Danny MacAskill skills

Having been to Gran Canaria a few years ago, this is the last thing I’d imagine someone would do.. on their bike.

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Hard Work has its Rewards

The last few weeks has provided an opportunity for me to spend time with young and aspirational people, more than I usually do. For the last few years, near the end of the year we’ve upped the number of interviews we do as some of the best of the South African youth come into the job market, having completed their courses or degrees and are looking at prospects.

hardworkimageThrough early experiences interviewing student tutors for Penguin Tutoring, to interviews at Rand Merchant Bank, to now employing people for Webfluential, there’s a little something special that shines through in some of the youth that I’ve met. Irrespective of the degree that they’ve completed or the awards and recognition on their CV’s, sometimes you get to meet someone with absolute fire in their belly.

Most often, the common traits are that youngsters from a financially challenging upbringing but are smart and desperate to succeed, show potential beyond normal bounds. I wrote about the risk/reward dilemmas for young entrepreneurs earlier this year, where if you have no money to lose, the dedication to achieve a goal can be quite remarkable.

The story of Prof Leeuw is one such story – a young man having started his story in the village of Taung, and going to on become a globally recognized astrophysicist. The grit and drive to pursue a dream, if you’re willing to not yield to an excuse, is probable for just about anyone.

There are brands like Profmed that are also happy to acknowledge these commitments to a cause and offer medical aid cover to a select group of professionals with a four year degree. Follow this link to find out more:

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The Landscape Hunter – exhibition in Cape Town

If you’re in Cape Town, drive to Sea Point and check out Thomas Ferreira’s exhibition – a solo exhibition titled The Landscape Hunter. It’s a collection of some incredible images of landscape photography that he’s assembled from touring across the globe, including New Zealand, USA, Chile and South Africa.

The Landscape Hunter

The most appealing thing for me about the pictures is their expanse and with all the landscape they cover, give no clue that a human has ever been there to see it or spoil it. The 3m wide prints are wide enough to take up your entire field of vision, making you feel as though you’re actually in these places. I’ve bought a print of the Torres del Paine photo pictured above for my office.

Well done to Thomas! He tells me he’ll be coming to Johannesburg in late Jan/Feb too. In the meanwhile, check out his website here.

Landscape Hunter 2

 

Crowdsourcing innovation

When I worked as an investment banker, one of the insights that became clear to me very early on was that banks have transformed very quickly into technology businesses. What used to be an industry with relational managers and bank balance sheets offering very vanilla products has now become a very technology-centric industry with multiple touch points and very complex real time services served through technology.

The changes have happened, and continue to happen very quickly. With the business focusing on staying up to speed with the market and keeping it’s customers happy, it often doesn’t have the perspective or luxury to see the wood from the trees. Recently American Express has fallen on tough times for not maintaining it’s strategic relationship with Costco, for example. Add to the mix that banks often employ 10,000+ staff, which is great for momentum but severely limits their ability to be nimble and implement things quickly.

On the other side of the spectrum sits small business. Innovation and being fleet footed are almost synonymous. But scaling and operations are tough for small business. In April I wrote for Moneyweb on how the financial industry is throwing it’s hat in the innovation ring and seeing what comes of it. There is definitely a middle ground for the innovators and big business to work together if the incentives and engagement are well defined.

I was happy to see that Standard Bank has embraced this methodology in their Pathfinders Challenge that is currently underway. It’s an opportunity for techies, young professionals and entrepreneurs to pitch, demonstrate and commercialise an innovative banking solution and then get the support of Standard Bank to take it into the big leagues.

R500,000 of skin has been put in the game by Standard Bank in the form of cash, UX testing, rapid prototyping, technical support and mentorship for the winners of the Pathfinders Challenge. Winners will be flown out to the Standard Bank Incubator in Rosebank, where they will be accommodated for the duration of the execution. The competition launched on the 3rd of October and entries will close on the 6th of November at 23:59. It’s open to anybody with a solution that Standard Bank could benefit from. And likely the credibility and experience of going through a pitch process is just as valuable as the prize money.

You can read the Press Release here and follow the campaign socially on Facebook and Twitter.

The next commodity supercycle involves something we all already own

The commodity supercycle which started in the early 2000s, saw the prices of physical commodities such as food, metals, fuel and chemicals rise as demand from emerging markets outstripped demand. A slowing global economy has recently seen a rapid slide of commodity prices, having severe impacts on global economic markets, job security and emerging market currencies.

A commodity is defined by something of demand that is independent of differentiation, from the French word commodite – amenity or convenience. The next booming demand in the economy is going to be people’s attention.

Commodity-IndexesAs the workforce has evolved from the traditional “hands on” approach, more people today work with the management of information. If you’ve ever heard your boss say, “Why aren’t you at your computer?” that’s testament to the fact. Yet, information is abundant – about our lives, on social networks, other’s lives on news channels, and our professions, in all the Exabytes of data available through the internet.

But by harnessing the attention of an audience through engaging content, the flow of attention to something online will anticipate the subsequent flow of money. It’s a very important commodity for brands to understand and appreciate, both when they are receiving audience attention, and when they are not.

The online experience you have online is different to your colleagues. Your browsing history, behaviour on websites and the way you search for content creates a digital fingerprint, unique to you, that’s valuable to brands. If you’re not yet already aware of it, your attention is currently being sold. The banners you see, or rather, don’t see, are tailored just for you.

“Attention is the hard currency of cyberspace,” wrote Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun all those years back in their 1996 book Rules of the Net. We find ourselves in a time when engaging content fights for our attention, and where we choose to spend it, matters financially to the brands generating the content you enjoy and share.

Immediacy, personalisation and authenticity are three metrics that form the foundation of attracting attention and keeping it. Moving beyond the visual realm of display banners to rich content stimulating the senses and emotions is key to growing with the audiences maturing demands of the web.

It’s rather interesting how opportunity cost has now not just got a place in our careers and big decisions in life, but in the everyday minutes of time spent online. The gauntlet for brands has been set!

My love-hate relationship with entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is the poster-child of the economy – consensus appears to be that running your own business is the ultimate pinnacle of a career – full of fun and the secret to untold riches. That might be the truth for a very few entrepreneurs, but there’s also a dark, lonely and extremely challenging side to it.

So what’s my current mission? I co-founded an influencer marketing business and am commercialising a novel heart valve replacement. Two businesses in two totally different fields, so the question I’m always asked, is how are they related? Conventional wisdom says that your career and your skill-set needs to specialise over time, which I agree with. I’m specialising in running efficient technology businesses that are differentiated by their intellectual property, ability to scale, and importantly, by the people working on them. So that’s my answer to those that are in fact interested. Through these businesses, as well as previous forays into a tutoring marketplace application and a digital content business, I’ve come to learn more about my love-hate relationship with my career choice.

My love for entrepreneurship

Being different

Without a prior understanding of an industry, you tend to ask fundamental questions about it and challenge the way things are done in their current form.  Less than two years ago, I asked Kirsty Sharman “What is media?” with reference to paid media behind digital content. At Webfluential, we now are arguably running the fastest growing media business in Africa because we took a different approach to solving a market need. Looking at a business from first principles allows you really consider the value proposition of the competitors and allows you to see that most businesses have a “me-too” approach to operating.

Experimenting

lego-man-murrayAs a kid, a new box of Lego wasn’t just an opportunity to stick to the construction guide given. I’d always turn to the back page with the other variations of what the pieces could be used to assemble. Imagination and experimentation. Two things that your own business affords you that often need more haggling to get right in a corporate. If what you’re selling or doing isn’t mainstream, you have to try and learn with your own skills and money. In reality this translates into 99% perspiration, but it’s still very enlightening!

Learning to work with people

Having a vision for a business or product has to be articulated through a lot of communication and charisma to the team. I’ve come to learn that most people don’t realise their own potential, so it’s often a stretch target to achieve what you’re wanting, but because you’re their boss and they don’t want to admit that they’ve failed at an objective – I find that it’s a pretty rewarding dynamic.

My hate for entrepreneurship

Loneliness

A few weeks ago I went to a breakfast alumni event with ex colleagues from my stint in investment banking. The conversation points to the ultimate unspoken, competitive question – “is the risk you took leaving a high paying career paying off more handsomely than our decision to stay in banking?” As an entrepreneur, you can’t say that you’re down, not winning, losing the fight, or one step away from packing it in. Your team, your staff, and your support structure all need you to be positive and declare that you’re winning. Most of the time, you’re not, and it’s lonely because you can’t share that fact with too many people. Thank goodness for my wife!

experiments-entrepreneurshipThe peanut gallery

There are a lot of bullshit quasi-entrepreneurs out there. Swaths of people spending their lives being entrepreneur incubators, coaches, even studying post graduate degrees on how to be great entrepreneurs. Start-up events, due diligence conferences, advisory firms and talks given by people that have never run their own business and been so successful that they’re qualified to actually talk, advise or guide on the subject. They’re quick to pass comment on the state of entrepreneurship, who’s good and who’s not. Their insecurity about their own value offering in the industry is confirmed to me every day that goes by without one of them calling to say they’d like to meet up and discuss funding or advising me.

Frictional cost of operating

The frustration and time wasted on frictional issues in a small business will one day soon become so important to entrepreneurs that they will seriously consider the country they wish to found in before considering incorporating. Crime (our staff’s laptops being stolen out of their cars), taxes (I’ve not received a single benefit for creating more than 30 full time and countless part time jobs from the SA government), and very average service delivery from the industries that supply to us, all slow us down. I miss the cotton wool cocoon of corporate, where you didn’t really have to ever phone the ISP yourself, fix the magnetic lock on the office door at 1 o’clock at night or worry about who checked the VAT return.

With these things that I love and hate being daily experiences in my career as an entrepreneur, I have to think so carefully about where I choose to spend my time and effort in creating value. Every minute is an opportunity cost. Thus, my mandate for business ventures I’ll consider working on:

  • Doing things that are breathtakingly new and ambitious
  • Work with other founders who radically want to change an industry, or better, the world
  • Have an audacious vision of a business seeking enormous markets

The challenge is that if you apply these constraints to a nebulous business concept, very few people really understand what you’re actually trying to do. They don’t understand the risks because of all the unknowables. Most of the time, you’re not always in full understanding of what you’re doing, either, adding to the confusion. And then you want people to join your crusade, or risk their money on you…? We’ll chat about that another time.

 

What is Google Deep Dream?

Google-Deep-Dream-DogI didnt know until a few months ago that you could put an image into Google search and it will tell you what’s in the picture and find similar pictures for you. Patson, the man that makes us coffee at the office, told me how he’s found a spider at his house and wanted to know if he should kill it, so he took a picture and Google told him it was a rain spider. So he didn’t kill it.

Google Deep Dream is an extension of this search software. Instead of it looking to tell you what’s in the photo, it references your picture against its entire library and where is sees something looking like a particular object, will amplify it more and more into that picture. Very much like when you’re dreaming, not everything appears to be the way it should. The algorithm only runs on a static image, but if it one day could take in a video feed, I image the playback would be very trippy indeed!

Here are two photos I fed into the dream maker. Notice the weird creatures, the castle on the hill and the chap on the unicycle.

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You can go do your own here. Follow on Instagram here. And look at some of the best pictures here.

Innovation – the intersection of science and the humanities

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I recently gave a guest speaker address a leading media company, where I looked at the aspects of why a business should innovate, how to go about it and how best to lead it.

Best captured by Walter Isaacson, “The next phase of the digital revolution will bring a true fusion of technology with the creative industries, such as media, fashion, music, entertainment, education, and the arts. Until now, much of the innovation has involved pouring old wine – books, newspapers, opinion pieces, journals, songs, television shows, movies – into new digital bottles. But the interplay between technology and the creative arts will eventually result in completely new formats of media and forms of expression. Innovation will come from being able to link beauty to technology, human emotions to networks, and poetry to processors.”

This is the generic version of the presentation.

Weekend in Paris? Do these things

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As part of our epic six week honeymoon, we spent just over a week in Paris. It’s every bit the romantic city that you read about. Paris is always a good idea, so when you decide to go, here are some of our highlights. We’re very into our food, exercise and commercio-hipster experiences. We’re also South Africans paying in Rands, so these are well worth their cost.

Run

Along the Seine. Book accommodation in the triangle between Champs Elyseé, Bastille and Montparnasse Tower and then run through the city’s oldest parts. The traffic appears a nightmare, but motorists are incredibly considerate. Here was our route.

Drink coffee

Ask for coffee in Paris and you’ll get espresso. They’ve never heard of a decent cappuccino and you’ll shock them if you ask for au lait. It’s simply not done. If there’s one thing that Paris needs is a decent creamy cafe latte. Coutume Cafe is what will save you. It comes as no surprise that behind their bar there’s actually no more space for their award trophies for the best coffee in Paris.

Lunch

Paris is slightly more tolerant of eating hours than the rest of France, but lunch hours are observed to happen between 12h30 and 14h00. Most places stop making food after two. And there’s no breakfast places listed in this post because there are no breakfast joints in Paris. Only boulangeries with the most delicious croissants you’ve ever tasted. That’s your breakfast, deal with the carbs. Best lunch spot in Cafe Central. Order a Leffe pression and a pizza.

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Shop

Tourists flock to the Champs Elyseé, and landlords collect their steep rents there, so rather travel to Galleries Lafayette and walk around the 9th Arridosiment.

Snack

Parisiens shops daily for food and every second person has a baguette under their arm or in their bicycle basket. They buy daily because the bread contains no preservatives, and markets are easily available for fresh produce. The markets on Rue Cler and President Wilson are worth a visit. Pick up some goats milk cheese, sliced ham and olives and you’re a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Dont miss a  Laduree macaroon. Dont worry that they only sell them in a box of six. You’ll soon be plotting your next visit. The other indulgence is a Nutella crepe and a custard filled shoux pastry. The narrower the shop selling them, the better, but rather from a pastry shop than a street stall.

Paris

Although the ultimate tourist attractions, they are worth the queues. The Eiffel Tower (gardens, I wouldn’t suggest going up unless at night in spring or autumn), Louvre and visiting Notre Dame. Rent a Velib (city bike for a Euro and hour) and cycle between places. Google maps knows you want to cycle and will put you on cycle paths the entire journey.

Drinks

With the wine and champagne estates of Bordeaux and Burgandy, Champagne all within a few hours train drive, the social life of the French is taken very seriously. Although they refuse to work a minute more than 7 hours a day, they truly deliver on their food and wine. Suggestions are Willi’s Wine Bar and Nuba overlooking the docks.

nuba-paris

Dinner

Our most enjoyable dinner was at Vivant – a hole in the wall that used to be an bird shop – the walls still adorning the tiles with feathered friends. Most Parisiens only start dinner after 9pm, so booking early is a win. We also had superb brown onion soup at Welcome just outside the Tuileries Metro stop and a fancy meal at Monsier Bleu – if you want to spot a model, this would be where!

It’s an incredible city, worth more than a weekend of your time. If you’re able to stay longer, look through the Goop Paris guide for more recommendations.

Au revoir!

 

 

Get behind MTN Qhubeka during the Tour de France

Cast your mind back to some significant athletic event in your life. Whether it was the U/10 100m dash in primary school or your first Ironman, one of the key ingredients in keeping your own morale and energy high is having the support of a wife, mom, dad or close friend on the sideline cheering for you at the top of their voice. The boost in energy when you pass them, or just the dogged determination to not show your pain by walking past them, adds valuable seconds to your finishing time.

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Having recently ridden the Alpe d’Huez – the climb on the penultimate stage of the Tour de France, this year’s Tour is especially appealing. Added to that is Team MTN Qhubeka’s participation – the first time and African team is part of cycling’s most coveted race. Even if you’re only supporting from the comfort of your office chair and sneakily Alt-Tabbing between your work and the live feed of the Tour, you can still show MTN Qhubeka your support.

Take part in the Fanometer Challenge to support the riders in France by simply following the team on Strava, and your kilometers ridden this July will be shared, with your routes and achievements, to the guys in the saddle. Send tweets to them by adding the hashtag #TeamMTNQhubeka.