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THE 2017






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Metacom’s expansion into Africa and beyond “I simply love a challenge and stepping way out of my comfort zone.”

RÉAN VAN NIEKERK Managing Director, Metacom


How hospitality entrepreneur Samuel Nassimov accomplished his dream

Meet the future, today.

Use your mobile phone camera to read.

Contents December January 2017/18

COV E R STO RY 20 A South African success story

Rising above the competition, Metacom proves local can become global By: Evans Manyonga

“Starting out on my own gave me the freedom to re-think my contribution to the future of technology.�

SPECIAL FE AT UR E 32 Innovation means

being future-positive

Transformation in an industry can be challenging, these companies prove it’s worth it

“Innovation is key to developing new technologies, and to drive change and live industry forward.” (Page 74)





16 Samuel Nassimov builds his

08 From the Editor 10 Recommender 90 UCT Column 92 Fast Bytes & Events 96 Freelance business

childhood dream

86 PwC - A Dual Business Strategy in a Digital World


By Dan Marcus


Tapping into tomorrow’s growth. Today’s world is faster and much more connected than it once was. This is why Siemens promotes innovation that helps our customers drive performance and benefit from a future-ready industry.


EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Evans Manyonga

Saarah Survé


Noel Spirandelli, Edel Rodriguez, Ollanski Bratislav, Milenkovic, Chris Schoonover



Stacey Storbeck-Nel



Kyle Villet


Keith Hill, Tony Malek, Mandla Mangena, Kevin Petersen, Jacky Villet


By Digital Publishing

Charles Burman, Catherine Crook


Lisa-Marie de Villiers CA(SA)


RSA Litho


MDA Distribution



Joe Mansueto, Mansueto Ventures


Robert Safian




Jon Gertner, Rick Tetzeli




JJ McCorvey

Jill Bernstein


Louise Marsland, Anneleigh Jacobsen, Prof. Walter Baets, Pepe Marais, Alistair King, Koo Govender, Abey Mokgwatsane, Kheepe Moremi, Ellis Mnyandu

Lori Hoffman




Ted Keller

Austin Carr, Evans Manyonga, Dan Marcus, Mark Wilson, Michael O’Carroll, Mills Soko, Noah Robischon, Saarah Survé, Siphosethu Nini, Sonwabo Macingwana Cover: Tariq Cassim Adobe Stock,, Peter Hapak, Brian Stauffer, Mark Mahaney, Tavis Coburn, Eric T.White, Aaron Feaver, Ramona Rosales, Molly Matalon, Cru Camara, Lyndon French, Matt Rota, Jamie Cullen, Alexis Facca, Rami Niemi





ART DIRECTOR Alice Alves Physical address: 176 Main Road, Claremont, 7700, Cape Town Postal address: PO Box 23692, Claremont, 7735 Telephone: +27 (0) 21 683 0005 Websites:




No article or any part of any article in Fast Company South Africa may be reproduced without the prior written consent of the publisher. The information provided and opinions expressed in this publication are provided in good faith, but do not necessarily represent the opinions of Mansueto Ventures in the USA, Insights Publishing or the editor. Neither this magazine, the publisher or Mansueto Ventures in the USA can be held legally liable in any way for damages of any kind whatsoever arising directly or indirectly from any facts or information provided or omitted in these pages, or from any statements made or withheld by this publication. Fast Company is a registered title under Mansueto Ventures and is licensed to Insights Publishing for use in southern Africa only. 6   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  DECEMBER JANUARY 2017/18

The Internet of Things is here. SqwidNet is the SIGFOX network operator for South Africa. It provides an ecosystem for IoT innovation and for developing and delivering IoT solutions that are enabled through: • the deployment of long-range networks that are purpose-built for IoT • access to low-cost and highly secure connectivity • access to low-cost, low-power devices and modules. SIGFOX is a global IoT network deployed in 36 countries across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The SqwidNet network roll-out started in January 2017 and now covers close to 65% of South Africa’s population. National coverage will extend to 85% of the population by the end of this year. For more information or to sign up as a SqwidNet partner, visit

From the Editor “Innovation should have an impact, and the greater the impact the more valuable the innovation.”

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY? Innovation is considered to be a process that brings together various novel ideas in a way that they have an impact on society. The next level of modern innovation is Disruptive Innovation, this term was defined and first analysed by the American scholar and Harvard University lecturer Clayton M. Christensen and his collaborators in 1995, and has been highlighted as the most influential business idea of the early 21st century by entrepreneur Jeremy Corbyn. Christensen defines disruptive innovation within the context of business administration and referred to an innovation as something that creates a new market and value network, displacing established market-leading firms, products and alliances. He argues that the most disruptive businesses start life on the very edge and bottom of the ladder and eventually succeed by spotting untapped markets and inventing new ways of servicing these markets. Most of these businesses start as unpolished gems that improve as they better understand the market. More often than not, traditional successful incumbents dismiss them as small players with no genuine plan or at least as small businesses bound to fail. However, as the products improve and the market share increases, they revolutionise their markets and humble the traditional giants. Think of messaging services (WhatsApp), long distance calls (Skype), taxis (Uber) and homes (Airbnb), among many others. He also notes 4 key types of innovation: Sustaining: This is an innovation that does not significantly affect existing markets. It may either be: Evolutionary: An innovation that improves a product in an existing market in ways that customers would be expecting (think fuel injection for gasoline engines, which displaced carburettors). Revolutionary (radical): An innovation that is unexpected, but nevertheless does not affect existing markets (think of the first automobiles in the late 19th century which were very expensive items and ultimately didn’t sell well). Disruptive: An innovation that creates a new market by providing a different set of values, which ultimately and without prior warning overtakes an existing market (think of the more affordable Ford Model T, which displaced horse-drawn


carriages). The annual instalment of the Most Innovative Companies in South Africa is my favourite issue of the year. We celebrate innovation in all forms and guises in our country and globally. This year’s list reflects those we believe are at the forefront of innovation and charting a new course in this fast paced tech and innovation era. How do we decide this list you may ask? The answer is simple. What has your company (have you) done for me lately? Innovation should have an impact, and the greater the impact the more valuable the innovation. We congratulate and applaud the game changing companies that have made our 2017 list. Keep up the great work as you keep making our lives easier, more manageable and ultimately aid in the ever present human quest for happiness and fulfilment. Our cover personality Réan van Niekerk, CEO of Metacom, also deserves a mention. He has ensured Metacom steadily operates in the background while changing the tech behind businesses in South Africa and Africa. We wish him the best as Metacom expands globally. Enjoy this issue, let it be a lens to our future in innovation, design and creativity.

Evans Manyonga @Nyasha1e

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Recommender What are you loving right now?

Fast Company recommender

The Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium is a fantastic car that drives beautifully and is quite comfortable. It’s also a fast car and performs well in agility. This would be a great first buy for those that enjoy speedy cars and long distance drives. The stylish and affordable Fiesta is a definite must-have, with great extras that will entice both the driver and passenger. You will be the talk of the town in this beauty, which houses the following features: Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, Sony audio system, steering mounted audio controls, rain-sensing wipers, electronic climate control, and the award-winning EcoBoost engine underneath the bonnet. Karabo Mogane Musician and Tropika Island of Treasure Maldives celebrity

Favourite restaurant Hussar Grill

With numerous franchises, the Hussar Grill simply offers the best steaks in Cape Town. I have been going there religiously at least twice a month for their impressive menu and delicious food. The atmosphere is fantastic to boot. Great restaurant, friendly staff and above all, the best steak! Jayden Moyo Blogger and trend specialist


In What’s Your Moonshoot? Trend and innovation strategist John Sanei explains how to ask the bigger, bolder, more courageous questions that will help you thrive – rather than merely survive – in our exponentially changing times. With a future-focused victor mind-set, Sanei decodes the mega-trends that are reshaping human behaviour and the way we do business, not to mention the way we live our lives. He explains how to innovate your business with the ultimate aim of becoming the new type of billionaire: someone who positively affects billions of people. As the foundations of modern economies – transportation, communication and energy – start becoming free or virtually free, massive transformative ideas can now be driven by individual ambition and determination. No longer the sole domain of nations and global organisations, these pioneering, game-changing missions – or Moonshoots –are defined by thinking big to drive change and shape the future. So the real question is: What Is Your Moonshoot?

Screen Time Our pick of the most download-worthy shopping apps currently on the market



The Takealot app is South Africa’s biggest shopping app, from the palm of your hand, you can get great stuff at excellent prices through a simple and safe online shopping experience. Browse millions of products across 19 departments from fashion, mobile, toys and electronics to books, sports equipment and appliances. Place an order on the app in less than a minute, and checkout with your choice of payment method, including COD (cash on delivery) or EFT to get your goodies delivered anywhere in South Africa – even on weekends. Delivery is free when you spend over R450.

Shopping for your favourite designer brands just got a whole lot easier thanks to the Superbalist app. With hundreds of products added each week from over 500 international and local labels, you can now score the freshest fashion, accessories, décor items and tech pieces while you’re on the go from your mobile device or tablet. Forget queuing for the changing rooms or waiting in line to pay, and get everything you need at the swipe of a finger! Simply log in or sign up and start hassle-free shopping with Superbalist. Get R250 off your first order when you sign up. Now you don’t have an excuse for wearing last season’s kicks.


Loot is one app you don’t want missing from your device. On the app, users can earn cash and other great rewards like gift cards, product, unique experiences and discounts just by creating and sharing awesome content of your favourite brands. Loot also offers a perfect opportunity for the festive shopping season and users can save up to 50% on Christmas gifts and décor from all 16 categories varying from electronics, games, books, movies, computers, toys, outdoor, stationary and more. This app is shaking up the online shopping space and helping you get awesome rewards for your brand loyalty.


Bored of just shopping on Amazon for (almost) everything? Wish is one app that makes shopping fun and worth trying as an alternative. It offers products ranging from bath towels to jewellery, and for a fraction of the price. Many products sold on Wish are practically free – you just have to pay for shipping. Isn’t that refreshing? The app delivers a lively shopping experience based around products related to you. Wish offers secure payment options and you can sort items you fancy into lists.


The Spree app is a carefully crafted app that gives you a highly intuitive, easy to use experience. The app allows you to browse by category or search for your favourite brands or designers, select your size, add to cart and checkout securely in a few swipes and taps. Delivery is free for orders over R250 and you have 30 days to return your items, free of charge – if you decide that sequin jacket doesn’t actually suit your wardrobe. DECEMBER JANUARY 2017/18  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   11


Big Idea

DRIVING GROWTH FOR WOMEN IN BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY How the Standard Bank Incubator is empowering female tech-entrepreneurs WRITER: Sonwabo Macingwana

The latest technological advancements are providing Africans with an opportunity to advance ahead of many countries that remain burdened by outdated tech. However, slow progress in attaining more female leaders in the field of technology is holding back this advancement. Women comprise 55% of South Africa’s entire workforce, yet only 20% of ICT professionals are female, according to Global Tech Women. The Standard Bank Incubation Programme founded the Standard Bank Women in Technology

“Women comprise 55% of South Africa’s entire workforce, yet only 20% of ICT professionals are female, according to Global Tech Women.”

Conference to ignite female-driven innovation in business and technology. The initiative comes as part of Standard Bank and co-sponsor Liberty’s focus on the challenges faced by women in the maledominated tech industry. The conference involves a culmination of various initiatives, such as the first-


ever Standard Bank Female Hackathon and a three months ‘Women in Technology’ accelerator launched earlier this year to support and develop women in the sector. The conference also includes a showcase for female entrepreneurs to get access to market opportunities. According to a report published under the auspices of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, strengthening women’s participation in the ICT sector is important for three reasons. First, increasing employment opportunities for women enhances gender equality, which is fundamental to human rights and dignity. Second, empowering women leads to benefits for their children and communities. Third, bridging the gender gap in ICT jobs can help address the mismatch between the supply and demand for jobs in emerging countries. Head of the Standard Bank Incubator, Jayshree Naidoo, says recognising and paying tribute to women’s success in business is as important as collaboration amongst women, which is vital towards the development of their businesses into broader spaces in the continent. “We want to encourage women entrepreneurs to collaborate in order to ignite innovation that will move South African women and South Africa forward. This starts by acknowledging and assisting

female-owned enterprises and business achievements, as women still face many obstacles in business and in the workplace. “We see the rise of women in technology as being crucial to the success of the continent as a whole,” says Naidoo. From Standard Bank’s perspective, driving Africa’s growth is not only about facilitating grand infrastructure deals on the continent and providing innovative financial solutions to women that add value

to customer lives. Though integral to economic development, such initiatives are pieces of a much larger puzzle. An important aspect is the support offered to local start-ups through the Standard Bank Incubator in partnership with Liberty, to drive Africa’s growth organically through a grassroots approach where the entities involved are enabled to control their own destiny. According to Naidoo, the striking feature of all these SMEs

is not that they have a strong chance to be profitable and viable, but that they are all born out of a strong humanitarian focus to help their communities. This aligns with Standard Bank’s philosophy of moving Africa forward. Four start-ups progressed to the 2017’s Web Summit to interact with and get exposed to the global tech community. The companies that attended the 2017’s Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal at the beginning

of November are: iSpani – a company that provides data insights, leads and activation events for brands trying to access township markets, Jonga – an alarm-app combo that provides low-cost community-based alert systems to allow for real-time crime reporting in low-income areas, CommuScore – a stokvel administration platform to capture payment and lending behaviours to create credit scores for low-income earners and micro-enterprises who have

financial problems, Energex – a biofuel company that turns vegetable oil into diesel fuel through a sophisticated chemical process. “This conference is a one-ofa-kind opportunity for our start-up founders. Not only will they network with businesses from all over the globe, hopefully also forming partnerships to take their start-ups to the next level, but they have the opportunity to learn from the best minds in tech,” adds Naidoo.

Hailed as the best tech conference on the planet, Web Summit has connected the international tech community with all business sectors since 2010. Each conference features 1 000 speakers, and this year’s summit included Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit, Gillian Tans, President and CEO of, Brad Smit, President of Microsoft, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, France, and Sophia the Robot, Chief Humanoid at Hanson Robotics.


Fast Company Promotion

Agile Innovation in Times of Disruption A Lot Has Been Written On Disruption Over The Past Five Years. It’s Become The Go-To Word In Ever y Strategy Session In Ever y Boardroom Around The World. But What Does It Actually Mean? What Will It Take For Your Business To Successfully Disrupt Your Industr y, And Perhaps Others? Or Disrupt Yourself?

Disruption is defined as a radical change in the traditional way an industry operates, particularly when it results in the introduction of new products or services that create a new market. For organisations wanting to continue to add value to the markets they serve, being disruptive means using continuous and agile innovation to respond to new technologies, competitive pressures, and changing customer needs. This can happen in small increments, or in giant, transformational leaps, and it is vital for businesses wanting to stay ahead of the curve and achieve long-term sustainability. To achieve rapid innovation, an organisation must create a platform that enables swift progress from ideation, to design and to experience. This can be achieved either through the creation of new organisational structures within corporate boundaries, or collaborating with a partner independent from the existing organisation. A third option is to acquire an entirely different organisation, whose processes and values match the requirements of the task at hand. Agile methodologies - where the objective is high speed, low cost, and lower risk – need to be encouraged. Emerging technologies such as big data analytics, cloud, IoT, and the API economy, should be combined with innovative strategies, and championed by the organisation’s leadership. This will not only


accelerate problem resolution, but will help organisations to create the momentum needed to move beyond the limits of their experience and gain new insights. True disruptive innovation is more likely to come from agile organisations, who are truly commited to a sustainable customercentred design and innovation process. That doesn’t mean that large, legacy-based market-leaders can’t establish structures that support rapid innovation. For those businesses, devoting scarce resources - even in the face of considerable uncertainty - and creating a subset of capabilities and processes, will allow them to chase more opportunities. There is no single approach to innovation that works for all organisations. Instead, it is better to adopt a general framework, where agile techniques can be adapted. Having an explicit innovation strategy helps organisations ensure that the system designed is aligned to their specific competitive needs. Without this mandate, different parts of the organisation might end up pursuing conflicting priorities, and it will be difficult to make trade-off decisions and choose all the elements of the innovation system. Diverse perspectives are critical to successful innovation. But without a clear strategy to integrate and align those perspectives around common priorities, the power of diversity is blunted or, worse, becomes self-defeating. BCX understands what it takes for an organisation to successfully disrupt its industry. By delivering customer-driven solutions built through disruptive innovation, it is changing the way business is done in South Africa. As one of the largest ICT providers serving the enterprise, public sector, and medium market segments in Africa, BCX provides technology and infrastructure solutions that seamlessly connect every business with its digital future, continuously helping to move the economy forward.


My Way

FROM A DREAMER TO EXPANDING HIS HOTEL HORIZON How former army chef and Managing Director of Premier Hotels and Resorts, Samuel Nassimov, built his flourishing hotel business from the ground up. WRITER: Sonwabo Macingwana

Battling to stay in school to further his career goals, Samuel Nassimov cultivated his cooking skills even though he could not study hotel management. Nassimov eventually became one of the best chefs in Israel, where he was serving in the military. Today, he runs Premier Hotels and Resorts – a leading independently owned hotel group overseeing various hotels across the country.

What was our childhood and education like? I was born on the 29th of December 1956 in the former Soviet Union to a cobbler and nurse. I first became intrigued by the hotel industry as a youngster, when my daily route took me past a beautiful hotel – a rarity in the country at the time. I remember seeing many guests arriving at the hotel and the band playing in the lobby, which was very exciting for a young boy. With my interest in hospitality sparked, I pursued my studies in hotel management at a tecchnikon. However, six months into my three-year course, my father informed me of his plans to move to the other side of the Iron Curtain. As a result, I opted not to complete my course and instead acquire a trade. I remember my father trying to get tradesmen at a market to train me in hat making. No one was interested in teaching me, as this kind of trade was passed from father to son in Russia in those days. Eventually, we found someone in a remote area who was willing to teach me (at a hefty price). Three months later, I could create any style of hat.

diamond factory, which ultimately saw me relocating here. Once on South African soil, I turned my hotelowning dreams into reality by purchasing the old Carlton Hotel in Quigney, East London in the Eastern Cape. At that stage, the hotel had a one-star rating and by the time the transfer went through, the Tourism Board had removed this rating as the hotel was no longer compliant. I embarked on a 14 month upgrade that would result in the hotel receiving three stars. During that time, I experienced everything from floods to fires. In February 1992, the hotel reopened as the King David Suites and Conference Centre, with a complement of 23 staff members (three of whom are still working with me). Today, the property is known as Splendid Inn King David. The rest, as they say, is history, with 18 properties and the East London International Convention Centre being added to the Premier Hotels & Resorts stable over the past 26 years. What should readers know about Premier Hotels & Resorts? From a humble 40 bedrooms, the group’s portfolio has grown to encompass 18 hotels & resorts throughout South Africa. As an award-winning hospitality company with over 25 years’ experience developing and managing hotels, conference centres, boutique concept hotels and restaurants, Premier Hotels & Resorts has a proven reputation for delivering superior results through forwardfocused ingenuity and exceptional asset management. Our mission is to provide guests with world-class quality and luxury in an authentic African environment.

You bought the Carlton Hotel in 1990, now known as Splendid Inn King David, how did you transform the business into the integrated hotel giant it is today? By overcoming the challenge of converting the When did you become business savvy? once dilapidated hotel into a successful I learnt all about business and the art of dealing with customers at the shop that establishment in East London, I had the drive and my father helped me to secure under the then socialist economic system of passion to embark on a bigger project. Communist Russia. My family and I later left for Isreal, where I enrolled in hotel In 1996, I seized the opportunity to develop a school. Once again, my career plans were put on hold as I was conscripted vacant plot on the East London into the army. beachfront into what is today the While in the Israeli army, I was responsible Premier Hotel Regent. This hotel has for running a massive kitchen. After my service been the biggest success for our group ended, I applied the skills I had acquired as a and has hosted many large conferences. chef at various international hotels. “B uilding a successful Following this, I decided to continue I have always regarded myself as an business doesn’t happen Premier Hotels & Resorts’ expansion in entrepreneur and this led to my first foray into overnight. It is an on-going the Eastern Cape with the acquisition of my own business - the freight forwarding process of constantly the popular Mpongo Park. At that stage, industry. This resulted in my first visit to learning and adapting.” the 1 300 hectare park featured only a South Africa, and subsequently established a


BRICK AND MORTAR ”Once on South African soil, I turned my hotel-owning dreams into reality.”

six bedroom lodge and restaurant, with a smattering of zebra, giraffe and antelope. After the acquisition, it was extended to 3 300 hectares and the Big Five, along with other animals, were introduced. A five star lodge, comprising 18 rooms and chalets together with conference facilities, was constructed and the restaurant was refurbished. Soon after, I decided to take the brand nationally beginning with the procurement of the Cape Manor Hotel in Cape Town. After renovating and extending the room capacity to 99 bedrooms, the first four star Premier property outside of the Eastern Cape was born. In 2005, Premier Hotels & Resorts expanded to Gauteng with the purchase of an old hotel in Pretoria that had ceased trading. I saw its potential and took up the challenge. Today, our investment has resulted in the four star, 118 bedroom Premier Hotel Pretoria which generates substantial revenue for the group. To make the group’s footprint truly national, a 60 bedroom hotel in Pinetown and a small hotel in Port Edward, KwaZulu-Natal, were acquired and transformed into Splendid Inn Pinetown and Splendid Inn Port Edward. Between 2007 and 2010, the group developed the largest conferencing venue in East London, the East London International Convention Centre (ELICC), together with Premier Hotel ELICC and Premier Hotel OR Tambo in Johannesburg – three of the biggest properties in the Premier portfolio that, today, contribute more than 40% to the group’s annual turnover. My vision for the developments in East London was to create facilities that would increase business flow and tourism to the city and province. In 2012, Premier Hotels & Resorts acquired a second property in Johannesburg, Premier Hotel Midrand, which provides the perfect base for both business and leisure travellers since it is situated halfway between two major cities in the Gauteng province. Over the past three years, Premier Hotels & Resorts has expanded its portfolio by acquiring properties in Knysna, Richards Bay, Nelspruit and Drakensburg, with the most recent acquisitions being in Scottburgh and Bloemfontein. How did you experience this journey of building up Premier Hotels & Resorts? Building a successful business doesn’t happen overnight. It is an on-going process of constantly learning and adapting. Premier Hotels & Resorts was started by one man with a dream, but I could never have achieved all that over the past 26 years just by myself. My staff around the country are

invaluable and have been a crucial part in Premier Hotels & Resorts becoming one of the forerunners in the South African hospitality industry. Hotel and travel technology is expanding globally. E-bookings and the IoT have been major boosts in the sector and many hotel tech companies invent new gadgets to simplify processes. What are your thoughts on these new ventures? In a dynamic industry like hospitality, constant innovation and adaptation are



My Way


“It always seems impossible, until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

Skill levels within the hospitality industry have been lacking, which resulted in Premier Hotels & Resorts establishing The Academic College. The purpose is to increase service levels to the industry while at the same time addressing the challenges of retention and growth in the tourism sector.





Apple iPad IDEAL DAY

I get excited and motivated when my business runs like a well-oiled machine – when I have a motivated work force focused on the client journey. My ideal day ends with some dinner and family time. HOW DO YOU UNWIND AND RELAX

Spending time with my family, watching rugby, walking, wining and dining. BIGGEST INSPIRATION

My late father

key when it comes to attracting guests and retaining their loyalty. While Premier Hotels & Resorts still believes in the power of providing the human touch, we also strive to innovate both in terms of the capabilities of our staff and the amenities we offer. We have plans to provide loyalty club members with their very own app that will enable them to keep track of their Royalty Club credits, make bookings and more. Corporates and government entities have played vital roles in the development of Premier Hotels & Resorts, what are your thoughts on collaboration? Without inspiring collaborative partnerships, the journey that we have travelled would have been far rockier. We have been fortunate to have fruitful relationships with Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and most banking institutions. What has been your greatest challenge so far? I take immense pride and joy in the development side of business, which is richly rewarding and challenging, but often the feasibility of possible new developments can be challenging.



Some of the best moments in my life include the birth of my children, playing an integral role in their development through to graduation phase, and now appreciating the sheer beauty of my grandchildren - of which I have four.

What would you consider your most notable accomplishment to date? To be in the fortunate position to have initiated and implemented the growth strategy, which accomplished Premier Hotels & Resorts’ position today (with a total of 18 hotels, in a period spanning a decade). Where do you see the company in five years? Our strategic plan is for Premier Hotels & Resorts to expand its footprint to different areas across South Africa over the next five years, with at least three Premier-branded hotels in Umhlanga, Fourways and Sandton, along with Splendid Inns and Express Inns in secondary cities. What are your thoughts on the country’s hospitality industry? Even though the economy is fragile, Premier Hotels & Resorts still experiences tremendous growth year on year, whether driven through rate or occupancy. In the specific nodes and demographics we operate, we still feel there is an upside in market growth. The South African hospitality industry compares favourably to most parts of the world and does not hold back in terms of offerings. Any advice to small hoteliers and nimble B&B start-up owners? Start-up owners need to keep in mind that it is not nearly as easy or glamorous as you may think. Attitude, perseverance and courage are absolute requirements if you want to succeed. An acute business brain will be the deciding factor between whether your hotel or guesthouse is a success story or failure.

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A colourful childhood, a true passion for electronic engineering and computational devices and a career in the navy culminating in establishing a modern tech juggernaut, is the backdrop of Metacom’s Managing Director Réan van Niekerk’s intriguing story. “Born in Johannesburg, I grew up in Cape Town, Worcester, England, Pretoria, and Johannesburg; eleven schools later, I matriculated at Bergvliet High in Cape Town. My parents taught me tremendous values, from hard work and ethics to dreaming big, and so much more, for which I shall be forever grateful,” he explains. The continuous change during his childhood made him adaptable and fiercely independent. While the close bond he shared with his siblings – younger brother and older sister – added to a close knit family structure. “This continuous change during my childhood certainly presented some challenges. “From a very young age, I Ioved electronic engineering, and lived for computational devices the moment I learnt about them in the 70s. “I built some of the earliest computer kits in the country, and cut my teeth on programming assembler and machine code after school, long before PCs were available,” he explains. A stint in the Army and six years in the Navy instilled discipline and the value of teamwork. Van Niekerk also studied computer systems and programming while enlisted and subsequently entered the world of entrepreneurship thereafter. “I ventured out on my own in 1987, driven by my extreme desire for independence and a can-do attitude. My first companies were mostly successful, and after years of experience, loads of self-study in engineering, technology and entrepreneurship, I founded Metacom.” A firm believer in the value of family, van Niekerk has two children from his first marriage and two more with his wife Alice. “We have an incredibly special relationship with our children and live our lives for our family. Alice has always been extremely supportive of my ambitions and especially building Metacom. Without her support, constructive feedback, wise counsel and love I would not have achieved what I have,” he explains.


What inspires you the most and what keeps you awake at night? I am hugely inspired by the current trends in communication technology and the future possibilities this brings to seamlessly integrate the power of various technologies and automation into our lives. I often lie awake at night dreaming of these possibilities, but specifically how to ensure perfect


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uptime, reliability and system integrity at present and more so in the future. I am always keen to explore more technologies, but must simultaneously stay focussed on that which is most important today. Stepping out of your comfort zone amidst the existing tech giants 16 years ago was a brave move. What drove this decision to “build it better”? I simply love a challenge and stepping way out of my comfort zone! Starting out on my own gave me the freedom to re-think my contribution to the future of technology and especially information and communication technology. One of the core pillars when creating Metacom was to provide exceptional service and support to our customers, something which is sorely lacking in the industry. In technology, things can and do go wrong. You need a team of dedicated and highly committed individuals to jump into action immediately and resolve the issues as they occur. This is core to our philosophy of being customer focused and passionate about service excellence and system reliability.


Can you explain who Metacom is and what have your customers come to expect of the company over the years? Metacom is primarily a managed, high availability point-topoint network communications provider, integrating all types of connectivity into one unified and very secure infrastructure. Our customers require extremely high levels of network reliability and our track record bears testament to the fact that Metacom can deliver. Although we cannot prevent or plan for all problems, the entire team at Metacom is completely focussed on reliability of communication and everyone jumps into action if or when a problem is encountered. Our customers expect us to stay at the forefront of technology. Metacom now operates in 22 countries, 18 of which are in Africa. What have been the challenges since inception? Metacom developed what many consider to be the most reliable failover communication technology and algorithms, tested in-depth and perfected over many years of service. This is ideal for South Africa and the African continent

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Fashion Fusion Moving Tactics PDT SystemOne ConnectNet

In partnership with EOH m PG Glass Group m Steinbuild m Stewarts Lloyds m Metropolitan m American Express In partnership with BCX m Sportsman’s Warehouse m Outdoor Warehouse

where reliability of communication systems are questionable at best. Our large South African customers, with outlets across Africa, therefore opted to use our routers and infrastructure at their international branches across the continent. Our reputation in this arena expanded, and we now supply our services to other organisations across Africa and abroad. Our exponential growth has required significant resource planning, especially technology, people and finance. This has certainly presented its fair share of challenges, but with careful planning and excellent execution Metacom has consistently delivered superb technological and financial results. Africa is a tough market to break into when dealing with technology. How did you achieve this? You need to be very flexible and adaptable when doing business in Africa. Yes, Africa is tough and the business and regulatory landscape changes from country to country and month to month. Metacom fortunately has a very strong and flexible operations team, with the authority and leeway to “make a plan”. For example, in some African regions you cannot simply plan an installation that is only 100 km from your technician’s base in one day. Sometimes, you must use a 4x4, and with terrible road conditions that trip may take a day just to get there, then a few hours on-site, and another day to get back. Numerous factors must be taken into account, but you must simply make it happen. Please explain the move to Belgium and why it makes strategic sense to service North Africa from a European location? We opened an office in Belgium as an opportunity arose in the region, and it has always been in our growth strategy to expand internationally, especially in Europe. Marius Visser, Business Development Executive at Metacom, immigrated to Belgium in early 2017 and is actively setting up business in Brussels. Belgium is not only central to the European region, but has a very strong financial sector, which will be to our advantage. As experts in the African communication industry, we believe Metacom is ideally suited to assist European companies wishing to expand into Africa, not only with our exceptional products and services, but also consulting, our expertise and regional knowledge. Metacom employs a team of field technicians in all

major centres throughout South Africa, ensuring technical support and expertise on the ground across the country. We also have strong relationships with technical contractors in most African countries that are ready to attend to our installations and field maintenance equipment. Can you share critical milestones in the company’s history? Moments that made you realise that you were doing the right thing. m Developed the first GPRS based EFT communications equipment in South Africa, m D  eveloped the first GPRS based SCADA communications equipment in South Africa, m P  ioneering GSM based routers in South Africa, m C  reating a sophisticated communications infrastructure, m S  igning deals with some of the biggest corporates in the country, m Expanding into Africa, m Expanding into Europe. What would you attribute your success to? Hard work, focus, total commitment, exceptional people, passion in everything I do and attention to detail, while always remaining vigilant, and a huge dose of can-do attitude. Building Metacom over the last 16 years has been the greatest joy of my life. With all the stress, late nights, eighteen hour days for extended periods of time, not to mention the shortage of skills and expertise in South Africa, I am satisfied that we have created a business engine that will continue to grow and provide excellent products, solutions and services to our customers, for many years to come. I have been most fortunate to meet and employ an incredibly talented team of people, without whom this would not have been possible. The commitment of each Metacom employee is paramount to our success, and I work very hard to ensure that each person is valued and respected for their contribution. You work with various cross-border African retail stores, banks and other notable blue chip companies providing critical solutions for their operations. Why do customers choose you rather than your competitors? What truly sets you apart?

Metacom has a reputation for getting things done. Using our locally designed and engineered routers and network infrastructure, we have repeatedly impressed our customers with our ability to solve some of the most complex communications problems when necessary. Due to the fact that we design every aspect of our routers and equipment in-house, we can implement new features fast and ensure the very best and most reliable communications solutions for our clients. The added benefit is we can do all this at an incredibly competitive cost!


Can you explain “The Metacom Way” and how you use this strategy to draw talent to match your work ethic and culture? “The Metacom Way” is an ethos that has permeated throughout the company, and is something upheld by every employee, leader and a factor in every decision we make. A can-do attitude is part and parcel of Metacom’s service delivery, as is the commitment to solving a problem, no matter how complex it may seem at first. Teamwork, brilliant engineering, innovation and a massive dose of can-do attitude is what it takes to sometimes move mountains for our customers. This philosophy and approach extends to attention to every detail, especially in the design of our equipment and infrastructure. I firmly believe that collectively these are the reasons why our customers often refer to us as their business partners, instead of just being another supplier. We really work hard to collaborate with our customers to make their business a success. As one of our employees recently said, “Most of the Metacom staff have been working for the company for more than five years. This is a great testimony of a business working together like a family and one of the key factors in our success.” Metacom designed and developed the most advanced, sophisticated enterprise router in Africa, which was recently featured as the product of the week in Gadget Magazine. Tell us more about the MC6000 Enterprise Router and why customers love this home-grown product? With 16 years’ experience in the African market, and a large portfolio of corporate customers, we certainly have the exposure to some of the greatest business thinkers in the country. We have collated all this information over time to design and build incredibly reliable and feature rich routers which are mission critical to our customers’ businesses. Two years ago, I decided to embark on our most ambitious project yet, to design the hugely powerful and flexible MC6000 Enterprise Router. This router integrates most services required by retailers and banks, such as communication, video player, internet radio, WiFi, LTE and ADSL into one beautifully integrated unit, with expansion slots to add anything your remote site requires. The unit is built on proven expertise and technology and is already proving to be a great success. How important is reliable communication in the internet age? Explain the risk of failure or the impact of unreliable solutions on businesses.

Fort CEO and co-founder Shukri Toefy, with Creative Partner and Director Amr Singh

Reliable PRIMARY NETWORK TECHNOLOGY communication is of the utmost importance and Managed VPN Services cannot be Over Fibre, ADSL, GSM, Satellite, Diginet overemphasised. When communication Voice over IP systems are down, Managed Wi-Fi Services companies can lose Retail Analytics millions of rand per Failover communication hour, and so much more Internet Video and Media Distribution in brand and Internet Radio reputational damage. Financial transaction connectivity In some Third party connectivity cases loss of communication Internet connectivity can be life CCTV communication threatening. SCADA and M2M Solutions Metacom has engineered reliability and failover communication algorithms into the very fabric of everything we do. I can confidently say that our customers can depend on our connectivity, knowing that their data is in the best hands possible. Metacom is also a multimedia content distributer. What does this mean? Metacom is fundamentally a high availability networking, information and communication technology company. We embarked on a strategy to develop and implement various products on our network, tightly integrated into our current services and monitoring systems. We believe that by providing these services inhouse, our customers can rest assured they’ll have the best and most reliable service imaginable. The various products work and are tested as one unified solution, thus preventing the inevitable finger pointing between a host of unrelated suppliers. One of these solutions is the distribution of multimedia - video and radio content - as well as media streaming for online radio stations. This gives our customers the ability to distribute advertising media, and internet radio, at a cost point that is causing quite a disruption in the industry! Annual growth of 40% is something other specialist companies could only dream of and all credit is due to your integrated in-house solutions development and passion to find a reliable solution every time. Please share why you believe you are the only company in South Africa currently able to provide this. I love this question! Metacom is the only company that has the full spectrum of engineering and operations expertise to: 1. Design, develop, manufacture and maintain sophisticated routers and equipment, 2. Build high availability networks, 3. Install and maintain our equipment in the field, 4. Proactively monitor and control all routers remotely, 5. Provide all connectivity to third parties, all under one roof!


Adding to this our exceptional focus on customer service and attention to detail, makes for a winning combination! Metacom also works with financial credit providers and credit bureaus to provide retail analytics focussed on demographic and psychographic analytics. As one of our senior software engineers says, “Metacom is a company of dynamic problem solvers.” DECEMBER JANUARY 2017/2018  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   25

What would you consider as your most notable accomplishment to date? Growing Metacom organically without venture capital has been a fantastic adventure and achievement. Metacom is privately owned, but managed as a corporate, allowing us to continuously re-invest in technology, systems and processes while operating in a structured manner. We have numerous corporate customers that have trusted us with their mission critical communications for more than 10 years. We have always regarded this as an honour and taken this huge responsibility very seriously, keeping The Internet of Things is evolving and rapidly advancing across the us on our toes and preparing for the globe, what are your thoughts on next challenges and trends. I have the privilege of leading an the influence and power of this incredibly strong team of people, technology in the near future. creating tens of thousands of products, Although Metacom has actively interconnected across 22 countries, all been involved in the Internet of monitored from our International Things since inception in 2001, I Operations Centre in Cape Town, believe that there are massive South Africa, and all doing something opportunities in this space. useful for our customers. Internationally, research and development will continue and the product and adoption curve of new What do you hope to be remembered technologies will be exponential for for? Being a decent human being, caring a significant period of time, or at for people, passionate about least until the singularity occurs. engineering and technology and I am fascinated by the possibilities of hyper-connectivity. caring for my family, the arts and the finer things in life. I take the time to It is, however, concerning that get to know people, listen carefully, humankind will have to manage the effects of this as there will also pause and reflect every day. The opportunity costs of be a downside, as the continued growth of technology will be faster entrepreneurship are potentially very high and one needs to carefully assess than people’s ability to adapt. your priorities to ensure that your This may also cause a further business’ success doesn't come at the bifurcation in society, those that cost of the other components of your ‘have’ and those that ‘do not have’ life that matter too. this technology at their disposal. What value does this offer your customers? Metacom provides private and public Wi-Fi hotspots or access points to our corporate customers. This is a fantastic service to customers, but costs the retailer money. Permission based retail analytics is an incredibly powerful tool to ascertain who your customers are, and to design marketing campaigns that are carefully crafted to reach your target market. In conjunction with Wi-Fire of the Blake Group, Metacom is investing heavily in this competency, as I believe that this will be a massive growth area.

MC6000 Enterprise Router

30 SECOND BIO RÉAN VAN NIEKERK Favourite Quote: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Favourite Book: The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse Favourite Destination Where my family is. Ashford Castle, Ireland Favourite City: Cape Town Favourite Tech gadget: My iPhone Ideal Day: Work, exercise, family, music and a good book. One day, flying through space listening to Beethoven. How do you unwind and relax: What’s that? Biggest inspiration: My family. Best moment in your life: Meeting Alice, my perfect wife.

MC412 Intelligent Router MC731 Internet Video

MC614 Intelligent Router 26    FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  DECEMBER JANUARY 2017/2018

MC712 Internet Radio


TRANSFORM YOUR BUSINESS THROUGH INNOVATION Imagine contact lenses that measure the glucose levels in a diabetic wearer’s tears, or a hoverboard that relies on magnetic levitation, or weather-mapping Loon balloons. These are some of the radically creative inventions conceived by X – the “Moonshot Factory” at Alphabet, Google’s parent company. X is an excellent example of how an idea-enabling environment can champion invention that’s commercially viable – that is, innovation. It is this type of innovation that gives entrepreneurs a competitive edge and could fuel the discovery of the “next Google”. Mokaedi Dilotsotlhe, Santam’s Executive Head of Brand and Marketing, says entrepreneurs looking for faster market penetration, growth, and an enticing company culture must start with the strategic implementation of creativity. Dilotsotlhe argues that innovation is also pivotal to problem-solving, which is evidenced by initiatives like Santam’s Safety Ideas programme. “Run in partnership with LaunchLab, an initiative of Stellenbosch University’s innovation company

Innovus, the Safety Ideas competition rewards smart solutions to the real-world, safety-focused challenges South Africans face. “At Santam, we believe entrepreneurs need to similarly incentivise innovation by mining their respective industries for opportunities to create efficiency,” says Dilotsotlhe.

The road to innovation Instill innovation into your business in the following ways: 1. Create a culture that rewards thinking differently. This kind of culture transformed companies like Microsoft, catalysing the enabling environment that fuelled the computer giant’s cloud-based and artificial intelligence offerings. For SME owners, it’s vital to foster a culture of idea generation so that all employees feel empowered to problem-solve and pursue passion projects.

All employees should see each other as valuable resources to be tapped into. Set aside the time for creative sharing sessions targeted at addressing specific challenges. 3. Be agile. Innovation can bring about speedy solutions to rapid market changes. Hand in hand with this is not fearing failure or dodging the dreaded “analysis paralysis”, as overthinking worst-case scenarios can squash a positive culture of risk-taking. 4. Find ways to replicate good ideas. Innovation is about improving efficiency and productivity. Think of some replicable ideas that save money, time and admin. 5. Develop diversity in your organisation. Encouraging diverse groups of people to work together will break down traditional silos and allow for the plethora of perspectives necessary to think laterally.

2. Nurture an open exchange of ideas. Working collaboratively and sharing knowledge is the key to a company reaching its full potential.

Santam is an authorised financial services provider (licence number 3416).

Insurance good and proper

Fast Company Promotion

MTN Business introduces entrepreneurs to The Fourth Digital Industrial Revolution In its second year, MTN Business’ Digital Entrepreneur Masterclass was recently held at the Johannesburg Innovation Hub in Riverside, Gauteng. The one-day conference and exhibition attracted entrepreneurs from various industries - all shared a common interest in gaining valuable insights and contacts, via a series of presentations and interactions with like-minded individuals. By Levi Letsoko

Navigating the audience through the day’s activities was Lynette Ntuli. The gracious host kicked off the proceedings with a warm welcome to the guests, while enticing them with the line-up of expert presentations and practical workshop sessions that would be taking place during the day.

MTN’S INCLUSIVE GROWTH OPPORTUNITY The first speaker, Mophethe Moletsane, MTN Group’s GM for Digital Commercial Management, engaged the guests on the impact that The Fourth Digital Industrial Revolution has made over the last couple of years, as well as how it will change the way business is conducted in the future. “We have witnessed a huge smartphone penetration into various global markets, where these amazing devices are powered by extremely sophisticated operating systems,” said Moletsane. “What manufacturers forecast regarding these devices and the real experience derived by users who purchase them tell two different stories. “The products are very expensive and the process of configuring them can be very frustrating.” Moletsane’s address included insights shared by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in September of 2015, detailing amongst other projections the following data. By the year 2025: • 10% of people will wear smart clothes. • 1 trillion sensors will be connected to the internet. • The first government will replace its census with big data sources. • 30% of corporate audits will be performed by artificial intelligence (AI). • Globally we will see more trips/journeys via car sharing than by using private cars. “There seem to be more initiatives which are focused on


shifting Africa towards a common purpose and narrative. Creativity is everything, especially in pursuit of solutions that will simplify everyday life,” he enthused. Moletsane touched on ways in which MTN has been embracing this new revolution we are witnessing. The service provider has been very successful in refining its Mobile Operator Assets. This has been evident in some of the ground-breaking innovations that MTN has been part of. “MTN spearheaded the innovative means of being able to transact through airtime and mobile money, most importantly, in spaces where the use of credit or debit cards is restricted,” said Moletsane. Due to a large subscriber base, MTN is boosted by an internal inventory that enables it to market these products from the inside out. One of the service provider’s main objectives is to create inclusive growth opportunities for entrepreneurs. Moletsane introduced the attendees to MTN Shortz, a platform that aims to create revenues for content creators across the continent. “If you are building an exponential organisation that can leverage our assets, join hands with MTN. We have established a start-up program where we incorporate small businesses into our core operations,” he concluded.

“One of MTN’s main objectives is to create inclusive growth opportunities for entrepreneurs.”

9 PILLARS OF THE 4TH DIGITAL INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION . Claude Chetty, General Manager of SME Sales at MTN, took to the stage to share some of his observations about The Fourth Digital Industrial Revolution. His address focused mainly on the 9 pillars shaping this revolution which include Big Data, Cloud, Cyber Security, IoT, System Integration, 3D Printing, Augmented Reality, Simulation and Automated Robots. Digital Thinking: Trends and Tools. Wei Ling Chiu, MTN Business’ Senior Manager for the SME Segment, was the third speaker of the day. Her focus was on the Trends and Tools of Digital Thinking. She emphasised the importance of understanding the tools that are available to entrepreneurs and how they can enhance an entrepreneur’s online processes. “It’s important for entrepreneurs to stop emailing and start chatting. Apps such as #Slack (which allows users to search for topics using hashtags) and Workplace (a Facebook backed platform created for work related communication) make this transition possible.” Some of the apps she shared with the attendees included Plan, Basecamp, Mail Chimp and Sharp Spring. Marketing in the age of artificial intelligence Bryan Nelson, Sector Lead for Finance, Retail and Travel at Google SA, shared his insights on how Google has prepared itself for the current technological revolution. The theme of his address centred on how artificial intelligence will and is impacting marketing globally. He began by outlining the difference between AI (the science of making things smart) and Machine Learning (enabling machines to learn how to be smart). “Google puts AI and Machine Learning

into all their products to enhance their functions and help solve basic human needs,” said Nelson. He indicated that Google has been experimenting with different technologies. Soon their products (with the help of AI and machine learning) will be able to conduct powerful image analysis, speech recognition and text analysis. Mobility for small business. MTN Business remains committed to providing affordable solutions for small businesses. Entrepreneurs looking to achieve mobile convergence can look to the service provider for assistance, as MTN offers solutions ranging from mobile and fixed telephone connections, to cloud based solutions. Senior Manager of Products and Services at MTN, Ky Ox, delivered a sterling presentation covering this topic. Build Your Business Online (BYBO), the Internet of Things (IoT), Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence A good portion of the attendees were intrigued by the presentation delivered by Wayne Wilson, Managing Director of Blue Robot, on the link between chatbots and AI. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term that is becoming increasingly popular, even though not many users understand what it means. Huawei took the time to illustrate what IoT is and what it means for ordinary users. Product Specialist of Cloud Enterprise Solutions at MTN, Nomafrika Tiatji, captivated her audience with the


Fast Company Promotion

entrepreneurs – how will this portal influence entrepreneurs and their journeys? MM: We recently launched Venture Central (, which is South Africa’s digital home for entrepreneurs. It’s a portal that will serve as a one-stop-shop for all SME information pertaining to registering, starting and operating a small or medium sized business. The portal will also act as a conduit, providing browsers with information and links to important websites and / or organisations reflected on the South African entrepreneurship ecosystem map. Lastly, it will provide entrepreneurs with advice and information on starting and managing a business, provide business plan templates, and will offer sector-specific business information.

solutions she presented that enable entrepreneurs to “Build Your Business Online”. Kickstart your digital marketing. According to Nivani Govinder, B2B Product Marketing Manager at Google SA, Google Maps has mobilised around R456 billion in sales in South Africa alone. “Consumers are accessing information digitally through their devices. A successful digital marketing campaign allows small businesses to target specific groups, reduce marketing costs, analyse campaign results and engage with their audiences. “Google offers multiple digital advertising solutions for businesses. The search facility allows enterprises to reach an audience immediately. However, video marketing remains the most effective means of advertising as it accounts for more than 75% of all content consumed online,” she said.

BUILDING SA’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM THROUGH DIGITAL TOOLS WITH MATSI MODISE, SIMODISA MANAGING DIRECTOR Fast Company SA: How important is it for entrepreneurs (early stage and accelerated) to leverage the power of digital tools available to them at every stage of their business’ timeline? Matsi Modise: It is important to leverage the power of digital tools because they provide instant scale in a cost-efficient way. FCSA: How can entrepreneurs use these tools in a manner that meets their desired objectives and avoid the opposite outcome? MM: If your desired objectives are to be profitable through crafting a visible presence in your market, you can start off by having a digital presence (i.e. have a business website), digitising your business processes (i.e. using business cloud products) and using digital platforms of communicating (i.e. Skype, Voice Over IP). FCSA: During your presentation you mentioned a new portal that you recently launched and is ready to assist


FCSA: What is MTN’s role in empowering startups, how do you believe they can improve, and in which areas/fields/aspects? MM: By creating platforms like MTN Business’ Digital Entrepreneur Masterclasses, where entrepreneurs can have robust discussions and take away practical business tools to enhance their businesses, MTN Business is playing an important role in enabling entrepreneurs. They also have products and services that are customised for small businesses. I wish more telecommunications companies could be as proactive and intentional about supporting entrepreneurship in South Africa. FCSA: Why is Matsi Modise so passionate about entrepreneurship? MM: South Africa needs more job creators and less job seekers. Our country is also in a relative economic crisis! We need to start looking at different levels of economic growth. Innovation is the next growth frontier, and entrepreneurs play a key role in enabling innovation. That is why I am so passionate about entrepreneurship. #TellUsYourStory To conclude the Digital Entrepreneur Masterclass, a panel discussion moderated by Andile Khumalo of MSG Investments, took place. The discussion comprised of open conversations with various category winners from the 2017 edition of the MTN Business App of the Year Awards. It provided attendees with a behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to launch a successful app, and by default, a small to medium sized business. The Top 5 apps represented on the panel included the following: This year’s overall winner of the MTN Business App of the Year Awards, Shyft: developed by Standard Bank, Shyft allows customers to handle all their forex needs from their phones, without needing to visit the bank. The TreeApp: An app for nature lovers that allows users to identify different species of trees. Zulzi: Developed by Donald Valoyi – this app is an on-demand delivery platform that simplifies online purchases based on the area that one is in. InteGreatMe: This identity management app simplifies banking processes across financial services, telecommunication, insurance and credit providing companies. It also allows businesses to comply with RICA, FICA, NCA and POPI laws. TutaMe: The 2016 MTN Business App of the Year winner, TutaMe serves as the bridge between learners and tutors based on the location of both parties.

MTN Business App of the Year crowns winner for 2017 The sixth edition of the MTN Business App of the Year Awards concluded in October with the announcement of an overall winner, as well as various categor y winners. This app development competition is the biggest and most prestigious in South Africa. The reason for this being that the initiative serves as an equal opportunity platform. The MTN Business App of the Year Awards sees both small businesses and large corporates converging, and working together for the greater good of society. It also sees revolutionary solutions being developed and presented by people from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s all about connecting people who can provide real solutions to the reallife challenges cutting across society. Shyft was named as the overall winner of this year’s MTN Business App of the Year Awards. Shyft was created for Standard Bank with the aim of completely transforming customer experience. The app allows customers to handle all their forex needs from their phone, with no need to visit the bank. Customers are able to purchase and store forex (USD, GBP, EUR, AUSD), transfer funds overseas, order multi-currency physical travel cards, and create virtual cards that can be used for international online shopping, all from a mobile device.

CATEGORY WINNERS WERE: •Best Enterprise Solution: TransUnion 1Check For years, TransUnion’s printed Autodealer Guide has been a trusted source of vehicle and driver information for vehicle dealers, equipping them with invaluable data for making vehicle trading and risk decisions. However, given the move towards mobile, escalating printing costs and the changing business environment, TransUnion identified a need in the market for a low cost, realtime, easy-to-use mobile management tool which not only reduced high printing costs, but closed the gap between fluctuating market values and monthly publishing lead time of their book. In addition, the software provides the financial

“The service provider has been very successful in refining its Mobile Operator Assets. This has been evident in some of the groundbreaking innovations that MTN has been part of.”

industry and insurance providers with real time, upto-date data for vehicle and insurance decisions via web services or via the app. •Best Consumer Solution: OrderIN OrderIn is a food delivery app. Users are able to order meals via the app, and have their meals delivered in minutes. They can also order ahead and collect or pay in person. •Best Incubated Solution: EcoSlips EcoSlips converts ordinary paper slips into digital advertisements that pop up on consumer cell phones. Retailers are able to link their point-of-sale systems to EcoSlips and send transaction slips digitally from any pay point to consumer cell phones. Paper slip waste is reduced and a new advertising platform provides opportunities to grow any business in the retail sector. • Most Innovative Solution: InterGreatMe InterGreatMe is an identity management platform, providing users with control of their identities across financial services, telecommunications, insurance and credit providing companies. The platform also allows businesses to comply with FICA, RICA, NCA and POPI laws. • Best Breakthrough Developer: Zulzi An on-demand delivery platform for anything around the consumer’s area. Zulzi is an online digital mall which links the consumer up with a personal shopper who will deliver to the customer within an hour. Lunch, dinner, groceries, pharmaceuticals or anything else can be ordered. • Best South African App: Hey Jude Hey Jude is a real human assistant that lives on your smartphone. Whatever you need, Jude is there to assist you, be it booking restaurants, organising tradesmen or finding information - you name it, Hey Jude does it.


S O U T H A F R I CA’S M O S T I N N O VAT I V E C O M PA N I E S I N 2 0 1 7


WRI TE RS : Evans Manyo nga, S aarah S ur vé, S i pho s et hu Ni ni , S o nw abo Mac i ngw ana


“Our job,” says Amazon CEO Bezos, “is to invent new options that nobody’s ever thought of before and see if customers like them.”


Photograph by Peter Hapak


AMAZON FOR OFFERING EVEN MORE, E V E N FA S T E R A N D SMARTER By Noah Robischon Picture your ideal neighbourhood. What does it look like? Is it manicured, with buildings set in a pattern so that everything flows together, designed for perfection? Or is it gritty and spontaneous, the kind of place where a restaurant might move into the space that used to house a dry cleaner? Boxes bearing the Amazon logo can arrive at doorsteps in either of these environments, of course, but Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, prefers the second type. “I think neighbourhoods, cities, and towns that have evolved are more interesting and delightful than ones that have been carefully top-down planned,” he tells me when I meet him at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters in November. “There’s just something very human” about them, he says.


It’s a surprising answer from a man known for his disciplined adherence to Six Sigma–style processes and data-driven decision making. But it’s also revealing. Over its nearly 22 years, Amazon has moved into one sector after another and gentrified it, even if that meant tearing down its own existing structures. Amazon’s Echo smart speaker rose on the lot where its Fire Phone flamed out. The latest version of Amazon’s streaming music service, Amazon Music Unlimited, was constructed on top of its initial music store, Amazon MP3, which opened nine years ago. Amazon Studios’ Emmy Award–winning original TV shows are built upon a crowdsourcing platform that the company first introduced in 2010 for aspiring scriptwriters. Even the company’s fashion business—Amazon is now the second-largest seller of apparel in the US, according to Morgan Stanley—evolved from brand experiments in outdoor furniture (2004), home goods (2008), electronic accessories (2009), diapers (2014), and now perishables such as organic, fair-trade-certified coffee. Unlike Apple, Google, and Microsoft, Amazon is not fixated on a tightly designed ecosystem of interlocking apps and services. Bezos instead emphasises platforms that each serves its own customers in the best and fastest possible way. “Our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers them a better service,” he says. “And I love that. It’s super-motivating for us.” That impulse has spawned an awesome stream of creative firsts. Just this past year, Prime Video became available in more than 200 countries and territories, following the November debut of The Grand Tour, Amazon’s most-watched premiere ever. Twitch, the streaming videogame network that Amazon acquired in 2014, unveiled its first three original titles from its recently formed studios. Amazon invested millions in startups that will build voice-control apps for the intelligent assistant Alexa and give her thousands of new skills. The company opened two dozen new fulfillment centers, became the largest online store in India, and made its first delivery by autonomous drone in the United Kingdom. Bezos’s strategy of continuous evolution has allowed the company to experiment in adjacent



areas—and then build them into franchises. The website that once sold only books now lets anyone set up a storefront and sell just about anything. The warehouse and logistics capabilities that Amazon built to sort, pack, and ship those books are available, for a price, to any seller. Amazon Web Services, which grew out of the company’s own e-commerce infrastructure needs, has become a $13 billion business that not only powers the likes of Airbnb and Netflix, but stores your Kindle e-book “OUR CUSTOMERS ARE library and makes it possible LOYAL TO US RIGHT UP for Alexa to tell you whether UNTIL THE SECOND or not you’ll need an umbrella SOMEBODY OFFERS THEM today. A BETTER SERVICE,” CEO Amazon is a singular BEZOS SAYS. “AND I LOVE enterprise, one that rises to THAT. IT’S SUPERthe top of Fast Company’s Most MOTIVATING FOR US.” Innovative Companies list because it has continued to be nimble even as it has achieved enviable scale. To truly understand how Bezos is meshing size and agility in 2017, though, you need to look beyond sales figures ($100 billion in 2015) and the stock price (up more than 300% in the past five years) and consider three initiatives that drive Amazon today: Prime, the company’s rapidly proliferating $99-per-year membership program; an incursion into the physical world with brick-andmortar stores, something the company has long resisted; and a restless rethinking of logistics, epitomised by a new fulfillment centre an hour outside Seattle that features high-tech robots working alongside human workers like a factory of the future. Our mobile-first, on-demand world finds its roots

Amazon Gets Physical THE E-COMMERCE GI A N T I S N O W F U L LY E N T R E N C H E D IN T H E R E A L W O R L D. H E R E ’ S W H E R E .

T E C H H A R D WA R E Kindle: Popular for a decade and currently in its eighth generation, the e-reader continues to have few rivals (mainly Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Kobo). Fire OS devices: The company’s Fire TV settop boxes and Fire sticks (cheaper, pared-down versions of the boxes) made up 22% of the streaming-media device market in 2015, beating out Apple TV. The $50 Fire tablet has become a popular competitor to the much pricier iPad.


Dash button: These small, internetconnected tabs that users can push to instantly reorder products are finally catching on: Amazon now carries Dash buttons for more than 200 brands. Echo: The Alexa-embedded smart speaker, which can respond to certain voice commands and integrate with other devices, has given Amazon a healthy head start in the connectedhome category (to Google’s chagrin) with an estimated 5 million–plus units sold since late 2014.

in Amazon’s founding idea: that digital commerce will radically reshape our marketplace. The company’s impact has already been staggering. In January, the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance conducted a survey of nearly 3 000 independent businesses, half of them retailers, asking them to cite the biggest threats they faced. Competition from chains and big-box stores, health care, finding employees, and rising rents all ranked near the bottom as modest concerns. “Way above everything was competition from Amazon,” says ILSR codirector Stacy Mitchell. (The study also found that Amazon’s expansion in 2015 led to a net loss across all businesses of 149 000 jobs.) Despite all the twists and surprises in recent decades—all the newcomers with youth, funding, and can-do enthusiasm—Amazon remains the undisputed leader, a start-up at heart still striving to remake our expectations. And to repeatedly remake itself. Nearly all of Amazon’s most recent innovations share a connection to Prime, which by some estimates accounts for 60% of the total dollar value of all merchandise sold on the site. Between 40 million and 50 million people in the US use Prime, and, according to Morgan Stanley, those customers spend around $2 500 on Amazon annually, more than four times what non-members spend. (Amazon refuses to offer any hard numbers related to Prime membership—that would be competitor focused rather than customer obsessed, as the executives there say—but it will confirm that Prime members spend more and shop across a greater number of categories than other users.) If you somehow manage to take advantage of every Prime membership feature, it’s undeniably a good bargain. Along with free two-day shipping for millions of



Household items: AmazonBasics comprises more than 800 products, ranging from USB cables to bath towels; under various other brand names, the company also sells baby wipes (Amazon Elements), laundry detergent (Presto!), and organic, fair-trade coffee and nuts (Happy Belly). Apparel: Amazon rolled out eight proprietary clothing lines in 2016, including Buttoned Down, a menswear brand available only to Prime members.

Airplanes: The company has leased 40 planes for its exclusive use and reportedly plans to have them all in operation by the end of 2018. Last August, it unveiled a Boeing 767-300 bearing the Amazon Prime logo. Trucks: Amazonbranded semis have been cruising highways since late 2015, when the company purchased a fleet to transport inventory. (It’s also looking seaward: Its China subsidiary received a license to ship ocean freight last year.)

products, and tens of thousands of items available at your door in an hour or less through Prime Now, there is onehour restaurant delivery, a free e-book a month (including the entire Harry Potter series), and ad-free viewing of a streaming video-game channel on Twitch—all included in the annual fee. You can get early access to Amazon’s best deals, 20% off diapers, and unlimited photo storage. For a few more dollars, Prime can be upgraded to include unlimited audiobooks, grocery delivery, and a subscription to HBO that can be watched on Amazon’s Fire TV streaming media player. More than 50 “benefits” were added for members around the globe in the second half of 2016 alone, says Greg Greeley, Amazon’s global VP in charge of Prime. “I would like to say that the team thinks, ‘Oh, boy, we’ll take a deep breath here,’ ” he says. “But the way this company [is], it wouldn’t surprise me if we continue to keep accelerating.” What Amazon Prime is selling most of all is time. Every executive I spoke to, when asked about how it all fits together, cites this desire to get you whatever you want in the shortest window possible. Stephenie Landry, the Amazon vice president who launched Prime Now in 2014 and has overseen its expansion into 49 cities in seven countries, explains that her business merely has to answer two questions: “Do you have what I want, and can you get it to me when I need it?” The rest of the customer experience is built around answering both questions in the affirmative. The more products and services Amazon is able to cram into Prime, the more likely users are to renew their membership and buy more stuff, which gives Amazon more data about their tastes and what they are likely to buy next. That information is used to spin out new products and services, such as the Dash button, which replenishes popular items with a tap, and Alexa, which

Drones: A bag of popcorn and a Fire TV became Amazon’s first official drone deliveries, to a farmhouse in En­g land in December. The company plans to test its Prime Air service further and, eventually, deliver packages to customers anywhere in less than 30 minutes. Robots: Thanks to its acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012, Amazon controls some 30 000 robots around the globe, which it fully incorporated last year to maximize warehouse and retail efficiency.

is built, in part, for shopping. “You can just say, ‘Alexa, reorder toothpaste,’ ” says Bezos. “And it knows which kind of toothpaste.” That’s why he has repeatedly called Prime the company’s “flywheel”: a device used in engines that provides constant energy. It is both an accelerant to Amazon’s forward motion and a beneficiary. Bezos says that people have been asking him for 20 years whether he would ever open physical stores. The answer, consistently, has been no. “I’ve answered pretty much the same way the whole time, which is that we will if we have a differentiated idea,” Bezos tells me. Yet today, suddenly, Amazon has four concepts in the works. Why the shift? In part it links back to Prime; retail stores offer a tangible lure for the uninitiated. But, as Bezos explains, Amazon’s technological sophistication also now makes it possible for in-store shoppers to interact with its digital platforms in all-new manners. Monitoring the interplay is a classic Amazon way to spot new opportunities. The first wave of Amazon stores is somewhat traditional: More than 30 pop-up shops showcasing Amazon’s electronic gadgets—Kindle, Echo, Fire TV, Fire tablets, and Dash buttons—dotted the country by late last year. The next phase: expanding the highly curated Amazon Books stores—which showcase titles with a higher-than-four-stars customer rating alongside excerpts of reviews from the website—from three locations to eight. But it is the third leg of the company’s retail experiment that begins to rattle expectations. Amazon Go is a convenience-store concept the company announced in December. After a shopper swipes a code on her mobile phone at the entryway turnstile, she can grab whatever items she likes; they are magically added to her digital cart and automatically paid for when she leaves,

At the Amazon Go store, customers will be able to simply walk off with merchandise. (Their accounts will be billed automatically.)

R E TA I L Bookstores: Five new brick-and-mortar Amazon bookstores are set to open in the US this year, bringing the total to eight. Grocery stores: “No lines, no checkout” is how the company describes the forthcoming Amazon Go, a smartphone-integrated retail experiment, currently open to beta users in Seattle (and to the public in early 2017). The company looks to be building larger grocery concepts as well. —Kim Lightbody



through her existing account. This ability to skip both the line and any cash register on the way out is made possible by Amazon’s cloud computing, machine learning, voice control, and logistics know-how. It’s also another example of Amazon creating a technology platform that could be sold to other businesses. Finally, and more quietly, another grocerystore concept is also being prepped. Although no one inside Amazon is willing to talk about it, documents filed with local buildings departments in Seattle and the San Francisco suburbs of Sunnyvale and San Carlos show that the company is erecting stores in all three locales. (Construction at the Seattle location— where a Chinese restaurant once stood, on a busy commercial thoroughfare in the fastgrowing Ballard neighborhood—appears to be nearly complete.) The documents describe a system that would seem to extend the AmazonFresh grocery service: Customers load their digital carts remotely and pay online, then schedule a physical pickup within a two-hour window. “When picking up purchased items, customers either can drive into a designated parking area with eight parking stalls where the purchased items will be delivered to their cars, or they can walk into the retail area to pick up their items,” the filings say. These stores are not likely to change the way most Americans get their cornflakes overnight. Still, Amazon has always been good at being patient—and incrementally improving its offerings. Since AmazonFresh launched in 2007, the service has slowly expanded to dozens of cities. The Amazon neighborhood continues to change. Planted on the edge of a military base, Amazon’s recently opened fulfillment centre, in DuPont, Washington, looks from the outside like a generic warehouse, with a line of idling trucks snaking around the building waiting to load and unload product. But what’s inside represents a huge advance in the way Amazon sorts, packs, and ships orders. It starts with a “vision tunnel,” a conveyor belt tented by a dome full of cameras and scanners. As each box comes off the truck, it is photographed and scanned on all sides. Imagerecognition algorithms then sort each parcel based on variables such as the type of product or size and weight. What takes humans with bar-code scanners an hour to accomplish at older fulfillment centers can now be done in half that time. Boxes are towed from the docks into the million-square-foot warehouse, sometimes by driverless vehicles. This facility handles the

largest items that Amazon ships, which is why there’s also a huge, 6-ton yellow robot on the main floor. It has a six-axis arm that could pick up a car with ease, but today it’s mostly lifting pallets loaded 1.2 metres high with diapers and Keurig cups to the second floor of the warehouse where they will await shipping. The arm performs a constant, mostly silent waltz with an ensemble of rolling Amazon robots, which represent the next-generation offspring of the company’s $775 million acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012, and were only fully integrated into the fulfillment center workflow last year. Once a package leaves the warehouse, it may end up on a Boeing 767 with the Prime Air logo emblazoned on its side. Bezos rolled out the first in a fleet of 40 wide-bodies last summer, which will be operated in partnership with two aircraft-leasing companies. These planes, like the thousands of cargo trailers that already sport the Prime logo, make Amazon less dependent on its partnerships with FedEx, DHL, and the United States Postal Service. And, pending FAA approval, those fully operational Amazon delivery drones might one day cut delivery time down to 30 minutes or less. Amazon stresses that its new automated fulfillment centres actually require more human workers than the old ones did, because the warehouse can store a significantly larger number of products— which all still need people for boxing and general oversight (plus, someone’s got to service those robots when they need repairs). The plant in DuPont, active almost 24/7, employs more than a thousand people full time. At stow station 1405, for instance, I watch a young guy with tattoos, a man bun, and large-gauge flesh-tunnel earrings grab item after item from orange robots, scan each one, and, after the computer gives the green light, send it to be boxed. Over the holiday season, Amazon hired an extra 120,000 workers at centres nationwide to help meet demand. This is what the future of American factory work might look like. Amazon’s business is not without its challenges. The company’s imperative to deliver more stuff faster has racheted up its annual shipping costs north of $11 billion, reinforcing the pressure to wring efficiencies out of the company’s processes and its people. In the run-up to last year’s holiday shopping season, pilots who work for Amazon’s Prime Air shipping contractors went on strike, demanding hiring increases to reduce their workload. It’s no wonder that the blistering


2015 New York Times article about bruising work environments at Amazon remains in the popular consciousness. Amazon is working to counteract this legacy. The company pledged in January to create more than 100 000 full-time positions over the next 18 months, and it’s building a new headquarters complex in the heart of downtown Seattle. Five buildings and a 2 000-seat auditorium will surround a trio of glass-enclosed spheres that, when completed in 2018, will contain more than 3 000 species of plants and trees from around the world. There will be flexible, couch-filled work spaces and an “Expressions Lab,” where employees can learn to knit or attend a “Bob Ross Paint Night.” One floor will include a small outdoor dog park, and there will be several markets and cafeterias. Amazon is also funding an additional streetcar for the city, as well as bicycle paths leading to the three-block complex, which includes a hectare of public space. “The biggest thing is probably just that we’re not in a suburban campus,” says Bezos, “which I think would change the vibrancy and energy of Amazon.” In November, Amazon released a video ad portraying a pair of aging friends—a priest and an imam—laughing, hugging, and then ordering the same knee braces for each other. It is a sensitive and moving vignette, portraying Amazon as a connector of cultures, the kind of compassionate business it has not always been given credit for being. The ad arrived just two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, so I ask Bezos what the company’s role might be in bridging the divides that exist in the US. After all, he bankrolls The Washington Post, which went after Trump aggressively during the presidential campaign. His answer is almost laughably narrow. “Well, I’ll tell you one way that I don’t think anybody is divided,” Bezos replies. “Everybody wants fast delivery. Low prices. I’m serious about this. Our job is to provide a great customer experience, and that is something that is universally desired all over the world.” It’s tough to argue with his words. And yet this Bezosian boilerplate is certainly less than the full story. Because Amazon is doing more than delivering our next tube of toothpaste. By using the “divine discontent of the customer as a North Star,” as Bezos puts it, the company is energising a culture of relentless progress. The neighborhood may be changing, but maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s what business in the modern era is all about.



At its best, Google marries awesome computing resources with algorithmic intelligence to create popular services that no one else can match: Search, Maps, Gmail, and YouTube have been massive hits because they centralise content and make it easy to find what you want. With an estimated 1 trillion–plus images now taken annually, storing and presenting photos has become Google’s next big project— and a powerful way to pull users even further into its orbit. “We thought we could apply machine intelligence in an impactful way around photos and videos to make it easier [for users] to enjoy what they create,” says VP of Google Photos Anil Subharwal. Launched in May 2015, Google

Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Photos coalesces a user’s images across hard drives and devices, as well as closet shoeboxes, thanks to the PhotoScan app, which debuted last November and digitszes old prints. Drawing from Google’s image-recognition and AI capabilities, the service’s Assistant feature can also curate images into movie montages, animations, and collages. (One movie format, called Lullaby, stitches together images of your sleeping baby.) More than 200 million users have embraced Google Photos— an indication of how the company’s restless invention continues to transform culture. “People still scroll [through images] today,” Subharwal says. “We plan to do more to make even that first page of recent photos smarter.”



“It’s creativity with technology,” says Facebook’s Sandberg of the company’s efforts to develop ad products that drive sales.


Facebook’s 1.8 billion users helped it generate more than $26 billion in 2016 revenue—with roughly 80% of it from mobile ads. But scale is only part of what’s driving that dazzling success: COO Sheryl Sandberg and her team have been relentlessly experimenting with how to make ads more compelling despite the limitations of small screens. “Creativity’s never been so important,” Sandberg says. “When TV ads [first appeared], people thought the creative was important. Then when you moved into online, what really mattered was the targeting. What we’re [now] seeing on the Facebook platform is that it’s both.” Over the past year, Facebook rolled out several new mobile ad formats, including full-screen, 360-degree video, and interactive ads that let users swipe, tilt, and zoom through carousels of images. And to help advertisers experiment with and make sense of these products, in November Facebook debuted the Creative Hub, a platform for businesses and agencies to mock up, share, and test ads. With Facebook’s growing focus on video, it’s also encouraging marketers to adapt their materials specifically to the social network (rather than just repost ready-made TV spots). When Sony Pictures added subtitles to its movie trailers last spring and recut them into a more news feed–friendly square format, it found them five times more effective in raising awareness than standard reposted previews. “You can’t just take your ads that were on the last platform and then port them over to the new one,” Sandberg says. Facebook is also enabling a more direct connection between online engagement and real-world commerce. Already some brands have used targeting to double the revenue yield from news-feed campaigns, such as when Celebrity Cruises showed users trip itineraries based on Facebook’s insights into where they were planning to visit. The next step is letting users complete the transaction without leaving the platform. In October, Facebook turned its Events calendar into a stand-alone app, allowing groups of friends to, say, buy concert tickets through the service, thanks to its relationships with Ticketmaster and Eventbrite. “We’re thinking about how to make Facebook more useful,” says Andrew Bosworth, VP of ads and business platform. “We’ve got 60 million businesses [with official pages] on the platform. We’ve got 1.8 billion people. All we need to do is connect them.” The marriage of social recommendations with commerce is rapidly attracting advertisers: 4 million on Facebook, 500 000 on Instagram. As Sandberg says, “We want to help them move products off shelves and drive cars off lots.” 40   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  DECEMBER JANUARY 2017/18

Photograph by Mark Mahaney

UBER For accelerating autonomous driving While experts debated whether self-driving cars would be commercially available in 5 or 10 years, Uber raced ahead and put vehicles on the road. Last August, it launched a program in Pittsburgh that allowed people to summon a self-driving car from their phones. At the same time, Uber acquired autonomous-trucking startup Otto. Together, these moves put the company, valued at $68 billion, at the forefront of transportation’s next wave. “The biggest asset and advantage [of our self-driving efforts] is being part of the larger Uber network,” says Raffi Krikorian, engineering director at the company’s Advanced Technologies Centre in Pittsburgh. 1

A smart pilot Uber deliberately chose Pittsburgh for its first fleet because of the city’s erratic weather and winding roads. “If we can drive in Pittsburgh, we [know we] have the features we need to go and drive in other cities,” Krikorian says. The project has since expanded to Phoenix. 2

Automotive allies Last summer, Uber signed a $300 million deal with Volvo, which provides the company’s current fleet of human-assisted self-driving cars. The partners intend to debut a fully autonomous one by 2021. 3

Connected roads In October, Otto completed the first self-driving 18-wheeler delivery (of 50 000 cans of Budweiser). “[One day] our self-driving Ubers will [be able to] drive highways because the truck team is tackling it,” says Krikorian, “and the trucks will drive in cities because Ubers are [there].”

Illustration by Tavis Coburn


Apple isn’t, at its core, a chip company, yet its silicon engineering group shipped four microprocessors in 2016, each paired to a new product, including the iPhone 7 and AirPods. Apple’s commitment to designing the very foundations of its hardware, rather than merely buying them off the shelf, gives it a sustaining advantage in creating the most compelling consumer-electronics experiences. “We pick the projects where we feel like we can make a difference—the big customer-impacting features,” says Anand Shimpi, who works on hardware technologies at Apple. So the stunning depth-of-field effect from the iPhone 7 camera? That’s directly enabled by the new A10 chip. “The actual production of the stored portrait image is

because of things that we put into the [image signal processor],” Shimpi says. As Apple has expanded into new product lines, its silicon team has had to figure out how to realise the vision of the company’s systems and design teams. The S2 chip, for example, was developed to give the second-generation Apple Watch its lauded performance improvements without sacrificing battery life, and the magic trick of how AirPods simultaneously deliver music to two separate wireless devices is a direct result of programming embedded within their W1 chip. “We want to improve without compromise,” says Shimpi. It’s this mind-set that helped Apple’s “rebuilding year” of fiscal 2016 generate more than $215 billion in revenue and almost $46 billion in profit. DECEMBER JANUARY 2017/18  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   41


On a late summer evening in Phoenix, a group of Alpha Chi Omega sisters sit in the stands of the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium and take selfies. They capture duck-face snaps with each other, with churros, and with each other with churros. A bored camera operator spots them in the outfield stands, and two middle-aged MLB announcers have a field day, mocking the women’s youthful self-absorption. “That’s the best one of 300 pictures I’ve taken of myself today!” one commentator cracks. “Here’s my first bite of the churro!” chirps his co-conspirator. “Here’s my second bite of the churro!” “Peralta knocks it into centre! . . . And nobody noticed.” The clip went viral because, from the perspective of the MLB broadcast crew, the students seemed disconnected from events on the field. But the sorority sisters weren’t living their lives for the TV cameras. They were, in fact, having a great time at the game—via Snapchat. Consumers, advertisers, influencers, media brands, and rivals are increasingly viewing the world through Snapchat’s lens. In the past



Photograph by Eric T. White


JULZ GODDARD Mission: Power publicist YesJulz lives her life on Snapchat, sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses of cool parties and time with clients like Gucci Mane. “My Snapchat followers are like my family. They’ve seen me at meetings with a record label and going on roller coasters. They’ve seen everything.”



K E L LY O X F O R D Mission: The screenwriter and author uses Snapchat for storytelling (of course), sharing life’s funny moments. “As long as there’s an element of humour, it’s always a hit. Yesterday, I passed a restaurant where the sign looked like it said human tasty. So many people from LA said, ‘I think that every time.’ ”

MANNY MUA Mission: The social beauty vlogger shows off his contouring with brands like Tarte and Benefit Cosmetics, while also offering a glimpse of his life beneath the makeup. “Snapchat allows me to be Manny on an everyday level. I get to show people a side of me I don’t ever get to show on Instagram or YouTube.”

18 months, the photo- and video-sharing app has released a slew of bold (and brazenly imitated) features, from absurdist digital masks to face-swapping to group chat, which have vaulted it to the vanguard of social communication. Snap, as the company is now known, claims more than 150 million daily users, and it reportedly exceeded its lofty goal to generate more than $300 million in revenue for 2016. Its introduction of location-based image enhancements, known as geofilters, and Spectacles, its sunglasses that record 10 seconds of video from the wearer’s point of view, inspired genuine consumer fanaticism for augmented reality and wearable computing in a way that overhyped rivals from Magic Leap to Google haven’t matched. As Snap is expected to go public this year, deconstructing the principles underpinning its products is more important than ever. After all, the only people who underestimate Snap are those who don’t take the time to see what’s right in front of their face. When Snapchat rebranded last September to Snap, CEO Evan Spiegel proclaimed it a camera company. At first blush, it’s a curious bit of branding—Kevin Systrom, founder of Snapchat rival Instagram, ardently argues that he runs a communications company—but Snap’s framing is intentional. Camera technologies have driven some of the most important developments in media. In 1888, Thomas Edison’s Kinetograph gave birth to motion pictures, and provided Edison with early control over the film industry. In 1957, NBC upgraded to color broadcasting, largely so its owner, RCA, could sell color TVs. Kodak, once one of the world’s most valuable brands, continues to sell off imaging patents to a new generation of camera-obsessed companies, including Facebook, Google, and Apple. Visual information is a conduit for the digitised relationships of the modern era, and Snap effortlessly navigates this confluence of image, communication, and entertainment. Its most impressive illusion is that its app design feels casual or even random, when in fact, it’s a carefully thought-out experience, constantly being honed for maximum engagement. Whether it’s offering up cartoon ghost Snapcode Stickers for you to add a new friend or puppy-nose filters to apply to your face, Snapchat’s interface reinforces that it’s for fun. “They treat their core product like a utility, and they aren’t overly precious about it, ” says Ryan Rimsnider, Taco Bell’s senior manager of social strategy. “And if they are, they certainly don’t act like it.” For the past two decades, user-interface design has put a premium on an intuitive placement of functions. By contrast, Snapchat forces users to play around. Its design operates like a speakeasy, requiring you to feel for the secret door or have a friend who knows the passcode to unlock the next room. Many of Snapchat’s features, such as long-pressing on your face to bring up filters or being able to convert yourself into an emoji, need to be discovered. Adding people to follow, whether they’re celebrities or your friends, is another clandestine game, one that rewards good creators rather


than merely famous people. And Snap doesn’t generally issue press releases announcing app updates, preferring that users are surprised when they find new features on their own. Snapchat is therefore free to experiment more aggressively than competitors with UI shifts and features—and even break its own rules without breaking the app. This is why Snapchat has been able to evolve from only allowing photos taken in the moment, which would disappear in 10 seconds, to adding Memories, which makes old content searchable, without a revolt. Ultimately, what Snap offers users is control. “They just want to provide crazy tools that enable fans to create stories with no end,” says Rimsnider. Take Snapchat’s

Photograph by Aaron Feaver

Kelly Oxford

augmented-reality lenses. These silly filters solve an important problem: They give people something to do when they share. Puking a digital rainbow, one of Snapchat’s photo enhancements, is a prop to overcome stage fright when messaging friends. Stories, a collection of images and video that capture a user’s day and last 24 hours, has become the centerpiece of the Snapchat experience. “Snapchat is the reality show about your life that you shoot and edit yourself,” says Jason Stein, CEO of both the marketing agency Laundry Service and Cycle, a media startup. Indeed, some of the most renowned Snapchatters, such as Julz Goddard (better known as YesJulz), effectively use the app to produce a series starring themselves. “I was talking to different networks about a reality show, but I wasn’t really excited about other people having creative control over my content and my image,” Goddard says. “Then I was like, wow, this Snapchat is incredible.

Photograph by Ramona Rosales

Manny Mua

Everyone in the world can have their very own television network.” Snap is watching what its users create and deploying those insights to woo Hollywood talent to embrace the platform as a new entertainment medium. The company is in talks with talent agencies and media companies to create scripted and unscripted “Snapchat shows” for the platform. The Snap twist, according to one Hollywood insider: The four-minute-long series would be divided into 10- to 60-second chapters, much like users’ Stories are structured. When Snap internally produced its own test program—the election-year series Good Luck America—it even had the crew shoot host Peter Hamby offcentre, at arm’s length, to create the impression that he was filming himself. In dealings with traditional media partners such as NBC, which creates The Voice on Snapchat and a recurring Jimmy Fallon segment, Snap has offered shot-by-shot analytics from Good Luck



Justin Kan

America, showing how pacing that’s too slow, or shots that are too dull, will lose viewers in the middle of a video. DESIGNER REBECCA Ultimately, Snap sees MINKOFF COMPARES user-generated and SPECTACLES TO A PARTY Hollywood content DRESS OR SHOES, AN evolving codependently, OVERT PIECE OF FLAIR with each building off THAT CALLS ATTENTION the other. TO ITS INTENT. Similarly, Snap’s advertising business directly benefits from the tools it creates for Snapchatters. The design team that builds Snap’s consumer features also creates its advertising products; every tool for marketers began its life delighting users. For example, Snapchat’s Discover channels, which feature original content from media brands such as National Geographic and Vice, introduced the idea that you swipe up to learn more about a given story. “After months of training



the behaviour,” says Kenny Mitchell, Gatorade’s director of consumer engagement, “Snapchat then launched Snap Ads that allow for consumers to swipe up to get more info.” Snap’s most intriguing ad product has been sponsored lenses, which has attracted the world’s best brand marketers, including Disney, McDonald’s, and Starbucks. For Cinco de Mayo, Taco Bell released a filter that turned people’s heads into, yes, giant tacos. By most estimates, Taco Bell spent between $500 000 and $750 000 on a filter that was viewed 224 million times in a single day. That’s double the views of a Super Bowl ad for one-tenth the price, and, unlike TV viewers, Snapchat’s audience is actively using, sharing, and having fun with an ad. Users are already accustomed to adorning their faces with gags to make their friends laugh, so it doesn’t matter that the gag is sponsored. Snap goes so far as to measure what it calls “play time”—how long a user might toy with a giant taco on their face, even if they never take a photo wearing it. Because it’s still valuable engagement. “They’re really trying to make social ads suck less,” says Winston Binch, chief digital officer of Deutsch North America, which works closely with Taco Bell’s social strategy team. “They’re not trying to reappropriate other digital advertising norms. They want to maintain the integrity of the experience.”

Photograph by Molly Matalon (Kan); Cru Camara (CyreneQ)

Kenny Mitchell

In November, Snap introduced yet another strategy to make its platform even more addictive, capable, and advertiser-friendly: hardware. Snap Spectacles transform Snapchat the app into a brash sunglasses-camera that takes circular videos. Spectacles, or Specs, as Snap employees call them, eliminate that final point of friction of pulling a phone from one’s pocket to capture life’s spontaneity. They encourage sharing by design: When they initially pair with your phone, Specs actually film your first snap without warning. (After that, a tap of the frame initiates recording.) “Having a pair has already made a dent in the type of content I’m making,” says Mike Platco, a Snapchat artist and influencer. “It has made me more excited to post ‘in the moment’ videos that are less focused on a large narrative and more about bringing my audience in on the cool stuff I get to do.” Recently I wore Specs during a Chicago birthday bar crawl, capturing scenes that I’d never have filmed with my phone. Walking into each dive felt Scorsese-esque as

Photograph by Lyndon French

I filmed it, as if I was shooting my own Goodfellas, but grittier. With both of my hands free to stuff my face, I captured a late-night tamale run as a tube of masa flying right below the camera. If I wanted a selfie, I had to have one of those cinematic moments of staring placidly into a bathroom mirror. Unlike Google Glass, which prompted “Glasshole” bans at New York and San Francisco bars, Specs are designed to be nonthreatening. (A playfully twirling LED light broadcasts that they’re filming.) Spectacles ingeniously package this face camera into something that people might actually want to wear. “It’s a classic shape reinvented,” says fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff of the Ray-Ban–inspired shades, which come in black, coral, and teal. She thought Glass was hideous, but compares Spectacles to a party dress or shoes, an overt piece of flair that calls attention to its intent rather than hiding it. Specs, which Snap conspicuously branded a “toy” when it announced them last fall, are likely just the first physical camera that the company will introduce. Reports have circulated that it has considered other forms of wearable cameras, as well as drones. Snap has already tested selling a number of pieces of official merchandise, such as beach towels and backpacks, that hint at how the company thinks about bridging the real and digital worlds. When Snapchat introduced official playing cards, they were more or less a normal deck of cards, save for one thing: They came with instructions for a game called SnapKings. To play, a group of friends in the same room sets the cards on the table, but the game unfolds on Snapchat itself. If you draw a 3, you are instructed to “Snap yourself while making your grossest selfie face.” If you pull out a 9, you have to “Bust a rhyme for a 10-second Snap.” Much as with lenses, the cards initiate a Snap session, transforming a mellow Friday night into fodder for an expanding universe of good times. Despite Snap’s relentless creativity and distinct perspective, its future success isn’t assured. Facebook has been rapidly adding Snapchat-like features into Facebook, Whats­App, and, most notably, Instagram. The rise of Instagram Stories, the 24-hour video-sharing tool that blatantly mimics Snapchat Stories, precipitated Snap’s decision to pursue an IPO, according to one source. “It definitely caught them off guard,” says a person who does business with Snap. “It’s a huge threat.” With Facebook trying to choke off its rival’s global expansion, investors could also inhibit Snap’s progress by dogging its stock if user and revenue growth don’t exceed the high bar Facebook set for social media. But Spiegel and company understand instinctually that power has shifted. The kids know what they’re doing. They know what they like. And Snap isn’t afraid to tell media companies and advertisers, Hey, shoot this more like the kids do. What those career baseball broadcasters missed as they jeered the Alpha Chi sisters? Those duck-faced women were now the ones in control of the cameras, and they have countless stories to tell.

JUSTIN KAN Mission: The self-proclaimed “Professional Snapchat Q&A Answer Giver” and Y Combinator partner uses Snapchat to mentor young entrepreneurs. “People like the feeling of access that is very raw, unedited, and inspirational. I’m kind of a life coach for thousands of people.”

CY R E N E Q Mission: The former Verizon web designer collaborates with such brands as Walmart and Disney to make pop art, including an adventure series starring Frozen’s Anna and Elsa. “On Snapchat, only you can see the engagement. And that’s the best kind of thing to lessen the pressure to post something great.”

KENNY MITCHELL Mission: Gatorade’s director of consumer engagement is reaching teen athletes via programs such as its Super Bowl Dunk lens (160 million views) and even a seven-minute animated film featuring Usain Bolt. “Part of what differentiates Snap Ads is its immersiveness. It’s full-screen with sound on.”

Additional reporting/writing by Jeff Beer, Claire Dodson, and Nicole LaPorte


NETFLIX FOR MAKING SURFING FUN AGAIN “When you turn on your TV,” says Chris Jaffe, VP of user-interface innovation at Netflix, “you’re used to things being loud and happening.” That’s what led Netflix to roll out a major UI upgrade in December, replacing static poster images with custom-created preview videos that automatically play when you scroll over a title card. The redesign encourages Netflix’s more than 93 million subscribers to serendipitously discover what to watch rather than tediously browse its catalog and wonder if something is worth sampling. The upgrade,



a company-wide effort that took nearly three years, demonstrates Netflix’s commitment to stand out from competitors such as Amazon for more than just content (though Netflix is planning to produce 1 000 hours of original shows in 2017 and plow $6 billion into its library, numbers that far outpace its rivals). The company also recently unleashed Download and Go, which allows users to watch shows like Stranger Things and The Crown offline. “We started [2016] by making Netflix available everywhere,” says Jaffe of the company’s thensurprise expansion into 130 new countries. “We ended it with making sure you could take it anywhere with you.”

Illustration by Matt Rota



There’s a good chance you use Twilio’s technology daily, though that may come as a surprise. The text message saying your Uber arrived? Twilio sent it. When you lose your Netflix password? Twilio delivers the new one. The company, which went public last June and saw its third-quarter revenue jump by 62% to $72 million, sells a diverse set of cloud services that help developers program voice, message, and video communications into apps. “Companies need to support the communications their customers want to use,” says cofounder and CEO Jeff Lawson. Here’s how he’s giving businesses more options.


SPOTIFY For enticing artists with data

Illustration by Jamie Cullen



Customisable alerts Twilio’s new Notify product helps companies determine the best way to reach users based on their preferences, including SMS, Messenger, Apple push notification, and Google cloud-messaging service. Nike uses Notify to alert customers when a new shoe drops.

The leading music service has been plowing even further ahead, adding algorithmically smart play­ lists like Fresh Finds and Release Radar to its uncannily good Discover Weekly. Its 100 million users—40 million of


Simple video calls Last year, Twilio began allowing developers to embed videoconferencing within any app. IBM uses the function in a new service called Bluemix that enables doctors at a specialised cancer clinic in Texas to video-chat directly with patients, eliminating long commutes for routine checkups.

whom subscribe—can also now integrate Spotify into matchmaking apps Bumble and Tinder. Meanwhile, listening patterns produce data the company can use to identify artists’ superfans and woo

Global compatibility Twilio works with more than 1 000 wireless carriers around the world, saving developers the task of coding for each network. Yelp used Twilio to build a global text-based reservation system for restaurants, and Crisis Text Line switched to Twilio’s SMS platform to expand internationally.

musicians to embrace Spotify as a promotional tool. “Artists want to put the fan first,” says Troy Carter, the superstar manager who leads Spotify’s creator services. “We can give them what they want.”


AIRBNB For putting a world of experiences at our fingertips The company that lured travellers from hotels to homes is now getting them off tour buses and into the real world. “What’s wrong with much of travel is that it’s so massproduced and transactional,” says Joe Zadeh, VP of product for Airbnb. In November, CEO Brian Chesky introduced Experiences, local adventures that extend Air­bnb’s hostbased hospitality into tours and multiday itineraries. The service creates a potentially lucrative revenue stream and marks the next hop in Airbnb’s journey to reimagine travel. 1

Specialised tours Experiences taps Airbnb’s community to offer the kinds of highly curated adventures that were once the exclusive domain of premium travel agents, such as a three-night sake tasting in Tokyo led by a sommelier ($177) and a dip into Paris’s African fashion culture ($60). 2

Armchair inspiration Occupying their own section within Airbnb’s new app, the Experiences listings are elegant, browsable, and highly visual—like a luxe travel magazine. They’re also extremely easy to book. 3

Trips, not tools Airbnb is moving closer to handling users’ entire travel experience. A deal with the app Resy integrates restaurant reservations, and app users can download more than 100 guidebooks. Soon, it may add flight booking. “Can we build out the best trip?” Zadeh asks. “Ultimately that’s what creates a service people love.”

BUZZFEED FOR FEEDING A VIRAL FEVER Tasty, BuzzFeed’s collection of aerial-view, time-lapse cooking videos, has been the fiercest test of the company’s thesis that the future of media is in creating winning content for social media platforms. The addictive, cheese- and avocado-laden shorts, part of the company’s first vertical that doesn’t bear the BuzzFeed brand, have drawn nearly 40 billion views in less than two years on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Tasty’s own site. The channel has also attracted advertiser love because of how smoothly brands can be integrated. More than 1 million people shared Tasty’s jalapeño popper burger recipe cooked on Oster’s 7-Minute Grill, boosting the appliance-maker’s sales. The vertical has even led BuzzFeed into commerce: Tasty: The Cookbook, a hard-copy collection that can be customised



according to recipe type (from breakfast food to kids’ meals), sold a whopping 100 000 copies in its first few weeks. “We didn’t even know the brand was that powerful,” says Tasty’s global general manager Ashley McCollum. BuzzFeed recognised that Tasty could be a test kitchen for other original, service-oriented video brands. So Tasty begot Nifty (do-it-yourself home projects) and Goodful (healthy living). Each new vertical is first proven out within the last one, and each has grown faster than its predecessors. By focusing on categories that already have followings—there are 24-hour cable networks devoted to each one—BuzzFeed is wooing cordcutters and people who’ve never had cable. As long as “Tasty Inc.” is racking up views, McCollum says she’ll follow her company’s mantra: “Don’t f**k with growth.”

Illustration by Alexis Facca



In 2016, an estimated 400 million people interacted with IBM’s Watson: The artificial intelligence platform now processes data to assist in everything from oncology treatments to NBA draft picks. In the past year, dozens of companies, including GM, Japan Airlines, Hilton, and Pfizer, have launched initiatives using IBM’s intelligence. Watson owes its ubiquity to the dozens of new AI tools, including emotional analysis and image recognition, that it offers developers. “Our mission is to let people own their own AI,” says David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson.

SLACK For fighting drudge work with bots

Illustration by Rami Niemi



Personal shopping Retail outlets such as Macy’s and the Mall of America are employing Watson’s language-processing tools to help shoppers navigate their stores. After the North Face embedded Watson in its website to match users to winter jackets, the company saw a double-digit percentage boost in order value.

The 33 000 corporate teams using the popular workplace messaging app have seen its capabilities explode: Last year, Slack introduced video calling and made the platform more interactive, allowing users to browse flights, approve budgets,


Teaching assistants A new collaboration between Sesame Workshop and IBM is leveraging Watson’s pattern recognition and natural languageprocessing skills to create preschool curriculums tailored to children’s learning styles. A Watson-powered vocabulary-builder app will start rolling out this spring.

and evaluate job candidates—all within the app. It also redoubled its efforts to become a more perceptive office assistant, debuting tools for developers to create AI-based chatbots and investing in startups building Slack-specific apps.

Union organising The labour rights group Our Walmart recently created a chat app called WorkIt that uses Watson to digest the retailer’s employment issues and policies (including leave-of-absence and sick-leave procedures) and answer questions that employees may not want to pose to managers.

“We want to get the annoying, friction-filled stuff out of [your] workday,” says VP of product April Underwood. Slack reached 1.25 million paying users last year, positioning the company to pull in $100 million in annual revenue.




If you want to see beautiful images of Earth from a million miles away, visit NASA’s EPIC website—just don’t expect to learn much about the economic or societal trends happening down below. For that, you’ll need Orbital Insight. The Mountain View, California–based company analyses more than a million square kilometers of high-resolution imagery on a monthly basis from eight of the largest satellite constellations in orbit, and then uses machine-vision algorithms to put hard numbers on everything from the amount of water in reservoirs to the number of active fracking sites in North Dakota to the depth of poverty in Sri Lanka. “We call it a macroscope,” says founder and CEO James Crawford, a former NASA robotics engineer who also led Google’s mission to


scan millions of books and make them searchable online. The US government is an Orbital customer, as are more than 70 financial firms, some of which link into Orbital Insight to make market calls. The most popular report measures American retail strength by counting the number of cars in shopping-mall parking lots and predicting daily consumer spending. The newest offering, a World Oil Storage Index, could prove even more valuable: It determines global reserves by country by measuring the length of the shadows cast by the lids of 20 000 storage tanks. Orbital Insight’s goal is more than economic, says Crawford. It’s to “understand what we’re doing on the earth, and to the earth.” The company recently partnered with World Resources Institute to detect patterns, such as when roads appear in previously untouched areas, that could help stop deforestation before it takes place.


In an era when email leaks influenced a presidential election and fears of government surveillance are on the rise, even laypeople are starting to take precautions. Open Whisper Systems has no marketing budget and has never placed an ad, but its constantly evolving Signal messaging app, which keeps transmissions secret from all but their recipients, has become so attractive to the general public that it’s got millions of users, and its underlying algorithm has been incorporated into apps used by more than 2 billion people. “We’re just the weirdos who are interested in doing this, so that’s what we’re doing,” says founder Moxie Marlinspike, an iconoclastic privacy advocate who runs Open Whisper as an open-source project funded by grants and donations, with just a handful of fulltime staff and contributions from a loosely knit group of security-conscious programmers around the world. (Edward Snowden is a fan.) Facebook announced in April that messages sent on the latest versions of WhatsApp would automatically be encrypted with the protocol, and the social networking giant is using it to add a secret messaging mode to its Messenger app as well. Google included the technology in its Allo messaging product, released in September. In addition to security, Signal has recently added features that wouldn’t be out of place in commercial services: It now includes a search tool for GIFs, can sync conversations between mobile and desktop versions, and—naturally—offers messages that automatically disappear after a few seconds.

Some app makers might view the likes of Facebook and Google as competitors, but “we see them as potential partners,” says Open Whisper Systems’ founder Marlinspike.

Photograph by Noel Spirandelli




54 March 2017

Photograph by Mauricio Alejo

Art credit teekay



In October, Steven Spielberg, the highest-grossing film director of all time, travelled to Beijing for a meeting with Jack Ma, China’s second-richest man and the cofounder of Alibaba, one of the most valuable internet companies in the world’s second-largest economy. Together, they inked a deal that gives Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production company the financial backing of the e-commerce giant, along with its marketing savvy and substantial distribution power—the elusive keys, in other words, to making a truly global blockbuster. Ma, a film buff who reportedly loves The Godfather and calls Forrest Gump his hero, had circled Hollywood for some years, and even committed $1.5 billion to a film fund that helped bankroll and market Star Trek Beyond and Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, but this was his first direct alliance. At a press conference announcing the deal, the titans, dressed alike in dark suits with cups of tea between them, heaped praise on each other. “I never thought in my life I’d see this legendary master,” Ma told the crowd in Beijing, while touting the “cultural bridge” they were building. Spielberg declared that the deal will allow them to “bring more China to America, and bring more America to China.”


The sight of Spielberg, the quintessentially American storyteller, seated alongside Ma, the quintessentially Chinese tech entrepreneur, was more than just a signal of China’s growing influence on the film industry. It was also the latest in a string of recent developments illuminating just how much Chinese companies are influencing some of the most innovative and important US businesses. With a market that some observers argue has become the most dynamic in the world, China has become a colossal source of capital and creative thinking well beyond its shores. Increasingly, it is leading the way in everything from mobile software and services to devices and entertainment. And it’s accelerating the pace for the rest of the world, whether or not consumers know it. Alibaba is just one of a slew of ambitious Chinese tech companies that has been at the forefront of the convergence

Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez



ALIBABA between China and America. What they have in common is a birthplace that’s more crucible than cradle. This year, the Chinese box office will likely eclipse the US’s. So too could the value of venture-backed investments in China, which approached $50 billion last year (up 943% since 2013). China now ties or tops the US market in online retail, mobile device sales, digital payments, gaming, renewable energy investments, and more. With more than half of its 1.37 billion citizens online, 90% of them via smartphone, China has seen an explosion of tech behemoths and upstarts driving innovation hubs like Beijing and Shenzhen to become more hypercompetitive than even Silicon Valley. Less than a decade ago, China’s reputation was for spinning out shameless copycats of Western products, but today the model has been flipped. Spurred by an influx in VC dollars and talent, increased product sophistication, and a market maturing to meet the unique demands of China’s population, “you ended up with this different evolution from the rest of the world, a continental internet broken off from the Pangaea, which led to different interfaces, different market dynamics,” says Calvin Chin, CEO of Shanghai-based accelerator Transist Impact Labs. Then things really picked up steam. “Imagine The Hunger Games,” says Connie Chan, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz who analyses the Chinese technology industry. “[It comes down to] the sheer size [of the country]. For any one company in the US, there might be 10 equivalents in China. In order to survive, you have to iterate that much faster.” This kind of rivalry has catapulted social media platforms WeChat and Alipay well past their American counterparts. When WeChat, which is owned by Tencent, launched six years ago, it was a mere chat app, while Alibaba’s Alipay basically acted as a PayPal for the company’s e-commerce marketplaces. But in fewer than two years, WeChat gained 200 million users, and soon expanded into mobile payments, a move that Alibaba’s Ma called a “Pearl Harbour attack” on his company. The fierce competition led to a spree of innovations, which, by 2015, had propelled China’s mobile-transaction volume ahead of the US’s, to $235 billion, and morphed WeChat and Alipay into services that have become the envy of Facebook, Google, and Snapchat. Hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers now depend on these allin-one apps to do, well, everything: interact with friends; pay for cabs and utility bills; book hotels, flights, and even dentist appointments; find love; and read news. US tech companies have long dreamed of building that kind of universal experience on a single platform, and they’re now scrambling to re-create what’s become standard in China. This year, Facebook began experimenting with incorporating WeChat-inspired customer-service bots and other business features into Messenger, while Snapchat has toyed with integrating payments into its communication platform. Meanwhile, Tencent is already orchestrating its next paradigm shift: It just unveiled Mini Program, a new platform that allows other services to build versions of their apps inside


For creating new hubs for commerce Its sophisticated set of commerce platforms, including payments, peer-to-peer shopping, and ticketing, helped it ring up $17.8 billion in sales in one 24-hour period during its 2016 Singles Day event.

TENCENT For reinventing messaging, again With the launch of Tencent’s new Mini Program, the 806 million users of its all-inone WeChat app can now access third-party applications within the messaging platform itself.

XIAOMI For elevating hardware design Xiaomi’s meteoric growth slowed in 2016, but it continues to set a high bar for consumer electronics: Its Mi Mix smartphone has an edge-to-edge screen, and its smart TV is thinner than an iPhone. Its ecosystem of stylish connected devices now includes a rice cooker and a robot vacuum.

BBK ELECTRONICS For igniting new smartphone markets BBK’s Oppo- and Vivobrand smartphones are currently China’s top two sellers because of their clever targeting of third-tier city dwellers via local retailers and youthfriendly features like high-res selfie cams.

WeChat (like bots, but better), which some believe could transform the messaging service into a full operating system. Albert Liu, EVP of corporate development at Verifone, which partnered with Alipay in October to bring its payments service to North America, now doesn’t know whether to call these messaging platforms “super apps” or gateways to the internet. “The advantage of super lifestyle apps like Alipay or WeChat is they’ve connected incrementally more data than an app that’s just focused on a single area: Alipay knows where you’ve traveled, what movies you saw, what restaurants you ate at,” he says. “There is no comparison with anything in the US. Maybe Facebook eventually gets there—maybe.” The velocity of competition is just as torrid in the hardware market. Google veteran Hugo Barra, who recently stepped down as Xiaomi vice president, has witnessed firsthand the extreme market fluctuations in China, where new brands displace incumbents with lightning speed. When Barra joined Xiaomi in late 2013, the then-three-year-old hardware maker was rocketing to become the No. 1 smartphone maker in China. Clever flash sales of its sleek flagship Mi devices (which rivaled the iPhone in quality) created fervor, and weekly operating-system updates made consumers feel like they were part of the design process. In 2015, with Xiaomi’s growth slowing, Huawei, a telecom manufacturing giant, stole its crown, thanks to its carrier relationships and a massive investment in using its expertise to build its own consumer devices. And then Oppo and Vivo, subsidiaries of BBK Electronics, dominated 2016, by smartly targeting lesser-developed cities (which by American standards are still enormous) while pushing youth-oriented features, such as the new Vivo V5’s 20-megapixel front-facing camera, the perfect tool for the selfie-obsessed. “Chinese technology companies, both in hardware and software, are moving so fast from one generation to the next,” Barra says. “There’s so much resource investment here, so much productivity, and obviously the fact that the supply chain is [in China] makes things easier too.” You can be sure that Apple, whose China market share slipped 37% in a single quarter last year, is studying every move. Huawei recently announced its new Mate 9, the first smartphone embedded with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. And by the time the iPhone X finally lands this summer with a bezel-less display, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix smartphone, which features a stunning edge-to-edge screen that reviewers have called the future of mobile devices, will have already been on the market for close to a year. “The average Chinese consumer has become incredibly discerning,” says Barra. “Their demand for consumer innovation is ahead of any other market in the world.” In the past year, no industry has attracted more Chinese interest (and raised American alarm) than entertainment, which Chinese companies are pursuing with a mix of prodigious capital and strategic

deal-making. Tencent and real estate giant Dalian Wanda have joined Alibaba in committing billions of dollars to help produce the kind of technologically ambitious and expensive film and TV projects that appeal to global audiences. Given the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese market (traditional Western advertising campaigns tend to fall flat there, and the country places strict quotas on non-Chinese films), American studios need to partner with these companies to access this key element of the global box office. “If you’re going to spend over $100 million on a movie and ignore the Chinese market,” says Max Michael, head of Asian business development for the United Talent Agency, “you’re not doing your job right.” China, in turn, is intent on learning the ins and outs of filmmaking from Hollywood as it builds up its own moviemaking infrastructure. In 2016, for example, Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin, the richest man in China (just ahead of Alibaba’s Ma), helped orchestrate the acquisition of Legendary Entertainment, the production company behind The Dark Knight and The Hangover, for $3.5 billion. Wang previously purchased US-based AMC Theatres, which made Wanda the biggest cinema operator in the world, and more recently struck a high-profile deal with Sony Pictures to co-finance and market Sony movies in China. (Last November, he also acquired prolific awardsshow producer Dick Clark Productions.) Wang is said to be looking to make similar deals with the other major studios, while working to entice

H U AW E I For iterating fast With its new P9 and Mate 9 phones, the telco-hardware giant has elevated its handhelds to rival those of Apple and Samsung— at half the price.

DALIAN WA N D A For staging its own dream factory The real estate giant’s bravura deals for Legendary Entertainment and its own $8 billion movie-production facility are helping it amass content for its theatres and theme parks.

Hollywood to film at Wanda’s new $8 billion production facility in Qing­dao. “The Chinese market loves Hollywood content. At the same time, they love to learn from Hollywood,” says Jack Gao, Wanda’s head of international investments and operations. The implication of these aggressive moves is palpable. Wanda’s acquisition streak has led members of Congress to request a Justice Department investigation into potential “foreign propaganda influence over American media.” Meanwhile, in the smartphone arena, suspicions of Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government have kept the telecom company from spreading its wares in the US. With isolationist trade policies and a more combative relationship with China likely during the Trump administration, some American and Chinese companies and investors with interests linking the world’s two largest economies are apprehensive about the years ahead. But whether or not a specific product or brand from China ever becomes ubiquitous in the US, the underlying innovations are already being imported and exported, impacting Americans regardless. You can see it reflected in the design and build of your phone, in the way you interact with friends and businesses, and in the entertainment you consume. In that sense, the “cultural bridge” Spielberg and Ma discussed in Beijing is already being constructed. And no walls, physical or digital, will likely be able to stop it. Additional reporting/writing by Nicole LaPorte





Universal Pictures/Everett Collection (Despicable Me 2, Minions, Sing)

What do you get when you pair a latchkey terrier mutt with a hucksterish koala trying to put on a show? A double-blockbuster year for Illumination Entertainment, the animation studio behind 2016’s The Secret Life of Pets (which grossed more than $875 million worldwide) and Sing ($360 million in its first three weeks), as well as the Despicable Me franchise. Its hits, each produced for about half the average film budget of rival DisneyPixar, confirm Illumination’s status as an entertainment company for the digital age, where interstitial ads and smartphone games have to be as compelling as the movies themselves. “Nothing we do is ancillary,” says founder and CEO Chris Meledandri. “Every interaction the audience has with our characters is equally important to us.” Thanks to a dedicated creative unit that functions as an internal ad agency, 20% of the material Illumination creates is simply in support of its movies—some appearing in increments as short as five seconds long. They’re helped by Illumination’s characters, which communicate in a universal visual language, care of the studio’s diverse group of international artists. And in a rare move, Illumination retains control over licensing deals and partnerships, working to create original stories for projects such as the Minion Rush mobile game (which has 750 million users) and the Minion Mayhem rides currently at a handful of Universal Studios theme parks (Universal co-owns the Illumination brand with Meledandri). It’s part of Meledandri’s ongoing quest to “inspire the same sense of wonder in all forms.”

Illustration by Ollanski


Minecraft is one of those fiendishly clever games with an educational value so baked in that kids (and adults) don’t realise they might be learning something. Microsoft, which acquired the game in 2014 and sold an average of 53 000 licenses every day last year, is now unlocking Minecraft’s book smarts by adapting it to make classroom learning interactive and fun. Minecraft: Education Edition, which launched in November, helps educators apply the game’s world-building approach to topics ranging from art history to math. In the 10 000 classrooms that experimented with the beta, teachers had students assembling human bodies to understand biology; exploring medieval villages to enliven history; and creating roller coasters for a physics lesson. The educational version, which costs between $1 and $5 per student, includes a few tweaks for teachers, such as digital “chalkboards” to deliver instructions. But it keeps Minecraft’s focus on discovery, helping kids develop in-demand computational skills alongside subject-matter knowledge. “A lot of what creates [Minecraft’s] magical educational experience is the no-rules sandbox environment,” says project director Deirdre Quarnstrom. “Students really feel inspired to keep going and create their own challenges, which is exactly what educators want to see.” With more than 100 million Minecraft users worldwide, Microsoft is exploring where else its cultural phenomenon can bring joy, including school field trips. The Museum of London, for instance, is now creating Minecraft worlds to accompany exhibitions, bringing some additional heat to its exploration of the Great Fire of 1666.

Illustration by Bratislav Milenkovic



C L I Q U E M E D I A G R O U P, H Y P E B E A S T FOR USING CONTENT AS THE ENGINE FOR COMMERCE CLIQUE MEDIA GROUP For parlaying fashion advice into retail gold


into what’s converting: what brands, what silhouettes, what material,” says Power. “We’re also engaging the customer along the way. We’ll be looking through fabric swatches and go on Snapchat and say, ‘Which one do you like better?’ ” The crowdsourcing has worked: Who What Wear’s Target collection has recently expanded into shoes, and Clique Media has more retail collaborations in the works. Last July, Clique Media organised an IRL meetup for readers of Obsessee, its new social-only “publication” for gen-Zers. It put together a pop-up shop at a Los Angeles mall that sold Obsessee-branded T-shirts and school supplies. Teenagers thronged. Over the course of three days, the store processed more than 1 700 transactions. Revenue wasn’t the only goal. “Everything was sold for social currency,” says Power. “To purchase something, you had to make a Snapchat or post an Instagram, and, of course, tag Obsessee.” It’s step one in building a content brand that sells.


Known for its hit lifestyle and e-commerce websites—Who What Wear (fashion), MyDomaine (home decor), and Byrdie (beauty)—Clique Media leaped out of the digital world and into the physical one in January 2016 with a clothing line for Target. The millennial-minded Who What Wear collection offers runway trends at big-box prices ($34.99 for velvet pants, $44.99 for a cape blazer) and keeps up with the frenetic pace of fashion by committing to 12 updates a year. It’s a natural evolution for the 11-year-old company, which grew out of the Who What Wear blog started by Elle magazine veterans Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr. “We felt that the high-end fashion magazines spoke down to women,” says Power, who now serves as CEO. “We wanted to create this friendly voice that felt like your most fashionable friend.” Today, Power’s team uses the information gleaned from Clique Media’s verticals and social media accounts to figure out what will sell. “We have amazing insight


Art credit teekay


Clique Media co-founders Power, left, and Kerr use their in-house data team to inform everything from website content to product development.

Art credit teekay



Ma transformed his former blog into a public company with the debut of Hypebeast on the Hong Kong stock exchange last year.


HYPEBEAST For uniting sneakerheads into a lucrative demographic


“In the world of hype, in the world of cool, you need to be the coolest platform selling the coolest products,” says Kevin Ma, the unflappable founder of the Hong Kong–based streetwear site Hypebeast. Championing edgy brands such as Raf Simons, Vetements, and Hood by Air, Ma’s site has grown from a simple sneakerhead review hub (created in his Vancouver bedroom) to a multifaceted arbiter of all manner of urban fashion and culture that includes Hypebeast, the year-old female-focused Hypebae, and an online marketplace called HBX that sells everything from Yeezy Boosts to Leica cameras. Proof that Ma knows how to stay on just the right side of the hype cycle: Much of Hypebeast’s 46% increase in revenue in the first six months of last year was fueled by its growing creative services division, which helps brands such as Gucci and Adidas produce advertising for

Photograph by Chris Schoonover

both Ma’s sites and others’. Ma is also manipulating the tentacles of his operation to maximum effect. He ignites followers with weekly “Top Drops” on HBX, featuring sales of limited-edition sneakers and T-shirts, and leverages the data generated by Hypebeast and its associated sites to figure out what to stock on the e-commerce arm. “Once we publish an article about things that we think will be hot, we can see the data and reaction and engagement from the community,” Ma says. “It’s a mix of technology and so-called big data that influences our buying decisions.” Hypebae, for example, was born last February from the insight that women account for 15% of the traffic to the male-dominated Hypebeast. The company is now growing its editorial staff as it prepares for further global expansion. The US already accounts for more than half of its sales; mainland China and its billions of feet, Ma hopes, are next.





“Zeroth Energy is a unique African energy brokerage firm, specialising in making renewable energy accessible to the masses.”


GEEKULCHA For empowering young geeks through ICT skills development and training

Solar energy systems are one of the greatest modern inventions – converting sunlight into electricity without harming the environment. Jaco Venter is a CEO making moves to eradicate the use of – and dependency on – fossil fuels through Zeroth Energy, a consulting company that supplies solar energy systems for sectional complexes, retirement villages, commercial businesses, industrial zones, schools and fuel stations. Zeroth Energy is a unique African energy brokerage firm, specialising in making renewable energy accessible to the masses. The company works with numerous solar and wind suppliers, installers and financial institutions to simplify the process from client introduction to system implementation. The company has successfully managed to shorten the process, as well as make it more cost effective for solar/ energy suppliers to operate in the market, bringing the total cost down for the clients. Along with its partners, the company has also introduced solar rental models to the market. “We are making solar energy accessible to the masses. Via our platform of energy brokerage, we connected all the suppliers, installers and financiers under one brand. Bringing in new energy technologies into the market and helping people who have no electricity to get access in an affordable way. “We are moving people away from national utility towards renewable energy as we are making it accessible on a monthly affordable rate that is less than current electricity costs. Mass market roll-out is fast tracking the change from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources,” says Venter. Zeroth has an amazing team of partner consultants, working with a team of referral agents. The company’s innovation does not come from technology enhancement, but from the way it has broken down barriers for individuals who want to enter the renewable energy space at little to no cost. The company provides consultants with everything they need, from solar to wind, smart meters to designing, installations to maintenance, contracts to marketing. “We have one of the best climates in the world to have renewable energy implemented. The only push we need is some education to the masses that renewable energy is now accessible and that it works,” says Venter. GUTTER CREDIT TK


Geekulcha serves as a platform where young, skilled, creative and ambitious tech minds meet to connect with each other, share knowledge, collaborate, obtain further skills training and to put that newly acquired skills to work. The company focuses on empowering young geeks through ICT skills development and training, while giving them a taste of what awaits them in the big world through industry exposure. Geekulcha works hard to ensure that skills are redistributed and empower women and the future generation in the process of embracing collaboration economy. Established in 2013, the company has mastered the art of doing hackathons, start-ups, big/open data, STEM, maker culture, cloud computing, digitalisation to unearth innovation and create a memorable impact. Preparing tomorrow, today, Geekulcha runs the Future GeekStars programme – a school initiative aimed at grooming future geeks and leaders within the science and technology industry through innovation and entrepreneurship. Due to the company’s hard work and dedication, it received recognition for its role in revolutionising geek culture in South Africa, earning them the 2016 ICT Achievers Award in the Local Industrialisation category. In 2017, during the 16th Annual Black Business Quarterly Awards by Big Time Group, the company won The Innovation Hub’s New and Innovative Business award.




Resolution Circle is an “idea-to-barcode” technology commercialisation network that specialises in developing youth businesses and tech entrepreneurs. Since its inception in 2012, the company has already brought over 80 start-up ideas to the market, all of which developed in a 34-step process. The University of Johannesburg-owned company and collaborate uses the commercialisation of technology as a platform to provide experiential learning to interns by forming a bridge between universities and full-scale commercial operations. This is done by focussing primarily (but not exclusively) on being a technology incubator, rather than a business incubator.


The incubator is specifically targeted for early-stage technology start-ups that need to design, construct and commercialise any new form of technology. The programme provides a platform for entrepreneurs who have no access to a professional environment where they could meet potential customers and suppliers. They also benefit from engagement with other entrepreneurs who are on the same journey and connect them within a business network that could open doors. Resolution Circle’s activities benefit the South African economy – specifically by decreasing the trade deficit and creating jobs. As an independent company, it has accomplished a lot; it funds its operations through commercial activities without receiving subsidies for operational expenses, and its activities are economically sustainable. “We have registered 18 provisional patents, delivered more than 40 products in the market, trained more than 350 engineering interns with the potential growth to 600 in 2016. We established a sophisticated technology development ecosystem executing an ‘idea-to-barcode’ concept. “We also established a training workshop for 300 students, offering courses in 6 main trades, partnered with many large industry players on research and development work in partnership with the City of Johannesburg to run projects that support the city. “To date the company has raised over R400 million for facilities. About 40 facilities that can support entrepreneurial services; from 3D printing, assimilation and right through to laser cutting, injection moulding and manufacturing carpentry,” says Professor Willem Clarke, CEO of Resolution Circle.



The Growth Academy engages with entrepreneurs and ambitious business owners to ensure they do exactly what is needed in order for their business to prosper. The company’s approach is simple and they insist that the business belongs to the owner. Their approach goes through three phases; clarity, planning and making it happen. The Growth Academy aims to achieve a 100% success rate when it comes to business start-ups. The academy is a virtual incubator that provides entrepreneurs the exact tools, education and support they need to start their businesses. The

core program is called “The First 90 Days” - helping entrepreneurs go from idea to business in less than three months. Unlike most incubators who are set up to support the elite entrepreneurs, the Growth Academy uses an interactive online platform that enables it to support thousands at any one time. Currently, the academy is developing a chatbot based on Al technology that will act as a “business coach”, allowing entrepreneurs to ask questions and receive guidance as they start and grow their businesses. To help start-ups, a podcast was successfully launched by the academy. The podcast shows users the steps required to build a company in the same 90-day schedule, sharing conversations and the exact documents the academy used when they built “Upski”, a performance monitoring tool. More than 1000 entrepreneurs joined the Growth Academy community in the first week of their podcast going live. The Growth Academy offers entrepreneurs their own business mentors who help clients set accessible objectives and targets for their businesses, but also make sure they achieve them. Business mentors are tasked with the responsibility of being an inspiration to the clients, give creative input, ideas and different angles based on past experience. The Growth Academy works with its clients to enhance the skills needed to push their business into the future.




Businesses often lose time and money through projects exceeding their scope or processes driven by poor communication, and without knowing where exactly the delays creep in it’s all but impossible to solve the problems or improve the processes in the future. redPanda is an expert in end-to-end custom software development and software support aimed at streamlining business processes and operations. The software company was formed in 2009 to meet a greater need for the development and support of a wide array of enterprise-level custom software solutions that are tailored to meet the client’s needs. These solutions ensure that customers and entities are in full control of their software while providing the predictability and flexibility of cost without license fees. The company created Novum, an innovative enterprise management tool/system that has been custom designed to create transparency across a whole organisation, and even between organisations, to improve productivity and quality. The software is easy to set up, update, manage and report on. Requests and subtasks allow users to pinpoint where exactly processes need to change and how systems can be enhanced. With low monthly costs per user, Novum is accessible to all organisations. The transparent platform allows all stakeholders to view the status and processes related to a particular request, along with projected service level agreement (SLA) or deadlines.


The software puts an end to emails that get buried in an inbox and provides rich information at the point of need in an informationhungry society. Created to provide a platform for all teams, departments and organisations from IT, call centres, and finance to marketing and sales, Novum is unique in its objective measurement across all stakeholders, based on productivity and quality – criteria that’s relevant to everyone. With Novum, projects can be completed efficiently and team members struggling with certain areas can receive the support they need. Those excelling can be credited and recognised for a job well done. With the vast intellectual property of co-founder and CEO Gareth Hawkey, and Chairman Allan Dickson, redPanda Software has grown from strength to strength over the past eight years under their keen leadership. “South Africa is experiencing a severe software developer skills crisis. Organisations are wrestling for the best in the overcrowded and pressurised price tag arena, with salaries increasing exponentially in the past year alone. “It’s not sustainable, and this wage war doesn’t keep talent, it only attracts it. redPanda is a high growth company with retainable staff. The organisation has grown from 112 employees in June 2017 to 135 in November, and is looking to expand internationally with an office in the UK in 2018,” says Hawkey.


Afrozaar is a software development company specialising in the solution delivery to the publishing and media industry. Their flagship product, the Baobab Suite, has been successfully deployed within a number of leading news publishers. As a close-knit team of engineers and tech-junkies, the company is constantly pushing the boundaries of app framework development and efficient content distribution techniques. Afrozaar is one of the most successful and sustainable home-grown African software development companies. Founded in 2010 as the first iPad was being launched, the team built a leading digital newsstand platform for Media24 and The spirit of innovation in Afrozaar was evident from the onset with their tagline being, “Tomorrow’s innovation today”. One of the most defining stages in their business was the software partnership with the Telegraph Media Group (UK) team, to build the first cloud hosted enterprise content redistribution platform, Baobab Suite, their first product.

“As a close-knit team of engineers and techjunkies, Afrozaar is constantly pushing the boundaries of app framework development and efficient content distribution techniques.”

The company’s main innovation drivers have been to build world-class products for the emerging market and to compete on price, custom requirements and strategic compliance with existing partners and solutions. Afrozaar’s software engineering team has continually demonstrated its innovative capabilities in the digital media and publishing arena by deploying products and services into some of the world’s largest media groups. All of Afrozaar’s innovative digital products can exist independently of each other, and when integrated, they provide a powerful digital ecosystem. At the heart of their culture is the implementation of solid software design principles, with good software processes and rigour when it comes to the release of new modules or products. To ensure that they provide their clients with the best possible solution, the company integrates solutions with other existing or third-party systems, including subscription management, analytics, advertising and content management systems. Afrozaar also offers its clients strategic insights regarding digital publishing strategies.



Goliath Gaming is a South African Multi-Gaming Organisation (MGO or professional eSports team) which was founded in mid-2017. They have two teams of five players each. One team is focused on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), and the other is focused on Defence of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2). The founders (a pro CS player who has competed internationally, a pro Dota player, businessmen who have built up successful multi-million rand companies, a PR manager, finance manager, and legal advisor) have come together from various professional industries, bringing with them a wealth of experience and passion to the business – and eSports. Goliath Gaming is innovative within the South African gaming sphere


as it is one of the first player-run and player-owned MGO’s in South Africa. They are also one of the few MGOs who are paying their players’ salaries. They are the only MGO in the country to be run by a lawyer, finance manager, incredibly successful businessmen, a PR manager, and professional players (all making up their management) and are running the eSports team like a business. Goliath Gaming have put together sound legal contracts of employment for each of their athletes, which will see them being remunerated as full-time professionals. They believe that this will stimulate growth of the eSports industry, especially within South Africa.

T R E N D F O R WA R D For exploring design trends to give clients an insight into what is happening globally Launched in 2010 by Dave Nemeth, Trend Forward started off as a trend consultancy specialising in design, retail and the built environment. However, the company broadened its focus and consulted a broad base of business sectors with hopes of engaging and creating innovative concepts to assist them in staying ahead of their competitors. When consulting companies, Trend Forward considers everything from internal processes and company’s culture to the environment, sales tools and ultimately the marketing and execution of this. The company also works according to a Design Thinking Methodology where research, prototyping, testing formulated strategies and learning from results are at the forefront of the company’s workflow. Trend Forward takes on the role of an extension of their consulting company, rather than an external consulting wing. This provides an opportunity for a company’s team to be visionaries and innovators. Trend Forward achieves this by simply setting up project teams with internal staff and ensures that both companies remain on the same level of understanding and communication. Like any other company, Trend Forward had its own share of challenges. Getting creative agencies to embrace the company strategy and execute according to the plan was the biggest one to tackle. Using the “human centred approach” methodology, in which everything is focused around how human beings will react and interact with the touch points for their customers, the company has managed to tackle the obstacles they faced as a company. Today, the company offers full services, including all creative aspects as well as digital and social media expertise. The company is now at the forefront in terms of design and pitching new ideas to various projects. The company’s client list features South Africa’s biggest brands and international ones such as Barclays, Design Partnership, Bidvest, Waltons, Decorex SA to name a few.


Mettlestate is a premium eSports authority in South Africa which focuses on content creation by combining outstanding production, excellent talent and lively events to cultivate more interest in the competitive gaming industry in South Africa, as well as complimenting the casual video gaming scene. Mettlestate was launched in March 2017 by Barry “Anthrax” Louada. In 2017, the first tournament hosted by Mettlestate was the Samsung Galaxy CS:GO Challenge, which boasted a R1 million prize pool – the biggest prize pool for a single title in South African eSports history. The tournament garnered over 210 000 views on Twitch over the two month tournament period; and secured over R1.5 million in earned media coverage for the tournament. Mettlestate went on to host “The Valkyrie Challenge” - South Africa’s first all-girl gaming competition (in partnership with TechGirl) where there was a prize pool of R50 000. The Valkyrie Challenge was a sold-out event and received great reviews across media channels in South Africa. Barry Louzada and the Mettlestate team have become a strong voice within the local media scene and gaming industry, and feature regularly in mainstream media across South Africa, including eNCA, Sport24, Parent24, All4Women, Maggs on Media, Bizcommunity, 5FM, SAFM, and many more. This diversity in media coverage shows that mainstream media are very interested in the South African gaming and eSports space – providing great media opportunities for brands who partner with Mettlestate.



SQWIDNET For being South Africa’s fastest growing loT network Launched in 2016 as a licensed Sigfox operator in South Africa, SqwidNet network offers low-cost access to Internet of Things (loT) solutions and operators in South Africa, creating opportunities for businesses to create innovative solutions. SqwidNet’s Sigfox network enables low-cost, low-power, and secure connectivity for IoT data transmission upon which IoT devices, platforms, applications, and solutions can be developed. The company’s common stock is 100% owned by DFA, the premier open-access fibre company. The SqwidNet network gives nationwide coverage for IoT, allowing millions of sensors and devices to send small packets of data for analysis, immediate action, and record keeping. In September 2017, the SqwidNet network covered 64% of the population of South Africa, up from 38% in May 2017. Thanks to dedicated network, SqwidNet’s Sigfox gives a voice to the physical world. To ensure that every device has a reliable and secure connection, SqwidNet’s network has at least three base stations that service each section of the coverage area, and every message is sent in triplicate form. The services focus on simplicity, autonomy and small messages. Every message is signed with information specific to the device (including a unique private key) and to the message itself. This prevents spoofing, alteration, or replay of genuine messages. The company’s services make it possible to transform any shortrange wireless device into a longrange IoT device, and hardware components for the solution start at $0.20. The cost has been cut down by using an ultra-thin battery, ultra-thin contacts, and an ultralow-cost module making it possible to connect hundreds of millions of devices across verticals and subverticals which were previously not viable due to cost. “From $12 in 2015, to $2 in 2017, and now at $0.20, the dropping costs of this hardware will present significant opportunities for new vertical use cases in the logistics and retail verticals,” says SqwidNet CEO Reshaad Sha.


“No human health, wealth or happiness is possible unless nested inside a vibrant, diverse economy; no economy can survive unless nested inside a resilient, regenerative ecology. When we make the environment better, we make people and communities happier,” says Richard Hardiman, CEO of RanMarine. The world’s population is growing each day and with that, lifestyle expectations are rising as well. Unfortunately, for the environment this is causing more harm than good. A bigger population equals more consumption, and more consumption equals more waste. Population growth also means that our natural environment is becoming increasingly scarce, and so people are increasingly looking to the sea for food security, and even as a place to live. What we may not know is that nonbiodegradable waste increasingly ends up in our oceans and enters our food chain. RanMarine understands that the solution to this problem lies not in stopping or restricting



economic activity, because by doing so they would be restricting innovation. They opted to create strategies that will catch the waste before tide, wind and currents carry it out to the open ocean. RanMarine’s drone, WasteShark, is design perfected for this purpose. RanMarine specialises in autonomous drones that swim through water, extracting unwanted material and gathering data about their marine environment. The drones can communicate with the Internet and are able to share their information. The WasteShark supports the natural resilience of the oceans and helps Smart Cities to reduce their carbon footprint. Its design took inspiration from nature’s most efficient harvesters of marine biomass, the whale shark. The drone is designed to be efficient, non-threatening and unobtrusive, with a long lifespan. The drones act as an intelligent, responsive self-organising setup that are agile, autonomous and with zero greenhouse emissions. Under the slogan, “technology at work, serving the sea,” RanMarine cares about sustainability and the ocean’s future.

POSTBOX COURIER FOR MAKING S U R E T H AT GOODS GETS DELIVERED “After 20 years in the logistics industry and being inspired by woeful tales of items being lost via postal services or taking months to reach their South African destination, we envisioned a service that consisted of no weak links in the supply chain and which was reliable and affordable to the average consumer,” says Gary Hamilton, cofounder of PostBox Courier. When retailers like Amazon or suppliers do not deliver to South Africa, the unique and innovative solution by PostBox Courier solves this dilemma. The company provides express courier services to and from South Africa. They have depots located in the US, the UK, Hong Kong and South Africa from where they receive and consolidate shipments and then forward to the appropriate destination depot for final delivery. Their operations in Johannesburg similarly acts as the company’s receiving hub for exports from South Africa to the rest of the world. It’s a courier service run by South Africans, for local and expats living abroad who have a need to get goods to and from the country. Locally owned and managed, PostBox


S I E M E N S S O U T H A F R I CA For driving digitalisation as part of the African developmental agenda Siemens is a global powerhouse in diversified engineering, providing products, systems and solutions across the electrification, automation and digitalisation value chain.

Courier provides South African’s with personal addresses and central delivery points to where purchases can be sent, then grouped into one delivery and forwarded securely and reliably to any address within South Africa within 3 - 5 days. In addition to this import service, PostBox Courier also offers a door-to-door export facility to over 130 countries

The company has been in Africa for over 157 years, igniting a history of innovation and social development. As an integrated technology company, Siemens aims to play a constructive role in Africa‘s success story. Their expertise in powerefficient, resource-saving technology helps empower African economies. They are a leader in the digital revolution, developing smart mobility solutions to make

worldwide. Their website (postbox-courier. com) has a full tracking functionality that allows users to monitor their consignments in transit, as well as secure online payment platforms. To use PostBox Courier services, you first have to register on their home page for free. The company has been in operation for four years and have over 6 000 registered users.

transport systems more efficient. With industry 4.0 underway, Siemens digitalises production, increases output, simplifies processes and produces quality products; this gives the company a competitive edge. In fiscal 2016, which ended September 30, 2016, Siemens generated revenue of €79.6 billion and net income of €5.6 billion. At the end of September 2016, the company had around 351 000

employees worldwide. The company‘s broad portfolio, diverse workforce and global network of innovation enable it to supply its customers with a unique array of products, systems, services and solutions tailor-made for regional conditions and requirements. At Siemens they believe companies only really succeed if they fulfil the needs of the society they work in.






Innovation is key to developing new technologies, to drive change and live industry forward. However, with anything new there is always a need for robust, practical guidance to ensure that safe and efficient working practices become second nature, as progress is made from what we are used to today, to technologies of the future. In2IT is a multinational technology company that provides digital services to many of the Top 100 companies in South Africa. The company uses automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to solve various technology challenges that many large corporates face. It is also a specialist in business processes, IT infrastructure and application management, including software services. The integrated business partnered with Microsoft for further education and training programmes, and to launch the In2IT Intellect programme where it has been hiring unemployed graduates from rural areas and helping them gain future skills. To date, the company has trained over 100 unemployed graduates and helped them sharpen their skills for the workplace environment. The IT service provider has nine offices across the globe, including South Africa, Singapore, Kenya, US, Australia and Dubai, while serving clients directly in nine countries and over 26 countries through its partners. In2IT was named South Africa’s Most Innovative Firm for 2017 by Global Brands, an accolade that acknowledges excellence by examining business key efforts, such as service delivery, performance and branding exercises undertaken to rise above the rest. “Our approach towards new age technologies like the Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence and digital transformation is the key reason for our innovation and global recognition. We are a services company that thrives on innovation – a chief reason we continue to be a trusted partner for large corporate companies, and is a passion of our engineers and advisory team who they engage with,” says CEO and co-founder Saurabh Kumar. The company has revealed that its commitment to innovation has seen them launch a Global Operations Centre where various teams are set to work on cuttingedge developments, such as AI and blockchain technologies. The firm will also launch a Learnership Programme, which will see more than 40 ICT graduates and matriculants through an NQF 5 Information Technology in Systems Support qualification, while incorporating an experiential learning component.

Art credit teekay

ACCENTURE For transforming businesses through industry expertise and insights Accenture provides services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations to help their clients solve their toughest challenges. Accenture partners with more than three-quarters of the Fortune Global 500, driving innovation to improve the way the world works and lives. With its expertise across more than 40 industries and all business functions, the company delivers transformational outcomes for a demanding new digital world. The company has annual revenues of about $35 billion, and about 425 000 employees worldwide. Having served clients in more than 120 countries, the company is a driving force of innovation. It is a given that in order for a business to stay relevant, it has to continually reinvent itself. To help achieve this, Accenture takes an innovation-led approach to assist clients in imagining and inventing an attainable future for their businesses. Through its “Innovation Architecture”, the company combines their capabilities to invent, develop and deliver disruptive innovation for clients. Accenture launched a new Liquid Studio in Johannesburg in July as part of the company’s accelerated investment in innovation in South Africa. At the Liquid Studio, clients will work sideby-side with Accenture professionals to quickly turn ideas into innovative applications and solutions. The Liquid Studio is the first of several new Accenture initiatives in South Africa which include expanded investments in training, hiring and strategic relationships in an effort to drive innovation locally. The Liquid Studio accelerates innovation by applying rapid development approaches including Agile methodologies and DevOps. This allows clients to reduce development time from months to days, and shorten the time to business impact. Clients can also experiment with disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and cloud architectures. The capabilities of the Liquid Studio will be supplemented by Accenture’s alliance ecosystem, start-ups, and others. The company takes pride in its business performance, diversity and corporate citizenship. Accenture was positioned number 41 on Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies, marking 15 consecutive years dating from 2003 to 2017. Within this listing, Accenture was number one in the IT Services category for four consecutive years from 2014 to 2017. Accenture in this year partnered with Pivotal Software to form the Accenture Pivotal Business Group. With this formation, Accenture consultants will help large companies migrate their businesses onto Pivotal Cloud Foundry (PCF). Pivotal’s open source cloud native platform can develop new cloud-native applications on PCF.





Tech entrepreneurial investment is scarce for many SMEs in southern Africa as many businesses with an ability to prosper in the tech space close down due to a lack of venture capital, and many investors drawn to Southern Africa say there is a shortage of innovations that meet the demand. “Glenheim is a new investment fund in venture capital and the only one run by entrepreneurs. Launched this year and opened ceremonially by the Mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille, the company conducts business development, financial strategy and monitoring for all its investees. Based in South Africa, the company focuses on international market share. “For example, drones and electric vehicles are among the technologically savvy businesses. Anyone with an interest in the sector will be familiar with formidable South African-related people and brands like Tesla. What’s less well known is that high-tech manufacturing and management operates quietly out of South Africa with entrepreneurial stars of the highest calibre. We have access to and fund these companies playing a role in each team,” says Managing Director Gareth Bloor. “Glenheim Venture Capital not only invests directly into high growth businesses – we build them too. Our co-founders, who set up Outsourced CFO, play the financial management role in a pipeline of hundreds of SMEs with a strong team on the back-end.


“We invest in the top companies with real-time access to their finances 24/7, using cloud technology. We have built an international bank’s market access programme, taking the top 20 companies for investment consideration and scouting globally for company partners “Our belief is simple: South Africa’s talent is incredible and there is no better place to build businesses cost-effectively for global markets, using real-time, tech-driven decision-making tools to steer capital invested to their optimal use for growth worldwide,” adds Bloor. Glenheim helps to structure business development and network expansion through its partnerships for high-growth, investment-ready companies, with the team having hands-on experience with over 200 companies and a geographic reach including the likes of the US, Netherlands, China and Brazil. The company matches investor mandates to appropriate companies, backed by a sound financial and due diligence team. Through Glenheim, investor-ready firms are positioned for consideration by a network of local and international capital. Glenheim’s team of 18 has overseen companies going on to raise over R300 million in venture capital over the past two years, representing 10% of the industry in South Africa. The company offers leadership that combines cornerstone investor involvement, experienced entrepreneurs and extensive experience in finance; all backed by an exclusive on-going pipeline of over 300 companies assessed to date.


Fighting a tough economic environment, today’s businesses are expected to acquire an appropriately qualified professional to navigate this important aspect of their companies, since their practical and financial skills are invaluable. That is where Outsourced CFO comes in with the business expertise of a passionate Chief Financial Officer, or CFO, tailored to one’s strategy and budget. Outsourced CFO provides integrity and professional excellence in financial consulting for ambitious SME’s. Succeeding through uncompromising quality and industry thought leadership, the company aims to help clients rethink, automate and scale their companies in the pursuit of business prominence. As entrepreneurs themselves, Outsourced CFO understands the important role finances play in the success of a business. Sound financial planning and management enables businesses to grow and flourish, while the lack of adequate planning could spell inevitable failure. The CFOs have helped many emerging companies realise triple digit growth rates and have helped raise millions in seed and growth finance for SMEs. Outsourced CFO offers its services in three packages, Performance (8 hours per month), Growth (16 hours per month) and Eminence (32 hours per month). From more than ten different types of investors ranging from angels to international corporates, more

DEMOGRAPHICA For solving advertising problems in an anthropological way Founded by Warren Moss in 2006, Demographica is a full-service specialist agency focusing on business to business (B2B) and niche consumer markets. Some of the world’s biggest brands have entrusted Demographica to create and execute campaigns; from driving acquisition of new customers to maximising the value

of existing customers. To solve complex advertising problems, Demographica applies their proprietary methodology known as “The Demographica Way”, in conjunction with vigilant campaign execution, which results in conversion rates that are used as global case studies. The Demographica Way starts off with an understanding and analysis of data and then moves on to research in the form of anthropology (the study of human societies and cultures and their development). The agency employs full-time anthropologists to inform

than R350 million was raised in seed and growth finances by the Outsourced CFO clients. The company has recently joined the ranks of the biggest global entrepreneurs group active in 52 countries, EO Accelerator. The majority of Outsourced CFO’s clients base is made up of tech and innovation companies; working with business models from drones and aerospace to digital technology and platforms to green energy and telecoms. Most recently Outsourced CFO has done a recon on their clients. The company has seen a 58% increase in fixed employment figures across their client base. To make sure their clients have live access to financial information from anywhere in the world, with key growth metrics firmly in the palm of their hands, the company’s team incorporates and configures wold class financial technologies.

their work. Following this is writing the strategy, which provides the framework for their campaigns. The next step is creative, where Demographica works with some of the smartest creatives in Africa. And finally, they produce, execute and measure campaigns. Demographica is the only agency in South Africa that has anthropology at the heart of all of their strategies. They are also the largest employer of anthropologists in South Africa. The company is level 1 BEE status, with 60% of the business being black-owned, and 30% black female-owned.

In 2017, Demographica became the first African agency to join Stein IAS’s global B2B marketing network, which has operations in Europe, Asia and North America. Under the agreement, Demographica will work in tandem with Stein IAS’s global account handling teams to deploy campaigns from local offices in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. Stein IAS is a global digital and integrated marketing agency whose purpose is to help make B2B brands the most impactful in their respective markets.




PayFast is a home-bred start-up that was founded in 2007. It has grown into one of the most successful companies in South Africa’s fintech industry. With many first-to-market services, such as being the first and only payment gateway in South Africa to offer Bitcoin payments to online buyers and sellers, PayFast has become known for its innovations in the e-commerce sector. The fintech company facilitates innovation among South African businesses through their recurring billing and subscription feature, which enables new business models. Their goal is to be an e-commerce enabler; helping businesses, individuals and charities to accept online payments in a variety of ways.


PayFast is a supporter of local start-ups and is proudly involved in various meetups, hackathons, conferences, tech and charitable events. They provide resources worth tens of thousands of rand to charities each year to assist them with their online fundraising efforts. The company claims to have some of the tightest security measures in the industry – “more so than a lot of banks” – and spends an immense amount of resources on fighting online fraud and keeping both buyers and sellers safe from abuse. The culture at PayFast is entrepreneurial, as founder and managing director Jonathan Smit is committed to continually develop new solutions that ensure South Africa’s e-commerce industry is word-class.


How long will the world’s leading cigarette company be in the cigarette business? There is a significant opportunity in South Africa right now, to create a smoke-free society. At Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA), they are determined to play the leading role in this quest by ushering in a new era of reduced risk, smoke-free alternatives to combustible cigarettes. In 2017, they took a new step forward in their company’s ambition for all smokers to switch to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products as soon as possible. They are convinced of the business and health potential of smoke-free products and have invested substantially to make them accessible to adult smokers in South Africa and globally. PMSA understands that the millions of men and women who smoke cigarettes are looking for less harmful, yet satisfying, alternatives to smoking. People smoke combustible cigarettes because they enjoy the effects of inhaling nicotine. However, in doing so, they are exposed to the harmful chemicals in cigarettes, which are released when tobacco is burnt.

While nicotine is addictive, the bigger problem is the way in which the nicotine gets delivered. The answer is a scientific breakthrough that heats but does not burn tobacco, reducing the formation of harmful or potentially-harmful compounds. For example, Philip Morris’ IQOS device reduces the formation of these harmful or potentially-harmful compounds by up to 90%, compared to normal cigarettes. IQOS was developed to heat tobacco to precisely controlled temperatures below combustion levels. This maximises the potential for acceptance by adult smokers, by delivering similar levels of nicotine as a cigarette and the natural tobacco flavours. PMSA has invested $3 billion in research, product development and scientific substantiation for smoke-free products so far, including e-vapour and heated tobacco products. As the research on reduced risk products continues to grow, it’s clear that this can provide smokers with alternatives to combustible cigarettes and help others to quit.

“In 2017, Philip Morris South Africa took a new step forward in their company’s ambition for all smokers to switch to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products as soon as possible.”




The latest technological advancements are providing Africans with an opportunity to advance ahead of many countries that remain burdened by outdated tech. However, slow progress in attaining more female leaders in the field of technology is holding back this advancement. The Standard Bank Incubation Programme founded the Standard Bank Women in Technology Conference to ignite female-driven innovation in business and technology. The initiative comes as part of Standard Bank and co-sponsor Liberty’s focus on the challenges faced by women in the maledominated tech industry. The conference involves a culmination of various initiatives, such as the first-ever Standard Bank Female Hackathon and a three months ‘Women in Technology’ accelerator launched earlier this year to support and develop women in the sector. The conference also includes a showcase for female entrepreneurs to get access to market opportunities. Head of the Standard Bank Incubator, Jayshree Naidoo, says recognising and paying tribute to women’s success in business is as important as collaboration amongst women, which is vital towards the development of their businesses into broader spaces in the continent. An important aspect is the support offered to local start-ups through the Standard Bank Incubator in partnership with Liberty, to drive Africa’s growth organically through a grassroots approach where the entities involved are enabled to control their own destiny. According to Naidoo, the striking feature of all these SMEs is not that they have a strong chance to be profitable and viable, but that they are all born out of a strong humanitarian focus to help their communities. This aligns with Standard Bank’s philosophy of moving Africa forward. Four start-ups progressed to the 2017’s Web Summit to interact with and get exposed to the global tech community.


The companies that attended the summit in Lisbon, Portugal at the beginning of November are: iSpani – a company that provides data insights, leads and activation events for brands trying to access township markets, Jonga – an alarm-app combo that provides low-cost community-based alert systems to allow for real-time crime reporting in low-income areas, CommuScore – a stokvel administration platform to capture payment and lending behaviours to create credit scores for low-income earners and micro-enterprises who have financial problems, Energex – a biofuel company that turns vegetable oil into diesel fuel through a sophisticated chemical process. Standard Bank also created a multifunctional app that solves various foreign exchange challenges in one unique user experience. The Shyft app is a global digital wallet for Android and iOS. The online Forex trading app allows customers to purchase and store Forex ( in USD, GBP, EUR, AUD), transfer funds overseas, order a multi-currency physical travel card and create virtual cards that can be used for international online shopping – all from a mobile device. The app offers customer convenience, transparency and control of all their foreign exchange needs. Through this foreign exchange mobile wallet, customers can buy a number of different currencies at a live rate, store the funds in e-wallets, and then make purchases using either the physical or virtual card’s capability, or make international transfers using the cross border-payments capability. The incubator’s innovative endeavours did not end there, it also created Feenix – a crowd funding initiative to fund underprivileged and deserving students. Feenix is a platform that allows students to access fees to pay their tertiary institutions by getting donations from individuals and corporates. To date, the programme has raised over R1.4 million, and 29 students out of the 26 public universities in South Africa have been fully funded.

PWC For having the right mix of industry and functional expertise to address complex business issues With the purpose of building trust within society and solving important business glitches, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is a network of firms represented in 157 countries with offices in 34 countries throughout Africa, and more than 208 000 employees

MTN For being the driving force behind technological innovation in South Africa MTN is a global player in the telecommunication sector that operates in 22 markets in Africa and the Middle East. The company offers e-commerce, digital services and entertainment to 30 million South Africans alone. Driven by the belief that communication and connectivity are key to socioeconomic empowerment, MTN went on to build and develop a world-class ICT infrastructure that enables them to bring call and data solution to its clients. Since the company was started in South Africa in 1994, MTN has lived up to its standards of being a socially responsible company. Through its philanthropic arm, the MTN SA Foundation, the company uses the power of connectivity to facilitate access to education and healthcare, and fosters the development of entrepreneurship and the arts. Through its sponsorship portfolio, MTN has backed a variety of groups in football, rugby, music and lifestyle. In 2011, the company embarked on their largest-ever network rollout, increasing 2G coverage to 98% and 3G coverage to 65% of the population. The following year, it

who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory and tax services. PwC is a multinational professional services network with headquarters in London, UK. It is the second largest professional services firm in the world, and is one of the Big Four auditors, along with Deloitte, EY and KPMG. PwC has a formidable network, which allows them to collaborate globally and share knowledge and expertise from one country to the next. PwC offices across the

continent operate as a single, unified PwC Africa Region. The company’s in-depth knowledge and understanding of African operating environments enables it to put the company in the shoes of its clients. According to the legal structure of South Africa, PwC operates under a dual structure; PwC Incorporated, a registered company, and PwC South Africa, a partnership with 22 offices across the country and its head office situated in Johannesburg. PwC South Africa ended 2017

on a high note, with it gaining level 1 AAA+ B-BBEE contributor rating in the Annual Certification by EmpowerDEX, the Economic Empowerment Rating Agency. The firm also released an Integrated Report for the first time. The goal of the report is to provide a comprehensive view of the organisation by putting its performance, business model and strategy in the context of the firm’s material, social and environmental issues, guided by the International Integrated Reporting Committee.

began the biggest Long Term Evolution (LTE) network rollout in Africa. Pushing the boundaries, MTN also made considerable investments in undersea cables to provide capacity to their network, making investments in the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and the West Africa Cable System (WACS). Both link the Eastand West coasts of Africa, including South Africa, with Europe. With its most popular services such as using MTN internationally, sharing airtime (Me2U), SIM swap, calling abroad, balance enquiries, MTN Eazi Recharge and DataShare, MTN caters for both personal and business needs. The network provider also offers solutions for cloud, management networks, unified communications, security as a service, enterprise mobility and software as a service to businesses. Whether it’s through connectivity, communication, collaboration or cloud solutions, MTN recognised an opportunity to help businesses large and small set off on a sustainable growth path, and to help governments make a positive impact on people’s lives. As part of MTN business’s objective of enabling South Africa’s entrepreneurs to harness technology to complete effectively and grow sustainably, MTN presented the first ever MTN Digital Masterclass. This initiative encourages innovation, build partner ecosystem that supports local business and empower

entrepreneurs with an end goal of not only impart knowledge and skills but to also challenge entrepreneurs and their thinking. Now for the second instalment, the Digital Entrepreneur Masterclass will explore why businesses should be racing with machines rather than racing against them. The class will be held in Cape Town on the 20th of March 2018 Embracing convergence, MTN has built a strong partnership with Microsoft, Avanade and Accenture

over the years, also partnering with independent developers and vendors to create locally relevant solutions. These alliances have helped MTN in delivering the leading-edge platforms and services needed to succeed in the competitive digital world. The App of the Year Awards is the championship of app development in the country, celebrating home-grown talent and the out-of-the-box thinkers that drive disruption and change.



Deep VR is Africa’s most experienced cinematic virtual reality production company, with a team of the most experienced virtual reality (VR) directors and cinematographers on the continent. For more than two years, they have specialised in high-end production of award-winning 360° video in both 2D (monoscopic, for online 360° videos) and 3D (stereoscopic, for virtual reality headset videos). They only use the highest quality equipment capable of up to 6K export quality. VR is their entire focus and because it is not about static footage, they have fully-stabilised remote control moving platforms too.

GETSMARTER For bringing digital education to the masses

GetSmarter has been the pioneer of digital education in South Africa for the past seven years. The company collaborates with top universities in the world to offer premium online short courses to working professionals around the world. To date, they have collaborated with five of


They have captured virtual reality experiences throughout South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Mauritius, Kenya and the US, using premium camera systems. Deep VR began in the cinematic virtual reality world by inventing their own camera systems which they say are considered, by video professionals, as some of the most sophisticated and ahead of its time. They are creating new uses for VR, aside from their usual commercial work for ad agencies and brands, including stock footage (licensing business), originals (feature wildlife documentaries) and immersive learning (education).

the world’s top ten universities to create and present career enhancement courses. Founded in South Africa, GetSmarter has been spreading its global influence and reach. “We’re proud of our course offering and constantly aim to give working professionals

meaningful learning that will help them in their careers. Our peoplemediated support structure and online campus help to ensure that despite busy schedules and mounting responsibilities, students leave the course with readily applicable skills,” says co-founder Sam Paddock.



ECOMPLETE For enabling brands to succeed in e-commerce eComplete is a team of digital experts dedicated to helping businesses survive in the online space by engineering a full end-to-end e-commerce supply chain model that is completely outsourced and managed under one roof. Created by the company’s in-house web developers, digital marketing pros and e-commerce specialists, the e-commerce ecosystem enables brands to go directly to consumers faster, better and cheaper than ever before. This solution deletes the risk, hassle, and complexity of growing and building a brand online. Building a great website, setting up a solid IT infrastructure, and backing that up with logistics and digital marketing is how eComplete makes businesses thrive online.

CLOCKWORK MEDIA For crafting memorable brand stories Hiring an advertising agency is perhaps what most people would consider the epitome of a “spend money to make money” mentality. However, many organisations may not have the budgets or the administrative fortitude to work with multiple specialist advertising agencies in order to pull together a cohesive public presence, resulting in tangible returns. A PR agency here, a social media freelancer there, and occasional contracts with a media production house – it all adds up, especially in

today’s marketing landscape, where “omnichannel” is rapidly becoming the industry’s favourite buzzword. Clockwork Media is an all-in-one awardwinning agency with a unique approach that focuses on helping brands tell the right stories to the right people, at the right time. Driven by metrics and data, Clockwork Media helps brands develop a unique and resonating brand narrative, no matter the platform. In reaction to shrinking budgets and outdated business models, Clockwork Media helps lead the way towards the rise of the integrated agency. The one-stop shop that streamlines processes, breathes new life into budgets, and creates a more effective and holistic strategy to benefit the client. “Integration is more than a buzzword, and if your business is still only marketing on one or two different channels, you’re falling behind. Especially when it comes to marketing to millennials and the new generations of digital natives that will follow, an integrated approach is the only real way to reach your audiences and turn them into lifelong customers,” says Executive Director and cofounder Nic Simmonds. The integrated agency is a melting-pot of ideas in a way that specialist agencies can only dream of. With designers and copywriters, strategists, media relations experts, coders and many other roles all rubbing shoulders every day under one roof, Clockwork Media has had many exciting collaborations with plenty crosscreative pollinations.

company to sell fully underwritten insurance online from start to finish, and we do it in just minutes. We’re also the only insurance company in South Africa that helps you figure out what insurance you need first before selling it to you. While most insurance offerings ask you how much cover you want and then give you a price, IndieFin helps you understand what you need. Again, we do this in minutes. “Indie is the only insurance company that literally invests in its customers. We give every Indie client an up-front investment we call Bounty, which begins growing on day one and continues growing - paying out when the client reaches 70,” says Castleden. The company has accomplished to build a fully operational life insurance business with complete underwriting and high-quality, comprehensive products in less than three months, and without having spent too much money doing it. It has managed to build a team of exceptional individuals with a range of diverse talents and backgrounds. Castleden believes that when buying the correct life insurance for yourself, you are in fact making an investment in you. Your ability to earn an income, means you are a fantastic asset worth protecting, and life insurance is the best way to do that.

INDIEFIN For redesigning life insurance Life insurance at its core is something that is beneficial to society. However, it is often overly complex, opaque, not trusted, and often not well liked. The core need and solution of insurance is valid and sound, yet for some reason, the industry has succeeded in making it an unpleasant experience to deal with. Worst of all, we see quality insurance becoming less accessible to people who need it most. To uphold the quality of life insurance, Peter Castleden founded an insurance company called IndieFin, which aims to solve personal finance problems through design. By its nature, design is the art of solving defined problems that enhance the human experience. “We’re South Africa’s first and only insurance


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SKILLUP For making private tutors accessible to everyone SkillUp was launched in January 2017 with the goal of radically improving the private tutoring industry in South Africa. The company saw an



opportunity in the private tutoring space and sprang into action with the hope of becoming the market leader in the highly fragmented world of private tutoring. SkillUp makes it easy to find reliable tutors in your area so you can start achieving better academic results. “We decided to focus first on the tutors, we believe if we can offer the best service to tutors, we’d attract the best tutors in the country, and ultimately offer the absolute best service to our students,” says CEO Matthew Henshall. SkillUp innovates the market by empowering their tutors in ways that their competitors never have. SkillUp allows tutors to control their own rates rather than having them be controlled by the company. This flexibility extends even further by allowing tutors to set different rates on a student-by-student basis. The company charges the lowest commission in the country, dipping as low as 10% once a tutor has had enough lessons (which is half of what the next lowest charging tutor company offers). The company prides itself on being able to maintain transparency as tutors are aware of what they earn, as well as what the student is being charged for each lesson. This year alone, more than 5 000 tutors have gone through the application process with SkillUp, with only the top 3% accepted. The company set itself apart from other tutoring businesses by focusing on three major points: 1) they charge less commission compared to their competitors, 2) they let tutors set their own market-related prices, and 3) SkillUp focused on making it easier for a tutor and student to communicate, so they built a website and app to allow instant messaging, scheduling and feedback between tutors and students.

the cabin lighter and airier. It lets you truly feel what the car is doing and be totally immersed in the driving experience while you enjoy the ultimate balance of body control and ride comfort. No guesswork is involved – driving becomes intuitive.

SPECIAL EFFECTS MEDIA SOUTH AFRICA For proving video is always in demand Special Effects Media South Africa is the first commercial YouTube Multichannel Network in South Africa – and launched in 2017. Their internal experts allow them to manage YouTube channels for creators and brands, providing premium YouTube features, channel optimisation, along with ongoing legal and production support. Headed by CEO Danilo Acquisto, they are a young, diverse and dynamic team, which allows them to be more flexible and provide a better service as they work around the clock. Their internal team have experience in production, data analytics and brand strategy, which positions them perfectly to provide 360 degree services to their clients. Their international partnership (with Special Effects Media, from Hungary) provides them with opportunities for global campaigns and reach. Although they are a new agency, their international partners have many years under their belt working in the industry and in markets similar to South Africa.

MCLAREN CAPE TOWN For their technological advancement and ability to hand-build astonishing cars At McLaren, an unswerving commitment to excellence and innovation underpins everything they do: from the performance of the Formula One team on race day, to the ownership experience they offer with their range of sports cars. The McLaren 720S embodies their relentless quest to push the limits of possibility. To experience the 720S is to rediscover the true meaning of engagement between driver and car. The 720S is lighter, stronger and faster. It replaces the traditional metal upper structure with carbon fibre and links it with the tub to form a single body shell – the Monocage II. While keeping you safe with its exceptional structural rigidity, the Monocage II lowers the car’s centre of gravity to enhance all aspects of driving dynamics. Slimmer pillars give the 720S the best all-round visibility in its class, enhancing your sense of control and making

infrastructure to support the participation of SMEs and the informal market in the mobile telecommunication industry. Today, they are the largest distributors of starter packs and a significant prepaid airtime distributor in South Africa. Smartcall also provides several WASP services to the whole mobile telecoms market. Most of the products offered by the brand today create job and income opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses. In 2017, Smartcall launched training centres and distribution hubs in Kliptown and Cape Town (with more hubs already operating successfully across other areas of South Africa). The Smartcall distribution hubs will serve the main purpose of training and empowering local individuals and local informal businesses to generate an additional income through participation in the Smartcall offering. This program helps bring in businesses and individuals into a market that is worth R6 billion a month and, through Smartcall’s technology, allows them to generate income at any level they desire to participate in.

IPHUPHALAMI IMPROVEMENTS For making young dreams come true Iphuphalami (“my dream”) Improvements is a youth empowerment company that exists to serve those in search of becoming successful. The company hosts and facilitates pitching competitions around townships on a monthly basis to mould and shape youth ideas for tangible business start-ups, which will benefit their communities. Iphuphalami also rents out bicycles to tourism companies and 30% of its profit is reinvested for study camps, tutoring, career exhibitions and after school programs for youth entrepreneurs and young academics. The company’s investment tours around townships benefit the local economy and generate income for small businesses and young artists.

D E LV V. I O For enabling creative thinking in advertising

SMARTCALL For connecting South Africans for almost 20 years Smartcall has specialised in providing prepaid cellular services and products to South African mobile users since 1998, and during that time has invested over R500 million into distribution


Redefining how feedback works in the creative process and improving an industry that wastes over $300 billion on bad advertising – is a marketplace of external creative professionals with the most relevant brand or product experience. They promote a collaboration and feedback platform that takes care of the collection, analysis and usability of peer reviews and client approvals for the best practices in qualitative research and advertising effectiveness techniques. The world’s largest brands use the

platform to get unbiased and quick feedback from 30 of the most relevant creative professionals. Whether it’s testing concepts for a campaign, looking for areas of improvement on a website or mobile app, or launching a campaign in other markets, has thousands of experts on-demand waiting to help clients create impactful brands and creative campaigns.

This unfortunately limits the growth of these businesses and lowers them to the informal market. Kuba is a software platform that aims to address this issue. It serves as a middle man between the formal and informal markets. The software encapsulates the entire transaction to ensure that high standard services are delivered and transparency is maintained. It also serves as a supply chain management tool for corporate

peace of mind to homes across South Africa with a fresh approach to home cleaning services. Clients who are too busy or looking for extra time to spend with the kids can give away some of their household chores to the company. In 2016 alone, SweepSouth created thousands of jobs and paid out R20 million to cleaners in the domestic services industry, despite tough economic conditions. SweepSouth uses technology to disrupt an outdated industry and in doing so, has proved the impact technology can have even during a recession.

DIGEST For making financial news easier to read

ECOBRICK EXCHANGE For turning trash into treasure EcoBrick Exchange (EBE) is a company working towards a safe environment for children to play in and an environment free of harmful plastic waste. Their initiative empowers individuals to challenge and address the shortage of food security, quality education facilities and sustainable waste management system. To achieve this, EBE facilitates skills development programmes within underresourced pre-school communities to enable the up-cycling of waste into structures of values. Using unrecyclable plastic waste that is then compressed into a 2-litre plastic bottle, an EcoBrick is made and forms a low cost, insulating building material.

KUBA For giving informal markets a chance Small business owners in informal communities often have the necessary skill and experience to compete with other businesses in the formal economy, but lack administrative support services such as invoicing and project management tools.

In the Age of Information, you may think that the news media is an oversaturated space, and it truly is; there are millions of online sources ready to spew information at us. But herein lies the problem, where does one start? Enter Digest – a micro-media enterprise that has spent the last six months reporting local and international financial news, and then directly relating it to the lives of its readers. With a focus on millennials, every Digest weekday newsletter manages to distil complicated financial news into approachable and bite-sized nuggets with an aim to increase financial literacy and awareness throughout South Africa. Covering topics such as crypto currencies, understanding state-owned enterprises and the #feesmustfall movement, including other fascinating topics. Digest is able to achieve its goal by making the news relevant, original and, well, digestible.

companies to manage decentralised procurement in the informal market.

SWEEPSOUTH For modernising home cleaning services


As a company in an emerging market, SweepSouth offers cleaning services to the public at a rate of just R26 per hour. It is bringing

Erabella Beauty focuses on enhancing every woman’s beauty with long, thick and lustrous hair. They supply ultrapremium hair extensions to the South African market. Their brand has attracted the attention of the legendary Cindy Nell, who has now become an ambassador for Erabella together with several other A-list celebrities. As of November 2017, the brand will be showcased on the country’s most popular Afrikaans soap opera, Getroud Met Rugby. The speed at which the company is gaining market share speaks for itself, and the Erabella brand has since launched in New Zealand and in Australia.

For enhancing women’s beauty


A Dual Business Strategy in a Digital World To support current market needs and to tackle the complexity of a rapidly advancing digital world, enterprise should consider the value of running a dual business strategy. One that services the needs and expectations of current customers, and one that accelerates the exploration and implementation of a future strategy for a digital world. BY Michael O’Carroll, Associate Director PwC South Africa

Why a dual strategy? Why not just leapfrog into the future business strategy? Ideally a jump ahead would make sense, but at an enterprise level, the jump can sometimes be too much. Blame it on red tape, outdated processes or the wrong leadership, either way, a step too far often falls over and not much moves forward in the end. We also need to acknowledge that there can’t be too much wrong with the current strategy, given the success and sustainability of large enterprises. However, the fundamental difference today resides with the rapid advancement of digital change. Historical enterprise strategy required a refresh every 4-6 years. In a rapidly changing digital world, enterprises need to shift to an agile business strategy, where boards are more fluid about direction and investment. What wasn’t possible 6 months ago, now has a digital cloud solution at half the price.


Nonetheless, the reality is that boards are not that agile and don’t have a lot of time to run a dual strategy. This gives rise to the need for a skills review of the traditional group strategy leader to now include a number of skills covering digital transformation, change management, strategy execution, people management and have high EQ! A needle in a haystack, but a critical need to pioneer, build and enable a future business strategy for the digital world. Not only does the individual need these skills but they should be positioned alongside the current CEO and have a seat on the board. It’s also critical that the CEO endorses the value of this person and backs any new initiatives under their leadership. Let’s give this person a title: a Strategic Change Leader. No need to include digital in the title, as they already operate in a digital world – it’s a given. The title also suggests that this person not only builds new direction for the organisation but also leads new change. It’s an important aspect of the role, which differs from someone who builds a strategy with little execution. It also suggests to staff that this person is here to drive change, which is an important stakeholder engagement aspect for this leader.

of the possibility for the future, plus core objectives that will help increase the probability of realising the vision. Next would be agreeing how the Strategic Change Leader will operate with the current functional leads, like the CIO or marketing head. Never taking ownership in their functional area, but rather helping them transition to new value by using an agile accelerator team. Both sides need to remain involved, but the Strategic Change Leader can help get a transformational project mobilised and deployed the right way before handing back to a refreshed product or process leader. The “right way” is crucial here. Hence the need of the Strategic Change Leader to not only understand the new process or digital installation, but also be able to challenge the idea with high EQ- and user experience. The “right way” often includes the small things that large enterprises often compromise on and then fail to launch a campaign or new product that speaks to their people. This is where the Change Leader will show their real value – knowing what people want and fighting from the top to make it happen. This is often the case when a large enterprise launches their first internal app, which does everything, but never seems to get used by staff. Successful apps are often very simple with one core purpose and with great user experience. Simplification of processes, technology and structures is where the Strategic Change Leader will need to focus. It will become their role to halt the deployment of complex apps and simplify before considering deployment. On a larger scale this can be applied to which ERP or CRM gets adopted by the organisation. Which one will bring the best endto-end mobile user experience and include embedded social collaboration that will support adoption? Traditional largescale ERP installations are not agile and take too long to adopt – leaving the organisation hinged to stranded infrastructure. Strategic Change Leaders need to get involved in early stage digital due diligence assessments and understand the end-to-end value of a new system or process. One could argue that if a Strategic Change Leader is able to successfully drive significant change in a new direction, then the role could be become obsolete with time. However, on the contrary, their role will become more prominent and possibly have the ability to influence board constituents and future CEOs, who will work on the next vision and future strategic change. Strategic agile change is becoming the norm for enterprises.

“IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH KEY FUNCTIONAL LEADS, BUT A HEALTHY BALANCE TO CHALLENGE EACH OTHER.” The Strategic Change Leader is not appointed to replace the CIO or Human Capital Leader, for example, they have been appointed to pioneer, build and enable new value across all areas of the organisation; people, process, strategy, technology, structures and culture. It’s important to have a symbiotic relationship with key functional leads, but a healthy balance to challenge each other. The CIO or Human Capital Leader still have an important day job which provides value to maintain and enhance systems and processes, but they need to start exploring new business transformation ideas with the Strategic Change Leader. At an enterprise level, a Strategic Change Leader can’t be too radical at first, they need to take the board on a journey that accelerates with time. Seen as a kickstarter leader that has capacity, resources and budget to explore and build the future organisation. It’s a common issue at board level – good people wanting to do more, but not having the time or headspace to explore those ideas. The Strategic Change Leader is the person that will mobilise those ideas in a new way. However, they need to start with selling the future vision and strategic priorities they wish to achieve in 5-10 years’ time. Painting a picture


Fast Company Promotion

Business DNA and your shadows How the Standard Bank Incubator is empowering female tech-entrepreneurs

Shadows aren’t always associated with good things, unless you live in 40 degrees Celsius. Think about living in the shadow of someone else. All sins cast long shadows. Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you. But for this moment, I want to present shadows in a different light and throw in the elements of entrepreneurship and time to the mix. We all live in the here-and-now. Time is just like that! We may think and make plans for the future and remember the past, but unfortunately the piano falling on your head is distinctly now. However, the attitude we live in now and the decisions we make are informed by the shadow we choose to live under. A business’ DNA reflecting the Founder A business is always founded by people, either the entrepreneur or the entrepreneurial team. And as we know, people always have issues. By implication, many issues of the founding team will be reflected in the company. It is difficult (if not impossible) to change this DNA. Obviously, the environment changes, the strategies change, and people change over time. But underneath the bonnet, similar to DNA, the company has something determining how it reacts and plays in the environment. It becomes part of the culture, the institutional memory and processes. In short, a founder’s issues and past become imbedded in the DNA of a start-up and a company! The entrepreneur’s shadows In terms of time, there are two shadows which affect the entrepreneur. One is living in the shadow of the past, the other is living in the shadow of the future. The past We are all too familiar with living in the shadows of the past, it often plays a pivotal role in our lives. Take me for example. The first 18 years of my life has had an indelible impact on my life, as it has for so many of us. I grew up in a lower-middle class home where my mother believed there was always room for one more.


While this was a wonderful testament to a woman I respect and love, it really did not bode well for us. I can’t even count the number of times a dinner prepared for four ended up being consumed by ten to thirteen people! This invariably resulted in more water to the stew, smaller portions, and praying with your eyes wide open. Thankful we were, but apprehensive we were too as there were no second helpings! So I grew up with a scarcity mentality around food. On a superficial level, we may find ourselves living in the shadows of the past in business. It is not always negative if you are in a stable environment. But in the fast-changing world we live in, the past is seldom a good predictor for the future. These days, it can be downright dangerous! Unfortunately, entrepreneurs and new start-ups do not have that much of a past together, so connecting the near-past of a start-up to the future could very well paint a dismal picture. On a deeper level, many people enter entrepreneurship as a victim of their past. Or just simply as a victim. Bad habits and a broken worldview due to a broken past are built into the DNA of the business to reflect the founder’s issues, to

continue impacting the future of the company. It’s why I believe it is so important to concentrate as much on the founder as it is to work on the business and the product. It is also why many research papers have shown that founder teams are more successful as a wider worldview is built into the business’ DNA, and hopefully some of the sins of the past are cancelled out between the team members. The future So living in the shadow of the future, what does it mean? Entrepreneurs see a possible future, and then day-today, they work to build the business towards achieving that future. It ultimately drives (or should) every decision and action. Entrepreneurs do this by invigorating others with this possible future, and leading them to make it happen. As an entrepreneur, one simply cannot harbour a victim attitude, or you will be a captive of the past instead of being an author of a new future. A victim

approach to life mostly implies an expectation that someone - a person, society, the universe, the government, your boss or whoever - owes you. Inevitably, victims are not even aware of it or really don’t care, which victimises them even further. And too often, this leaves the victim paralysed in the past as well as other aspects of their lives. How can you hunt business as an entrepreneur, see and build a new future, when you are paralysed and expect others to intervene? I am obviously not oblivious to the wrongs of the past. They need to be dealt with, but you as entrepreneur need not be a victim to it. Learn from it, but move on and create a different future. Dream of a possible future. Take from the past only that which will help to make the desired future a reality. Be mindful of what you, as founder, instil in the DNA of the business. Blaming and innovation does not sit well together. It’s quite simple, really: Don’t make the sins of the past part of your company’s future. In other words, don’t sacrifice a good future because of a bad past. It’s just not worth it. CEO and founder of Resolution Circle Professor Willem Clarke possesses a Doctor of Engineering qualification in electrical and electronics from the University of Johannesburg.



The Great Innovation Frontier

M i l l s Soko

PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS Innovation awards and media hype are all very well, but Africa’s innovators need practical support and investment if they are to make any real difference to the continent’s development needs.

Innovation is a crucial component of Africa’s development – most of us can agree on that. It’s no coincidence that at the first African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST), countries committed themselves to developing and adopting a common set of indicators – one of which was NEPAD’s African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (ASTII), as early as 2005. Today, the continent’s strategy for innovation has evolved somewhat. Looking ahead to 2024, the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) was dubbed “On the Wings of Innovation” – and prioritised the AU’s desire to create a “knowledge-based and innovation-led society” across the continent. These are all lofty aspirations, to be sure. But executing them is a little more complicated. The goals listed explicitly in STISA are concrete and clear: eradicate hunger and achieve food security, prevent and control diseases, improve communications (physical and intellectual mobility), protect the continent’s space and natural resources, build society (towards peace, harmony, and working communities) and create wealth. The pressure is on to achieve these goals. Ahead of 2017’s Innovation by Design issue, Fast Company identified a new urgency facing the world’s innovators globally, as political instability was tackled head-on in a slew of disruptive, sometimes subversive designs. But locally, we have not escaped the hot seat either. Although in some ways, African innovators have the jump in this respect – they have been challenging instability in multiple areas for decades – they, too, are facing an increased pressure as global tension mounts, growth increases exponentially, and competition takes off. The good news is that the best and brightest in business are rising to the challenge, and those in need are undoubtedly benefiting. Many of the honorees in the Innovation by Design contest developed solutions


“The good news is that the best and brightest in business are rising to the challenge, and those in need are undoubtedly benefiting.”

applicable to Africa. There were entries driving needs as diverse as family planning, emergency insulated flooring and internet access. Importantly, many of these innovations are coming from the ground up. Certainly, some of the key players like Google and Nike are making their mark. But many of the major game-changers are coming from those on the ground most familiar with the struggles being faced. And they need our support. On one side, competitions, indabas and media coverage are an essential part of inspiring and encouraging innovation, but there are also practical needs – notably investment. While the practice of investing for impact (IFI) – investment that seek to combine financial returns with positive social, environmental and/or governance outcomes – is flourishing in Africa, according to the latest data from the African Investing for Impact Barometer, the majority of these investments focus on the integration of ESG (environmental, social and governance) and investor engagement, rather than on tackling environmental and social issues directly through sustainability themed or impact investing funds. Investing in education, water and sanitation, which are considered key to achieving the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), appear to be still low down on the agenda of investors. But it is crucial to lend support to the continent’s SMEs and its small starters with big ideas. A number of angel networks and other funders are moving in this direction. If we would like to see bigger, better, faster and more, then investors – most particularly institutional investors – need to put their money where their mouths are and step into this space. Because without the lifeblood of investment, many of the continent’s innovators will not survive long enough to make the difference we all crave. Mills Soko is the director of the UCT Graduate School of Business and an associate professor specialising in international trade and doing business in Africa. With a career that has spanned business, government, civil society and academia, he is uniquely positioned to understand the role these sectors have to play — collaboratively and individually — in addressing the critical issues of Africa’s development and competitiveness.




Fast Bytes Fast Company SA takes a look at the innovative new ideas, services, research and news currently making waves in South Africa and abroad

Uber Flying Taxis In an announcement at the Lisbon Web Summit, Uber’s Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden announced that the company is adding a third city, Los Angeles, to its list of places it hopes to pilot its aerial taxi service by 2020 – joining Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai. Uber first introduced its plan of flying cars in 2016. The project, however, is faced with significant hurdles. The specific aircraft that Uber envisions shuttling passengers from rooftop to rooftop are electric and fully autonomous, with the ability to take off and land vertically, don’t exist yet, nor does the infrastructure to support such a vehicle. According to Holden, Uber has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create a brand-new air traffic control system to manage these low-flying, passenger aircraft.

Flying Car Company Bought By Geely Terrafugia is now a fully owned subsidiary of the Zehejiang Geely Holding Group, the owner of Volvo Motors. Terrafugia, a US-based developer of flying cars was bought by the group with a long term goal of producing the vertical take-off and landing TF-X model, which is equipped with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Range is expected to be over 800 kilometres. Terrafugia was founded in 2016, and has since demonstrated internal-combustion engine prototypes, which are a combination of a car and a plane. It’s expected that these flying cars will enter the market as early as 2019. “The team at Terrafugia have been at the forefront of believing in and realising the vision for a flying car and creating the ultimate mobility solution. This is a tremendously exciting sector and we believe the company is ideally positioned to change mobility,” said Geely Group Founder and Chairman Li Shufu.

Baidu Speeds Up AI Progress The Chinese web giant Baidu has revealed a smart speaker model and plans for a self-driving minibus – its latest foray into the hyper-competitive field of artificial intelligence. Baidu was launched in September 2017 with a $1.5 billion fund dedicated to developing autonomous cars. Collaborating with bus manufacturer King Long, Baidu is looking at developing and producing the first model of a fully autonomous minibus. During the company’s annual technology conference in Beijing, company CEO Robin Li said that Baidu aims to start small-scale production on the minibus by mid-2018. The company also announced its plans of launching self-driving car models by 2019 in cooperation with manufacturers JAC Motors, BAIC, and the Chery car group. Baidu expects autonomous vehicles will be able to reduce traffic jams endemic to Chinese cities. 92    FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  DECEMBER JANUARY 2017/18

Fast Bytes

Tesla’s New Semi-Truck Electric car manufacturer Tesla revealed a lustrous semi-truck in mid-November. The new electric truck has 800 kilometre range and is sleeker than a supercar. Creating hype for the much anticipated unveiling of the new beast was Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who ramped up his tweeting in the run-up to the event. The fully electric Class 8 truck falls under the category of vehicles weighing more than 15 000kg, including its tractor-trailer rigs that form the backbone of commercial road freight. Musk said the truck has a drag coefficient of just 0.36, making it more aerodynamic than a Bugatti Chiron.

Irreplaceable Diamond Necklace A diamond necklace featuring a flawless 163-carat diamond - the largest of its kind to be auctioned - has been sold for $33.7 million (R482m) at a Christie’s event in Geneva, Switzerland. Taken from a 404-carat stone found in Angola, the colourless diamondfinished piece features white gold, diamonds and emeralds. Designed by Swiss jewellery maker De Grisogono, the main diamond took more than 1 700 hours to cut. Named “The Art of De Grisogono”, the necklace was auctioned at Geneva’s Four Seasons Hotel following a series of public viewings in Hong Kong, London, Dubai and New York. The buyer’s identity has been kept secret.

Robot Dog of the Future

Africa’s First BlackOwned Gin Brand

Boston Dynamics has amazed us over the past few years with its futuristic creations. The US-based company revealed a teaser trailer for its new and improved SpotMini robotic dog. The robotics company has streamlined its bright yellow, four-legged robot, which they believe will assist people in their homes and offices in the near future. The mechanised canine weighs 25kg and operates for about 90 minutes on a charge, and is the quietest robot developed by the company.

Luvuyo and Nodumo Jongile took their passion for gin to another level. Based in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, the couple launched Africa’s first blackowned gin brand, Mayine Premium Gin – named after their son, meaning “Let it rain”. The company produces two flavours; grape-based gin and rooibos-infused gin. The Rooibos gin is described as having an authentic flavour due to the infusion of tea leaves and honeybush botanicals, while the grape gin is velvety smooth with a slight hint of jasmine and coriander. The couple hopes to release more flavours in the near future. DECEMBER JANUARY 2017/18  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   93

Fast Events Local conferences, talks and meetups we think are worth attending

The Advertising and Media Association of South Africa Open Event

Change Management - The Role of Public Relations and Communication

Date: 20 Oct - 31 Dec 2017 Time: 08:00 – 17:00 Location: Red and Yellow School, 95 Durham Avenue, Salt River, Cape Town Cost of tickets: Free

Date: 2 January 2018 Time: 08:00 - 16:00 Location: 108 Bram Fischer Drive, Ferndale, Randburg, Johannesburg Cost of tickets: Early bird PRISA member: R2 400 | Early bird non-member: R2 920

The Advertising Media Association South Africa aims to educate people with an interest in media, marketing and advertising industries, with a view of improving knowledge and skills in media decision making techniques. The association aims to build communication between members of the industry and encourage social and professional interaction between members, students and educational bodies. It also offers help and guidance to members on vocational issues within the industry.

The Souk Trade Fair Date: 22 Dec 2017 - 01 Jan 2018 Time: 08:00 - 17:00 Location: Durban Exhibition Centre Cost of tickets: Free The Souk Trade Fair is synonymous with being the ultimate choice of alternative entertainment in Durban for the past two decades. The Souk is not just a trade fair, it is a family affair. A place that any member of the community can be entertained and be spoiled for choice in a safe and secure environment. Offering everything from live performances, stand-up comedy, cooking demos, kid-friendly rides, food stalls, shopping galore and much more.


Change management is about understanding the business dynamics of an organisation which needs to, or is forced to, change. The ongoing organisational changes have shown how traumatic transformation can be to an organisation. Managements that are ably assisted by PR professionals have a responsibility to efficiently manage this trauma.

BMW SA Open Championship Date: 11 - 14 January 2018 Time: 10:00 Location: Glendower Golf Club, Ekurhuleni Cost of tickets: R1 477   The BMW SA Open displays the best of power, precision and efficiency on the golf course. The event remains a highlight in the international golf circuit, with world champion Rory Mcllroy participating in the 106th tournament. The championship will once again be hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni in 2018, with it officially being the largest golfing event in South Africa and the second oldest golf championship in the world. The event promises to be a great entertainment for all golf enthusiasts.

Fast Events

The Second African Municipal Bonds Forum Date: 24 - 26 January 2018 Time: 08:00 - 17:00 Location: Vulindlela Auditorium DBSA, Midrand, Johannesburg Cost of tickets: R8 000 African economies continue to grow at a higher rate compared to other emerging markets. Now in its second year, the Africa Municipal Bonds Forum (AMBF) has become a must-attend event for anyone involved in Africa’s municipal debt markets. At the AMBF, attendees will be provided with insights into African cities’ growth plans and financing strategies, and will be given a chance to pose questions to the delegation.

eCommerce MoneyAfrica Confex Date: 14 - 15 March 2018 Time: 08:00 – 17:00 Location: Cape Town International Convention Centre Cost of tickets: R6 500 The eCommerce MoneyAfrica Conference and Exhibition invites all stakeholders in the retail and fintech arena to join the expanded advisory and speaker panel representing industry thoughtleaders in Africa’s ever-evolving eCommerce industry. They’ll be sharing insights garnered from hands-on-experience with various aspects of finance development. The event has emerged as a leading platform to discuss and investigate new trends, and challenges in the market hindering more robust eCommerce growth.

The NSBC Summit

World Travel Market Africa

Date: 21 - 22 February 2018 Time: 08:00 - 17:00 Location: Gallagher Convention Centre, Johannesburg Cost of tickets: Free registration before 31 December, late registration R150

Date: 18 - 20 April 2018 Time: 10:00 – 18:00, last day closes at 17:00 Location: Cape Town International Convention Centre Cost of tickets: Free when registering online before 17 April 2018. Onsite tickets cost $80 (R1145.75)

With more than 25 000 delegates, 250 exhibitors, 100 top of the line seminars and sessions, World Famous Events in association with the NSBC, brings you the prominent networking event NSBC Summit: South Africa 2018. Featuring My Business Expo, Business StartUp Show, Trading Across Borders, The Franchise Show, Small Biz Techno Expo, Access to Finance Indaba and Buzz Party, the event is the most successful show in Africa and a must for anyone looking to launch their business.

WTM Africa is the continent’s leading business-tobusiness (B2B) exhibition for both inbound and outbound travel and tourism markets. It presents a diverse range of destinations and industry sectors to South African, African and international travel professionals. WTM Africa creates exclusive business opportunities, providing industry professionals with quality contacts, content and communities. During the 2017 exhibition, 624 exhibitors showcased their products.



MANAGING YOUR BUSINESS IN THE FREELANCE ECONOMY Remote working is the way of the future, and with the rise of the Gig Economy – driven by an ever-growing freelance workforce – comes the challenge of project managing a team working from different locations. In order for it to work, you need systems in place to manage it.

“The contemporary freelancer is an experienced professional with a specific set of skills, whose track record and personal brand are strong enough to support a thriving business.” Imagine how much more productive and profitable your business could be if your team had more time in the day? If they could spend less time organising existing projects and more time strategising for future income? One of the toughest challenges facing modern marketing and advertising agencies is project management in the freelance economy. So many people, focused on different aspects, based far apart, working simultaneously on projects – it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, even the most seasoned project lead! Freelancers are often hired at scale, adding a great degree of complexity to management, which is where the need for a freelancer management solution comes in. Global trends show that hiring talent in the workforce is moving from a fixed cost to a variable cost, with companies staffing up and down as needed. Freelancers can be contracted on a per-project basis, working on specific initiatives for which their skills and expertise are suited. The freelance model allows companies to harness the abilities of multiple consultants, often for the price of a single full-time hire with a more limited skill set. The cost-saving element related to this is just one of the benefits of a freelance economy for businesses, especially advertising agencies. The contemporary freelancer is an experienced professional with a specific set of skills, whose track record and personal brand are strong enough to support a thriving business. They can add huge value to a business enterprise by leveraging their networks, which tend to be extremely well-developed, and introduce the business to important contacts that facilitate entry into new markets, avoiding costly missteps. The challenge lies in managing multiple freelancers


“Freelancers are often hired at scale, adding a great degree of complexity to management, which is where the need for a freelancer management solution comes in.”

D a n M a rcu s

and streamlining workflow from a distance. Companies appreciate that freelancers, or independent contractors, are critical in scaling businesses for growth, but how do they manage project progress when their employees all work in different places. A business needs to adopt new systems and processes which can help facilitate this. When a business’s currency is time, as it is with marketing agencies and legal firms, inefficient management results in time wastage which then leads to less profit. The solution lies in investing in the best possible management software system. Only an all-in-one project management software system, specifically designed with the modern marketing world in mind, can equip marketing and advertising agencies to streamline workflow and manage entire teams – no matter how many people, no matter where they might be based – through a single application. We live and work in the knowledge economy, but are powerless if we are unable to share this knowledge with one another. Management platforms that empower agencies by facilitating knowledge sharing and enabling teams to work better, faster, and smarter, are the way to go. For most of the freelance workforce, working for advertising, marketing and design agencies from their own workspace is the optimum choice, as it simply requires a computer, software and access to the internet. Today, a number of workers are freelancing by choice, relishing the opportunity to set their own schedules, choose their assignments and work independently. Others have turned to contingent work out of economic necessity. More than half of all global employees believe that they are more productive when working from home than their office-based counterparts. Those that work from home also believe that they suffer less stress than they do when working in an office. By providing them with a singular workflow management platform, such as Magnetic, it can actively improve collaboration between these freelance contractors and the core company team, and even clients – resulting not only in better understanding between the relevant parties, but also improved workflow – leading to increased profitability. Dan Marcus is the CEO of Magnetic, a specialist project management software company founded in 2012. He introduced this innovative project management software to marketing and advertising agencies, offering them a platform that has proven to be a vital tool for managing the freelance workforce of experienced professionals who are the backbone of the Gig Economy.



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Fast Company SA Dec / Jan 2017/18 - Issue 32