Tech 4 Africa 2011 Preview: #Tech4Africa

Tech 4 Africa very quickly became part of the African, not just South African, technology calendar. In mid-2009 when I met Gareth Knight, the founder, Tech 4 Africa was still a concept. Although, I could tell back then it was a big idea. The kind whose growth you want to be part of.

In case you missed it, I interviewed Gareth Knight on NetwebTV about his experience in building and selling a technology startup. Tech 4 Africa aims to contextualize technology for the African continent, which is really oversimplifying it.

The first edition had insightful speakers ranging from developers to technology activists. Some of the most influential platforms online today had speakers at the conference. They came from; Ushahidi, Twitter, Yahoo and Mozilla.

We caught up with caught with some of the speakers, including Clay Shirky, and Gareth Knight after the conference. Here’s what they had to say:

This year it seems there are more African speakers than the first one, which looks promising. Most of them are familiar names in the South African tech community. It’s also exciting to see more South African entrepreneurs come to the fore and become a recognized part of the event, I think more than last year.

There are fewer speakers this year, most of whom are entrepreneurs, and this for me makes it more worthwhile. The last event was worth attending, and I’m guessing the team learned from last year and set out to create a different experience, as opposed to work off a formula.

Seedcamp was one of the partners last year, where technology entrepreneurs got an opportunity to attend Seedcamp Week in London. Some of those guys are speakers this year, which will be interesting to see.

The theme this year, seems to be more about business with speakers from Google and Simone Brunozzi of Amazon.

Have a look at what’s on offer this year at Tech 4 Africa this year and follow this hashtag #Tech4Africa on Twitter for updates.

Gareth Cliff On Everything blog tour: #CliffOnEverything

In November, I made an announcement about WordStart finally taking off. If you’d like to know more, start here.

For now, we have a blog tour for Gareth Cliff’s new book and tons of give-aways. The tour will stop at different blogs this week and next week till 27 November. WordStart is giving away books on Facebook and Twitter. Follow WordStart here: @WordStarters for up to the minute updates.

If you would like to win yourself a copy of the book, send 3 Tweets telling us why you want one and include #CliffOnEverything. The bloggers will help you by flipping through the pages and writing their thoughts on the book.

Check these blogs for reviews and prizes this week:

  1. Zahira Kharsany at 9:00am, on Tuesday 18 October 2011
  2. Khadija Patel at 15:00pm, on Tuesday 18 October 2011
  3. Nonkululeko Godana at 12:00pm, on Wednesday 19 October 2011
  4. Ideate at 15:00pm,  on Wednesday 19 October 2011
  5. Arthur Van Wyk at 12:00pm, on Thursday 20 October 2011
  6. SA Rocks at 10:00am, on Friday 21 October 2011
  7. Briget Ferguson at 12:00pm, on Friday 21 October 2011
  8. Sheena Gates at 14:00, on Friday 21 October 2011

Follow #CliffOnEverything on Twitter for awesome prizes.

Snapshot of the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit 2011 #DILS11

The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit happened this Wednesday and caused a lot of conversation both online, and among attendees at the Sandton Convention Centre (Johannesburg). Being my first one, I had really high expectations, and they raised the bar from the moment I arrived.

Without going into too much detail about all the talks, the speakers who stood out for me were Dan Ariely and Chris Anderson. It is not the things I hear or see for the first time that make sense, it’s realizing I’ve overlooked them in all of their simplicity.

 

Note from Chris Anderson’s talk

 

He spoke about concepts from his book ‘FREE – The Future Of A Radical Price’. Here are some highlights:

  • Zero as a price, is not a price, yet drives economic behaviour.
  •  The internet created the new form of FREE, which is really free.
  • Things are too cheap to meter when you can treat them as though they were free.
  • “In a competitive market, price falls to the marginal cost.” – Joseph Bertrand 1883.
  •  This era is the end of physical media, as all media goes digital, it is moving to a marginal cost of zero.
  • Younger people have more time than money, older people more money than time. As a result young people can consume free, yet problematic media that has formatting issues, with advertising. But the older audience would rather pay for a better service.
  • We created the internet, with our content, our ideas and our time.

In closing: As you offer your service or product for ‘free’, what will you sell that people will need to use with your product?

Dan Ariely

His talk was about irrational behaviour, its importance in our business and personal lives. Here are some key points:

  • “As decisions get bigger, we don’t know what to do and leave it to someone else to make that decision for us.” He was referring to how we make choices and decisions when using online platforms and deciding on courses of action.
  • We need to evaluate things in relative terms, rather than absolute terms.
  • “How is it possible that people working in a particular field are always wrong based on their intuition and legacy?” Because things have always been done a certain way, we continue to do them that way without questioning.
  • Opportunities exist for us to constantly improve ourselves.  How often does intuition fail us? It is time we tried something else, doubt your intuition and try something else.

Without taking away from all the other speakers, these are some of the many highlights from the conference. For snippets of all the other talks, have a look at the conference blog here.

 

Image by PopTech on Flickr

The topless host, potjiekos and the resistance

So a friend, Philén Naidu (aka. The topless host) and his wife Kim Naidu, hosted a group of friends (and me) for potjiekos. Among the many thrilling stories shared, were the undertones of resistance.

For our non-South African readers: Potjiekos –  is a stew prepared outdoors in a traditional round, cast iron, three-legged pot (the potjie). From Wikipedia.

One soccer ball, some dirt and 14 boys Philén Naidu started a soccer club in Zandspruit, where he trains teenagers life lessons through soccer. This passion of his began just over2 years ago with a soccer ball, 14 kids at the time and a vision to help broken communities.

It was a grand social entrepreneurial vision. Well, for any number of guys with just one soccer ball that is.Fast forward from 2009 to 2011, the topless potjiekos cooking Philén Naidu (not to be mistaken with the naked chef) is still at it. Now 101 boys and more soccer balls.
Last week he received an email, which led to a meeting with large corporate – then potential sponsors and partners.

The potjiekosLike most interesting stories, this one happened over a meal. The potjiekos, our esteemed topless host (chef), had prepared.

“You see those small bubbles, you have to cook it with small bubbles” he explained to 4 year old Josh. Unlike such gatherings, there weren’t copious (bordering on illegal) amounts of wine. In fact, there wasn’t any wine at all.

The resistance

As it turns out, over the past 2 years, Philén Naidu expected meetings with his sponsors to be fruitless. Afterall, he had been to such meetings before. In the past, he had to bring proposals and paperwork. Sound familiar?

When you’ve built a project, even a business, over time you expect meetings to be similar. This was different, it lasted 10 minutes without paperwork. (A 5-minute introduction, and 5 minutes about his project.)

The time you spend creating a model, in this case a community project, reduces resistance. It may be surprising when it happens, but it does.

The small bubbles, like slow but gradual movement, cook perfectly and it could take 5 minutes for drastic change to happen. Keep at it.

Discovery Invest Leadership Summit: Raising the bar

 

 

Since its inception in 2009, the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit  has consistently challenged leadership issues of the day. This summit was the first to bring Malcolm Gladwell to our shores, and continues to engage and inspire audiences with the help of high-calibre international thought leaders as speakers. It is definitely a conference worth marking on your calendar. This year it happens on the 21st of September.

Raising the bar

The inaugural 2009 summit featured Sir Richard Branson, Malcolm Gladwell and Wendy Luhabe amongst others. In 2010, they outdid themselves again with insights from Adrian Gore, Nassim Taleb and Tokyo Sexwale. This summit transforms our ideas of what a “headline speaker” is and who to look out for.

This year, they’ll have me – in the audience – not as a speaker. (Well, for this year at least.)

This year’s draw-card speakers include Al Gore, Graça Marcel and Chris Anderson (Editor-In-Chief at Wired – not to be confused with curator of TED). It is expected to shift paradigms. And I have high expectations that it will. The idea that Chris Anderson will be there, is enough for me to go.

In addition to his role at Wired, Chris Anderson is also the author of “The Long Tail” and “Free”, both of which change your perspective after reading them. His thinking is current. He writes the kind of material that is for this time – for the ever-transforming digital age. In both books, he creates a vivid image of how any thriving business model became profitable online.

In “The Long Tail”, Chris Anderson delves into what creates a niche and how the blockbuster culture was eradicated. It demonstrates, through research analysis, why the future of business is selling less of more. He goes into how the lowest selling songs on iTunes create niche categories in themselves. How having 1000 True Fans (as first written by Kevin Kelly at Technium) is the way to go and why niche has eliminated traditional business theories of creating and developing for the masses.

That leads me to how the rules of leadership have transformed over the ages. These interesting times we live in demand that leaders focus on building communities (“tribes”) and on creating a compelling story that connects people. I look forward to hearing what he proposes the new way of leadership for niche audiences, is.

This conference comes at a time when my search for leadership ability has reached levels of obsessions. It became evident to me, that leadership is a significant way to coordinate change and create a community of people for a cause. So, they have a lot of high expectations to measure up to.

If you would like to get an idea of how Chris Anderson thinks – have a look here.

If you would like to follow the conference, search for #DILS11 on Twitter.

To become involved in the search for leadership, take a quick look at their blog or book your tickets here. The conference is on the 21st of September at the Sandton Convention Centre.

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Photo of The Long Tail by: topgold on Flickr

 

Short Book Review: Poke The Box by Seth Godin

Seth Godin made an announcement last year that he wouldn’t publish another book through traditional means. Never again! There was much debate online, questions were asked and many speculated that he still will.

All speculation was cast aside when he launched The Domino Project, with Poke The Box being his first release. So, I went over to Amazon, ordered a copy, waited 3 weeks. . . . . . And voila! The 84-page little book, with a running man arrived.

Seth Godin cuts through all assumptions and challenges you right from the start. Much like he did in Linchpin, he tempts you out of comfort, he calls you out, he asks you to take a stand. No contents pages, no forewords, no introductions, he just gets right into it.

In all of four sittings, each less than an hour – with coffee breaks – I was done.

“The job isn’t to catch up to the status quo; 
 the job is to invent the status quo.” 

When you read those opening lines, you know it’s you. Or not. If it isn’t, don’t bother reading further. This post is not for you. Check back next time.

Poke The Box – is a book about:

  • Doing!
  • Doing what you love
  • Questioning the status quo
  • Starting things
  • Starting everyday
  • Failing!
  • Failing often
  • Making a connection
  • Finishing what you started
  • Shipping
  • Shipping often
  • Repeat!

In 84 pages, Poke The Box takes you through a journey of changing things. A journey of getting to ‘Yes!’. Of facing fear. Of living without the fear of starting. You realize when you’ve done enough and you need to take your ideas out to market.

Now go!

Go start!

Start new things. Start every day. Ship your ideas. Repeat!

The Art Of The Start : Lessons from Guy Kawasaki

 

After reading most books, I would review them. That is, comfortably write about what I got, yet The Art Of The Start was different. It goes in depth about starting an organization (whether for profit not), and running it successfully. If you are running a successful organization, then it’s a book you wish you read before starting – and a hardback you want to own.

Guy Kawasaki had me gripped in his introduction, where he wrote:

“When telescopes work, everyone is an astronomer, and the world is full of stars. When they don’t, everyone whips out their microscopes, and the world is full of flaws.”

Granted! We all start organizations to cause – some much needed – change in the world. More important than change, if you take away one thing from this post – it should be go out there and make meaning. Guy warns entrepreneurs against “being solutions looking for problems”, which most experts won’t tell you.

Carve a niche

An entrepreneurial organization that serves, and targets everyone, is a solution looking for a problem. A well defined business model quickly resolves this issue and helps you cut your losses. Here are Guy Kawasaki’s guides to defining a business model:

  • Who has your money in their pockets?
  • How are you going to get it into your pockets?

Tips to develop your business model

  1. Be specific – Know who your customer is, serve them and grow outwardly.
  2. Keep it simple – Narrow your business model down to ten words.
  3. Copy somebody – Many people have innovated business models, you can copy what exists and innovate in technology, markets or customers.

Have you ever had a great idea, one you knew that was sure to be the proverbial cash cow, but you never acted on it?

Well….ideas by themselves are worthless and Guy Kawasaki advises that you create a prototype to end the uncertainty and get it to market immediately. Most of us want to perfect our offer, as though that is the final version of the product, when our customers will need us perfect and change it.

The Art Of Bootstrapping

Having read (and lived by) Seth Godin’s, Bootstrapper’s Bible and being eager to reach Guy Kawasaki’s chapter about it. It seemed to take me too long.

I admit, the possibility of raising capital, building an organization that quickly gets acquired by a conglomerate and “living happily after”, crossed my mind. Sadly, happily afters are great before bedtime and 8pm romance thrillers.

From being an Evangelist at Apple in the 1980s, to starting Garage Venturesa venture capital firm. Guy Kawasaki himself emphasizes how the odds of raising capital are slim to non-existent.

In the beginning stages of this chapter he states that “entrepreneurs can bootstrap any business model”, because bootstrapping is managing for cash flow. And when done correctly, it will be a stage in the life of your business.

Here are some excerpts to note about bootstrapping:

  • Build A Bottom Up Forecast – Know the minimum achievable goal, then build your cash and sales forecast from there.
  • Ship, Then Test – Get your product to market immediately, fix problems that may arise, ship again and alter product till you’ve perfected it.
  • Forget The Proven Team – Forget about hiring well-known industry veterans. Build a case for your team.
  • Start As A Service Business – You can making cash immediately and pay for further research and development.
  • Focus On Function, Not Form – When selecting service providers, pick them based on your needs – not their size.
  • Pick Your Battles – Make money from you magic, not things anyone else can do.
  • Go Direct – The more middlemen there are between you (the seller) and your customer, the longer it takes to know what to fix.
  • Position Against The Leader – Your competition has done you a huge favour by establishing themselves ahead of you. Use known equivalents to describe what you do.
  • Take The Red Pill – As in The Matrix, rid yourself of fantasy and face reality.
  • Get A Morpheus – As in The Matrix again, this is the person who sees to it that you achieve your objectives and is realistic.
  • Understaff and Outsource – Run with a lean team, it’s better than laying off people you didn’t need in the first place. Outsource everything else.
  • Build A Board – Not only for funded businesses, it helps with evangelism and maintaining innovativeness.
  • Sweat The Big Stuff – Looking big and fancy are less significant than developing your product, selling and getting paid. Focus on what matters

As you can tell, bootstrapping is one of the lessons I had to learn again. It keeps you on course and definitely differentiates you from everyone else. That, like romance thrillers, leads to a happily after.

This chapter, which also quotes Seth Godin, drives home the idea of making meaning and strengthening your business model.

These, as said earlier, are just some of the highlights and lessons I had to learn. You’ll be seeing a lot of quotes from The Art Of The Start, going forward. It spoke to areas in my startup that need perfecting and improving and testing. Other things that also ring true from the book are the Art Of Pitching and the Art Of Selling.

What is the most significant lesson you’ve learnt in business, lately? Care to share?

Let us know what you’ve read as well. If you’d like to share it, you could write a guest review.

Kill your last great idea

A blank page is quite scary. Really daunting to say the least. Well….it has been, for me,  lately.

Here is the thing, you want the writing to come out perfectly. To bring hundreds, if not thousands, of readers. But the real intention was never that, for me. It was to track where I was at any stage and continually improve.

In came all the expert blogging advice, SEO and ‘master blogging in a month’ or day. Then the pressure followed.

A friend, who admittedly subscribes to ‘tough love’, always says – “be the one to kill your last great idea”.

It’s great to have hundreds of people read your blog and follow your work. It’s when  you lose of why you do it, that it loses its essence. We all want to, absolutely have to continually redefine ourselves and do the next best thing.

Your last great innovation, is what the masses define with. The hardest thing – is to be the one who exterminates and kills that idea, to replace it with something better. More innovative.

The focus should always be your audience, and that being an audience of one. The one client, who evangelizes to hundreds. Not the hundreds and thousands that soon dissipate into thin air.

Image by: fo. ol on Flickr

That Elusive Dream Client

So, you wake up one morning with an idea to start your business and having high profile clients call you up all the time. Days become weeks, they turn to months and you haven’t had access to that dream client.

What now? You’ve tried everything you know how and exhausted your network calling everyone who knows someone. And still. Nothing!

Being the enterprising mind that makes things happen, of course, you are nowhere near giving in. That first morning with that ‘great idea’ starts to fade.

One of many things can happen, and 2 of them are:

a. Offer some pro bono work to the dream client

What I relearned again this morning was – Free work means you put your branding next to it. This is instant access to the client for more work at a later stage. It also associates you with them, in which case your credibility is built and they add to your references.

b. Compete for the client as everyone else with references

Well……this is actually a no brainer, especially if your business is highly conceptual and aims to compete against established market equivalents. Without a “credible” background, seeing that you are still a startup, it is difficult convince clients that you are worth working with. Make that damn near impossible.

Most companies that we target have a template according which they measure service providers. And if there is one thing that frustrates me more than people working from templates, it’s people who discredit your work without thorough understanding. Then rejecting you, because you don’t their template requirements.

Proving you are confident about your concept and breaking through the red tape of template workers, may mean doing free work. At least where I am now.

What are your ideas around breaking into the market and getting that dream client? Better yet, how did you get through to that client?

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Image by: annais on Flickr

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Chilli Cheese Fries and unusual buzz

Tasha's Chilli Cheese Fries

Some days you get so busy, lunch becomes a distant reflection. Except those days when you actually put everything down. You leave the office and go sit somewhere.  Even then, little do you expect lunch itself to make it into your conversation.

What’s for lunch?

So we went to a little restaurant called Tasha’s with a colleague. The intention was to have their Belgian Chocolate Cake – more about that later. While looking through the menu, we opted for their Chilli Cheese Fries.

The waitress returned a few minutes later with a box, which we didn’t suspect was ours. The fries were – “chips with all the yumminess of pasta” as Victoria – my colleague put it.

Conversation starter


Everything we spoke about prior ended, in almost, an instant while were having the “chips with all the yumminess of pasta”.

Tasha’s became part of our conversation from then on. Companies that create buzz are the bold ones. Ones that, apart from the status quo with its established rules, do things differently.

Because you are adding personality to your offer, you wont be liked everyone. But those who do, may just care enough to talk about you.

I recommended we go there for their, earlier mentioned, Belgian Chocolate – which may just be the only place in Johannesburg that has it.

So there, I would go back to Tasha’s and recommend you do too.