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.


A change agent for South African entrepreneurs

Between 2009 and 2013, I worked at Rand Merchant Bank on their Class Of programme – rotating through various divisions to learn the workings of an investment bank. The Class Of mandate was to bring alternate and entrepreneurial thinking to the table and question the status quo. We were lucky to have access to the top brass, founders of RMB and their network, and would invite guest speakers to share their stories with us.awethu-logo

One of the most memorable of those was a breakfast with Yusuf Randera Rees. Harvard and Oxford alumni, Rhodes scholar and international working experience at Credit Suisse – destined for greatness, whether in his own business or any corporate he chose to work for. The most remarkable thing about Yusuf, though, is that he’s passionate about other entrepreneurs and their growing businesses, not for his commercial gain, but for South Africa to become a better place.

Awethu Projects incubates passionate social entrepreneurs, guides and grows them in ways that they can run their own commercial entities. The project started as a R60k start-up to now managing millions of Rands of investment and development spend.

Thanks to funding from the Jobs Fund, Awethu is offering a life-changing opportunity to entrepreneurs who have ambition and talent, but lack formal business skills: 250 scholarships, each worth R45K, to enter Awethu’s entrepreneurship training academy. At the end of the 6-month training programme, during which entrepreneurs are required to be running a business after month one, the top 10% of graduates will be eligible to receive an equity investment from Awethu’s investment fund of up to R250K (#Awe250K).

To get to know inspiring entrepreneurs who have already partnered with Awethu, visit awethuproject.co.za; facebook.com/AwethuProject or @AwethuProject.  Hats off to Yusuf, his team, and the entrepreneurs with a burning passion to stimulate South African entrepreneurship.

Cycling up the Alpe d’Huez

If you’ve watched highlights of the Tour de France, the mountain sIMG_8735tages in the French Alps are always where the the battles are lost and won. Nicole and I have just spent a month on honeymoon in France, and on our way back to Paris from the Riviera, I jumped at the opportunity to climb the infamous Alpe d’Huez climb – to feel the burn and savour the achievement.

The stats of the climb:

  • 21 hairpin bends
  • Distance of 13.8km
  • Altitude gain of 1118m
  • Average gradient of 8.1%
  • Steepest gradient of 13.6%

I rode in the early morning, starting just before 7am, the temperature at a fresh 8 degrees. The climb starts out quite steep, and the sight of the Huez village way, way up at the top of the mountain is rather horrifying. I found it difficult to get into a rhythm, my quadriceps immediately screaming at me to call off the idea.IMG_8739

Every hairpin corner has a signboard giving details of the altitude and list previous winners of the stage of the Tour, dating back to 1952 when the climb first formed part of it. The numbers also count back from 21, so you can have some perspective on how far you’ve got to go.

Average speed settled at about 11 km/h. Marco Pantani, who holds the record for the fastest ascent, in 37 minutes averaged 23km/h. Ridiculous! After bend 6, the gradient eased from between 10 and 12% down to a steady 7.5%. People’s names and notes of support are painted on the tar almost consistently all the way up the climb. You can almost imagine the riders steaming up the climb, the crowds screaming on the penultimate day of the Tour.

IMG_8745 At an hour in, with a few more bends to go, the views back over the valley became quite spectacular. Snow capped Alps above you, dense green forests beneath, and the town from which I started, seeming increasingly smaller.

Reaching the top felt surreal – an mixture of appreciation for my love of cycling and seeing the world from the perspective of my saddle and handlebars, and a humbling respect for the Tour riders who climb it, often after 150km of riding, and to ascend it in such a quick time. It’s certainly not an easy thing to do, but quite achievable if you’re an experienced cyclist and have the right gearing on your bike. During the summer time, up to 800 people do it in a day.

Go try it!

 

 

 

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Fostering true innovation in the financial services industry

This post originally appeared on Moneyweb in April 2015

The recipe for entrepreneurial success goes something along the line of this: Create significant economic value for an industry by commercialising an innovative product or service, scale that platform to acquire market share quickly, while tapping a network of connected, experienced captains of industry to further the momentum and obtain valuable feedback to refine the value offering.

The corporate recipe for success is often built on an entrepreneurial premise, but add company size, staff and governance procedures and things slow right down. Improvements in corporate systems and products offer marginal contributions to earnings or market share growth, typically because the way things are done is the way they’ve always been done. “Brand new innovation” doesn’t sit well with clock-watchers and an old guard holding onto their positions that they’re riding out until retirement. Corporates don’t change the world we live in as much as entrepreneurs do.

It’s rare that a corporate can execute new business thinking as well as entrepreneurs can. For this reason, corporates have always tried to make space for entrepreneurs within their businesses to hatch and scale those “10 times the growth” propositions. This is often the place that entrepreneurs’ ideas and fledgling businesses go to die quiet and uncelebrated deaths, suffocated by red tape and a lack of risk appetite from those holding the purse strings.

The Rand Merchant Bank Class Of programme was founded by Paul Harris when RMB was growing rapidly and bringing on new products and services. Lateral entrepreneurial thinkers had the freedom to aggressively deliver and commercialise the outputs of their “20% time”, much like Google encouraged their staff to work on sideline projects while they were scaling the J-curve of growth and new market entry. Harris was onto something, as a study on the S&P 500 between 2001 and 2010 illustrated that investment in the top 50 brands seeking a high hanging purpose fostered by innovative “intrapreneurs” yielded returns 400% ahead of the S&P 500 index.

As an ex-RMB Class Of myself, I have to say that Michael Jordaan and Herman Bosman are two shining examples of Class Of’s best exports. I read with much satisfaction this week that Bosman, now leading RMI, has said that he’d be looking to bolster innovation in the RMI stable by incubating entrepreneurs in the financial services industry and, where it made sense, invest into these businesses with the same view that saw Outsurance and Discovery deliver returns to their seed funders.

I think this is an incredibly sound approach for corporates to integrate their businesses with entrepreneurs, where together they are best placed to conceptualise, formalise and grow ancillary products or services that will contribute significantly to the bottom line. By giving these young businesses the purpose and the exit strategy from early on in their lifecycle, both the corporate partners and the entrepreneurs are incentivised to make meaningful strides in creating shareholder value.

A common misunderstanding about entrepreneurs is that they only need funding to succeed. If a minimum viable product is floated to the market and there’s a demand shown for it, it’s not normally cash that’s needed in isolation. It’s the other components of that success recipe I mentioned – mentorship from corporate leaders, feedback, network, momentum and scale that are the real demand.

It’s exciting to see what Bosman and his team are proposing as their strategy for the business and bringing to bear some of his experiences as a Class Of. I’m certain that small businesses in the financial industry are taking notice of this, and I hope other industries follow a similar blueprint if they want to stay agile and foster true innovation.

First mover advantage to the BMW all electric range

I remember the evening of March 31st, 2008, rather well. My aunt, who lives in Atlanta, was out to visit and had brought with her, under my instruction, a new Apple iPhone. At the time, just called iPhone (3G wasn’t even around yet), I was one of a few people in South Africa who wanted to be first to try this new product. As much as it was about an incredible phone, it was also, realising in years to come, part of my personality to buy and experiment with new and technologically advanced products, before they work their way onto main street. A week later, I bought Apple shares at $20. They’re now at $124, largely because of the earnings made on iPhone that’s now prolific the world over.

IMG_7681In the way iPhone revolutionised the smartphone, BMW is doing for electric cars. Their long awaited BMW i3 and i8 models are now available for purchase in South Africa, and last week I was given one to use for the week and try out.  Before driving out of the parkade, I was given an interior and exterior tour of the highlights of the vehicle. Being a design engineer, the technology, materials and science that’s gone into producing the vehicle are quite amazing. Bio-materials from plants are used in the interior finishing, together with a full carbon-fibre chassis. Connected Drive synced without hassle to my phone, bringing through my contacts, music, messages and phone functionality. I learnt that even the source of electricity used in manufacturing the car in Liepzig comes from wind and solar power.

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Understanding whether the car is on or off took a bit of learning – it’s strange to not have the idling vibration post ignition sequence. But once the car is on the road, it’s incredibly quick. Standstill to 60km/h in four seconds, without a noticeable changing of gears is quite a feat. And as soon as your foot comes off the accelerator, the regenerative braking system kicks in and starts charging the batteries. The engineers have got the deceleration just right that it doesn’t coast, nor does it jerk to a halt. Once mastered, you rarely use your brake at all.

At home, it’s very easy to put the car on charge via its charging kit that plugs into a regular three pin wall socket. It takes about 8 hours to charge fully. The thought of never having to go to a fuel station again is not only a massive cost saving, but also very convenient. I haven’t done the maths yet on the cost of the energy to recharge the BMW i3 versus cost of fuel and services, but am sure that in time this will prove very efficient.

In all – I really am impressed with BMW. Ive’ never been a BMW fan, and never owned on, but that might change. If you’d like to book a test drive, click here. To visit the microsite, click here. If you can’t afford one, perhaps just buy the shares in the meanwhile – they’re already up 37% YTD..

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