively, he wanted to bring Silicon Valley to the Fertile Crescent. "Our vision to start this business was to change the way people think and order food," Aydin told Inc.

While its residents are tech savvy, Istanbul's food culture has long been traditionally oriented. Food is typically bought, prepared and eaten all in the same day, with many Turks still preferring to prepare their meals at home. While the restaurant culture is strong, ordering in isn't nearly as ubiquitous as it is in the United States.

Starting up in Turkey in the early aughts was no easy task, and the team initially struggled to convince the third-party restaurants to get behind them. Although Istanbul is now known as the 'Digital Bosphorus,' less than four percent of Turkish residents had access to the Internet at the time, and most food deliveries happened by phone, if at all. Little by little, however, restaurants began to recognize the potential in both the Internet and in Yemeksepeti: "When we finally took well-known brands on board, we started to gain other restaurants' trust," Aydin says. 

More than a decade later, the company is now the biggest online delivery portal in Turkey, with 3.5 million active users and 100,000 orders processed every day. It has expanded across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region through another site that it operates, Foodonclick.com, including Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. Yemeksepeti also owns a majority stake in clickdelivery.gr and ifood.jo, so its reach now includes Greece and Jordan. (GrubHub, for reference, processes 174,000 orders per day, but it also operates in more than 800 cities worldwide--an influence that Yemeksepeti one day hopes to attain.) As Aydin put it: "In Turkey, we want to be the first brand people recall when the word 'food' is mentioned." After all, Yemeksepeti literally translates as "Food Basket." 

Despite the fact that the company launched in the midst of a national economic crisis, it has since reeled in more than $45 million in funding from investors such as New York City-based General Atlantic as well as Endeavor Catalyst, an investing branch of the eponymous, global entrepreneurship support network. Yemeksepeti is seeing more than 50 percent annual growth in its fourteenth year, Aydin told Inc., with international operations expanding at a 200 percent growth rate. That's probably why Delivery Hero, a Berlin-based network of online food ordering platforms, this month acquired the company. 

Endeavor Turkey's co-founder, Didem Altop, called Yemeksepeti one of the nation's biggest success stories, alongside businesses like mobile gaming site Peak Games and the clothing retailer Lidyana.com.

To what does Yemeksepeti owe its success? It has a solid and "defendable business model," Odemis told Wamdain that it doesn't charge users to register or require exorbitant minimum delivery fees. Aydin added that the company prioritizes user experience over all else: It switched over to Arabic as it expanded in the Middle East, for instance, and hired local team members to offer regional customer support.

What's next for the company? Yemeksepeti has ambitious plans to expand into three new markets. And while roughly half of all food orders are currently processed through Yemek Sepeti's app, Aydin foresees that increasing to 70 percent in the future. Look out, Seamless. 

Ultimately, their goal is simple: "The biggest success of Yemeksepeti is to make people ask themselves, 'What was ordering food like before?'" 

Published on: May 26, 2015