Skiing in Saalbach

After completing the Ironman 70.3 in Port Elizabeth, Jules and I flew to Europe to visit Prague, Munich and spend a week on the slopes in Saalbach, Austria. I’ve only skied twice before, so took a while to warm to technique. Two days in I was past the snowplough procedure, but still managed to stop a ski-lift, take out two Austrians and crash into Julia. Here’s the lowdown..

And then the event, caught on camera. Love it!

Global Entrepreneurship Week – Getting your business investor ready

It is Global Entrepreneurship Week, and fitting that we celebrate and support entrepreneurs making great progress in our country. I think for so many salaried staff, the world of anxiety, pressure and rich experience of entrepreneurship is such a world away from the comforts of their 9-5. So, a great opportunity to dip the toes in the exciting world up entrepreneurialism.

I was fortunate to have been invited to give a talk at The Hub, a created habitat for social and innovative entrepreneurs in the Johannesburg CBD. My brief was to address the considerations of small business looking for investors to get onboard and assist them in growing.  It was a great experience to relay some of my learnings of going through the challenges of an entrepreneur, as well as being able to look at businesses from an investment angle.

The rough flow of my talk went along these lines. Please excuse the shorthand, but just wanted to give the gist of what I covered.

Look at the basic growth of a fledgling business:

  • Ideation
  • Development/Prototyping/Conception
  • Market penetration
  • Revenue
  • Growth in sales, staff, profit
  • Additional lines of revenue or release of new products

This paints a risk profile – returns should be commensurate with the associated risks

Important to know the difference between debt and equity

Also think about what you want to give away

Types of investors sitting on the risk spectrum

How to better position yourself to be invested in

  • Personal credibility
    • Being a success in everything you do
    • Get good brands behind you
    • Invest in your network
    • Invest as much as possible
    • Be SARS compliant
    • Learn about governance and company structuring
    • Get online
  • Passion and enthusiasm
    • Get to know the industry intricately
    • Show that you’re in this, 100%
  • Intellectual assets
    • Create barriers to entry
    • Patents and logos and trademarks
    • Choose partnerships
  • The intricacies of your business – from an investors point of view
    • Scalability
    • Industry trends
    • Co-investors
    • Returns expected
    • Alternative revenue streams and quality of earnings
    • Exit strategies
    • How the investor can add value. Are they the right investor?

    There are many more to add to this, so feel free to comment and add, based on your experience.

    Read more about Global Entrepreneurship Week here.

    Find out about The Hub here.

    The difference between working for a corporate and getting a job at a corporate

    The landscape of the working world is most interesting. For every industry, the value chain consists of a vast array of one man bands, small start-ups, SMMEs, large corporates, multinationals and in cases, large institutions. For each of these, there  is a spread of people, talent and the way business gets done.

    The entrepreneur in me always seemed to be kicking and screaming out against the stayed old conventional corporates, in any interaction I had with them. Processes seem bureaucratic, committee decisions seem risk adverse, and staff never have a commitment of skin in the game so they’ll gladly push paper around, but never during their tea time. My experience of moving from running my own business into a corporate environment has been so diverse, and almost two years on, am very happy being an entrepreneur within a big corporate. Here are a few tricks that I’ve learnt..

    Firstly, pick your corporate correctly. There are a lot of lumbering beasts, age-old dinosaurs who have retained staff since their inception. The risk in these corporates are the plethora of rules and processes that have stayed the test of time that you have to adhere to, as well having what seems like a crowd of geriatrics belittling you and your ideas. Changing the world in these places is going to be tough! So I’d rather pick out those who show signs of moving with the times – promoting new technology and have a strong IT focus; employing dynamic youth that you can work with and learn from; are known as innovators in their industry and are often first to market; and importantly, remain ambitious and competitive. This will flush out the dead-wood quickly, and the grey hair in the executive will be more than likely open to considering new ideas and products.

    Be strategic in which corporate you work for. Firstly, don’t pick the first job that comes along from any old industry player. Take time to decide which industry you’d like to play in for the long run, and then, which corporate is the best in class. Then only take an offer from them. This will bring you into contact with the cream of people in the industry, and their clients and suppliers. You’ll learn so much more, be challenged to be commercial, and effectively plan the the “Premier League.”

    And thirdly, don’t become a specialist, just yet. Typically, I’ve discovered two kinds of people in corporates. Those that work for a corporate, and those that have jobs in a corporate. Those with jobs just do their daily grind. They’re good at what they do and just focus on that deep and narrow part of the business, blissfully unaware of changes happening in the macro-environment which could lead to their redundancy. Those guys are also not endearing themselves to be headhunted into the new and exciting projects of the business, with an exposure to the wider network of a corporate. I’ve found it best to be the entrepreneur in the corporate, it leads to a heck of a lot of learning, networking and progression. At the end of the day, corporates still need dynamic minds and enabling people to get their businesses ahead of the pack.

    So those are a few of my thoughts on the corporate working world. I’d be keen to hear yours.

    Imagine listing yourself on the stock exchange

    “How much would you list yourself on the stock exchange for?” is a typical question that comes up in RMB Class Of interviews. The thinking behind this that has been put forward by candidates is quite interesting. And it begs the question – do we look at ourselves as our own investments?

    For those a little distant to the idea of listing a company, the concept allows from the value and ownership of the asset or business to transfer from private shareholders to the public. Secondary market activity allows for these shares to be traded in the open, for a value which is created when a willing seller and a willing buyer agree on a price. Company or asset earnings as well as market sentiment drive the share price up or down.

    I am of the opinion that the best leverage one can have during your life is to make a success from ideas, and then from your own money.  But you’d have to start somewhere, so the sequence for me would go:

    Make money from your time<Make money from other people’s time<Make money from your and others’ ideas and businesses<Make money from your money.

    So imagine yourself as an asset. Your physical appearance. Your education. Your work experience. Your network. Your current assets and liabilities. Your age, and your ability to earn an income into the future. Your ability to attract business. Your ideas. Your ambition. Your drive. Your hunger for success as you define that. Imagine the price that each of these facets command. Sum them up. What are you worth?

    Pretty interesting, I think.

    The “new age” of accounting requires that businesses report on a triple bottom line – economical, ecological and social values. How much do you contribute to the society you find yourself in, and how good a custodian are you of our planet for our children one day? How sustainably can you exist as a high quality asset if those “of less value” normalise the market? How do you differentiate your offering to stand head and shoulders above your peers? What kind of an asset class do you prefer being? What kind of an asset would you like to be?

    To my mind, these questions and others could help us in reviewing ourselves personally. They could be used to evaluate how best we use our time, and how we could best invest in ourselves for today and for the future.

    BTW, let me know how you’d value yourself if you listed?

    Living a dog’s life

    I’ve been thinking a little about the luxury that we have in being able to plan for the future. The ability to fill out our little Google calendars with plans for dinner, seeing friends, participating in sports events and going on holidays. Some people cross days off the calendar on their desk in anticipation of the weekend or some future occasion of joy and happiness. I know you’ve seen them!

    I then wondered if this was in fact a luxury. Yesterday my sister’s dog got admitted to doggy-hospital to have some teeth removed after some evident pain he seemed to have in his mouth. He’s since returned to tearing around the house, smiles at us all and has a bottle of his own dog-listerine to use before bed time. The funny thing, though, is that he didnt plan this visit to the vet. He jumped into the car thinking he was going on an adventure, for all he knew.

    Two things are thus concerns for me. Firstly, that we all live in anticipation of some date or event of supposed splendour (women thinking their wedding day will be the happiest day of their life is a terrifying thought that comes to mind), to the detriment of enjoying the moment we’re currently in. The second, is that today is as good as any to enjoy, for all the opprtunities it presents, even if it’s a Monday! I know I’m often guilty of planning my heart out and running from one thing to the next, whilst forgetting to just soak up the moment. I guess we could be more like dogs and do as they do, because they’ve got no future plans to worry about.

    I would be keen to hear your thoughts on this. But whilst contemplating, here’s to not wishing our lives away, and living the dream today.

    How to win the game of Rock | Paper | Scissors

    For all you competitive types out there, here’s a little treat to keep you winning free beers and free options to first dips on undecided issues that crop up amongst friends. I hear Lulu’s coffee shop gives you discount if you beat the barista too..

    People: More fragile than initially thought

    Speaking from my perspective, when I drive around the city, my contact with the poor is mostly through beggars at the robot. My contact with less privileged people is mostly through contact with my domestic worker and gardener. I don’t know if I am fortunate or unfortunate to work indoors, only coming into contact with people as fortunate as me – but I guess that could be another topic of discussion.

    My perception of people that are less fortunate is that they are more susceptible to their circumstance making their life incredibly tougher, at a moments notice. Their ‘layer of cottonwool’ that protects their peace of mind and happiness is not that thick. The security of a meal at the end of the day, let alone their job security is paper thin. But perhaps their happiness and that barrier of protection are not as intertwined as I think. Perhaps it is better for one’s sanity to have less “material things” to worry about.

    Nonetheless, it has been a stark realisation to me this last week, through one or two events and the discovery of Post Secret, that people are really fragile. We’re harbouring dark secrets and insecurities that are masked and shoved deep down into the depths of our personalities. It’s quite scary, actually.

    Post Secret, for those of you that don’t know, is an ongoing community art project, where people around the world can write their own secret on a postcard and post it off to an address in the States. Each week, Frank Warren, who started the initiative shares some of these secrets with the world on Open the site up when you’ve got an hour or two of free time.. just a light word of warning.

    The secrets vary in depth and focus, but span the human spectrum of emotion. There are light-hearted ones, romantic ones, sad ones and terrifying ones. There are secrets that you relate to, because in some way, you’ve felt those same emotions, even if their were murky and you never let them crystallize and really let them be appreciated in their full glory. I’m afraid that at some point I’ll experience the pain and anguish that are expressed in some of the secrets that I currently don’t relate to.

    An interesting insight for me was to see how few of the secrets related to peoples’ jobs and work. There are the consequential ones where work creates circumstances of extreme emotion, but for the most part, people’s deepest emotions were about love, life, beauty, emotions and other people. I’m glad to see this, albeit that we exist in a work of WORK WORK WORK!

    Here are a few secrets that resonated with me.

    Lunch with Michael Jordaan

    Yesterday, the Class Of group shared lunch with Michael Jordaan, FNB CEO, and Alan Pullinger, RMB CEO. The Class Of programme is an initiative started by Paul Harris that looks to bring in talented young professionals with a hunger for investment banking into RMB. You can read more about the program here. The alumni network that exists for Class Of is incredibly strong, with Michael Jordaan being one of the early members of the programme, and hence our interest in chatting to him.

    It was fascinating to see the fluidity and breadth, as well as the depth of insight he has not only into his business, but into the economics of the country, international competitors, and the way that he sees retail banking developing into the future. As a person, he boasts a PhD, and started as a bank teller and then moved up the ladder to become the CEO at the tender age of just 36. He is also a wine farmer.

    A number of interesting conversations unfolded, the most memorable of which for me were these:

    Quicksell was an initiative set up in light of the high number of reposed houses on banks’ books. For customers that accept that they can no longer service their mortgage, houses are taken back by FNB and marketed through to new potential buyers. The current owners do not stand to go through the traumatic process of eviction and auction, and new buyers are in some cases given 100% bonds, reduced transfer and initiation fees, and ultimately a discounted house.

    South Africa is currently the 3rd worst globally in terms of online phishing and scams. FNB is faced with the ongoing challenge of maintaining convenience of use of Internet Banking whilst keeping fraud in check. Apparently, it happens that for credit card transactions below a certain limit, point-of-sale devices often don’t dial in to the bank for transaction verification. This allows for stolen cars, or “hotcards” to still be used for small transactions. It is only through tracking usage patterns that the thief can be found. In one case, a guy was paying for his round of Saturday golf with the hotcard – FNB then nailed him at the course!

    FNB Connect is a recent product added to the FNB stable. FNB branches are wired to all connect over the internet for business purposes and effectively runs a massive billing platform. But this all happens during business hours, and the infrastructure sits idle during the night. This was then leveraged into FNB Connect, which allows customers to make use of the bandwidth at very low rates. So simple, yet so clever!

    Underpining all the developments at FNB are innovation, staff engagement, and a focus on technology. Michael believes that the best ideas for business can be constructed and realised by the staff, within branches and doing daily work. There is a large amount of focus and energy dedicated to growing and supporting these innovative and entrepreneurial developments. And then the obvious drive towards a more technologically connected society, which will allow retail banking to be made easier and more accessible to the country and FNB’s African footprint. FNB feels that if they focus on developments in the online space (think @RBJacobs, FNB & Paypal, Fuel Rewards etc) they will stay well up the curve as the market moves and evolves.

    So all in all, a very inspiring talk. It’s great to see the youth and dynamic approach of leaders making a difference in everyday lives. And done with a wonderful balance between ambitious intent and an appreciation of people.

    Get in touch with me if you’d like to hear more about Class Of, and if you’d be interested in applying.

    The virtue of consistency

    “One. Two. Three.” What comes next? “Four,” I hear you say? But what about Three, because the best predictor of tomorrow is today. Or perhaps it is Two, where we average out the past and take the view of the mean? Or is it One? Because as much as things change, they tend to always stay the same?

    Oscar Wilde once said, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” Aldous Huxley added more clarity in saying, “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.”

    I do feel that this should be challenged, though, in a particular view of consistency. In a number of frequent instances over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that for the most part, being consistently excellent, gets you placed and opens you doors. I do think that there is a threat by being conventionally consistent, for the world changes incredibly fast, and you can easily be caught out with the tide and your swimmers round your ankles.

    In a hiring environment, flavour and diversity and balance and achievement count in ones favour. Consistently delivering excellence, irrespective of the channel or circumstance. In a business transaction, the consistency with which the company under review has performed over a number of years will be key in calculating price and securing investment. In a friendship or relationship, the less volatile and wildly swinging the emotions, the more secure and stable the foundation that can be built. Perhaps..

    One could almost venture as far as saying that you should be predictable to some degree or another. Outlier events earn us the experiences we can put down to “school fees” but to secure trust and respect, be it from friends, colleagues or teammates, we should consider delivering excellence consistently.

    What are your thoughts?

    2010 – The year of…

    Every year we say how the “year has just flown.”  But every year it does, even more so than the year prior. I’m still amazed that it is just a few short days to Christmas, and haven’t really given too much thought processing the happenings of 2010.

    Here’s some of what was significant for me during the year that has flown.

    1. Becoming the proud owner of a morph suit. This blue, full body piece of awesomeness gets you the most amazing reactions from people. We’ve been the favourites at Loftus, Soccer World Cup games, and even Christmas parties. Here’s a snap of us catching some airtime on DSTV.
    2. Buying and renovating a house. In a short few months, you’re able to become an expert on everything from types of toilets to paint colour palettes. It was probably the biggest single learning experience for me, jammed into a very short period of time. From learning the best ways to bargain and negotiate with contractors, to managing a timeline, and coming to expect that being let down is often part of the process. It has also been incredibly rewarding to live in a space that you’ve dedicated a lot of time towards.
    3. Facilitating a winter school for 90 learners from Zimisele School in Springs. Through the relationship I still have with the team and tutors at Penguin Tutoring, the inspiration and passion that I saw in these learners, who had taken time from their holidays to attend extra Maths and Accounting lessons, was incredible. It has also been so warming to see the benefits from a school that was sponsored as a beneficiary of the project out in Mpumalanga. Receiving a massive A1 Thank You card from the class for having put towards a new library was unlike any gift I have ever received.
    4. Attending the Soccer World Cup and being in South Africa to experience the international hype and exposure surrounding the event. I was lucky enough to go to four of the games, and also watched a couple from the fan parks. The realisation of the nation in seeing itself deliver on such scale, with such precision and grace was epic. If South Africa gets put in a position where it has to deliver, on any odds, I believe we will be able to do it.
    5. Seeing the fruits of three years of research culminate in a product and a degree. What started as a lesson from a cardiothoracic surgeon on how the heart works, transformed into the development of a stented heart valve which I aim to continue developing such that it can benefit emerging market patients. Obtaining my doctorate, talking at TEDx and getting coverage on the radio and TV news were awesome – not so much for me, but for the potential number of sick people this valve can potentially help.  The jury is still out on the meaning of a PhD to me, but I’m leaning towards the view that it’s a tool to inspire confidence and leadership in a field of choice.
    6. The importance of people and the things that are not said. I come off a very low base when it comes to EQ, and this year has made me realise the importance of really taking the time to listen and understand the people around me. A lot has happened in the emotional and friendship space that I guess could have been addressed better, had I been more aware. It will definitely be an area that I will continue to foster a better alignment with in the year ahead.
    7. Getting a taste of investment banking.  Having started at RMB and being tasked with the challenge of deploying a knowledge management and new intranet framework, I moved to the Fixed Income, Currency and Commodities division from August.  Being a part of a small team, we work amongst the myriad of other desks on the trading floor, with information streaming across all types of visual and audible interfaces around us. Structuring and selling inflation and credit linked products has been a rollercoaster of extreme proportions. Excitement lives in every day!
    8. Facing my fear of heights, head on.  A particular event made me realise that sometimes people can’t shirt their fears. That there is an element of interconnectedness between the anxiety that plays out in everybody’s minds each day. This inspired me to bungee at a friend’s bachelors party off the Soweto Towers in a 100m bungee. Sweaty palms, more!
    9. Meeting new people and appreciating fun. I remember a day when my mom asked me if I was going out on Saturday night. I said quite honestly that I’d prefer to stay home and do Calculus (Srsly, who does that!). Now I get to work and have fun with some of the smartest and wildest people I’ve ever met.
    10. On a similar point, appreciating people and appreciating life. The year had its share of scares, diagnoses and people passing. I’ve come to appreciate that if it’s your unlucky spin of the wheel, then that’s what it is. Disease and accidents are not very far away. I’ve tried to live without regret of days gone by. I have enjoyed the simple pleasures of a morning run, a walk in the park, time with my dogs, shooting the breeze, or even just watching the moon on a clear evening, with such zest.

    Here’s looking forward to the challenges, the triumphs, the energy and the enthusiasm that I know 2011 holds.