Meet the MUBI founder, who uses tastemakers around the world to create a better film streaming platform.
It was in a beautiful cafe in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills in 2007 that Efe Cakarel first had the idea for MUBI, his curated online cinema platform that allows people in over 200 countries to watch extraordinary movies. He was in Japan—the nation with the world’s fastest broadband, which was then the world’s third biggest film market. And yet he couldn’t watch a film online.
Entrepreneurship is in Efe’s DNA—his first job as a tea-boy in his father’s company meant that, as a 10-year-old, he was already overhearing conversations about business strategy. So, not one to sit and wait for a gap in the market to be filled, he started writing a business plan on the flight back to San Francisco. “Nothing happens unless you focus all your energy on it,” he says, “unless you jump with your entire body.”
While this happened relatively quickly, the journey to this point has deeper roots. Efe remembers his childhood in the coastal Turkish city of Izmir, visiting the art-house theater with his mother on Saturday afternoons. If he closes his eyes, he can still picture it. It was there that his love of cinema began, where Cinema Paradiso first moved him, where his Fellini obsession blossomed.
But film wasn’t his only passion, and it was his head for numbers—he was on the Turkish national mathematics team—that led to a scholarship at MIT. In 1994, while studying there, Efe first experienced world cinema—the brilliance of directors like Wong Kar-wai—instead of just the big names whose films had made it to his corner of Turkey. By the time he finished college, he was so in love with cinema that he knew he had to somehow make it his life.
At first, he tried to make films—after a stint at Goldman Sachs he spent time in Paris writing a script. But it was obvious to him that he wasn’t going to be the best. And if he was going to make films, he wanted to be as good as the best.
MUBI, he believes, can be the world’s premier destination for cinema. Crucially, unlike Netflix, it hosts only the greatest films—a new one every day, each available for 30 days. So it provides a constantly rotating library of remarkable works from the likes of Xavier Dolan, Andrea Arnold and Ann Hui.
Efe’s chosen 20 tastemakers from around the world to select the roster. He thinks of them as curators—just like the person who’s created the Rauschenberg exhibit at the Tate Modern, he explains. MUBI is growing fast, and expecting a million plus subscribers in a couple of years. And they’re beginning to acquire films straight from festivals. Efe is confident that within the next 10 years, if you want the latest release from the Coen Brothers or the newest movie from Almodóvar, you’ll find it on MUBI.
MUBI operates from an 18th-century townhouse in London’s Soho neighborhood, with beautiful wooden floors and big central tables. While Efe expects hard work from his colleagues (if people start leaving before 8 p.m., he can start to feel like he’s hired too many people, he says), it’s an approach based on love, not fear.
But for all the innovation, one thing has remained the same since his childhood in Turkey: his breakfast—soft-boiled egg, tomatoes with olive oil, and bread with butter and jam. It’s the little things that matter, even for big thinkers like Efe.
This story appeared in The Kinfolk Entrepreneur in 2017.