INSIDE OBA M A’S STE A LTH STA RTUP H O W TO P T E CH I E S F R O M G OOGL E , FACE B O O K , A ND AMAZ ON A R E I N FI LT R AT I N G T H E U S G OV E R N M E N T
AUGUST 2015 FASTCOMPANY.CO.ZA
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YAHOO FOR MOBILE! CEO MARISSA MAYER’S PLANS TO REINVENT THE PORTAL COFFEE AND CODING WHY DEVELOPERS ARE MEETING FOR A CUPPA GREEN CARS CAN AUTOMAKERS CLEAN UP THEIR ACT?
Brandon Webb IT Manager, Open Learning Group “With Nashua Document Management Solution software we are able to process student applications 5 days earlier than before, everything is scanned in and we can immediately access the required documents. More efficient paperwork means we’re being kind to the environment.”
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Obama’s stealth startup A cadre of techies from Google, Facebook, Amazon and more are leading an audacious tech insurgency inside the White House. Can they upgrade our vision of government? BY JON GERTNER Page 32
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For the people “If we leverage the best technology in the world and we pair them up with some really effective government managers, then we can get a really big pay-off,” says US President Barack Obama.
SCI BONO CENTRE JOHANNESBURG
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t n e m t r a p De ee
WONGAMA BALENI VUYILE MSAKU VUSUMZI MAMILE
UPSCALE COFFEE IN DOWNTOWN KHAYELITSHA
PROGRESSION OF BUSINESS
TR D AY S S P E N
DEPT OF COFFEE
9 OUT OF 10
FOLKS SAID THEY’D NEVER MAKE IT OPENING A BOUTIQUE COFFEE SHOP IN KHAYELITSHA
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& P L A NN I NG T HE
RCH ES E A
710 1,460 mazing a n a s a w t a Th 99.96% “ cup of coffee!”
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OF EXISTING CUSTOMERS SAY
A FESTIVAL TO INSPIRE A GENERATION 3 STAGES
30 YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS SHARING THEIR STORIES
8 INTERACTIVE WORKSHOPS - FACEBOOK, SME STORYTELLING, RED BULL AMAPHIKO SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND MORE! ENTREPRENEUR UP CLOSE SOFA SESSIONS
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F E AT U R E S
Going The Green Mile
Goodbye, Org Chart
Major car manufacturers worldwide are finding innovative ways to develop cleaner means of travel BY CHRIS WALDBURGER
58 Code and Coffee
Why IT developers are connecting over a cuppa to share new tech and tips BY GABRIELLA REGO
64 A New Direction
Getting good at change is the most important skill to develop. So, are there ways to make it any easier? BY ARIANA DE BONVOISIN
74 Net Profit
Free public Wi-Fi could boost economic development and increase GDP—but public– private partnerships are crucial BY TOM JACKSON
Why adaptability trumps hierarchy BY GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, TANTUM COLLINS, DAVID SILVERMAN AND CHRIS FUSSELL
20 Solving a Burning Issue
A community-centred earlywarning system is helping to mitigate the destruction caused by fires in informal settlements BY LEVI LETSOKO
24 How Domino’s won India—and South Africa
Here’s how the US pizza chain re-engineered itself for success in South Asia’s booming market, and how the local franchise has fared since opening last year BY SARITHA RAI
The Marissa Mayer Project Yahoo’s CEO is defying her critics, pursuing her own vision of success BY HARRY MCCRACKEN
The honourable Mayer “My responsibility is to build for our shareholders the strongest, most futureleaning, fastest-growing Yahoo that I can,” says the purple portal’s CEO. (page 80) AUGUST 2015 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A 4
Destroy your environment, destroy yourself. Save both at www.ewt.org.za
C R E AT I V E C O N V E R S AT I O N 48 A Leading Light
BioTherm’s Jasandra Nyker is empowering local talent to power Africa with renewables BY LAURIANNE CLAASE
REGULARS 10 From the Editor 12 The Recommender 30 Clothing 2.0 It’s a Wi-Fi hotspot! It’s a pollution zapper! It’s BB Suit! BY SARAH LAWSON
88 In Living Colour Andrew Cooper’s paintings are so rich in detail that it’s like looking through a window
46 Changing the odds
90 The Great Innovation Frontier
62 Follow The Leader In a male-dominated industry,
92 Fast Bytes
30% Club founder Helena Morrissey and her quest for more female corporate leadership BY LINDA KINSTLER
Robyn Farrell is mentoring and coaching other women to find balance in their work and family life BY RENE FRANK
68 Thinking Outside The Box
Technology will come and go, but it’s the people using the technology who are important BY WALTER BAETS
96 One More Thing If humans are the biggest threat
to humanity, why should we fear artificial intelligence? BY BARATUNDE THURSTON
WolfPack Rentals turns recycled shipping containers into mobile houses, bars, clinics and others
72 We’ll Do It Live How Periscope, Meerkat
Believe in your selfie Mobile live-streaming services could upend what has been the last sacrosanct aspect of the TV industry—live events, particularly news, sports and weather. (page 72)
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GUTTER CREDIT TK
and Snapchat will change how TV covers news, sports and weather BY OM MALIK
PUBLISHER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Robbie Stammers
EDITOR Evans Manyonga
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Cover: Daniel Shea Gallo Images/Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/ Allison Shelley, Dollar Photo Club, Everett Collection, Daniel Shea, Jessica Haye, Clark Hsiao, Melissa Golden, Relajaelcoco, Vivek Singh, Samantha Casolari, Andrew Cooper, Bigshot Toyworks,
EXECUTIVE EDITORS Noah Robischon Rick Tetzeli
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Jon Gertner, Chris Waldburger, Gabriella Rego, Ariane de Bonvoisin, Tom Jackson, Harry McCracken, General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, Chris Fussell, Levi Letsoko, Saritha Rai, Laurianne Claase, Sarah Lawson, Om Malik, Rene Frank, Linda Kinstler, Walter Baets, Baratunde Thurston
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Louise Marsland, Anneleigh Jacobsen, Prof. Walter Baets, Pepe Marais, Alistair King, Koo Govender, Abey Mokgwatsane, Kheepe Moremi, Herman Manson, Ellis Mnyandu, Thabang Skwambane
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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. 8 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A AUGUST 2015
FROM THE EDITOR
The future starts today When US President Barack Obama realised the technology in the federal government was lagging behind, he simply got someone to gather all the top tech gurus in one room—and out of that meeting, the new US Digital Service was born.
We sat down with the president for our exclusive cover feature (page 32), which outlines the role new technology has in virtually every facet of citizens’ lives. Obama has long been aware of the potential of technology and forward thinking. This was clearly reflected in his first campaign for the US presidency, when he harnessed the reach of social media and used it to its full potential. During his visit to Kenya in July, the American president spoke at length about the capacity of the continent. A strong statement summed up his thoughts on Africa: “The future of Africa is up to Africans; for too long, many looked to the outside for salvation. You don’t have to look a certain way or have a certain last name to have a good idea.” Indeed, Africa is on the rise and the opportunities are endless. The modern-day executive, individual or public organisation has to channel the cutting-edge possibilities provided by new technology. In this issue of Fast Company SA, we focus also on clean technology. Driving cars is one of the most environmentally damaging activities in the modern world. In South Africa, the automotive sector is the most carbon-intensive industry: Approximately 20% of CO2 emissions and a vast proportion of air pollution come from the manufacture and use of
10 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A AUGUST 2015
vehicles. Now, automakers are cleaning up their act and rolling out a new generation of ‘green’ cars. Nissan, Toyota and Mazda are among the frontrunners in this clean tech revolution (see page 54). Modern technology has also enabled 22-year-old Justin Anley to devise a groundbreaking design that turns recycled shipping containers into mobile shops, bars, offices and even low-cost homes and medical clinics. His environmentally friendly product is featured on page 68. We hope you enjoy this edition and we look forward to seeing you down in Cape Town for the SA Innovation Summit. It is renowned for connecting inventors with funders, marketers, distribution channels and more. It is also ranked as one of the 46 global innovation events to attend in 2015, which has elevated its importance worldwide.
Evans Manyonga email@example.com @Nyasha1e
PS: We are now available in all Pick n Pay stores nationwide. So feel free to grab a copy along with your groceries!
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THE RECOMMENDER What are you loving this month?
Favourite device Philip Tillman
MD, Governance, Risk & Compliance Solutions, CQS Technology
Roku: The Roku 3 has something
Journalist & founder of The Breach
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:
This oldie-but-a-goldie is a practical guide to addressing the voice of doubt in our head that whispers, “You can’t do it.” Silence the naysayer within and scale the roadblocks in any creative venture. This book should be a staple for creatives.
Head innovator & mind-bender, SHA Specialist Underwriters
in common with the majority disruptive technologies: It’s not just a device, it’s a platform. The Roku brings the world of media and streaming TV from anywhere around the globe into your home, on a device that fits in the palm of your hand. The Roku has much more content than is available on a SmartTV, and is constantly updating its software and interface. Gone are the days when advertisers and broadcasters dictate what’s available and at what time; the Roku has changed my TV and media consumption patterns at a fraction of the cost of traditional monthly subscriptions. Hands down, the best device I’ve bought in the last 12 months!
Later Magic by Professor Hoffmann:
One of my prized possessions, this book from the early 19th century was the first to document, in encyclopaedia style, the process of creating the mind-boggling apparatus used by magicians. The schematic drawings are fascinating!
Favourite accessory Gary Sher
MD, 101 Designs
Tuttolente sunglasses: You can never go wrong with a good quality pair of shades. One of my favourites at the moment is the Tuttolente “All-Lens” collection by RETROSUPERFUTURE. It’s truly groundbreaking technological innovation by the Italian eyewear brand. Each pair is crafted from a single sheet of Zeiss nylon lenses, making up both the frame and arms of each piece. It’s a range of eyewear that’s both non-conventional yet wearable—a sure fit for any collector. 12 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A AUGUST 2015
Favourite lunch spot
Founder, VOICES Female Networking Club
Fork: A great spot is Fork Restaurant in Long Street, Cape Town. It offers delectable Spanish pinchos: small snacks, similar to tapas but individual, bite-sized, layered mini meals that are absolutely delicious! It’s a long-standing establishment (10 years) and has a great loyal following. If you haven’t been, definitely check it out!
Favourite car Martin Bester
Radio presenter, Jacaranda FM & lead singer, Kinky Robot
Mercedes-Benz C250: My favourite car right now is the one I’m
Favourite sport Rui Campos
CEO, Campos Transport
driving! It’s no slouch, going from 0-100km/h in 6.6 seconds, and it’s great on fuel consumption—around 6.5 litres per 100km. The high-end 13-speaker system rounds off the experience just perfectly for me. As you’d expect from Merc, it’s pushed the technology within the car to impressive heights; you’ll know when you see the high-tech crystal-clear screen that operates via voice or easy-to-use touchpad in the centre console. It’s sexy, stylish, comfortable and everything else you’d expect from Mercedes-Benz—and some stuff you didn’t.
Motor racing: I’ve been
racing for many years and I’ve managed to entice my two sons to get into it with me. They started by being my biggest fans— now they, too, are South African champions. In my Shelby Can-Am, I’ve won the South African national sports car championship four times. The passion to compete and win the race is epic, and the weekends away are always huge fun. The camaraderie, socialising and random banter on race days is the best part.
Favourite artist Michelle Constant
CEO, Business and Arts South Africa
Collen Maswanganyi: I love this artist’s sculptures! He is representative of the mythical and often highly political woodwork that comes from the Giyani region in Limpopo. I have a few of his works, but have been following his process closely of late. Seeing Maswanganyi creating character and narrative from a raw chunk of wood has highlighted once again the vision, innovation and imagination that the arts offer us in South Africa. AUGUST 2015 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A 13
Catherine Grenfell Online presenter, OpenroomTV
Springboks and wildebeest Fast Company SA publisher Robbie Stammers shares two apps he’s loving at the moment and highly recommends to readers. Do you live and breathe the Green and Gold? Then explore the ultimate level of Springbok fandom on your smart device with this digital homage to South Africa’s favourite team. If you’re a hard-core Springbok fan or a rugby trivia nut, this easy-to-navigate app is definitely for you—especially with the Rugby World Cup just around the corner. Simply search for Springbok on Google Play or Apple App Store, and your blood will flow green!
My other current favourite is HerdTracker, which is a new web app that follows the herds of Africa’s wildebeest as they make their annual migration across the Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve— allowing anyone to track this natural spectacle in real time, with instant updates of the migration’s precise location. The updates are sourced weekly from pilots who fly over the Serengeti and Maasai Mara; from safari guides on the ground; from Tanzania National Parks Authority rangers; and from lodges within the Maasai Mara reserve. 14 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A AUGUST 2015
TuneIn: I love listening
to new music and different radio stations, and this is the perfect app to do so. You can browse trending music, sports, news, radio stations in different locations, languages and podcasts. When it comes to music in particular, you can choose specific stations or you can search for your favourite genre—anything from ‘60s to indie to world music to disco. It’s endless listening.
Radio producer, 5FM
Periscope: Imagine being able to live through the eyes of someone halfway across the world, at a cutting-edge tech conference or in a live studio session. Periscope is a free mobile app that allows viewers to find, follow and enjoy a live video feed from anyone who chooses to share their moment from anywhere in the world. Open, type a short description and start sharing; viewers tune in, comment and enjoy. It’s the next level in usergenerated experiences.
N E X T 16 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A AUGUST 2015
Goodbye, org chart IN THE NE W BO O K TEAM O F TEAM S , G E N E R A L STA N LE Y M CC H RYSTA L A ND CO -AU TH O R S TA NT U M CO LLIN S , DAV ID SILV ER M A N A ND CHRI S FU S SELL E X PL A IN WH Y A DA PTA BILIT Y TRU MP S HIER A RCH Y
Dr EJ Caterson and Dr Matthew Carty are members of one of the world’s finest reconstructive plastic surgery teams, working out of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They have reattached faces, salvaged legs and saved lives. Seven years ago, they worked on a patient whose face had been torn off when she was mauled by a pit bull. The team opened up the dog’s stomach, removed the face and reattached it. Today, if you saw this patient on the street, you wouldn’t bat an eye. At 3 p.m. on April 15, 2013, Caterson and Carty had just successfully completed a 10-hour operation on a teenager with an extreme facial fracture. They were about to head home to their families when their resident physician came in and said, “Hey, a bomb just went off.” Adapted from Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal (US Army, retired) with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © McChrystal Group LLC, 2015
Photograph by Melissa Golden
Gallo Images/Getty Images/ Allison Shelley
A few minutes earlier, two pressure-cooker bombs had ripped through the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and seriously injuring more than 200. “[The team] just walked right from the OR to the emergency room,” Caterson says, where other operating teams converged. Casualties started rolling into the ER but, as Carty remembers, “No one had any sense of what the scope of the event was. As far as we knew, this could be 3 000 people.” Working with trauma surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons and vascular surgeons, Caterson’s group helped devise treatment plans for the stream of injured patients, before triaging them to the operating room. These surgeons had all collaborated in the past and now made decisions as a collective, Caterson explains. One of the injured patients came in with a badly mangled leg that looked like it would have to be amputated above the knee. But the surgeons were determined to avoid that route, since an above-knee amputation means up to a 70% increase in energy expenditure to walk for the rest of one’s life, leading to cardiovascular and pulmonary issues and often triggering early joint failure. The team went to work, taking skin grafts from the victim’s leg and back, threading them with a single 2 millimetrethick blood vessel, and removing and replacing the bone in his leg in an attempt to salvage and reconstruct his knee. Eight surgeries later, he had recovered with a functioning knee—the result of a meticulously rebuilt mechanism in the absence of the anatomic stump that is normally necessary for a below-knee amputation. “That was a complete deviation from normal practices,” Caterson says. “But as a result, that person will be able to run a marathon again.” Brigham and Women’s had never simulated a masscasualty situation across multiple trauma services. There was no real plan, and certainly no rehearsal. Their response was simply an extension of what they do every day—adapt. A unit functioning as a command, with members waiting for instruction from authority, would have been too hidebound to respond effectively. There is no medical school course on removing a human face from a dog’s stomach, and in time-critical situations, no time to conduct a study or draw up a blueprint. The human body is a complex and interdependent system, and surgeries can diverge from a plan. “Every patient is different. Nobody has an identical fracture,” Carty says. “Operations are unpredictable. You always have to adapt.”
“NOBODY HAS AN IDENTICAL FRACTURE,” CARTY SAYS. “OPERATIONS ARE UNPREDICTABLE. YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO ADAPT.”
Tim Murphy, Republican representative of Pennsylvania, initiated the proceedings: “I now convene this hearing of the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee, titled ‘The GM Ignition Switch Recall: Why Did It Take So Long?’ ” This question had been on the public’s mind since GM had issued a recall of 800 000 vehicles two months earlier. A faulty ignition switch had been used in the Chevy Cobalt and the Pontiac G5; a weak spring meant that small amounts of force applied to the key when in the ignition—a bump by a knee or the tug of a heavy key chain—could cause the engine to turn off. The ignition shut-off also disabled airbag deployment, significantly increasing the danger of the fault. “As soon as the Chevy Cobalt rolled off of production lines in 2004,” Representative Murphy read to the packed hearing room, “customers began filing complaints about the ignition switch. In 2004 and 2005, GM engineers twice considered the problem, but it wasn’t until December 2013 that the company finally put the pieces together . . . almost 10 years after customers first told GM the Cobalt ignition switch didn’t work.” In those 10 years, at least 13 people died. GM appeared to be the ultimate evil corporation. For four hours, righteously indignant politicians alternately questioned and berated Barra. Press coverage highlighted GM’s greed. The reality, however, was more complex. What seemed like a cold calculation that privileged profits over lives was also an example of institutional ignorance that had as much to do with management as it did with values. It was a perfect and tragic case study of the consequences of information silos and internal mistrust. At GM, internal rivalries—the consequence of separate divisions and a competitive c ulture—inhibited communication.
Facing the firing squad GM CEO Mary Barra, testifying at a 2014 congressional hearing about the company’s ignition-switch crisis.
If the Brigham and Women’s surgical teams’ response to crisis illustrates the virtues of adaptability, the GM ignition-switch scandal that erupted nearly a year later illustrates the sometimes fatal risks of organisational rigidity. On April 1, 2014, Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, stepped into a sombre, wood-panelled room full of cameras and congressional representatives.
AUGUST 2015 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A 17
The airbags and ignition systems were overseen by two different teams, which explains how the relatively easy-to-fix ignition issue “passed through an astonishing number of committees” without ever being addressed. GM’s byzantine organisational structure meant that nobody—venal or kindly—had the information to make the crucial decision. Why was GM unable to adapt to a challenge that many in the organisation saw coming for years, when a team of surgeons were able to improvise around an unpredictable crisis on the fly? What fundamental structures led to the inertia and ossification of one of America’s great companies? The answer to that question tells us a lot about the kind of organisation that thrives in a climate of uncertainty. Sandy Pentland is an MIT professor who studies the effects of information flow on organisations and communities. Looking at very large data sets, Pentland has found that sharing information and creating strong horizontal relationships improves the effectiveness of everything from businesses to governments to cities. His research suggests the collective intelligence of groups and communities has little to do with the intelligence of their individual members and much more to do with the connections between them. Pentland writes about “idea flow”, the ease with which new thoughts can permeate a group. The two major determinants of idea flow, Pentland has found, are “engagement” within a small group (like a team, department or neighbourhood), and “exploration”—frequent contact with other units. In other words, a team of teams. Pentland has conducted studies at a number of companies, outfitting employees with badges that produce detailed, quantitative measures of how people interact. At a Chicago-area IT consultancy, he collected a billion measurements in one month—1 900 hours of data—and found that engagement was the central predictor of productivity, exceeding individual intelligence, personality and skill. The teams that had the highest levels of internal engagement and external exploration had much higher levels of creative output.
BUILDING A TEAM OF TEAMS
In today’s fast-moving, complicated business and global environment, leaders will need to abandon traditional structures to create more nimble, effective teams
Command In this traditional top-down structure, the connections that matter are the ones between workers and their managers.
Command of Teams In this structure, adaptive small teams operate within a more rigid superstructure.
Team of Teams The relationships among teams should resemble the closeness among individuals on those teams.
Artwork adapted from Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
Whether in the medical or the manufacturing world, the organisation as a rigidly reductionist mechanical beast is an endangered species. Armed with unprecedented amounts of data, leaders can peer into what is happening almost as it occurs, and this information can seduce them into thinking they can predict complex situations. But the speed and interdependence of our current environment means that what we cannot know has grown even faster than what we can know. Leaders must find a way to empower their teams to find the way.
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Illustrations by Relajaelcoco
Solving a burning issue A COMMUNIT Y- CENTRED E ARLYWARNING SYSTEM IS HELPING TO MITIGATE THE DESTRUC TION C AUSED BY FIRES IN INFORMAL SET TLEMENTS
By Levi Letsoko
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The sight of homes ravaged by fire in informal settlements is a very common feature in South Africa during winter. A large number of call-ins received by various emergency centres are due to accidental fires caused by domestic slip-ups in these densely populated areas. The degree of damage depends on various factors, one being how soon the fire is detected. But due to the prevalence of these settlements, and the living conditions there, the danger of accidental fires continues beyond the cold season; it is a constant threat. As more and more young people begin to embrace the role of social entrepreneurship in solving problems faced by society in general, we are beginning to witness an emergence of solutions-driven startups. One such business is Lumkani, the organisation behind a low-cost early-warning system invented specifically to help reduce the destruction caused by fires in informal settlements—in South Africa and around the world. David Gluckman, a director at Lumkani, believes the device possesses “a great deal of potential in being instrumental in addressing this problem”. An economist by profession, Gluckman graduated from the University of Cape Town and began his career in the private sector with giants such as Ernst & Young and First National Bank. “I wanted to make a career shift, as I had spent time in purely profit-driven environments. I thought getting involved with projects that could bring about social impact would be more fulfilling,” he says. “I gained a lot of vital experience while working with a management consultancy firm in a strategic role. I wanted to use that exposure with projects that had a direct impact in society. I found that Lumkani paralleled exactly those ideals.” Initially, Lumkani was born from research done by co-founder Francois Petousis for his electrical engineering thesis at UCT. The outcome impressed Gluckman to the extent that he decided to get involved with the project in early 2014. “It felt like the perfect transition for me, and the decision to get involved with the project came naturally.” Even though the conceptualisation and invention of the fire detector were major breakthroughs, launching the product was a different beast altogether. “We launched the device in the Western Cape in November 2014. We selected five areas that we wanted to focus on, and those included Khayelitsha and Mfuleni,” says Gluckman. There’s an obvious demand for an innovative product like the Lumkani fire detector, but that doesn’t automatically cancel out the immediate challenges of launching it.
“THE FIRST OBSTACLE THAT WE HAD TO FIND OUR WAY AROUND WAS PRODUCT SCEPTICISM,” SAYS GLUCKMAN. “YES, THE COMMUNITY NEEDED THE SOLUTION, BUT GETTING THEM TO BELIEVE IN WHAT WE WERE OFFERING WAS A CHALLENGE—CREDIBILITY BUILDING WAS KEY!”
What hurdles did the team have to confront? “The first obstacle that we had to find our way around was product scepticism,” says Gluckman. “Yes, the community needed the solution, but getting them to believe in what we were offering was a challenge—credibility building was key!” He adds: “Our first rollout in those five areas had to be very strategic, and we involved the community in every aspect. We had to engage with a total of 1 700 households; in that manner, we were able to build relationships that we plan to sustain moving forward.” Eight months after the launch, Lumkani seems to be settling in quite well. It already has received a number of accolades including being chosen as a finalist in the international Chivas Regal “The Venture” competition, and winning the Seedstars Cape Town competition last year.
People’s persons The team behind Lumkani—Samuel Ginsberg (co-founder, technical director and engineering), Francois Petousis (co-founder, engineering and strategy); Paul Mesarcik (engineering and strategy); Emily Vining (community relations); Max Basler (industrial design) and David Gluckman (director, project manager, operations and finance)—say they are committed to developing technology that responds to real human pain.
AUGUST 2015 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A 21
RED ALERT! The detector uses rate-of-rise temperature technology to accurately measure the incidence of a fire hazard. An alarm is triggered inside the home to alert inhabitants of the danger before the fire becomes unmanageable.
However, Gluckman believes the fairly new device still has a long journey ahead, and the company is strongly committed to continuously improving the efficiency of its fire detector. “The device revolves around what works best for the communities. We are in constant engagement with the users to find new ways in which we can improve the device. The people who use it daily are better positioned to identify all elements we can improve on. The efficiency of the device has proven itself. There are numerous success stories in areas we have reached,” he reveals. Lumkani has employed a creative strategy in its rollout plan. Its main aim is to explore the global market, one territory at a time. Receiving a Flash Grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation in 2014 was a positive nod for the team, as it served as an indication that there was immense faith in the fire-detection device from an investor’s perspective. “We are currently working with a network of existing non-governmental organisations that have active projects of their own on the ground in communities we are assisting. We have added a reasonable incentive mechanism in our sales structure.” Gluckman concludes: “It’s been an impressive start, and our successes give us the confidence we need to expand. We will be launching in pinpointed areas around Johannesburg in July, and we hope to build on that.”
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The radio-frequency devices are networked within a 60-metre radius so that when a fire breaks out, all devices in this range will ring together—enabling a community-wide response to the danger. This buys time for communities to respond quickly and efficiently.
Smart centralised devices, which gather information about the detector mesh network, constantly check the health of the system; in the event of fire, they store GPS co-ordinates and simultaneously send text-message warnings to members of the affected community.
Hot stuff The Lumkani is a heat detector, not a smoke detector; it rings only if the temperature of the room increases rapidly.
The next phase involves sending, in real-time, the co-ordinates of fires to the municipality’s emergency response personnel. Source: lumkani.com
How the Lumkani firedetection system works
How Domino’s won India TH E PIZ Z A CH A IN I S J U ST O NE O F M A N Y IN TH E WO R LD. BU T IN THI S B O O MIN G EM ER G I N G M A R K E T, I T EN G I N EER ED D O M I N A N CE
By Saritha Rai
Photographs by Vivek Singh
In India, Starbucks sells a tandoori paneer roll. KFC makes a “paneer zinger”. Burger King has the Whopper . . . oh, and a Paneer King burger, too. This is largely how international food brands court India’s 1.25 billion consumers: by playing to local tastes. But Domino’s is doing more. It has cleverly reimagined everything about itself, right down
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to its flour, to nail the balance between serving local needs and retaining a patina of Western cool. That’s what has made it India’s largest international foreign-food chain, with 806 stores across 170 cities, more than twice as many as McDonald’s—and Domino’s says it nets 20% higher revenue. The chain sells more pizza in India than anywhere outside the US. “We were baffled, and gratified, that middleclass India took to the pizza like no other Western food,” says Ajay Kaul, CEO of Domino’s India. He suspects that the company is working with a built-in advantage: Pizza is a crosscultural food. Its dough and toppings have
Hot wheels A Domino’s delivery man on an exceedingly rare uncrowded New Delhi avenue.
plenty in common with the Indian roti (flat bread) and subji (vegetables). Kaul guesses that pizza also appeals to Indians because it contains two keystones of local culture—a love of shared plates, and of food that can be eaten with your hands. A hot slice, it turns out, is among the few mass culinary exports that require no utensils. To see how Domino’s makes it work, Fast Company US sent a photographer to document pizza time in Noida, a suburb of New Delhi.
Remaking the pizza To woo Indian traditionalists, as well as the budgetconscious eater, the chain spent eight months examining everything from flour to toppings, to lower prices. It then introduced what it called “Pizza Mania”—a 35-rupee (R6.80) pizza that takes exactly 2.5 minutes to make and six more to bake.
Picking locations In small cities, where Indians crave Western products and eating out is a family event, Domino’s offers a large dine-in space. And its locations throughout the country are situated exactingly: The pizza chain studies each neighbourhood, its streets and traffic flow. Then each store’s area is meticulously mapped, down to every intersection and traffic light, to find the fastest delivery routes— because here, Domino’s offers its “30 minutes or it’s free” policy. (It ended the offer in America in 1993, after the hurry caused too many car accidents.)
Detailing delivery A delivery man and his m anager plot out the route he’s about to take. Each delivery is allotted eight minutes, and there’s a seven-minute buffer for traffic jams and bad roads. More than 99% of the pizzas arrive within the promised 30-minute deadline.
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Modifying menus The Domino’s India menu is diverse, to appeal to the country’s many tastes. For inspiration, its chefs (right) go on regular ‘food walks’ through markets. A recent “Taco Indiana” dish was inspired by n orthern India’s kebabs and parathas (flatbread), for example. In southern India, where pizza is not as popular, research led to a spicy raw-banana pizza.
Balancing tastes Despite its menu’s local flavour, Domino’s is careful not to overlocalise; m iddle-class India places a premium on ‘Western’. In a recent TV ad, a young
woman tells her brother that he is exactly like a Taco Indiana: Westernlooking on the outside but Indian on the inside. At left, chefs develop a new Subwich—a cross between a burger and a sandwich with pizza filling, now available throughout the country.
Chowing down Chefs taste-test a new pizza. It’s the locally popular “cheese burst” topped with chicken salami, classic Indian spices (chili p epper, sesame, ginger and garlic) and some that are new to India’s middle class (chives, celery, parsley)—a Western slice that tastes just Indian enough.
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A slice of the action H OW I S D O MIN O ’ S S A STACKIN G U P AG A IN ST IT S INTER N ATI O N A L CO U NTER PA RT S?
Domino’s has been around since 1960 in the United States and now delivers pizzas to more than a million customers a day in over 70 countries around the world. Closer to home, Domino’s South Africa has been operational since October 2014. It opened four stores in one day in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. According to Bronwyn Oliveira, marketing manager for sub-Saharan Africa, the ideal consumer in South Africa is anyone who loves pizza—even someone who doesn’t! “We have meal solutions for singles and couples, families and bigger parties,” she says. A selection of sides rounds out the menu. Customers have reacted well to the new pizza kid on the block. “The response to our product has been overwhelmingly positive. Customers love the pizzas and demand has been going up.” Before launching local flavours, Domino’s implemented a number of focus-group tastings: It realised that the old favourites of BBQ chicken and chicken tikka were still very popular. Domino’s has stuck with these— along with American toppings such as pepperoni and jalapeño—and the response of the market has been reflected in the brand’s growth in the country. Being part of an international brand has its pros and cons, says Oliveira. “As Domino’s International has stringent approval and quality processes, finding local suppliers who can comply has been challenging—but not insurmountable. However, being part of an international brand also comes with all the learnings and know-how that you can only gain through experience.” Domino’s SA is already looking toward the future. “We have an aggressive rollout plan and have ambitions to open over 100 Domino’s stores in South Africa before the end of the year and approximately 300 in three years,” says Oliveira.
Taste Holdings, which owns and licenses Domino’s, will also be bringing Starbucks to South Africa in 2016.
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FAST COMPANY PROMOTION
STATE OF AFFAIRS A new publication shares some surprising insights on emerging companies in South Africa
A recent survey of more than 700 emerging companies—the results of which formed the basis of a national publication on emerging companies and the entrepreneurial landscape in South Africa—digs deep into some of the topics surrounding this ecosystem. Why focus on this topic? Because underpinning the entrepreneurial landscape is increased potential for economic growth: one of the most important topics when talking about South Africa’s future and the advancement of its prospects and people. The Emerging Companies Insights was a collaborative effort between PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Silicon Cape Initiative, Microsoft BizSpark, City of Tshwane and Wesgro (the destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape). Participants of the survey underlying the publication came from a national cross-section of emerging, technology-enabled companies. Participating companies ranged from early-stage to those with approximately R100-million revenue per annum; the views of investors and other ecosystem stakeholders were also obtained. The publication focuses on several themes—some common, some new and some surprising. The negative talk about the current state of South Africa’s economic affairs also received attention due to some supporting ‘doom and gloom’ statistics: South Africa is perceived to be lagging behind other developing countries in certain statistics such as a low rate of established businesses, an unsupportive overall business environment and a high rate of business failures. One of the questions the publication asks is, “how to turn the current negative sentiment around and put South Africa’s economy ‘back on track’ to a sustainable economic and employment growth path?” Part of the answer is simple, in theory: Make entrepreneurship work, with the collaboration and support of other entrepreneurial ecosystem stakeholders. Entrepreneurship is all about transforming ideas into economic opportunities, and requires holistic support from all ecosystem stakeholders to thrive. In Helen Keller’s words: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Megatrends dictate that future economies
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ENTREPRENEURS ARE MOST SUCCESSFUL WHEN THEY HAVE ACCESS TO THE HUMAN, FINANCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL RESOURCES THEY NEED, AND OPERATE IN AN ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH GOVERNMENT POLICIES ENCOURAGE AND SAFEGUARD ENTREPRENEURS
will consist of partnerships between stakeholders in order to overcome challenges. Entrepreneurs are most successful when they have access to the human, financial and professional resources they need, and operate in an environment in which government policies encourage and safeguard entrepreneurs, says Dr Daniel Isenberg, professor of Entrepreneurship Practice at Babson College Executive and Enterprise Education. Furthermore, there was consensus among participants in the recent SiMODiSA study (Top 25 Constraints to Entrepreneurship) that “South Africa presents significant talent and potential for entrepreneurship”. In order to maintain realistic views of South Africa’s performance and its accompanying underlying issues, the country should be benchmarked against other developing countries and not against developed markets—a mistake made too often. Even so, much focus is needed to take South Africa’s economy forward. This includes increasing the slice of the procurement pie for small and medium enterprises (ample opportunities exist for corporations to provide entrepreneurs with increased access to procurement opportunities); improving mentorship and networking structures to facilitate an assisting environment; and creating consistent access to capital. South Africa has what is required to become a leading entrepreneurial force; compared to other developing markets, the country has solid foundations. We are the second largest economy in Africa after Nigeria; we have a strong and diversified industrial base, world-class infrastructure in selected provinces (especially when compared to some other emerging regions), and a highly sophisticated financial sector. In addition, we are comparatively better off compared to the other BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) on certain indicators e.g. South Africa currently is 43rd out of 189 in the Ease of Doing Business rankings; and 56th out of 144 economies in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for 2014/15—ahead of Brazil and India. What needs to be strongly borne in mind is that entrepreneurs are the ones who can tip the scales in South Africa’s fight against economic inequality and economic prosperity, hence the importance of this topic. Despite much having been said about equal rights for women in business, the South African statistics for technology-enabled companies are still disheartening: The number of female founders makes up a very small percentage of total founders. Global research points to better results for companies with a balanced representation of women board directors. “Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors attained significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation of women board directors,” according to a Catalyst report titled, “The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards”.
May the force be with you
Arthur Goldstuck, principal researcher for the SME Survey, found that, although a minority, small businesses owned by women have a better chance of being profitable than those owned by men. South Africa still has a long way to go in increasing women’s visibility and impact in business overall. The Emerging Companies Insights publication produced some other key findings and surprises. By digging deeper into some of the more commonly seen themes, a number of myths were debunked around funding, red tape and growth inhibitors. A further deep dive was taken into some of the current ‘hot topics’ such as digitisation, internationalisation, enterprise development, and the use of advisers. Included are interviews with entrepreneurs such as Michael Jordaan and the Yuppiechef and Groupon founders, as well as insights from Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s Mike Herrington, and Venture Capital directors among others.
With the help of the Design Institute, you can move your innovative idea forward with the best team by your side.
The publication officially launches at the SA Innovation Summit on 28 August 2015.
A HELPING HAND What innovators need is an Ideas Hub with a task force behind it
Call it an idea, a hunch, a notion. It’s the belief that the clever invention that popped into your head may actually become a fully fledged product that can make you an instant millionaire and add to the country’s economy by creating jobs and increasing exports. Your idea or innovation may be just that—an idea—or you might have done some research, drawn up plans or even built a prototype. The problem is: where to from here? Well, there are innovators who have received positive design input for their bright ideas such as Shalton’s electronic devices charged through radio waves, Luthendo’s range of medicinal products based on an ancient plant, Siyanda’s culturally inspired furniture, and Zuko’s wristband that alerts the hearing impaired. All these innovators, and many more like them, have one thing in common: They have joined forces with the Design Institute, situated within the South African
WELL-DESIGNED PRODUCTS, MANUFACTURED LOCALLY, WOULD BE ABLE TO CREATE JOBS, INCREASE EXPORTS, BUILD INFRASTRUCTURE AND EVENTUALLY LEAD TO ECONOMIC GROWTH
Bureau of Standards (SABS), to help them take their ideas forward. Think of the Design Institute and its people as a task force geared to take your idea to the next level. We have employed the big guns to nurture, analyse, grow and shape ideas to fit the application at hand. The Design Institute is the official body that has the job of developing South Africa’s design capability, and it has been doing so for more than 40 years, albeit in an evolving way. By creating a link between innovators, business, government, industry and funders, the institute is able to help innovators to develop globally competitive products and services that can create income and employment. It is geared toward uniting design, innovation and entrepreneurship to unlock new channels of economic growth which are not dependent on a services economy but which rely on new products and services that can add to industrialisation. South Africa’s vision of an equitable society depends on sustainable long-term development that involves higher economic growth, a lively export market as well as labour-intensive, value-adding economic activity in the production sectors—led by manufacturing. Manufacturing plays a critical role in economic development, and design should be seen as the fizz that’s added to the manufacturing pop. The benefits of adding design to the manufacturing process should be nonnegotiable. Good design can bring down manufacturing costs; it makes products more desirable; it adds to the competitiveness of products in a global marketplace; streamlines processes, and creates systems that ease the manufacturing process. In the end, it boils down to taking your idea and moving it forward with the best team by your side. Welldesigned products, manufactured locally, would be able to create jobs, increase exports, build infrastructure and eventually lead to economic growth that the country so desperately needs at the moment.
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By Sarah Lawson Photograph by Samantha Casolari
Clothing 2.0 I T ’ S A W I- FI H OT S P OT ! I T ’ S A P O LLU T I O N Z A PPER ! IT ’ S B B . SU IT !
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Accessories like wristbands and specs have led the wearable-tech movement, but the BB.Suit is something else altogether. It’s an oddlooking onesie made from a novel fabric custom-woven with microprocessors and a conductive copper yarn, which turn the garment into a GPS–trackable, mobile Wi-Fi transmitter. “I want to develop [textiles] from scratch,” says creator Borre Akkersdijk, who has also done work for Nike and Louis Vuitton. Akkersdijk used 3D knitting machines to thread together the disparate materials, creating the first BB.Suit for last year’s South by Southwest Interactive innovation festival in Austin, Texas; version 0.2 (modelled at left) debuted last September at Beijing Design Week and includes sensors that detect pollution and clean the air around the wearer. Akkersdijk isn’t close to being finished. He and his team are testing yarn made of fibreglass for even more hyperconnectivity. He’s also building out an open-source platform, so app and microchip developers can join him in hacking the next generation of wearables. “When you have a software designer at his computer and there is a knitting machine behind him, you get unexpected crossovers,” he says. “That’s what we’re trying to create.”
75 YEARS OF INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT
AL DEVELOPM DUSTRI ENT SINCE 1940
For 75 years, the IDC has been committed to leading industrial development in South Africa. It is this commitment that has enabled us to grow key industries and facilitate job creation, ensuring a positive contribution to the growth of our economy. If youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re an entrepreneur and have a business plan that is relevant to an industry that the IDC supports and require funding of R1 million or more, take the lead and make history. Call us on 0860 693 888 or visit idc.co.za to learn more about the funding criteria for the sectors that the IDC supports.
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Art credit teekay
GUTTER CREDIT TK
President Obama in Washington, D.C., on April 30, 2015. Photograph by Daniel Shea
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U.S. P R ES IDE N T B A R A C K OB A M A H A S QUIE T LY R E CR UI T E D A S WA R M OF TOP T E CH TA L E N T F R OM T HE L IK ES OF GOOGL E , FA CE B OOK A ND A M A ZON. T HE IR MI S S ION: TO R E B O OT HO W GO V E R NME N T W OR KS GUTTER CREDIT TK
BY JON GERTNER
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DANIEL SHEA
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Art credit teekay
GUTTER CREDIT TK
Obama’s tech startup doesn’t have a name, but it is 140 people strong— and growing.
Art credit teekay
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F O R E R I C M A L A N D, T H E W H O L E T H I N G G O E S B A C K TO T H AT S A N F R A N C I S C O W E D D I N G . M I K E Y W A S N’T T H E R E — W E L L , W A I T, A C T U A L L Y, M I K E Y W A S T H E R E . B U T E R I C D I D N’T M E E T H I M A T T H A T P O I N T. E R I C M E T S O M E OT H E R F O L K S AT T H E W E D D I N G W H O TOLD HIM THEY WERE DOING SOME F I X- IT STU F F I N WA S H I N GTO N , A N D IT SOUNDED KIND OF INTERESTING. And now we’re chatting about it in front of the White House security gate, where we’re waiting to talk with the leaders inside about why guys like Eric are now wandering around this neighbourhood with MacBooks in their shoulder bags and code in their heads. These are the “new techies”, as long-time Washingtonians tend to say, but that’s somewhat imprecise. These are people whose pedigree in Silicon Valley gives them the whispered reputations of gods and goddesses. I look at Eric. He’s wearing a faded T-shirt; his sparse hair is seriously matted down. Did he sleep lately? Exercise? Shave? All debatable. “Ever wonder what you’re doing here?” I ask him. He was the 13th engineer hired at Amazon, the first operations director at Twitter. Like everyone else on the stealth team that President Barack Obama is amassing and deploying inside the government, he never imagined he would live and work in DC. “I guess I just like to fix things that are broken,” he says, shrugging. Then there’s Lisa Gelobter. “Oh, you’ve gotta hear my story,” she says. It’s later that day, and we’re walking near the Washington Monument under a searing midday sun. There was this call she got out of the blue last summer in New York, inviting her to some kind of round-table discussion in Washington for tech leaders. Lisa had just spent time on the upper management teams at Hulu and BET. She decides, reluctantly, that she’ll go take the meeting, which includes this guy named Mikey as well as this other guy named Todd, and turns out to be in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing. Then President Obama opens the door and surprises everyone, and over the course of 45 minutes gives the sales pitch to beat all sales pitches. They need to come work for him. They will need to take a pay cut, the president announces. But he doesn’t care what it takes— he will personally call their bosses, their spouses, their kids to convince them. The crowd laughs. But he gravely responds: I am completely serious. He needs them to overhaul the government’s
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T H E DC TE C H C O R P S’ LEADING EDGE Top row, left to right:
Hillary Hartley CO-FOUNDER, 18F Previously Presidential Innovation Fellow
DJ Patil US CHIEF DATA OFFICER Previously LinkedIn, Greylock Partners, Skype, PayPal, eBay
Matthew Weaver ROGUE LEADER, DIGITAL SERVICES, US DEPT. OF VETER ANS AFFAIRS Previously Google Middle row, left to right:
Megan Smith US CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER Previously Google
Mikey Dickerson ADMINISTRATOR, US DIGITAL SERVICE Previously Google
Haley van Dyck DEPUT Y ADMINISTR ATOR, US DIGITAL SERVICE Previously Obama 2008 campaign, FCC, USAID Bottom row, left to right:
Jason Goldman US CHIEF DIGITAL OFFICER Previously Twitter
Lisa Gelobter CHIEF DIGITAL SERVICE OFFICER, US DEPT. OF EDUCATION Previously Hulu, BET
Tony Scott US CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER Previously VMware, Disney, Microsoft
Art credit teekay
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digital infrastructure now. “What are you going to say to that?” asks Lisa. Oh, and the stories about Weaver. “First name is Matthew,” Weaver says, sitting on a cheap couch in a makeshift office near the White House. But no one calls him Matthew, he explains, since there are too many Matthews in any given room at any given moment. Even among DC’s new technorati, people view Weaver as someone separate from the fray. Maybe it’s because he once lived in a camper in the Google parking lot without going home for an entire year. Maybe it’s because he was the one guy who, if he didn’t answer an emergency call, the whole search engine might go down. Or maybe it’s because in a group of brilliant engineers, Weaver, as one of his new colleagues puts it, stands out as “someone who is, like, superhero-fuckingbrilliant”. Recruited from California last year by these guys Mikey and Todd to work on the broken Healthcare.gov website, Weaver decided this year to stay in DC and leave behind the comfort of Google and a big pile of stock options. He recalls it in terms that suggest the transfixing power of a holy pilgrimage. “That”—he says, meaning the Healthcare.gov fix-it work—“changed my life in a profound way. It made it feel like all my accomplishments in my professional life meant very little compared to getting millions of people through the hospital doors for the first time. And that made me see that I could never do any other work without a public impact.” Weaver now spends his days in the guts of the Veterans Administration, helping the agency’s digital team upgrade their systems and website—and trying to reboot the way government works. As an early test to see if he could challenge the VA’s protocol, he insisted, successfully, that his official government title be Rogue Leader. And so he is: Rogue Leader Weaver. Todd and Mikey—the ones who helped bring people like Eric Maland, Lisa Gelobter and Weaver here—are, respectively, Todd Park, the former chief technology officer of the United States, and Mikey Dickerson, who led a team of 60 engineers at Google and supervised the crew that fixed the Healthcare.gov website last year. Since that time, Park and Dickerson have been steadily recruiting an elite digital corps—a startup team, essentially, built mainly from the
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ranks of top private-sector companies—and embedding them within the US government. Their purpose is to remake the digital systems by which government operates, to implement the kind of efficiency and agility and effectiveness that define Silicon Valley’s biggest successes, across everything from the Internal Revenue Service to Immigration Services. “We’ve got about 140 people in the network right now,” Park says of the digital team. “The goal is to get it to about 500 by the end of 2016.” Whether Park and Dickerson can find enough superstar techies to take a flyer on this risky project is just one of many concerns. There are bigger questions, too, such as whether a small number of technologists can actually bring about vast changes within the most massive, powerful, bureaucratic regime on Earth. It helps that the two men have substantial “air cover”, as President Obama describes it in an exclusive, in-person interview with Fast Company. For the past year, the president explains, he has personally helped Park and his team hire talent and implement their ideas across a host of government agencies. While the reasons behind this initiative and its scope have not been made clear before, in the president’s view, the idea of building a “pipeline” of tech talent in Washington starts with practical appeal: Better digital tools could upgrade the websites of, say, the Veterans Administration, so users get crucial services that save time, money and (for veterans in need of medical help) lives. “But what we realised was, this could be a recipe for something larger,” the president explains. “You will have a more user-friendly government, a more responsive government; a government that can work with individuals on individual problems in a more tailored way, because the technology facilitates that the same way it increasingly does for private-sector companies.” In other words, if Obama’s tech team can successfully rebuild the digital infrastructure of Washington—an outcome that is by no means certain yet—you may not only change its functionality. You may transform Americans’ attitudes about government, too. And you may even boost their waning feelings of empowerment in an ideologically riven country of 320 million people. In the meantime, do you also end up with a dedicated group of Rogue Leader Weavers where none existed before? Tech geniuses who embrace public service as an essential element of their careers? The president is betting on that outcome as well. Get the country’s technologists to change Washington, the theory goes, and maybe—just maybe—you end up changing the country’s culture of technology, too. The new hub of Washington’s tech insurgency is something known as the US Digital Service, which is headquartered in a stately brick townhouse half a block from the White House. USDS employees tend to congregate with their laptops at a long table at the back half of the parlour floor. If there’s no room, they retreat downstairs to a low-ceilinged basement, sprawling on cushioned chairs. Apart from an air-hockey table, there aren’t many physical reminders of West Coast startup culture—a lot of the new techies are issued BlackBerrys, which seems to cause them near-physical pain. Nevertheless, the corps at USDS tends to rely on the same jargon you hear around Silicon Valley these days. They’ll say they’re here to “iterate”, or to “deliver product”, or to “JFDI” (that is, “just fucking do it”). When I wander downstairs one morning in late April, Ben Maurer, a young engineer on sabbatical from Facebook, is huddling with a few colleagues on a project for the Department of Defence. “I’m not just fixing bugs here,” he informs me, looking up from his laptop for about a nanosecond before going back to his coding. He seems tired but pleased to work on something big—in this case, to map out a broad digital structure for an upcoming project at the mammoth agency. To a certain extent, the Obama administration has always been a comfortable place for techies like Maurer; the president—whose 2008 campaign was arguably the most convincing demonstration at the time of social media potential—was the first chief executive to appoint a chief technology officer and, more recently, a chief data officer. “Government has done technology and IT terribly over the last 30 years and fallen very much behind the private sector,” Obama says. “And when I came into government, what surprised me most was that gap.” But creating high-level positions like the CTO was a route to better government technology
“WH AT WE RE A LISED WAS, THIS COULD BE A RECIPE FOR SOMETHING L ARGER,” THE PRESIDENT EXPL AINS. IF THE TECH TEAM SUCCEEDS, IT COULD TRANSFORM AMERICANS’ AT TITUDES ABOUT GOVERNMENT.
policy, not necessarily better operations. Besides, the immediate priority was addressing the economic crisis and resolving military entanglements. Tech moved up on the punch list in 2013 due to a new crisis: the Healthcare.gov fiasco. When the president’s key legislative achievement was mortally threatened by a non-functioning website, Todd Park, as CTO, was among those asked to help rescue the endeavour. Before his stint in government, Park had started two medical IT companies now valued at over R12 billion each, and it was that experience, not policy or politics, that he called upon. Park recruited Dickerson from Google, as well as a half-dozen other engineers. This small team, working around the clock in Maryland, fixed the site in seven hectic weeks. Not only did the effort “save the president’s baby”, as one former White House staffer puts it, it crystallised within the administration the impact that just a handful of deeply talented techies could have on our government’s functionality. And it prompted Obama, Park and their colleagues to wonder: Could an infusion of West Coast tech talent become permanent? What might that achieve? As it turned out, there was a model to follow. The British government had demonstrated that the best digital practices from the private sector could be applied to the public realm with transformative results, through an initiative known as the Government Digital Service. (A columnist at The Guardian lamented that he couldn’t invest in the GDS, even though it seemed like the best tech startup in Europe.) Park, meanwhile, had already put some pieces in place: a programme known as the Presidential Innovation Fellows, begun in 2012, which brought bright
GUTTER CREDIT TK
Todd Park has just 18 months—until the Obama administration ends—to recruit a tech corps of 500.
“WE NEED BOTH KINDS OF PEOPLE,” SAYS PARK. “PEOPLE WHO CAN HACK THE TECHNOLOGY AND PEOPLE WHO CAN HACK THE BUREAUCRACY.”
young technologists into government for 12-month stints; and a group called 18F, within the government’s General Services Administration, that deployed graduates of the fellows programme to other government agencies on a project basis. With the backing of the president, Park scaled up his recruiting efforts. His outwardfacing policy job became focused on building an internal tech team. Dickerson had returned to the West Coast after Healthcare.gov—his goal was to sleep as much as possible for several weeks straight. But in May 2014, he came back to Washington for a meeting with Park, who harangued him late into the evening at the Shake Shack in DuPont Circle, the favoured hangout of the West Coast techies. Park wanted Dickerson to pick up where he left off at Healthcare.gov and lead a new and more ambitious project. The two were gently kicked out of the restaurant by a manager locking up for the night. But by that point, Dickerson had decided to commit to running a new central technology bureau. The USDS opened for business a few months later. One morning in late April I sat down at USDS headquarters for several hours with Park, Dickerson and Haley van Dyck who, with Dickerson, helps run the USDS. If the president is effectively the CEO of the White House’s tech startup, Park would be its chief strategist. He is excitable and charming, with a cyclonic energy that helps explain why he’s been so successful as a talent recruiter. When he talks about two ideas, or two people, he very much likes, he blurts out, “This is a total double-helix of awesomeness!” In describing the level of difficulty the new tech team in DC faces, he exhorts, “This is DARPA meets the Peace Corps meets SEAL Team Six!” (“Todd is the most enthusiastic person I know,” says Obama.) Dickerson, by contrast, does not emote. In fact, Dickerson comes off at first glance as grumpy and rumpled—someone who, in a not-toodistant era, might have made an excellent
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“WE CAN G E T A R E A L LY B I G P AY - O F F ” IN A N E XCLU S I V E A ND W IDE - R A NGING C ON V E R S AT ION, T HE P R ES IDE N T E X P L A IN S HIS TA K E ON WA S HINGTON ’ S T E C HNOLO GY P R OB L E M S—A ND HI S S OLU T ION S INTERVIEW BY ROBERT SAFIAN
Fast Company: From the outside, looking at all the different things that your digital teams are doing, it can feel diffuse, because it is dispersed. What are the overarching goals here? President Barack Obama: If you think of a startup, you figure out, Is there something big enough that is worthwhile doing? How do you get the best people on board? How are you going to make sure that you’re serving your customer out there well? And what we’ve tried to do with the US digital team—and our whole conception of technology generally—is to identify some big projects that will impact a lot of people. Because of this upgrade in technology, in delivery systems, in data . . . x million people are getting their veterans benefits faster. Or x hundreds of thousands of people are getting their green cards processed more efficiently. Or x thousands of small businesses are having their loans processed more effectively. Although it’s true that this is something we hope ultimately will touch all of government, we know there are very specific areas where, if we leverage the best technology teams in the world and we pair them up with some really
effective government managers, then we can get a really big pay-off. Do you have a vision of it all coming together and turning into something bigger? You know, the federal government is full of really smart people, with a lot of integrity, who work really hard and do some incredible stuff. And it’s on par with the private sector on all those measures. But technology [has been] terrible. And for me, given that our campaigns both in 2008 and 2012 were built on being at the very cutting edge of social media and technology and empowering people and speed and nimbleness, to see how lumbering this thing was, that was pretty distressing. So I started working fairly quickly to say, This wasn’t good enough, how do we make it better? We started putting more emphasis on technology and IT in each department. But I’ll be honest with you. With all the crises we were dealing with—the economy collapsing, the auto industry on the verge of collapse, winding down wars—this did not get the kind of laser-focused attention until Healthcare.
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clerk in a video-rental store. Then you talk with him and wish to take back your first impression. Dickerson is an uncommonly skilled engineer with a deadpan wit and an unflappable nature. When I ask how he feels about the tech surge scaling up, he says, “Yeah, I’m losing all that free time I had.” His business card carries no title but reads: don’t panic. Park calls him Buddha. Outsiders often make the mistake of perceiving Washington’s technical problems as the result of a dearth of engineering talent. This makes it tempting to frame the current wave of hires from Google and elsewhere as a wartime tactical team moving in to save us from the city’s existing coding barbarians. But this is not quite correct. For one thing, the people Park and Dickerson are luring here aren’t just software engineers; they’re data scientists, user-experience gurus, product managers and design savants. For another, these people are being matched with government insiders who can advise them on how to deploy private-sector tools like Amazon Web Services, for instance, that have long been considered forbidden within the Beltway, or how the procurement of contractors can be improved. Usually this involves cutting a jungle path through thousands of pages of overgrown government regulations. As Park says, “We need both kinds: people who can hack the technology, as well as people who can hack the bureaucracy.” The complexity is formidable. If you put your engineer’s hat on, Dickerson says, you can look at government’s approach to tech and decide that it’s pretty much insane. But if you consider it as an anthropologist may (“If you’re studying this alien culture,” he says, “and you ask, Why do they behave so strangely?”), you see that DC has developed its dysfunctions for deep, structural reasons. For instance, Washington has plenty of smart people, Dickerson says. But they have been removed from the extraordinary growth— only occurring during the past decade, really—of the handful of West Coast companies that can now manage “planetscale websites”, as Dickerson puts it. Above all, there is the inertia of the past. One of the first lessons Dickerson learnt about DC when he arrived was that the city traditionally conflates the importance of a task with its cost. Healthcare.gov ultimately became an $800-million (close to R10-billion) project, with 55 contracting companies involved. “And of course, it didn’t work,” he says. “They set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to build a website because it was a big, important website. But compare that to Twitter, which took three rounds of funding
build that culture of service, then, what I do believe will happen is the government as a whole will start thinking about its relationship to citizens differently. And that can be transformative—not only in terms of people getting better service or government being more efficient, but in changing people’s attitudes about government. So the stakes here are making the government more competent, more efficient, more impactful? Absolutely. Well, look, here’s what we know historically: That societies in which there is no effective functioning government don’t do very well. Societies in which government is all-consuming and quashes the private sector, they don’t do very well, either. What you want is a partnership between a robust market-based system where people are innovating, and it’s dynamic, and things are moving fast, but you also want a government that makes sure roads are built; and schools are teaching the next generation what they need to know; [a government] that’s willing to invest in things like basic research that serve as the foundation for private sector success and discovery . . . and which has enough basic rules of the road so it isn’t spilling a bunch of sludge into the water, and the air is breathable. And, you know, our private sector thrives because we historically have had a very effective government. Now, over the last several years, that has become more ossified and stuck. And it hasn’t kept pace with changes in technology. And part of what we’re doing here is to yank government—upgrade it, patch it and ultimately transform it, so that it is responsive and can interface with this ‘new’ private sector in a much more effective way.
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President Obama with Fast Company US editor-in-chief, Robert Safian
gov, which was a well-documented disaster, but ended up being the catalyst for us saying, “Okay, we have to completely revamp how we do things.” The results there were so outstanding, and because we discovered there are folks at Google and Facebook and Twitter and all these amazing firms who really wanted to find some way to engage in public service—and many of them could afford to do so because they had done very well. . . . To go back to your original question, if we are able through the US digital team to recruit a baseline of talent and create a pipeline: On a regular basis, top technology folks are cycling in for a one- or two-year stint, making a difference and improving the lives of veterans or improving our education system, or just making sure the social security network is operating efficiently. And if we
“WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE IS TO YANK GOVERNMENT— UPGRADE IT, PATCH IT, AND ULTIMATELY TRANSFORM IT.”
Are there things you have learnt from having these technologists around? Well, it’s probably not as much of a culture clash for me, for the reason I mentioned earlier: Our campaign was built around these guys. We were some of the first users of Facebook, MySpace. I had a bunch of 23- and 25-year-olds tinkering around, and the next thing you knew they had created some new application and they’d explain to me how it was working and why it was that eight people in Idaho without any staff or direction had suddenly organised a 15 000-person meeting. Right? And I started paying attention. And so I was pretty familiar with—and pretty comfortable with—working with our tech folks. I think where they’re having more of an impact is in their interactions with the agencies, and the IT teams at the VA, or at HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development], or some of these huge organisations that contain a lot of excellent people, but have been so stifled sometimes by this rule, or this statute, or this traditional approach to how we
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before it got to about the same number of users as Healthcare.gov—8 million to 10 million users. In those three rounds of funding, the whole thing added up to about $60 million [R740 million].” Dickerson believes that the Healthcare.gov project could have been done with a similar size budget. But there wasn’t anyone to insist that the nowwell-established Silicon Valley practice of building “agile” software—rolling out a digital product in stages; testing it; improving it; and repeating the process for continuous improvement—would be vastly superior to (and much, much cheaper than) a patchwork of contractors building out a complete and monolithic website. In his Fast Company interview, President Obama remarks that he made a significant mistake in thinking that government could use traditional methods to build something—Healthcare.gov—that had never been built before. “When you’re dealing with IT and software and program design,” the president explains, “it’s a creative process that can’t be treated the same way as a bulk purchase of pencils.” Which is not to say that replacing Washington’s culture with that of Silicon Valley should be the goal. Some hybrid of tech people who can innovate with patience rather than aggression may be more effective. Dickerson notes that government tech contractors, even the most skillful ones, face the arduous challenge of trying to repair an ageing digital system without compromising any essential services. The method for issuing Social Security cheques, for instance, relies upon old mainframe servers running on the dying COBOL computer language. “That’s fine, and it’s lasted them a long time,” Dickerson says. But the people who can maintain and operate that generation of technology are not going to live forever; indeed, many of them are past retirement age already. In this case, the West Coast mentality could be counterproductive. “There’s an attitude in the entrepreneurial private sector where we don’t care what came before us: We’re going to disrupt it,” Dickerson explains. “But we are not going to disrupt Social Security. That’s a big reason it’s so hard to make these changes, because you can’t interrupt the flow of operations.” Dickerson adds, “It will not work, and you will not go far, if you come here with a big attitude, saying, ‘You people are stupid, get out of the way and we’ll show you how it’s done.’ ” Are there really people like that in the Valley? I ask. Dickerson laughs. The people he’s directing, he says, tend to be the more humble types. And the folks interested in
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curated meals and big equity packages and uncompromising disruption didn’t come east to help him. This is not the place for them anyway, he says. They just wouldn’t get it. We’re not choosing these types of people when we recruit, Van Dyck, the USDS deputy, adds. “And they’re not choosing us, either.” The White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, enjoys walking meetings, so one morning he guides me through the corridors of the West Wing and out onto the South Lawn, where we spend 25 minutes doing brisk laps around a circular driveway flanked by green grass and blooming gardens. McDonough points out the Rose Garden and relates a few historical titbits about the White House grounds. But mostly we talk about the larger goals of the tech insurgency. As he sees it, the web and technology tools “flatten everything” by allowing Americans to engage with government more directly. So the notion that better tech will yield better democratic engagement is to both him and the president an aspirational—and logical—pursuit. But McDonough also believes there will be other immediate benefits. The transparency that technology enables (consider, for instance, how health insurance plans can now be easily compared online) will not only yield tremendous efficiencies. It can allow Americans to have better control over their own decisions—to interact with government in the same glitch-free way we do with iTunes or Amazon. “Why should we be immune?” he says. “Everything else is getting done faster. Why should this institution be different?” McDonough tells me that he admires how the tech insurgents have brought to DC their skills and collaborative habits, as well as what he calls a “hunger” for increasing performance. He stops walking and turns to me to say, “They are in an industry that has constantly reinvented itself and become more efficient. And that’s because at the heart of that industry is the belief that you’re going to get twice as good every two years, and that’s held for 50 years.” There is no Moore’s Law for government—at least not yet. And another thing that McDonough, Park and Dickerson must confront is that this government startup will never have the same lean, concentrated focus of a private-sector company. Indeed, the tech insurgency is not even being built all in one place. Dickerson’s USDS currently employs 37 people, but it is only one aspect of an endeavour that has grown organically and sprawls all over Washington. It doesn’t even have a proper name. Park tends to describe the new tech corps as a “three-layer cake”. USDS is the first layer—a group of technologists who strategise about what projects should become government priorities and which people should work on them. The second layer is 18F—a group of 90 technologists and designers who work within the General Services Administration a few blocks away. 18F takes its name from its address (the GSA building is at 18th and F Streets) and has informal ties to USDS, but it is essentially a service agency. The group can take on jobs from anywhere within government that’s in need of digital help. Unlike USDS, it doesn’t necessarily follow the president’s political priorities. And the third layer? That would be the tech teams, ranging in size from five people to 50, that will be installed within 25 government agencies over the course of the next 18 months. These teams will consult regularly with USDS for guidance and may utilise 18F for its services. The first wave is being led by people like Lisa Gelobter, who was given the hard sell by the president in the Roosevelt Room and who now works in the Department of Education. Matthew Weaver, formerly of Google, leads another group at the Veterans Administration. The “tech cake” is only a metaphor, of course. And while visiting the different layers of the cake over the course of a week, I began to wonder if it’s the wrong one. What the designers of this effort actually want to create is something more dynamic—in effect, a technology ecosystem that long outlasts their stints in government. In that regard, you may consider Washington’s tech landscape, as it currently exists, as a kind of brown and barren field. And on that field, consider each agency as having a fenced-in plot of land. The USDS works now as landscape architects—the ones who design what kind of trees and plantings will go in each plot, and who will do the work. The people at 18F function like a nursery and contractors—they’ll provide the healthiest trees and do the plantings, either on their own or via someone they trust. They’ll even teach you how to be a good gardener.
“EVERYTHING ELSE IS GETTING DONE FASTER,” SAYS CHIEF OF STAFF MCDONOUGH. “WHY SHOULD THIS INSTITUTION BE DIFFERENT?”
Meanwhile, the tech teams at agencies like Education and Veterans will take what USDS and 18F advise to make their plot flourish. The overarching goal here is to get everything to grow together—very tall, very fast, inevitably joining up into a forest canopy so as to create a functional and interconnected system. “If we’re trying to build new services that serve the public good, then the mechanism by which we do that is by combined services talking to each and getting you what you want,” says DJ Patil, another Silicon Valley recruit of Park’s, who works closely with USDS and serves as US chief data officer. Plus, he adds, “If we combine systems, what kind of cool, amazing things will we find? What happens when we bring together climate data with health information—can we understand how the changing environment is impacting our health?” If it’s still too early to say whether this technology ecosystem will flourish, it is nonetheless true that the tech surge has moved beyond its conceptual stages. Various teams are now engaged in rolling out projects. One day in Washington I spend the afternoon at 18F, a large, bright, open space, where teams of two or three work at white tables. The group has 15 contracted projects under way. “Our two primary areas are delivery and consulting,” says Hillary Hartley, who leads 18F. Delivery, she explains, “is where we would build the thing for an agency—the website, the service, the online transaction, whatever.” That’s what most of the teams in front of us are up to. “Consulting is where we’re helping the client do some of the design thinking, or problem scoping,” so they can figure out what to buy from a vendor. We sit down with a team trying to revamp the Peace Corps website, then we walk over to chat with another team that recently created a user-friendly analytics web page, analytics.usa.gov, that tracks which government websites are trending (a National Weather Service page usually tops the list). The goal here is to reveal how US citizens use government websites, and to spark healthy competition among agencies to create more popular services. In keeping with the tech corps’ guiding principles, everything is open source, so outsiders are free to adapt the program. And they do: A few weeks after the analytics website went live, Philadelphia used the program for its own analytics website, which the 18F team considered a measure of success. Thanks to their open-source code, they had improved government without doing any extra work. We visit another team at a nearby table. At this point, probably the most important work at 18F, done in conjunction with USDS, involves overhauling the Immigration Services website. 18F is helping to redesign the site to drastically improve the user experience—for instance, by simplifying searches to aid those whose facility with English may be limited. Meanwhile, USDS is labouring deep beneath the surface. One of the initial goals is to rebuild the technology for a form known as the I-90. It’s how legal immigrants whose green cards are lost or stolen apply for a replacement, and the current process—paper-based and slow—can take as long as eight months. In creating a digital tracking form and a better online application, the designers think they can reduce the time to a fraction of that. And that’s only one bureaucratic improvement at one agency. There are dozens of other forms on the Immigration Services website alone, which hints at the scale for improvement. “This is a $75-billion [almost R930-billion] technology market,” Andrew McMahon, a co-founder of 18F along with Hartley, says of the annual government IT budget. “So if you wonder, How far can we reach? Well, I think it’s kind of limitless.” Hartley, for her part, notes that 18F couldn’t actually capture all of that IT work. “Our underlying goal is to make better clients, and to make the agencies understand a new way of doing things,” she says. “We’re never going to be big enough to take on the $75-billion market. But we will be big enough to help people out there make better decisions on how to build, or buy, their digital services.” The paradox here is that when the tech teams succeed with a project like the I-90 form, or with any retooled government website, users likely won’t think much about it. It will be fast and intuitive. It will not crash when you use it. And you will then get on with your life. When I ask Dickerson what USDS’s biggest win has been since its start, he points to the open-enrolment season for Healthcare.gov, which went smoothly this year as compared to last year’s debacle. “That’s a big accomplishment,” he says, “but we don’t have any coverage of it because there’s
do something. And so, part of the reason we’ve been successful so far is I have essentially provided air cover for these teams because I can call up the secretary of transportation, or HUD, or the Small Business Administration, and say: “I want this to happen. And I don’t want us to find a reason not to do it just because it hasn’t been done before. And I want us to bring together a team to be as creative as possible.” And by loosening up some of those constraints, our team can come in and, I think, be really successful. So that, more than anything, has been the adjustment. I think there are some things we’re going to have to institutionalise to take full advantage of some of those changes in culture. And probably the best example is how we have, in the federal government, purchased IT generally. Part of the problem with Healthcare. gov was not that we didn’t have a lot of hardworking people paying attention to it, but traditionally the way you purchase IT services, software and programs is by using the same procurement rules and specification rules that were created in the 1930s. . . . What we know is, the best designs and best programs are iterative: You start out with “What do you want to accomplish?” The team starts brainstorming and thinking about it, and ultimately you come up with something and you test it. And that’s not how we did Healthcare.gov. It’s something, by the way, I should have caught, I should have anticipated: that you couldn’t use traditional procurement mechanisms in order to build something that had never been built before and was pretty complicated. So part of what we’re going to have to do is simply change culture, change administrative habits, and get everybody thinking in a different way. Arguably, the next killer app for tech would be online voting. That’s a state and local issue, but I wondered whether you think it’s something that should be a priority for technologists? Absolutely. So we’ve been talking about the US digital team, and a lot of this is: How do we deliver services better to customers? But there are other aspects of this process that we are trying to d evelop. We want technology to help shape policy. Think about our big data projects. We know that in the same way the National Weather Service or the development of GPS and satellites created entire new ways that people organised their lives, in healthcare, for example, there are going to be transformations taking place because of the ability to collect and analyse data and then transmit it in very individualised fashion to people. And so in our policy making, we’re trying to make sure that insights and knowledge coming out of tech are informing how we think about regulations, how we think about opportunities to solve big challenges. But there is a third part to this: How do people engage
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and relate to their government? You know, our constitutional design is remarkable; it has lasted for many years. But it’s no secret that many people feel alienated and distant from government. And I think the opportunities for us to think about how tech can empower citizens and make them feel ownership for their government is really important. Some of it is as simple as giving people quick, easy access to information about how taxpayer money is spent, or improving transparency, or being able to navigate a site easily. But eventually, what we should also be thinking about is, How can technology enhance the experience of democracy? How can we make it easier to vote? How can we make it easier for like-minded citizens to petition their government in a way that is meaningful? And so, a lot of what we’re doing now, I believe, is just scratching the surface of potential. And I look at my daughters, who are, as every teenage kid is today, completely fluent in technology and social media. They may not go to a town hall meeting physically, the way their grandmother might have around some issue, and sit through a two-hour debate. Because they’re just used to things moving faster. But we can imagine creating a corollary process for them that is consistent with how they interact generally. We can think of apps that promote engagement and the power of people. Their expectations are different, and how they build communities are different. They may be less geographically based. So that’s stuff we’re spending a lot of time thinking about as well. And this is not something I believe will be done in two years, by the end of my term. The most important thing we’re doing is building a pipeline, a set of traditions, in which really smart folks from the private sector can come in, and hopefully a tradition whereby the president recognises what a powerful tool that is and provides them the space to do their thing. When I’m out of government, I’ll continue working on promoting social change and building platforms and engines for social change, and I think the experiences I’ve had here will enhance that. But this is something all of us in every level of public life should be thinking about. Because, ultimately, our goal is—or should be—to make “we the people” mean something in a 21st-century context. And I think this is part of that process.
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nothing to say. The train wreck didn’t happen. We’re proud of that.” The biggest problem with assessing tech startups is that most of them sound pretty good at the start. And even if you know the odds going in—that by some estimates, nine out of 10 will fail within a few years—it doesn’t necessarily dim the shine of a new idea. Without question, a tech startup of 100-plus people, backed by the president and working deep within government, differs from a startup involving three guys in a Palo Alto crash pad cluttered with fast-food wrappers. As Park perceives the government mission: “This may be more like what some large corporations have done to basically disrupt themselves.” Still, if you were a venture capitalist trying to game out the odds of success here, you might go through the risk factors facing the US Digital Service, 18F and the tech teams now growing within various agencies. As a risky and ambitious startup, how do they measure up? First, there’s what we may think of as “talent risk”—as they scale, are these the right people for the right job? Tech managers like Dickerson and Weaver already proved their mettle during the Healthcare.gov rescue, and the folks now being lured to DC by Park’s team are arguably among the industry’s best. They are screened not only for IQ but for EQ (emotional intelligence). So they seem to pass that test. And that means we may next consider the risks of the tech corps’ resources: Do they have the wherewithal and organisational structure to make this take root within government? There are a number of reasons, some highly technical, to think the corps have a reasonable chance. One should never underestimate the difficulty of getting Washington to move forward quickly—or logically. What’s more, budgets can always be vulnerable to political fights in congress. But the architects of the USDS— especially Park, Dickerson and Van Dyck—made sure their bureau was ensconced within the Office of Management and Budget, which gives the techies muscle within various agencies and an ability to influence various IT budgets and lines of command. What’s more, with the solid backing of the president and his chief of staff, the USDS has enough of what Dickerson calls “hard power” to fix important problems around town. Quite simply, the president can (and does) ask his cabinet secretaries to take seriously any USDS overtures to work on projects within their agencies. What about the market risk? Will there be enough business in DC for the tech teams? If you’ve ever been on, say, the US Department of Education’s site, it’s a question that answers itself. Van Dyck tells me “there are now lines around the block” to tap the USDS’s services. McDonough says, “Those guys”—the USDS—“went over to brief the secretary of defence and he said, ‘I’m sold. Give me 10 teams.’ ” The techies’ market demand is further buttressed by a lack of competition. The USDS is helping agencies find the best contractors, not competing with contractors or agencies. So, arguably, they pass this test, too.
THOSE AT USDS AND 18F DON’T SEEM TO DOUBT THEY’LL HAVE AN IMPACT. INDEED, THEY BELIEVE IT’S OBVIOUS ALREADY.
GALLO IMAGES/GETT Y IMAGES/CHIP SOMODEVILLA
President Obama asks potential recruits: “Is there a way for us to harness this incredible set of tools you’re developing for more than just cooler games or a quicker way for my teenage daughters to send pictures to each other?”
An unresolvable risk nevertheless hangs over the whole endeavour: the risk of running out of time. Many of those working with USDS talk about getting to “escape velocity”, which means getting the speed and momentum necessary, much like a rocket at lift-off, before Obama’s second term ends. “We have 630 more days,” Dickerson tells me in late April. “We have booster rockets for those 630 days to get us into orbit. If [USDS] achieves a stable orbit in that time, then it will be here for a generation, or maybe longer.” And what if the next US president has a different agenda? In a number of conversations, I came away with the impression that improving government technology is less politically fraught, and less partisan, than other Obama initiatives—yet it still may be the case that a future administration dismantles what Dickerson and Park are building, or even eliminates the office of chief technology officer.
“I don’t personally worry about it a ton,” Dickerson says with a shrug. “Because the things we set out for ourselves just for the next two years—I mean, if we accomplish just those things, it will be worth all the effort, even if it all goes up in smoke just after.” Those at USDS and 18F don’t seem to doubt they’ll have an impact. Indeed, they believe it’s obvious already. By constantly testing their software with users, they can gauge improvements in real time. Some of those upgrades may seem minor now, but they should, in time and in sum, add up to something significant—and perhaps something very big. Even if you never go onto the improved Veterans or Immigration websites, you may soon find that, say, the Federal Student Loan pages (a forthcoming project of Dickerson’s) are improved so that better information and clearer navigation increases participation and reduces defaults. It doesn’t seem to matter, in this case or others, that USDS teams as small as five or 10 people will be working inside agencies much larger than Google, Apple or even General Motors. As the Healthcare.gov rescue effort demonstrated—or any successful startup in Silicon Valley can prove—a very small number of tech people can have a disproportionate effect. What about the effects on the recruits themselves? In terms of looking for meaningful work, the tech industry may not be what it was; one running joke on HBO’s Silicon Valley is that everyone has been led to believe they’re changing the world with their app or algorithm, even when they obviously aren’t. Meanwhile, at the actual Silicon Valley companies that have genuinely changed global culture and business— Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter—there may be a different dynamic. As those companies grow ever larger, the contributions of individual engineers may seem proportionately ever smaller. At least so far, these factors have created a pool of top-tier candidates open to taking on other kinds of work with depth and import. And the point for Obama is not to sell these candidates on a career in government, but rather to enlist them in a stint of a year or two at USDS, or even a few months. For decades, accomplished lawyers and economists have worked in the capital between privatesector jobs, so why not technologists? “What I think this does,” says Megan Smith, current US chief technology officer, who spent much of her career at Google, “is really provide a third option. In addition to joining a friend’s startup or a big company, there’s now Washington.” This idea appeals greatly to the president—in fact, it was built into the USDS design from the start. “I’m having personal conversations with folks, meeting with them, or groups of them, and pitching them,” Obama says. “And my pitch is that the tech community is more creative, more innovative, more collaborative and open to new ideas than any sector on Earth. But sometimes what’s missing is purpose. To what end are we doing this?” As the president explains, he asks potential recruits: “Is there a way for us to harness this incredible set of tools you’re developing for more than just cooler games or a quicker way for my teenage daughters to send pictures to each other?” For the time being, at least, there seems to be. HBO may want to consider an onlocation shoot. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Changing the odds 3 0 % CLU B FO U N D ER H ELEN A M O R R I S S E Y I S O U T TO CO N V I N CE T H E WO R LD T H AT WO M EN A R E G O O D FO R B U S I N E S S By Linda Kinstler
Photograph by Geordie Wood
Five years ago, Helena Morrissey set herself a seemingly impossible challenge: persuade the chairmen and CEOs of Europe’s largest corporations that their boards should be at least 30% female. Today, she’s tantalisingly close to achieving her goal—and is expanding her efforts to reach companies around the world.
T he pr o b l e m Early in her tenure as CEO of Newton, a UK–based investment management firm, Morrissey started an initiative to increase women’s representation in the higher ranks of the company, which at the time was less than 15% female. Five years later, with no results to speak of, she was almost ready to give up.
T he e p i p h any No limits Gender quotas aren’t the solution, Morrissey says. Real change is needed.
Morrissey studied up and found that 30% tends to be the threshold where a minority voice becomes
more than just a token part of a group. She shared her findings with 15 fellow female executives, and together they hashed out what would become the 30% Club. “We decided it would be focused to start with,” Morrissey says. Their goal: to make the boards of all companies on the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 index at least 30% female by the end of 2015.
T h e exec u t i on The 30% Club frames its mission as a business imperative: Diverse boards are more innovative. Morrissey won the support of a core group of what she calls “enlightened” chairmen and CEOs (many of whom had daughters) and the message spread from there. “Their evangelism about this issue has really transformed the thinking,” Morrissey says.
T he r e s u l t There are no all-male boards left on the FTSE 100, and 23 companies have already reached the 30% mark. 30% Club chapters have been formed in the US, Hong Kong, Ireland and East Africa, with launches in Italy, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf planned for later this year. The progress vindicates Morrissey’s philosophy: “Fighting against the established position doesn’t get you as far as changing it,” she says.
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Due to a SENTER 360 world-rst patent that is tted as standard to every SENTER 360 centre pivot, we constantly keep your SENTER 360s’ last sprinklers clean. As a result you DO NOT lose the outside hectares of your expensively planted and fertilised crop anymore as is commonly “accepted” worldwide by centre pivot manufacturers and irrigation farmers alike due to blockages during the irrigation cycle.
The extremely strong (strongest in the business) and balanced pipe structure will last longer through those unexpected gale forces and trying conditions that nature so often throws at us.
Our standard, accurate and intelligent direct millimetre adjustable speed-control unit ensures that you apply the exact millimetres required every time, not guessing and over- or under-irrigating.
Our optional, accurate, multi-level soil moisture measuring devices empower you to determine and irrigate the exact amount needed for your crop, proven not only to save you water and preserve your fertiliser, but also to ensure higher yields. Independent tests show less water used and higher yields achieved every time.
It’s not only another centre pivot... it’s a SENTER 360! Tel: +27 18 469 1331 Email: email@example.com www.senter360.co.za
Africa’s pivot of success
A leading light JA S A N D R A N Y K ER I S EM P OW ER I N G LO C A L TA LEN T TO P OW ER A FR I C A W I T H R EN E WA B LE S
By Laurianne Claase
Shared energy Nyker says there’s very little hierarchy within BioTherm. “Anyone’s ideas are as important as mine.”
CRE ATI V E CON V ERSATION
In the midst of the dark cloud cast by Eskom, there is a silver lining— the growth of renewable energy generated by successful public– private partnerships (PPPs). It is well known that South Africa is the world’s fifth-largest producer of coal, which we use to fire our power stations which, in turn, contribute to our 11th-place world ranking for total carbon dioxide emissions. Few are aware, however, that in 2014 South Africa, along with China and Brazil, were among the top 10 countries in renewable energy investment. In August 2011, the South African government published the Request for Proposals in terms of its Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). To date, the initiative has attracted R193 billion in private investment. The target was to procure 3 625 megawatts of new power generation in five bidding rounds by 2016. As of June 2015, 1 800MW have been added to the national grid. Medupi coal-power station, by comparison, will provide 4 800MW when it is finally operational. Work on Medupi began in 2007 and is unlikely to be completed until 2019. In a scant three-and-a-half years, renewable energy has added more than a third of Medupi’s maximum capacity. Wind and solar plants are quick to build, with construction typically taking around a year. Most of the renewable projects from bidding windows 1 and 2 have already come on line, saving South Africa around R3.7 billion in the cost of diesel and coal, estimated a study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The price of renewables is also coming down rapidly, with the cost of wind and solar energy now competing favourably with Eskom’s average tariff of 76c per kilowatt-hour. Since the first round of bids in 2011, the price of solar has decreased by 76% and wind by 55%. In contrast, Medupi’s projected costs have ballooned from R52 billion to R130 billion.
These PPPs are creating jobs and uplifting communities in some of the least developed provinces in the country—like the Northern Cape, which boasts some of the most favourable conditions for solar power in the world. Successful tenders must meet socioeconomic development requirements including: a minimum of 40% South African entity participation; a minimum black ownership of 12% with a target of 20%; and a minimum of 2.5% ownership by communities living within a 50-kilometre radius of the project site. While lack of experience and access to capital has seen South African players outbid by international utilities, a local independent power producer is setting the benchmark for what companies need to be in order to build infrastructure in Africa. Johannesburg-based BioTherm Energy was founded in 2003, with an initial focus on capturing and converting the waste from energy-intensive industries. The company signed its first big contract in 2006 for the PetroSA 4.2MW biogas project in Mossel Bay. The plant took 11 months to construct, coming on line in September 2007. A year later, in November 2008, it secured a US$150-million (R1.56-billion at the time) capital investment from global private equity firm, Denham Capital. Jasandra Nyker took over the helm of BioTherm Energy as CEO in July 2011. Originally from KwaZuluNatal, the University of Cape Town–graduate has an MBA from the London Business School, and a background in private equity, both locally and abroad. She gained experience in alternative-energy investments during the heyday of the renewables revolution in the United States and Europe. Nyker brought her broad exposure to clean-
Power to the people The 10MW Aries Solar PV Energy Facility is located on a 20-hectare site approximately 36km southwest of Kenhardt in the Northern Cape.
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energy technologies and projects infrastructure to the company. “When I started at BioTherm, we had 4.2MW in operation,” she tells me in the lobby of her hotel as the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa gets under way in Cape Town, with the theme of one of the press conferences: “Reimagining Africa’s Future”—a concept that BioTherm is putting into action. The month after Nyker took up her post, in August 2011, the government launched the REIPPPP. BioTherm won three projects in the first round of the bidding process: a nine-turbine, 27MW wind plant near Caledon in the Western Cape, and two 10.8MW solar plants in the Northern Cape. All three sites were feeding into the national grid by early 2014. “In December 2011, we won the three projects. They reached financial close a year later. We took those into construction on time, under budget, and they’re now overperforming,” Nyker enthuses. Her achievements were recognised by the WEF, who named her one of its Young Global Leaders for 2012. This vote of confidence would prove to be well-founded. In Round 4 of the latest bidding window, BioTherm secured four more contracts: a 117MW wind project in Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape; the 33MW Excelsior wind farm near Swellendam in the Western Cape; and two solar sites in the Northern Cape—the 75MW Konkoonsies II facility and the 40MW Aggeneys project. Nyker obligingly does the maths: “Our first growth strategy was to 52MW. From there, we’ve now just won 284MW. So, in South Africa we’ve grown to 336MW.” BioTherm is also expanding into Africa, as more and more countries on the continent follow the South African example. “We’re now focusing on seven African countries including Zambia, Uganda, Togo and Burkina Faso. We’re in Francophone Africa and West Africa, and then we’re in East and Central Africa.” In the last 18 months, BioTherm has secured 250MW of power-producing agreements for the rollout of wind and solar projects in these regions. Not a shabby growth rate for a company of 40 people in just four years. As Nyker points out, “We’ve really grown in a very short period of time.” She attributes BioTherm’s success to being “very entrepreneurial in its approach and its nature”. Wryly comparing the elephant to the dung beetle, Nyker acknowledges that, while the company has secured a large amount of megawatts, it is probably the smallest player in the market in terms of people and balance sheet. However, this allows BioTherm “to be innovative, to be dynamic”. Decisions are made around a table and things get done. “It’s a flat organisation. People do report to people because you need some order, but there’s very little hierarchy. Anyone’s ideas are as important as mine,” she insists. The quality of the hand-picked team contributes to the business’s success. Hiring is merit-based rather than statistics-driven. As a South African of Indian extraction, Nyker points out that, “I’m a perceived BEE [black economic empowerment] candidate, but I don’t see why
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“I’M A PERCEIVED [BLACK ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT] CANDIDATE, BUT I DON’T SEE WHY I SHOULD BE LOOKED AT ANY DIFFERENTLY. PEOPLE ARE CAPABLE IF THEY ARE MOTIVATED IN THE RIGHT WAY AND THEY HAVE TALENT.”
30 SECONDS WITH JASANDRA NYKER Background Jasandra was born in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal. She grew up in Howick and attended school in Pietermaritzburg. She started her academic career as a medical student, but changed over to finance at the University of Cape Town.
Business interests Nyker’s investment and private equity career started at Brait Private Equity. After five years with the organisation—which took her to one of its UK ventures—she attended London Business School to study her MBA, catapulting her involvement in the international energy sector and opening the door to investing in renewables. She has been involved in the establishment of Kuwait’s first energy venture fund, led the direct investment arm of a global renewable energy fund in California, and grown BioTherm Energy into the leading African renewable-energy platform.
Likes Time with her daughter and husband, running, meeting people, interesting conversations, travel, the African bush, solving problems, good food.
Dislikes Poor cellphone reception, opinionated people, laziness, video games and constant TV watching.
I should be looked at any differently. People are capable if they are motivated in the right way and they have talent.” She’s quick to add, “I’m not against empowerment. I’m for empowerment in the right way. If you’re just ticking a box, you’re not motivating people. For me, that’s the wrong way of going about it. I’ll provide you with the opportunities to be empowered, but you need to deliver what I expect of you because this is a service contract.” Thus, BioTherm invests in its people and nurtures their talent. For its first wind project in Caledon, the company selected technikon students, sent them to Germany to be trained as wind operators, and brought them back to work on its sites. “That’s our commitment. It builds a lot of loyalty,” observes Nyker. Another key to BioTherm’s success is the hands-on approach it has taken over the full project cycle, from bidding to building and operating. “We didn’t just hand over to the contractor,” says Nyker. “It was important for our team to learn the process because it was our first time.” By proactively managing the construction and the operation of its plants, the company was building know-how—“and for us, that’s IP [intellectual property]”, explains the CEO. “Learn from what you do and look at how you can do it better” is BioTherm’s philosophy, she says. “Continuous improvement is very important for us. As much as we won in the last round, it’s not that we’re going to sit back. It’s about what can we do better.” The vision is to grow BioTherm into a pan-African platform that stretches as far north as Egypt and as far south as Caledon in the Western Cape. “Why does the renewable space in Africa need to be dominated by international players?” she asks. “I’m hoping that BioTherm Energy is a company that is going to break that model. Maybe I’m a salmon swimming upstream, but there is great talent on this African continent. Let’s harness it.” Her advice for South African businesses: Start nurturing your talent locally, and you’ll really see a larger and greater dividend. At BioTherm Energy, African entrepreneurs are building Africa. The company’s success and that of the REIPP procurement programme shows that effective public–private partnerships can lay the foundations of a brighter future for the continent.
INSIDE OBA M A’S STE A LTH STA RTUP H O W TO P TE C H I E S F RO M GOOGLE, FAC E B O O K , AN D A M A Z O N A RE I N F I LTR ATI N G THE U S G OV E R N ME N T
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Fast Company South Africa
YAHOO FOR MOBILE! CEO MARISSA MAYER’S PLANS TO REINVENT THE PORTAL COFFEE AND CODING WHY DEVELOPERS ARE MEETING FOR A CUPPA GREEN CARS CAN AUTOMAKERS CLEAN UP THEIR ACT?
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TOYOTA , TAKE TWO! It’s lights, camera, communication for the world’s most loved car
A new look The 2015 Corolla has been redesigned both inside and out.
The current-generation Corolla, introduced to the South African market in 2014, leads all automotive nameplates worldwide—and the latest iteration of this evergreen Toyota staple amply demonstrates why. For 2015, the Corolla kit list has grown across the board, with all models now getting daytime running lights (DRLs) as standard. The mid-spec 1.6 Sprinter—which features a sporty style twist courtesy of the anthracite alloys, boot-lid spoiler and Sprinter-unique colour palette and trim—has also been upgraded to include Toyota’s award-winning multimedia touchscreen display with reverse monitor and guidelines. Another new standard equipment item for all Corollas is Bluetooth functionality (and steering wheel switches). This feature has now been extended to include the entry-level Esteem models as well. As a refresher, take note of the generous on-board gadgetry across the Corolla range: Remote central locking for all models, with keyless Smart Entry on Exclusive models; Power mirrors and windows (front and rear); Follow-me-home light control system, and now DRLs as well; Ambient temperature indicator; On-board computer (TFT multi-information display screen on Exclusive); 60/40 split rear seats; Air conditioning (Esteem and Prestige); Automatic climate control (Sprinter and Exclusive); Leather upholstery on all models apart from the Esteem variants; Touchscreen display audio that incorporates AM/FM
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Highlights Spec upgrade for the
2015 Corolla Daytime running lights now
standard across the range Sprinter model gets display
audio with reverse camera Bluetooth functionality for
entry-level Esteem variants
radio, CD/DVD/MP3 player, Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity with music-streaming facility, and USB port for the connection of portable music players, with the facility to display iPod album cover art; A back-guide monitor fitted as standard (Prestige, Exclusive and now Sprinter)—another segmentbeating feature! A standard audio system, aux in-port and USB port on Esteem models; Bluetooth hands-free system with steering controls on all models; Electrochromatic mirror (Exclusive); Rain-sensing wipers (Exclusive); Cruise control (Exclusive) The engine line-up comprises the exceptional 1.4-litre D-4D turbo-diesel (a 2015 SA Car of the Year finalist) and three petrol engines: a 1.33-litre Dual VVT-i unit, a 1.6-litre Dual VVT-i engine and another new powerplant, the 1.8-litre Dual VVT-i unit. All engines are fitted with six-speed manual transmissions, but the 1.6 and 1.8 petrol variants may optionally be mated to Toyota’s new, high-gear, highefficiency Multidrive S CVT automatic transmission. The good news is that the resultant price hike for the new-spec Corollas is much less than the value of the extra kit offered: The increases range from 0.5% up to a maximum of 1.3% (model-dependent). The new Corolla benefits from a threeyear/100 000km warranty and comes with a standard five-year/90 000km service plan. Service intervals are set at 15 000km (including the 1.4 D). The new models are supported by the ToyotaCare Roadside Assistance Programme, which entitles customers to 24-hour roadside assistance for ultimate peace of mind. www.toyota.co.za
the 54 FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A AUGUST 2015
green mile Major car manufacturers around the world are finding innovative ways to develop cleaner means of travel
By Chris Waldburger
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There can be no doubt that driving cars is one of the most environmentally damaging activities of the modern, urban human being. In fact, in South Africa, it is well known that the automotive sector is the country’s most carbon-intensive industry— with approximately 20% of CO2 emissions and a vast proportion of air pollution derived from the manufacture and use of vehicles. At the same time, the automobile industry is a vital part of the national economy. South Africa is the 18th largest car manufacturer in the world, producing the vast majority of cars on the African continent. The sector is one of our most important, contributing at least 6% to the country’s gross domestic product and accounting for almost 12% of its manufacturing exports—it is indeed a crucial cog in the economy. In particular, the Eastern Cape is the hub of the South African industry. That does not mean the sector does not have its challenges, some of them bordering on existential. For example, the rise of China and India as assembly points for international brands, a dependence on government incentives, as well as the perennial issues of currency and labour volatility are all obstacles to the industry’s future wellbeing. But the importance of cars in our modern economy, the challenges of globalisation, and the urgency of doing business in cleaner, more efficient and sustainable ways need not be a recipe for disaster. In fact, the perils of globalisation can be a spur for the automobile industry to find ways to be a sustainable longterm cornerstone of an ever cleaner, more human economy. It has long been a fallacy that technological advancement necessarily leads to environmental disaster. In fact, it is the developing economies that pollute far more than the more industrialised ones. Had the automobile never been invented, London, for example, would now be under vast layers of horse dung! In other words, to become cleaner, cars must look to the future. Further industrialisation is what is
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required—not less. And while progress has been additive, the major players worldwide are on their way to providing a cleaner means of travel. One of the chief ways this can happen is to burn a more sustainable fuel. To this end, the dilution of diesel with a measure of biodiesel is fast becoming mandatory. Biofuel, made using biological processes instead of the long-term geological procedures underlying fossil fuels, is set for a massive boost in South Africa, as it forms one of the key components of the Coega Industrial Development Zone, located in the close vicinity of the Eastern Cape automobile hub. The Sakhisizwe biofuels project aims to generate 100 million litres of biofuel a year, and 16 000 new jobs. The venture is a result of a partnership between Coega and the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency. The South African government has also thrown its regulatory weight behind biofuel production, with legislation that at least 5% biodiesel must be blended with diesel by October this year. Sakhisizwe Renewable Energy chief executive William Charles said the project in Coega was expected to be operational by 2017. “We are deep into the planning phase. The land in Coega has been reserved and we will go into construction in 2016. We are ready. We already have R350 million committed by a German bank. The rest of the money is to be raised upon the completion of the bankability report—[one] that will say, ‘Investors, this is viable, come and invest!’ This will be done as soon as early next year. The future is in the renewable energy sphere. This is the only industry to be—I do not care who says what,” he added. Support has been launched for farmers who are expected to begin a cropping programme on 40 000 hectares of land next year to plant oil seeds, soya beans and sunflower seeds as rotational crops. Apart from biofuel, which looks set to contribute incrementally to the increased environmental sustainability of motoring, some of the big car companies are equally devoting massive chunks of their research-and-development budgets to developing their fuel-cell and electric capabilities. Toyota and Mazda have just announced a massive new partnership (described by Toyota president Akio Toyoda as an “engagement”, not quite a “marriage”) in which, according to insider speculation, Toyota will likely supply Mazda with its fuel-cell and plug-in hybrid technology in exchange for the latter’s proprietary SkyActiv green technology. This is clearly a response to the new cost of doing business—an international regime of environmental regulation. As Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has noted, the necessary and vast expense
The Coega Project is rapidly changing the landscape of Algoa Bay.
African offering; these technologies promise up to a 10% reduction in fuel and emissions using techniques such as energy recuperation during deceleration; stop-start technology (in which engines shut down when cars are stationary, and seamlessly start up again when a gear is engaged); low rolling-resistance tyres; reduced drag co-efficients, and better overall engine management. Another global giant, Nissan, has declared that its current mission is “to be the auto industry’s most socially and environmentally responsible manufacturer”. It believes it can be at the forefront of an evolutionary leap for automobiles—a leap toward automated driving and zero environmental impact. Nissan is currently responsible for the world’s best-selling electric vehicle, the Leaf, but it believes an electric car is just the beginning. “Our achievement in the electric vehicle segment is just one part of Nissan’s groundbreaking efforts to transform the use Toyota says its 2016 and impact of automobiles,” said Carlos hydrogen fuel-cell Ghosn, Nissan Motor Co. CEO. “Another sedan, the Mirai, exciting step is our work to bring Nissan’s is “a turning point in automotive history”. Autonomous Drive technology to the marketplace. Autonomous-driving vehicles have the potential of developing next-generation green technology simply has to be shared Some of the big car to ultimately lead to ‘zeroby the various players. “The capital consumption rate doesn’t deliver value companies are equally fatality’ roads—and Nissan to the consumer, and in its purest form is pure economic waste. It’s just devoting massive is at the forefront of their bizarre,” he noted in a recent analysis, “Confessions of a Capital Junkie”. chunks of their development. In addition It was in this vein that Toyota, at the beginning of the year, followed research-andto reducing accidents, in the footsteps of Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors by making available development budgets these vehicles also thousands of its hydrogen fuel-cell patents. These include approximately to developing their conserve energy, enhance 1 970 patents related to fuel-cell stacks, 290 associated with highfuel-cell and electric traffic management, pressure hydrogen tanks, 3 350 related to fuel-cell system software capabilities. and ease driver stress. control, and 70 related to hydrogen production and supply. “Nissan understands In its press statement, the company stated: “The first-generation that, as a global automotive hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be manufacturer, our critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration company has to be part of between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy the solution. Nissan has providers. By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can calculated that ‘well-tospeed the development of new technologies and move into the future of wheel’ CO2 emissions for mobility more quickly, effectively and economically.” This move follows Toyota Financial Services’ launch of an industry-first green bond to finance gas-electric hybrids new vehicles will need to be reduced by 90% and alternative fuel powertrains. by 2050 compared with levels in 2000, and has committed to taking a leadership role in Aside from these bold attempts to change the rules of the game, other automobile giants promoting the use of zero-emission vehicles.” equally continue to apply increments of innovation in a journey toward a cleaner future. BMW, for Is such a future possible? A world of no example, has launched its new “Light & Charge” project that seeks to solve the problem of limited car accidents; a world where motoring is as electric-car charging points by creating street lights that double as charging points. Such an idea environmentally sound as swimming in the could help provide the missing push for the infrastructure development so crucial to making ocean? Cumulative progress is indeed being a grid of electric-car charging points both viable and attractive to motorists. made. While evidence of a sick planet There are also numerous programmes at most of the large car companies which assist in continues to surround us, it may be that providing small changes to how vehicles run so as to make them more environmentally efficient. necessity once again brings to birth shining For example, Volkswagen’s BlueMotion Technologies recently became available in its South new invention.
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By Gabriella Rego
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One of the great things about C&C is that it’s in the middle of the day. “It’s such a great ‘palate cleanser’ for the traditional office that you can’t help but be inspired by the change of scenery, faces and subject matter,” says Fortuna. “There’s also something really magical about getting down to work in a coffee shop. The buzz around you is a strange motivator for you to roll up your sleeves and get coding too. In fact, a common favourite app among the developers there is Coffitivity [coffitivity.com], an app that mimics the sound of a coffee shop. Whenever I go to Code & Coffee, I always end up learning something new, and I’ve met some of the best and brightest developers in the community. “For Zero One, Code & Coffee is indispensable. We believe in its ethos so thoroughly, and rely on it and other events like it, in order to understand the state-ofthe-art in tech, meet new and promising developers who could potentially work with us, and hear about opportunities for new business with potential partners.” Ask any business owner, freelancer or entrepreneur: Staying connected when they’re out of the office is essential—and as is the case with Code & Coffee, being connected is a necessity. Coffee shops across South Africa (and around the world) are gearing up to provide an environment that is conducive for businesspeople to get work done and which will allow for effective networking opportunities. Accessing Wi-Fi is as easy as buying a cuppa at most coffee shops; malls around the country are ensuring customers have free access as they get their shopping done. Wherever you go, as an individual or a business, you’re connected. Mike Wronski, founder of social-media
“Coffee is a great ice-breaker, and that’s a useful tool to have around when you’re faced with interacting with a bunch of people you’ve never met before.”
analytics company, Fuseware, notes that the rise of digital-only business has contributed to this trend of working remotely, which allows an entire company to be run off a cloud-based environment—meaning brick-and-mortar offices are no longer a hard and fast requirement for a successful enterprise. “Today’s leaders need to be able to manage and communicate their team from anywhere in the world. Many executives and business owners spend a good deal of time travelling and out of the office, and need to learn to deal with managing a team remotely. By combining effective procedures and Buzzing processes with a competent The atmosphere inside team that embraces high the coffee shop strangely levels of accountability, it motivates you to roll up your sleeves and get becomes fairly streamlined coding, says Gabriel to travel and maintain Fortuna, a big fan of Code & Coffee. business productivity,” he says. As the CEO of Fuseware, Wronski’s role involves managing all aspects of business operations—which can be, and is, a highly strenuous and demanding position. Working outside of the office and on overseas trips is possible when combined with strict time management and intensive prior planning. “Wi-Fi access is available from almost anywhere in the developed world now, so it has become much easier to stay in touch with your co-workers around the world. Many business owners are also making certain lifestyle choices that enable them to travel for pleasure far more, while keeping their businesses I spend over 50% of my time out of the office, yet am in constant contact with my team, clients running back home,” he says. and partners through mobile and digital channels. At Paton Tupper Digital, we make use of The very nature of how business is being a myriad of tools and platforms to manage projects and ensure clear communication, even conducted and how businesses are being run when working remotely,” he explains. is changing daily. Barry Tuck, “The Guy Who “As the world evolves, more tools and innovations are going to emerge to streamline business Does Stuff” at Paton Tupper Digital ad agency, dealings; yet one of the biggest stumbling blocks in this regard is internal bureaucratic red tape, notes that digitisation makes business especially in big corporates,” Tuck adds. The adoption and implementation of new systems and procedures and systems more efficient; digital platforms, which can lead to increased efficiency, trim costs and raise profitability, in some that businesses across the board should be instances have been met with major obstacles by internal stakeholders. harnessing and using it to their advantage. In an age when entire industries are being disrupted by technological innovations, it’s “I reside in Durban, but have clients in essential that businesses—big or small—embrace the game-changing opportunities that, as Johannesburg, Cape Town, the Free State, Tuck puts it, “could at best transform their businesses, and at worst save them from becoming London, Lagos, Nairobi, Abidjan and a host of obsolete”. other African countries, so I travel frequently.
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Follow the leader I N A M A LE- D O M I N AT ED I N D U S T RY, R O BY N FA R R ELL I S M EN TO R I N G A N D COACH I N G OT H ER WO M EN TO FI N D B A L A N CE AT WO R K A N D AT H O M E By Rene Frank
Learn from the best Robyn Farrell believes it should be a responsibility of the more experienced businesswomen to mentor other females.
A true power female, Robyn Farrell has been in the driving seat at 1st For Women Insurance for more than 10 years; in that time she has learnt to find a balance in her work and home life, while also helping other women succeed. “Women have to be more educated, in the sense that we can no longer sit back and wait for the knight on the white horse to whisk us off our feet,” she says. I manage to catch up with the executive head during a typically busy daily schedule to learn her secrets and find out more about her business philosophy. “A normal day in my life starts off with either gym or a run,” says Farrell. “I believe that regular exercise is the alternative to burnout and so it is a no-compromise zone. I also believe that without exercise, you can’t maintain your health and meet the demands of the job.” She advises women firstly to acknowledge that they are not superwomen with superpowers—then everything will become more manageable. “I know my strengths and limitations, and know that there is a solution to every problem.” Coming from an academic background, Farrell has always been a very determined and studious individual, and later as an attorney she perfected the skills of organisation and keeping structure, which she also implements in her family life. With two children, a husband and a dog, she has to have her days planned down to the last detail, prioritising constantly and carrying a huge amount of responsibility. “I think some of the challenges for women come from having to balance a career and a family. It’s difficult—there never seem to be enough hours in the day. But it is something that you have to constantly work at and strive for.” Farrell feels that fellow female executives are often tempted to neglect family demands because their boss or their customers are shouting louder. “However, sacrificing one for the other is a false choice because your work will suffer if your family life is suffering, and vice versa. What helps me maintain balance is my excellent support structure I have at home and in the office,” she says. Although the insurance industry employs more women than men, Farrell says gender inequality still remains, with more males occupying leadership positions. It’s an issue that deeply concerns her. “Whether I’m sitting in a boardroom or at an industry conference, insurance is definitely a male-dominated field,” she reveals, but concedes that the industry has come a long way since the early days when management was exclusively “pale and male”. These days more
women than men are earning bachelor degrees, so businesses have begun to embrace the fact that the talent pool of future leaders is evolving and becoming much more equal. True to her nature, Farrell has never felt that her gender was a barrier to success. “We women are strong and can take care of ourselves, and we need to prioritise this. We need to believe in ourselves first to be able to perform on a business level.” Having been successful herself, she is very committed to mentoring other women. “I believe it is a responsibility that more experienced business leaders have. We have to recognise that helping employees find a balance makes them more satisfied and productive,” she says. “I also think that especially women in leadership positions can be helped by mentoring and coaching. Often, advancement is about building a strong network around you and cultivating relationships; having people who can stand behind you and help you navigate your career.” Giving employees the right tools to combat these challenges is needed, Farrell adds. “Knowing in advance that changes are in the works, and having already established relationships with key players, can put you in the right place at the right time. So it’s all about timing and management. In my industry, I have been fortunate to experience or see the encouragement of women to advance to higher positions. If you work hard and take the initiative to do more, there are opportunities. Simply go for it!” Apart from helping women in the workplace, Farrell has had the opportunity—through the 1st For Women Foundation—to assist ladies affected by gender-based violence and cervical cancer. A portion of their clients’ monthly insurance premiums are donated to a number of women-related charity organisations, and to date more than R40 million has been raised. “In the African market, I believe that many companies are really good at carrying out social responsibilities, through initiatives like setting up foundations that can assist in making a difference. This is maybe also why I feel good about having both the burden but also the satisfaction of helping people sleep better at night,” she says. The VOICES Female Networking Club in Cape Town recently initiated a campaign, “What Women Want”, which asks South African businesswomen to anonymously submit one word that encapsulates what they want. The club has set up an art installation in St Georges Mall, where women are encouraged to write or draw what they want. On Women’s Day, there will be a grand reveal of their answers. I asked Farrell the same question. Her prompt reply was, “Time. Respect it—it’s the one thing you can never return or have more of.”
“OFTEN, A DVANCEMENT IS ABOUT BUILDING A STRONG NETWORK AROUND YOU AND CULTIVATING RELATIONSHIPS; HAVING PEOPLE WHO CAN STAND BEHIND YOU AND HELP YOU NAVIGATE YOUR CAREER.”
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DIRECTION After dealing with fear in our first instalment of the series on the entrepreneur’s personal journey, in this article we look at how you can navigate change successfully
Change is the new buzzword— and never before has it been more certain for the entrepreneur. It is not uncommon for everything in your business to be modified: the logo, the website, the revenue model, the brand, the team…. Getting good at change is the most important skill to develop, yet we’ve never been taught how to manage it. So, are there ways to make change any easier?
By Ariane de Bonvoisin
I became fascinated with this question about 10 years ago after working with several startups from a venture capitalist and advisory-board perspective, and realised that everybody one meets is either facing or thinking about change. I have interviewed more than a thousand people and heard common phrases from entrepreneurs: “Change is hard”, “I hate change”, “I’m not good at change”, “I feel alone, I don’t know what to do now”. Typical excuses included: being too old or too young; not having the skills or the time; not having the money; not knowing where to start. Yet we all know those who seem to do just fine when change comes along. So how are these people able to navigate change successfully while others simply get stuck? I developed the following nine principles from my research that formed the basis of my book, The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier. They apply to you as a future or existing business owner, but also in other areas of your life: your relationships, your finances, your health and your family— all of which have a huge influence on how you show up as an entrepreneur. 1. STAY POSITIVE AND CHOOSE YOUR BELIEFS
Your beliefs shape your reality and your world: beliefs about yourself, what you’re good at, your inner dialogue about being a founder, speaking in public, taking a risk, creating a product and launching it, etc. Next, there are beliefs about life: Is it on your side, conspiring for good, or are you unsafe with no net below to catch you? Beliefs about raising money, hiring people or being successful are the foundation of how you will navigate change
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in your business. Cleaning up some of these beliefs will rewire what you perceive about running your own business. People who are good at change are optimists at their core.
as much control over you. Find the emotion that is stronger—for example, instead of blaming someone for the major mess-up that happened, how can you take responsibility for fixing it?
keeping a journal, being in nature; in doing so, they are finding this intangible part of themselves they can always rely on. Only when you do this will you realise you are able to find creative solutions to what is needed.
2. THE CHANGE GUARANTEE
This states that, “From this situation, something good will come.” Write this down somewhere you will see it often. Write it in your office for others to see. We are all obsessed with what to do with our startup. Instead, be obsessed with your attitude, how you show up—especially in the midst of change. Characteristics of people who are good at change include being open-minded and willing to try anything; being in a state of abundance, not scarcity (there are more clients, more investors, more money to be made etc.); they are not focused on the past (the deal they did not get or the bad decision they made); they do not compare themselves to others; they do not play the ‘poor me’ game (how unlucky they have been); and they keep a sense of newness and momentum. There are many entrepreneurs who failed with their first or second company and then boom! Something better came out of it and they were ultimately successful. 3. THE CHANGE MUSCLE
You have a part of yourself that is much more resilient and better at change than you have ever thought. Every business has a change muscle. On a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is your business’s ability to go through change? You personally have been through dozens of changes already and need to acknowledge those: You left a safe job, raised some money, built a website, hired or fired people… Look at how you have typically dealt with change in the past. Even though the change you are facing now in your business may be different, you are not coming naked to the change party. You already have a toolbox of go-to strategies that work for you. 4. MEET THE CHANGE DEMONS!
People who are good at change are very human; they make mistakes, they feel their emotions, but know how to move past them. The top three ‘change emotions’ that are guaranteed to make an appearance are Fear, Blame and Doubt. Others are Impatience, Guilt, Shame, Anger etc. Which is your dominant one right now? Bring it out of your blind spot so that it does not have
5. ACCEPT CHANGE
8. CREATE YOUR CHANGE TEAM
Change itself is not the hard part; resistance to the change is. As well-known self-enquiry author Byron Katie says, “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time!” Move in the direction of the river. As entrepreneurs, we are constantly trying to have things go our way. Become very mindful of what the market and the people around you are pointing toward, even if it is really difficult for you to accept.
The worst thing we tell ourselves is that we are alone; we are the only one going through this; no one else has had such a hard time. So, who are the top five people with whom you spend the most time? They are the ones who have a huge influence on you and your business. Are they positive? Are they excited for you? Are they qualified to help? Get around other entrepreneurs. Be honest and specific about what is going on; only then can you get
Become very mindful of what the market and the people around you are pointing toward, even if it is really difficult for you to accept. Ask yourself these three questions for successful business change: What do you need to stop resisting? (e.g. changing the business model) What do you need to get honest about? (e.g. your overspending) What are you avoiding? (e.g. firing someone you know is not working out) 6. YOU CAN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING
Do not try and control other people. Instead, control your language and the words you use; “difficult”, “nightmare”, “this is killing me”, “worst day ever” are not going to help your situation. Control and change the stories you have: about your team, South Africa, your competitors, what you are weaker at. Control the questions you keep asking yourself—go from “Why is this happening?” to “How can this be a good thing? Who can help me?” Your inner state is the only thing you really can control. 7. BELIEVE IN SOMETHING GREATER, AND IN HELPING OTHERS
Power moves through those who serve. Focus your business on ways that contribute and add value. People will pay you for things that help them. More and more entrepreneurs are taking care of their inner world, meditating,
people to help. Who needs to be on your Change Team? A financial person? A tech geek? One new person can take your idea or business in a radical new direction. 9. TAKE ACTION
The most important action an entrepreneur needs to take at any stage of the business’s growth is to take care of themselves, their energy and their health. This is your fuel. Have you made this a priority? Without energy, change will be overwhelming. With a calm, rested body and mind, solutions always appear. When it comes to action, it is the small changes that create the bigger results, over and over. Little things are not little for the entrepreneur—they are everything. If something does not work, continue changing your approach. Do not simply think about it—get on the court and try it. You will get feedback very soon. In short, focus on the change you are in the midst of, or which you know you need to make. Businesses that do not pay attention to change will not be around for very long. Next, scan the aforementioned principles and see which can most help you navigate this change. Change is not a bad thing, not something to wish away. It is merely life calling you to be more, to have your business be more, and to be more successful in the end.
Ariane de Bonvoisin is a life-change expert, speaker and entrepreneur who now lives in Cape Town. She is the founder and CEO of First 30 Days (www.first30days.com) and author of The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier, which has just been released in South Africa. Her other publications are: Living Healthier, Pursuing your Dreams and What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Writing A Book. Her latest release is an app, Mindful365, helping people live consciously one day at a time. Visit www.arianedebonvoisin.com for more information.
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FAST COMPANY PROMOTION
STRATEGISE, ENERGISE, VISUALISE Communicate your company’s message clearly and effectively
Conceptual Eyes was founded by Lindy Scott and Kay Inkster in May 2013, and is an established company in the visual strategy industry for internal communication and enterprise development. It specialises in internal communication, ensuring that your corporate strategy is understood across the company. Conceptual Eyes focuses on delivering messages with impact, visual literacy and
offering interactive business strategy workshops. Scott is the creative director with a background in fine art with international team-building experience, while Inkster concentrates on training and development as well as angel investment. Conceptual Eyes was born out of Scott’s interest in growing clients’ visual literacy and internal communication; her
Bringing your ideas to life Conceptual Eyes specialises in internal communication, ensuring your corporate strategy is understood across the company.
creative background and strong focus on collaborative practice were a perfect fit for this industry. “We work with a talent pool of creative thinkers, business strategists, artists, illustrators, filmmakers and designers to ensure each client brief is unique,” Scott says. Focused, fun and original strategic thinking is what the company is all about. Conceptual Eyes offers three programmes: “Strategise” includes programmes and workshops (Brainwave, Chatter Box, #whatsonyourmind) designed for your team based on principles around strategic thinking, planning and creativity. “Energise” comprises internal communication campaigns or workshops (True Colours, Chalk & the Ninja) to engage your team based on communication and bigpicture thinking. Through “Visualise”, create the platform from where your message can be visualised and documented through an innovative and creative experience (Capture It Live Drawing Events, Captured Videos, Interactive Notebooks). If you would like to develop your own conceptual, creative visual strategy, contact Conceptual Eyes: Tel: +27(82) 415 2771 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com www.conceptualeyes.co.za
Business case studies EOH In February this year, Conceptual Eyes began working with the corporate events division of EOH—one of the largest technology and knowledge service providers in South Africa—to create a visual strategy concept that would inspire collaboration opportunities between industrial technology sectors. Through supporting EOH at the Mastering SAP Conferences, Conceptual Eyes has brought business analytics to life through creativity. Clothes to Cash Exchange Clothes to Cash Exchange (C2CX) is a social enterprise that pays organisations for collected second-hand clothing. Conceptual Eyes simplified and recreated C2CX’s business messaging by creating a video with an easy-to-understand message that ensured corporates and educators/students were inspired by the Clothes to Good process. Last year, C2CX won the Emerging Social Enterprise Award and give credit to the Clothes to Good video for transforming their business. Conceptual Eyes continues to advise as well as work and consult with C2CX. See the video on www.c2cx.co.za.
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THINKING OUTSIDE THE W OL F PACK RE N TA L S T UR N S E N V IR ONME N TA L LY F RIE NDLY, R E CYCL E D S HIP P ING C ON TA INE R S IN TO MOB IL E HOU S ES, B A R S OR CL INIC S—AT T HE P U S H OF A B U T TON
BOX Interview by Evans Manyonga
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AFTER SEEING THE LARGE NUMBER OF POP-UP SHOPS SPRINGING UP AROUND CAPE TOWN, FOUNDER JUSTIN ANLEY AND HIS BUSINESS PARTNER REALISED THE POTENTIAL OF MOBILE SHOPS.
Cool customer A mobile bar for Phoenix Fresh beer, right on the beach.
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Raising the bar The compact nature of the WolfPack container makes it easy to transport and simple to assemble—in about 20 minutes.
“WE CAME UP WITH THE IDEA DURING A FAILED ATTEMPT TO SET UP A FLOATING BAR AT THE END OF ONE OF THE PIERS AT THE V&A WATERFRONT”
Their company gives brands the opportunity to breathe new life into their events, exhibitions and product launches through the limitless assembly possibilities of the containers. WolfPack is not the first to repurpose such units: other Cape Town companies are leasing remodelled containers to be used as coffee shops or homes, and in Joburg a shopping mall to be made from almost 30 shipping containers has been given the go-ahead. But Anley says WolfPack is taking the idea to a new level. Low-cost housing, business and exhibition units, medical clinics and even ATMs are part of the product’s broader service capabilities. Fast Company SA sat down with the 22-year-old co-founder to find out more about the project. ■ Fast Company: How was the WolfPack idea conceptualised? Justin Anley: We came up with the idea during a failed attempt to set up a floating bar at the end of one of the piers at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. I entered into this business venture with Alistair van Rooyen, also 22, after we met about three years ago. It never really worked out. The problem was that the location was too expensive. But it got me thinking, what if location wasn’t an issue? We saw the myriad pop-up shops that were springing up around Cape Town:
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stores fashioned from cardboard or appearing from the inside of trailers, selling anything from smoked meats to expensive fashion. Van Rooyen’s background of working in Epping’s steel industry ultimately made us certain we could capitalise on the trend. We went to the drawing board and, after six months, we had our first working prototype. Inside the skeleton of a cargo container we used hydraulics to create a system of moving parts which, with a small electrical signal, would transform the box into a bar. ■ When did you design and develop the first mobile home? We started construction of our mobile units in November 2014, when our priority lay in the hospitality range. From there we realised the potential to expand into many other sectors such as exhibition units, coffee shops, medical units, retail and, of course, housing. There has been a lot of interest in this unit, and that pushed us into building our own
promo unit, with our third currently being constructed. We have a bar unit, housing unit and an exhibition unit, all available for rental. ■ Tell us more about the containers. We use three different sizes: 3m, 6m (the most popular) and 12m. The possibilities are endless: fully stocked mobile bars, mobile exhibition units, trendy pop-up stores, doublestorey VIP lounges, and mobile cafés or coffee bars, among others. The unit can be built up from scratch with mild-steel in a cube that replicates the shape of a 20-foot container. These specifications allow us to transport the structure within the standard container regulations by means of truck or ship. A decking frame is built and connected to the base of the cube structure by means of reinforced custom-designed hinges that create a wall that lies flush with the cube. This gives the most stability while transporting, and for the best performance. ■ Any features that promote green living and sustainability? We are constantly improving the building process and the products we use. Our units can go completely off the grid with solar panels, gas geysers, interior plumbing and bamboo decking; there’s a large range of green materials and products we can use. The container itself is constructed of mild steel, and is either insulated or fitted with refrigeration panels.
AWolfPack SQUARERentals’ DEALcontainers are available in three configurations to suit clients’ specific needs:
BRAND ACTIVATION These branded units are used at exhibitions, events or festivals, and have all the bells and whistles to attract customers: wraparound bar, spiral staircase, music, smoke machine and moving parts powered by hydraulics. The units close up into one 6m container, and take only 20 minutes to set up.
PROFITABLE VENTURE Less flashy than the branded
units, these containers are working spaces or temporary buildings used over a longer period of time to help businesses become more visible and grow their clientele. The units make use of winch systems or standard hinges to be more ‘hands-on’.
BASIC-NEED SOLUTION The third type of unit is of
lower quality but produced in large quantities to serve basic needs such as mass housing, medical clinics, vending machines, ATMs, school classrooms and libraries, among others. They are practical, durable and, more importantly, lowcost—the more units bought, the cheaper the price.
Rent or buy There’s a WolfPack solution to any challenge, and myriad possibilities for every marketing opportunity, say the founders.
■ How big is your team? We have two partners/directors who run operations, as well as a project manager, a conceptual designer, a technical draughtsman and five sales reps. ■ What are the advantages and disadvantages? It’s easy to transport, assemble, disassemble, use and maintain (users can replace the panels quite easily). It raises a lot of awareness. Depending on your budget, we can automate your unit 100%. An app opens and closes the unit, turns lights or music on and off, etc. It can be built off site, and packed away in a compact area. The only disadvantage is the maintenance of the unit if it’s not used frequently. ■ What does the future hold for WolfPack Rentals? I see WolfPack as a revolutionary project that will replace the commercial way of setting up for events, building houses, and offering basics to the needy. I want us to be recognised, to be the cause of change, progress and improvement. We want to dent the universe!
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We’ll do it live MOBILE LIVE-STRE AMING APP S WILL USHER IN A NEW ER A OF APPOINTMENT T V—AND POTENTIALLY RE VOLUTIONISE THE T V BUSINESS ITSELF
By Om Malik
Illustration by Bigshot Toyworks
Great technological changes are often the product of a catalysing event. Wristwatches became a popular accessory in the wake of World War 1. Twitter became our planet’s news and notification network after Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed the hobbled US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009. I flashed back to those events on March 26 this year when I viewed multiple live video streams on my phone of a tragic fire in New York’s East Village, captured with an app called
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Periscope. It instantly felt like a signal moment. Many technologies have coalesced to enable mobile live video to blossom. High-speed cellular networks envelop the planet. There are more than 1 billion smartphone users. Apps are relatively simple to use. And you can use Twitter and Facebook to gain attention quickly. The digital watercoolers of Twitter and Medium were abuzz in April with the hype about the live-video phenomenon, particularly trying to suss out a winner between Periscope (which is owned by Twitter) and rival app, Meerkat. It’s a great Internet fight, but it misses the disruption taking place here: The 65-year-old broadcast television experience is being reinvented for our mobile world. Smartphones bring interactivity, immediacy and engagement to our traditional ways of consuming video. The R870-billion-a-year television business (in the US) has been under attack from all sides—Amazon, Netflix, YouTube and other services are all stealing attention (and revenue). But amid the shift to on-demand entertainment, traditional TV has doubled down on what only it can offer: live events, particularly news, sports and weather. Easy-to-use, mobile live-streaming services could upend what has been the last sacrosanct aspect of the TV industry. This doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom for TV networks; in fact, it creates a universe of fascinating possibilities for them to reimagine their businesses. iPhones can deliver high-quality video (ads shot with an iPhone 6 look as good as any other); add a selfie stick and anyone is ready to live-stream. This radically changes the economics of news gathering, so much so that some TV networks would not speak with me on the record, given their union contracts with camera operators. “Every new medium needs new ways of storytelling,” says Alex Iskold, who previously created an online video startup and now runs the incubator, TechStars NYC. Iskold expects that we’ll quickly move beyond people live-streaming the contents of their refrigerators (yes, that is a thing; the live-streaming equivalent of using Twitter in 2006 to report what you ate for breakfast) to high-quality, live TV shows broadcast via Periscope and promoted via Twitter. Some of the most compelling content I’ve seen on these new apps—the San Francisco red-carpet premiere for season 2 of HBO’s Silicon Valley and NBC’s Jimmy Fallon sharing his monologue rehearsals—are TV-related events that combine immediacy and interactivity to produce deeply engaging programming. Television networks could exploit these new technologies to deepen their relationships with
viewers and move from digital cable to smartphones. The Weather Channel is emblematic of the potential that mobile live-streaming has for the business. First, consider the numbers: While The Weather Channel itself averages somewhere between 200 000 and 300 000 US viewers during the day, more than 100 million people use its mobile apps, and they are watching more than 65 million videos a month so far this year. It has been early to experiment with Periscope and Meerkat. “Live streams might replace satellite trucks,” says CEO David Kenny. He foresees a world where he’ll have 100 000 reporters live-streaming weather reports from their respective corners of the globe. Technology will let Kenny gather weather-related news more cheaply, from more places, more often, and he anticipates training this army of professional and amateur correspondents to live-stream effectively. Then his team back at headquarters will check the authenticity of the video and curate the best stuff to bring to viewers. The resulting experience on cable (or the Weather Channel app) would package analysis, context and insight around the best footage. The one fly in the ointment is that only a fraction of the potential audience is online to watch a live stream at any given time. Already many folks have complained that 90% or more of the links they click on send them to a live stream that’s concluded. While one could argue that this makes those who do tune in live even more valuable—particularly to advertisers—live-streaming needs to allow for some content to live beyond the moment it’s created. Snapchat has been the best in striking the right balance thus far. Because Snapchat Stories live for 24 hours, they marry immediacy with flexibility. Almost every day, I try to catch up with the feeds of my photographer friends and see their behindthe-scenes lives as depicted on Snapchat. Most of them don’t want me to miss out on their daily missives, and that’s the last thing I want, too. Snapchat has what every media entity craves: daily engagement. When Snapchat announced its Discover channel featuring media content that would expire in 24 hours just like any other Snapchat Story, which brands dominated its lineup? Comedy Central, National Geographic, CNN, Food Network and Vice. Sounds a lot like my cable package. “Whether a new ecosystem forms around live streams or the old [TV] ecosystem migrates [to mobile], that remains to be seen,” Kenny says. But he adds, “Value will fly to those who attract and engage people every day. I like our hand.”
Jason LaVeris/Getty Images (DeGeneres); Jeff Vespa/Getty Images (Madonna); Everett Collection (South Park)
“LIVE STREAMS MIGHT REPLACE SATELLITE TRUCKS,” SAYS THE WEATHER CHANNEL’S CEO, WHO FORESEES A WORLD WHERE HE’LL CURATE 100 000 MOBILE FEEDS.
RE AL LIV E A sampling of early mobile live-video experiments across the major apps
Ellen DeGeneres has incorporated the app into her talk-show monologue.
M E E R K AT
Madonna debuted the video for her single “Ghosttown” to more than 8 000 fans.
S N A P C H AT D I S C O V E R
Comedy Central teases its prime-time lineup, such as South Park Sundays.
Tayser Abuhamdeh, aka Mr. Cashier, has built a following by chatting in between serving customers at his bodega.
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NET PROFIT Free public Wi-Fi could boost economic development and increase GDP—but public–private partnerships are crucial By Tom Jackson
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Smart cities The provision of free Wi-Fi has become a trend across the African continent.
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The sky’s the limit As of June 2015, Isizwe already has deployed networks in Thohoyandou, Robertson, Atlantis and Lusikisiki.
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Africa, in particular, stands to gain from the rollout of such services. Consulting firm, McKinsey, says if Internet penetration is able to increase in the same way mobile phones have become prevalent across the continent, as much as $300 billion (R3.7 trillion) could be added to Africa’s gross domestic product by 2025. And the World Bank says for every 10% of broadband penetration in a country, its GDP grows by 1.28%. The provision of free Wi-Fi has, as a result of these potential benefits, become a trend across the continent. Residents of Nakuru County in Kenya have free access to hotspots, while Rwanda’s Smart Kigali initiative provides free hotspots around the capital. In Lagos, travellers at Murtala Muhammed Airport have free Internet access. South Africa leads the way, however, with public–private partnerships aiding a rollout of hotspots so intense that a website has been set up to detail them all for prospective Internet users. There are currently more than 2 000 spots in 60 cities, with rollouts boosted by political will: The African National Congress (ANC) included free Wi-Fi access as a plank in its election manifesto and is targeting 99% Internet penetration. Alan Knott-Craig, Jr runs Project Isizwe, a non-profit organisation with free Wi-Fi deployments across South Africa. It serves 20 000 people in Robertson, 20 000 in Atlantis, and over 700 000 million unique devices in the City of Tshwane. The sites are in open public spaces, mostly in townships, with each user having a daily cap of 250MB. “There is no username, no password, no advertising. Just fast, free Wi-Fi,” Knott-Craig says, adding that Tshwane plans to roll out a further 1 800 sites by 2017, bringing free Wi-Fi within walking distance of every citizen in the city.
Political will has been vital to this success. “The government is the key—that’s why City of Tshwane deserves all the credit. They provide the funding; they provide the buildings; they provide the electricity; they even provide some fibre [optics]. The public sector has the financial resources and infrastructure. They must be on board if universal access to the Internet is ever to become a reality,” he adds. Government has proved a strong partner for Project Isizwe elsewhere, too. The organisation has also partnered the Western Cape government as part of a R1.3-billion plan to connect the whole province to free Internet. “Residents of Atlantis will now have an opportunity to connect to the Internet to access a range of opportunities including finding jobs, starting and expanding businesses, and completing school projects,” said Western Cape Premier Helen Zille at the launch. For all the government’s impact, however, Knott-Craig says much depends on the private sector. Private enterprises have been particularly prominent in rolling out free Wi-Fi in South Africa. MWEB provides hotspots in various locations across Cape Town, as do Skyrove and e-Mbizo. “Unfortunately, it is unlikely that a public utility can operate an advanced telecoms network. The nature of technology is so fast-moving that the private sector must be intimately
Wi-Fi for Africa Alan Knott-Craig Jr runs a non-profit organisation that facilitates the rollout of free Wi-Fi for public spaces in low-income communities.
“I NEVER DREAMT IT IN THE BEGINNING, BUT NOW I SEE NO REASON FOR EVERY CITIZEN IN SOUTH AFRICA NOT TO BE WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF A PUBLIC FREE WI-FI ZONE”, SAYS ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG, JR.
involved, which is why public Wi-Fi networks are ideal for public–private partnerships,” he states. “The political will is there; the missing ingredient has been how to do it in an economically feasible manner—in other words, how to keep costs down. The hard truth is that poor communities have limited cash, so there is no viable commercial model for public free Wi-Fi.” This commercial model is something Knott-Craig believes Project Isizwe has mastered. “The government views it as a public good, like roads and water, and is comfortable subsidising it for the poor, but funds are limited. Our low-cost deployment model makes it financially possible,” he says. The primary benefits of Wi-Fi connectivity are educational and economic, according to Knott-Craig. The aim is for users to experience reduced friction and costs in finding and applying for jobs, with the World Bank estimating that every 10% increase in broadband penetration increases a country’s employment by 0.28%. Small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) that use email or websites grow 50% more than SMMEs that do not, while nurses who have access to e-learning material are upskilled nine times faster, easing the healthcare workforce training burden by up to R5 500 per graduate. “Free Wi-Fi in communities like Mamelodi is a game-changer. Every day there is someone, black or white, living in a poor community who can’t study online, get healthcare online, learn our country’s national anthem online, search for a job online, find love online, discover the world online, or simply listen to a song online,” Knott-Craig says. “Education is a massive application for the Internet, but the communities we pay attention to are in need of economic assistance more than anything else. They’re called ‘poor’ communities, not ‘uneducated’ communities. The economic benefits of ICT [information and communication technology] are primarily anchored in improved market efficiencies
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derived from reduced asymmetries of information.” Though the figures to do with economic benefits of Internet access relate to all forms of connectivity—whether Wi-Fi, fixed-line or 3G—Knott-Craig believes Wi-Fi is best suited to providing South Africans with free or affordable Internet access. This is due to the lack of coverage of fixed-line networks, and the fact 3G is too expensive for basic data services. “That leaves Wi-Fi. The recent moves in South Africa and the rest of world toward municipal Wi-Fi are driven mainly by the massive adoption of smartphones, which already are Wi-Fi-enabled—meaning the government can simply focus on providing connectivity,” he says. Thabo Malebadi is CEO of e-Mbizo Solutions, which is rolling out community Wi-Fi networks in underserviced townships and rural communities, and has thus far connected more than 300 000 devices to its
The server room The Project Isizwe team’s networking centre is where all hotspots are controlled and monitored via various tech and CCTV cameras.
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WI-FI IS BEST SUITED TO PROVIDING SOUTH AFRICANS WITH FREE OR AFFORDABLE INTERNET ACCESS. THIS IS DUE TO THE LACK OF COVERAGE OF FIXED-LINE NETWORKS, AND THE FACT 3G IS TOO EXPENSIVE FOR BASIC DATA SERVICES.
network. Since deploying its first communitywide Wi-Fi network in Tembisa, South Africa’s second largest township, e-Mbizo has been working on expansion and is in the process of launching in Alexandra and Soweto. Discussions are also under way with various stakeholders in Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth coastal cities. The company has found innovative ways of making free Wi-Fi sustainable. “We have seen the potential that community-driven Wi-Fi networks have, from a commercial point of view. While providing free Wi-Fi, the operator can offer a plethora of services and products,” says Malebadi. “We have taken a collective decision to have the business franchised as a means to further grow the network and empower other entrepreneurs who are passionate about the telecommunications sector. For me, it says: I can ensure my dream can outlive me.” e-Mbizo has also built a powerful analytics engine, meaning it can offer big-data services to premium enterprise customers with an interest in bottom-of-the-pyramid markets. The platform allows brands to interact with their customers in a more intuitive manner. Malebadi agrees with Knott-Craig that partnerships between public and private sectors are crucial to the rollout of Wi-Fi, with no single solution able to deliver the South African government’s goal of 99% broadband penetration by 2030. “It is therefore ideal for government to seek immediate means to collaboratively engage with industry, particularly those players that seem to be advancing government’s objectives, drawing on insights and rich contributions from a range of solutions that work,” he says. Through these partnerships, the vision of South Africans learning and obtaining economic opportunities through free Wi-Fi is slowly becoming a reality. “I never dreamt it in the beginning, but now I see no reason for every citizen in South Africa not to be within walking distance of a public free Wi-Fi zone, just as every citizen must be within walking distance of public transport,” Knott-Craig says.
FAST COMPANY PROMOTION
FRAUD TAKES ITS TOLL
A hard line against fraudsters Euphoria CTO Conrad de Wet says, “We want to help protect our customers and reduce the risk of toll fraud and, where possible, remove the risk entirely.”
IP PBX hacking can cripple your business—ensure you have reliable security measures in place
International hackers are constantly hijacking telephone systems and using them to place calls to premium charge-by-the-minute numbers. Businesses are often left with a hefty phone bill that usually runs into tens of thousands of rands. You should consider using another phone provider if your current VoIP PBX service provider does not offer sophisticated mechanisms to prevent fraudulent use of your business telephone account. This is a warning from Euphoria Telecom CTO, Conrad de Wet. Compromising one’s phone system is dangerous; fraudsters will quickly detect vulnerabilities and exploit your system. More importantly, there are no laws protecting phone customers from international toll fraud, and insurance companies generally do not cover this. De Wet says on-site VoIP-based PBX systems running on unsecure networks are highly vulnerable to toll fraud. “The more modern cloud-based VoIP systems can be just as vulnerable if not properly configured and managed by a team of highly skilled technicians with regard to both networks and PBXs.” VoIP has all the problems inherent to the Internet: security and identity theft, phishing, viruses and malware. The use of automatic scripts, which attempt to register as a phone or trunk to a company’s Internetfacing PBX in order to call premium numbers overseas, is a common form of toll fraud. Euphoria recently applied a major upgrade to its cloud PBX infrastructure to dramatically reduce—and in many cases, remove—the risks associated with toll fraud. This is part of the company’s consistent development to offer a truly international-class, secure and reliable cloud PBX service to South African businesses—a product that is built in South Africa. Euphoria’s Cloud PBX Solution has been built locally to a high international standard. This ensures all its systems are highly reliable and all calls are of the highest
COMPROMISING ONE’S PHONE SYSTEM IS DANGEROUS; FRAUDSTERS WILL QUICKLY DETECT VULNERABILITIES AND EXPLOIT THESE.
quality. An intuitive and innovative front-end system has also been developed to complement Euphoria’s stable VoIP solution. This allows IT administrators to implement the solution quickly, manage the solution effectively and give businesses insight into their telephone system. “All of these security additions reduce the risk of bizarre telephone accounts, especially in the case of toll fraud. We want to help protect our customers and reduce the risk of toll fraud and, where possible, remove the risk entirely,” De Wet concludes. Connect with us! Cape Town: 021 200 0500 Johannesburg: 010 593 4500 www.euphoria.co.za Twitter: @euphoriatelecom Facebook: euphoriatelecom
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THE THE MARISSA MARISSA MAYER MAYER PROJECT GUTTER CREDIT TK
IN T HE HOT S E AT AT YA HOO, CE O M A RI S S A M AY E R H A S GR A CE F UL LY E NDUR E D HE R UNFA IR S H A R E OF CRI T ICI S M. S HE M AY E V E N H AV E S HIF T E D T HE C OMPA N Y ON TO T HE RIGH T T R A CK . B U T W IL L T H AT B E E NOUGH? BY H A RRY M CCR A CK E N P HOTOGR A P H S BY JES S IC A H AY E & CL A R K H SI A O
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GUTTER CREDIT TK
Art credit teekay
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“I joke that my son is about as old as my tenure here,” says Marissa Mayer, the president and CEO of Yahoo. “He showed up when I was about eight weeks in. And I just have this vision that when he gets older, we’re going to have these conversations where he’s going to be like, ‘Okay, so, Mom, your whole career was about search. Tell me what it was like.’
TEAM MOBILE A L L-S TA R S Adam Cahan Already at Yahoo when Mayer arrived, he’s now its mobile chief.
Xanthe Travlos Flickr’s smartphone manager says Yahoo has an “improv culture”.
Simon Osindero The computer scientist was part of Yahoo’s influx of startup talent.
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And I’m going to be like, ‘Well, there was this web, and we’d crawl it, and rank it really well, and then phones came along. Smartphones! And we just took what we were doing and shrunk it down.’ And he’s going to be like, ‘Really? That was the plan?’ ” Mayer is perched on a chair in a conference room in Building D at Yahoo’s Sunnyvale, California, headquarters. With her MacBook and iPhone, a small ceramic dish of blueberries and a bottle of Oi Ocha green tea before her, she’s explaining how imperative it is that her company figure out how to matter to consumers and marketers in the mobile era. It will be many years before her son, Macallister Bogue, interrogates her on the subject: He is not yet 3 years old. In Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, however, people have been asking questions about Mayer and her impact on the fate of Yahoo from the moment she was appointed CEO in July 2012. She came saddled with great expectations, as she had been Google’s 20th
employee, its first female engineer, and the “high priestess of simplicity”, as a 2005 Fast Company US cover story described her. In 13 years at Google, she had become almost as closely associated with its rise as its founders. She left all that to save an enterprise that can only be described as moribund. Over its first decade or so, Yahoo—originally launched as a hobby in 1994 by Stanford grad students Jerry Yang and David Filo—did as much as anyone to make the web fit for use by non-geeks. But as Mayer likes to point out, in the 61 months before her arrival, the company had burnt through five CEOs. One, Scott Thompson, lasted less than five months before resigning in the wake of the revelation that his official biography credited him with a non-existent computerscience degree. But Yahoo’s biggest crisis wasn’t PR meltdowns. It was
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that its core business—placing banner ads on services such as Yahoo Search, Yahoo News and Yahoo Mail that consumers used primarily on desktop computers and laptops—was faltering. Mayer has not managed to reverse the business decline. In eight of the nine quarters that Yahoo has completed since her appointment, its display-advertising revenue has seen a year-over-year decrease. Mayer’s strategy is to make up for that shortfall—and thereby turn Yahoo back into a growth company—by focusing on four areas she has bundled into the pseudo-acronym MaVeNS: mobile apps, video, native advertising (i.e. marketing messages that mimic the format of the content they appear with), and social, or the monetising of things like the 227 million blogs hosted on Tumblr, which Yahoo bought in 2013 for $1.1 billion (around R10.4 billion at the time).
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To put it simply, MaVeNS won’t work unless Yahoo gets mobile right, right now. “At this point, mobile is not only where the puck is going, it’s where the puck is,” says Cathleen Ryan, director of advertising for TurboTax, a long-time Yahoo advertising client. Yahoo believes there are signs that Mayer’s bet on mobile is paying off already. Some 575 million of its 1 billion users now access offerings such as the Yahoo app, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Weather, Yahoo News Digest and Flickr on mobile devices. Its rate of mobile growth outpaces the industry average. In 2014, the first year the company broke out mobile revenue, it reported grossing $1.2 billion (a little over R13 billion) in the category. It’s now the third-biggest company in mobile advertising—still billions behind Google and Facebook, but a skosh ahead of Twitter. “We had to build that—the people, the core competencies, the product base, the users, the traffic and that revenue—from scratch,” Mayer says. “And we did it really quickly.”
Even observers who have trouble summoning up optimism for Yahoo’s future give Mayer grudging credit. “She’s done an extremely defensible job of removing the sense of inertia and defeatism,” says Benedict Evans, a partner at venture-capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, who is one of the industry’s leading experts on mobile strategy. “It’s one thing to do that. It’s another thing to turn it into another Google or Facebook. It’s not going to be that. Turning it into Google or Facebook wasn’t on the list of options.” Add that to the list of Mayer’s burdens: the memory that Yahoo was a big deal before companies like that even existed, and the fact that it may well never return to those heights. The Yahoo Mayer encountered in 2012 was making meaningful money from mobile search and had dabbled with apps such as Yahoo Axis (a searchcentric browser) and Livestand (a tablet magazine akin to Flipboard). But none were particularly popular, reflecting an ambivalence about mobile within the company. Progress was bogged down by internal debates, like the one over competing approaches to building applications for smartphones and tablets. Advanced web technologies, collectively known as HTML5, let developers create a single version of a product such as Yahoo Mail to run on iOS, Android or any other mobile operating system. Writing native apps—ones built using a specific operating system’s tools and technologies—would require more effort, but would also result in faster, more fluid experiences. Yahoo developers had leant heavily on HTML5. “The hope was that you would develop once and it would work on anything,” explains Shashi Seth, a top Yahoo executive from 2010 to 2013. “It didn’t.” “When I got here, one of my first reviews was of a [Yahoo] Mail app for iOS,” Mayer says. “I just started scrolling. And the screen jumped and jittered. When I tapped messages, it was really herky-jerky. I played with it for about 90 seconds, and then I looked up and said, ‘This is an HTML5 app.’ And they said, ‘Well, yes, how did you know?’ I said, ‘Because it’s jumpy, it’s jerky, it’s not smooth, it’s not very responsive.’ ” Among the executives Mayer had inherited was Adam Cahan, who landed at Yahoo when it acquired his startup, IntoNow. “At one point, I pulled Adam out of a meeting,” Mayer remembers. “I was like, ‘I’m really, really sure that we should be building native apps.’ And he was like, ‘Me too!’ And I was like, ‘Do you realise we just came out of a room with 15 people who were really
Paul Montoy-Wilson His Android home-screen app became a Yahoo property in 2014.
Albert Song The design VP is responsible for putting Yahoo’s imprint on each of its homegrown apps.
“W HEN YOU H AV E GOOD PEOPL E,” SAYS V E T ER A N ENGINEER BENOI T SCHIL L INGS, “I T’S MUCH E ASIER T O AT T R AC T GOOD PEOPL E. I T’S CON TA GIOUS.”
sure that we should be building HTML5 stuff?’ And he was like, ‘I know!’ So we had this moment of bonding over how important apps were, and the fact that we just needed to end the HTML5 controversy once and for all.” I ask Mayer if she ever managed to convince those who doubted that native apps would trump web apps in the long run. She bursts into her unexpectedly bumptious guffaw: “Convinced? Coached them to go elsewhere? You can pick your favourite verb.” In October 2012, Mayer put Cahan in charge of Yahoo’s mobile efforts. But he couldn’t just order up a set of native apps. According to the company, it had only 50 developers devoted to mobile efforts before Mayer’s arrival. Neither did it have a great reputation among top-notch engineers, especially after former CEO Carol Bartz decided to outsource the guts of Yahoo Search to Microsoft’s Bing. So Mayer and Cahan embarked on a Valley-wide acquisition binge, paying premium prices for startups with significant talent. One typical example: LookFlow, a six-person startup engaged in artificial-intelligence research useful for applications such as automatically tagging photos. Today, its engineers are part of Yahoo’s Flickr team. “When we started out, we very much wanted to be a big company ourselves,” says co-founder Simon Osindero, now an AI architect at Yahoo. But “Flickr was definitely at the top of the list of where I thought we could find a good home for our technology.” Mayer has been lambasted for plowing cash into so many businesses that—Tumblr aside—seemed to have so little potential. Cahan says this was the whole idea. Many of the acquired startups “had assembled a terrific team, but maybe didn’t find that product market fit, and weren’t going to that next round of funding. We would come in, quickly find those teams, inspire them about the work we were doing, and bring them on board.” When folks like Osindero then crowed about what they were up to within Yahoo, other top programmers started looking at the company in a new light. “When you have good people, it’s much easier to attract good people,” says architect and Yahoo fellow, Benoit Schillings, a shaggy and genial Belgian who joined the company in 2012 from Facebook. “It’s contagious.” Today, Yahoo has more than 500 staffers devoted to mobile. The best programmers need independence, a sense of purpose, and the feeling that their boss—or venture capitalist—is committed to their work. Depending on whom you talk to, Mayer is either a meddlesome micromanager or a superhelpful, superenergetic boss who loves nailing the tiny details that add up to great products. The CEO stresses that she tries not to lose herself in minutiae.
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“Your goal is to have a deep understanding of things, keep your muscle memory on making decisions active, and help out where you can help out,” she says. “Basically, store up your energy for things that are really going to matter. Like, ‘Should we do HTML5 or should we work on native apps?’ ‘Should we continue to invest in banner advertisements, or should we start to play with native?’ ‘Do we have the most capable and forward-looking people in the key areas of mobile, video, native and social?’ Those are the kinds of things that only I can do, in terms of communicating priorities and switching around resources.” In 2013, for instance, Mayer needed to play catch-up on socalled native advertising. To find a quick fix, she charged three employees with assembling an all-star cast, which grew to 18 people. Mayer told the entire company that the effort was a top priority. The Moneyball team, as the group called itself, got a basic system for serving such ads up and running in 43 days— two days ahead of schedule. Their solution has evolved into a full-service native ad platform that’s now called Yahoo Gemini. (And each of the 18 employees was rewarded with a free vacation in Hawaii.) At its best, Mayer’s approach pushes day-to-day responsibility downward. “This was a thing that sort of knocked me over sideways when I first arrived at Yahoo,” says 26-yearold associate product manager Xanthe Travlos, who oversees Flickr’s mobile apps. “If you have a good idea, go and grab it.” Current employees also insist that the culture works in the other direction as well, that when a decision is needed from high up the food chain, Yahoo tries to move quickly. “If I look at the decision process for mobile, it’s really Adam and Marissa,” says Schillings. “Fifty people don’t need to agree to
“YA HOO H AS ACCOMPL ISHED A L O T IN T W O Y E A RS OF PL AY ING CAT CH-UP,” SAYS A S T R AT E GIS T. BU T “I T S MOBIL E PRODUC T S A RE ‘NICE T O H AV E’ V ERSUS ‘NEED T O H AV E’. ” go and ship something. You need to convince two people. And that’s very refreshing.” “There’s never been a time in which I feel like, ‘Oh, I’m waiting on Adam for something,’ ” adds Paul MontoyWilson, product manager for Aviate, an Android home screen acquired by Yahoo in 2013, which helps users organise their apps and find new ones. “It’s always been Adam pushing me to think bigger and asking how he can help from an organisational standpoint.” That’s not to say that everything happens swiftly at Yahoo. Employees in the company’s media division can complain that
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bureaucracy substitutes for a clear sense of direction. One ex-employee reports that people still at the company grumble of months-long waits for required approvals on projects. But at least in mobile, which is a top-priority focus, Yahoo does seem to be moving fast. Helping the pace along is the fact that Mayer has successfully adapted her approach to design. At Google, she was a key architect of the company’s minimalistic, data-driven approach to user interfaces. Yahoo’s design is distinctly looser and quirkier—in line with the personality of a company that places an exclamation point after its name and can seem a tad fixated on its corporate colour, purple. (Mayer tells me that she standardised with a shade known as Pantone Violet C, a bluish purple she prefers.) When the company built its much-praised iPhone weather app, Mayer approved of some cool and unexpected tricks such as pulling in Flickr photos showing conditions at local landmarks rather than simply reporting the meteorological numbers. Yahoo even delayed the app’s launch at the last moment when the team came up with a nifty way to represent wind speed: tiny animated windmills. With Yahoo News Digest, Mayer helped refine the interface, which originally included boxes that automatically get checked off as users read stories. Mayer thought it made the app feel like homework, not a helpful source of information. “When we’re in the weeds of design, it’s easy to get stuck in certain places, and that type of insight really helps,” says Albert Song, VP of design. Since Mayer’s arrival, the ambition, imagination and polish of Yahoo’s apps have all been on the rise. What the company hasn’t done—yet—is launch a truly transformative product. “Yahoo has accomplished a lot in two years of playing catch-up,” says Nick O’Flaherty, strategy director at creative consultancy, Wolff Olins. But “its mobile products, while thoughtfully designed, are just ‘nice to have’ versus ‘need to have’. Yahoo needs some ‘need to have’ in its arsenal.” Mayer agrees that Yahoo still must prove it can launch new apps that can capture the imaginations of vast numbers of consumers. She even points to a category for Yahoo-watchers to keep tabs on: communications. “We need to get Yahoo Mail to a point where we have hundreds of millions of users using our native app,” she says. “And we need to expand the definition of email to include messaging, photos and videos, and a lot of different concepts. When you look at Yahoo Messenger and Yahoo Mail, and our legacy there, we have a lot of know-how.” At one point during our interview, Mayer shows me Yahoo Mail on her personal iPhone. Its icons have been rejigged recently, to make it easier for users to blast through their incoming messages without straining their thumbs. The Mail team made the adjustments based on aggregated, anonymous data about how people use the app, data that was collected by Flurry, which supplies analytics technology for mobile developers. Flurry is one of the many businesses Mayer has acquired, and though it didn’t make headlines like the Tumblr deal,
it could prove at least as important. If Yahoo’s mobile effort can turn around the company, it will be because Mayer has figured out how to unleash Flurry. Mayer expects all Yahoo’s native apps to improve thanks to changes that respond to user data collected by Flurry. An added bonus is that Flurry will help Yahoo measure its mobile success. “We’ve been investing really heavily in mobile,” Mayer says. “With Flurry we’ve been able to quantify that.” The best thing about Flurry, as far as Yahoo is concerned, is the fact that its analytics are embedded in more than 630 000
“W E’D H AV E T HESE MEE T INGS, A ND M A RISSA W OUL D T EL L US OUR S T OCK WAS UP 50% SINCE SHE A RRI V ED. I T’S A L L A L IBA BA,” SAYS ONE E X-EMPL OY EE. mobile apps, built by hundreds and hundreds of developers. Consider this: People spent 2.2 billion minutes using those apps in January alone. With Flurry, Yahoo has the potential of getting a cut of the ads served during those millions of hours, reaping money from customers who may never use a Yahoo app. In February, the company held its first Mobile Developer Conference in San Francisco and rolled out a new collection of services it calls the Yahoo Mobile Developer Suite. It includes Flurry tools, Gemini native advertising, Yahoo Search and video ads from BrightRoll, a company that Yahoo bought in November 2014 for $640 million (R7.1 billion then), Mayer’s second-largest acquisition after Tumblr. Developers can add the entire suite to an app with about the same amount of effort it would have taken to incorporate Flurry alone in the past. If the app displays ads, Yahoo will get a share of the income. “Flurry is a Trojan horse,” says Nikhil Modi, CEO of Whiz Technologies, a company that helps media brands build apps. Even with Flurry’s enormous reach, it’s not a given that the suite will take off. “Yahoo has never [really] been a platform before,” says Flurry’s ex–CEO Simon Khalaf, who is now Yahoo’s VP of Flurry products. “They’ve never followed through. The jury is still out, but we’re committed.” In 2005, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang made a prescient $1-billion (R6.4-billion) investment in Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, which has grown more gigantic ever since. Yahoo sold half of its original stake back in 2012, and cashed in shares as part of Alibaba’s historic 2014 IPO, but it still holds a slice of the company worth more than $30 billion. That investment has kept Yahoo’s share price afloat for years, even as its advertising business has steadily declined. “We’d have company meetings, and Marissa would tell us our stock was up 50% since she started,” says one former Yahoo employee. “Or 200% since she
started. It’s all Alibaba, every bit of it. And we all knew it.” That era will soon end. In January, the company announced that it would spin off its Alibaba stake into a separate public company, leaving a Yahoo that will look a lot more like . . . Yahoo. Which is to say, a company that struggles to achieve annual sales of R60 billion, while former peers such as Google and Facebook take in R820 billion and R149 billion, respectively. It’s a company that boasts a billion users—few of whom have any passion for the brand. And it is, to be sure, a company that’s in better shape than it was almost three years ago, when Mayer arrived. When the spinoff is completed, says Mayer, “the focus is going to come back to the core and the transformation that we’ve worked so hard on here.” But what will that mean for the future of Yahoo? After the spin-off, Mayer’s strategy will come under even greater scrutiny by activist investors such as Jeffrey Smith of Starboard Value. In recent months, Smith, who calls Yahoo’s financial performance “unacceptable”, has published a series of increasingly strident open letters to Mayer and Yahoo’s board. He has urged Yahoo to avoid further acquisitions and to find a tax-efficient way to unload its investment in Yahoo Japan, a joint venture with SoftBank that is worth billions, although not nearly as much as the Alibaba stake. He has recommended up to R7 billion in cost cuts, which would reduce Yahoo to a far smaller operation with diminished aspirations. Smith has even floated the idea of a merger with Yahoo’s fellow tarnished 1990s icon, AOL. Others believe that Yahoo, which has been such a rampant buyer of companies itself, may end up being acquired itself. Alibaba is often mentioned as a possible purchaser, or SoftBank. Even investors who consider themselves advocates for Mayer sense an end game in the offing. “It will be a sign of huge success, that she took a business that was struggling and turned it around so that someone pays a healthy multiple,” says Jeff Lignelli, founder of hedge fund firm, Global Incline Management. Mayer doesn’t talk like a CEO who’s polishing up her company for sale. No CEO talks that way. “It’s hard to listen to the viewpoint of anyone who says, ‘Wait, the strategy should be not about building a great company for the long term, how to make the strongest Yahoo we can in 2020 or 2025,’ ” she contends. “My responsibility is to build for our shareholders the strongest, most future-leaning, fastest growing Yahoo that I can.” As my interview with Mayer winds to its end, I ask her what lingering misperceptions outsiders retain about Yahoo. After an atypically long pause, she answers: “For a lot of people, it’s still in their minds as the portal they used to go to in 1995 or 2000 or 2005.” Almost every day, she says, she hears from people who are “startled” by how good Yahoo’s mobile apps are. It’s time to stop being surprised. For the first time in years, Yahoo is positioned for some kind of future success, whether mild or bold. It’s not the company she inherited, and that’s a victory that no one—not even a cabal of angry investors—can take away from Marissa Mayer. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Autumn Brightness Light is an important aspect of any scene he paints, says Andrew Cooper.
In living colour T H E S E PA I N T I N G S A R E S O R I CH I N D E TA I L T H AT I T ’ S LI K E LO O K I N G THROUGH A W I N D OW Capetonian Andrew Cooper captures his love of the outdoors in largescale renditions of South African landscapes and seascapes, for which he has gained popularity both locally and abroad as an ‘investment artist’.
Art imitates life The self-taught Cooper has an extraordinary talent for making paintings come alive. “My paintings are mostly an impression or memory of a place I’ve visited. If I’m commissioned to paint a landscape I’ve never seen before, I plan a trip there. I never paint on site, and rely on my senses to capture the elements and general aura of my surroundings. Having this intimacy with my subject matter is what gives me the ability to create atmosphere,” he explains. The size of the painting allows the viewer to experience the grandeur and depth of the scene, he adds.
A select choice
As a curious five-year-old, Andrew was fascinated by his mother’s sketches (she studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art) and began experimenting with pencils and pencil crayons; later he became interested in watercolours. But he chose not to take art as a high-school subject, as he found the curriculum too prescribed and formalised.
It was while serving in the South African army that Cooper became obsessed with landscapes and seascapes. He produced nine paintings, borrowed money from his mother to have them framed, and sold them at an art exhibition. Since then, Cooper’s work has been exhibited in South Africa and internationally.
Cooper accepts only a few commissions each year—only those of which the subject matter fits well within his vivid style of painting and where light is an important aspect of the scene. These one-of-a-kind artworks range in price from R130 000 to R170 000—a worthwhile investment, indeed.
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Visit www. cooperart.co.za for further information and to view more of Cooper’s artworks.
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HEN APPLE LAUNCHED iTunes, no one
could have predicted its success. In a market where piracy abounded, who ever would have imagined that anyone could find a way to profit from the sale of music? Yet, its success is legendary. And the reason, says Stafford Masie, former Google South Africa GM, is because Apple’s CEO understood people.
Famously quoted as saying he did not have faith in technology but faith in people, Steve Jobs recognised that the reason people were going to Napster and pirating was not because they were inherently bad and didn’t want to pay, but because traditional payment models were broken. By giving people an easy way to pay for exactly what they wanted—when they wanted it—music sales shot up. For Masie, this story exemplifies the truth that innovation is not about technology but about people. In fact, speaking to students at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business recently, he argued that the future of technology lies not in the invention of more technology but rather in its gradual receding into the background. In the same way that electricity is no longer the noisy, show-off presence it was at the time of its initial discovery, and that its ubiquity in large parts of the world means we take it for granted, technology inevitably moves into the background and the human story takes centre stage. Through the ages, the most successful innovators, like Jobs, have understood human nature, and the inventions that have defined civilisations largely came out of a single purpose: to make everyday living easier, with less hindrances for human beings. From the pivotal engineering construct of the arch, which enabled the Romans to construct ever more elaborate structures and, literally, to conquer the Earth, to the much-contested (in South Africa, at least) success of taxi app Uber, successful
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IF LOCAL IS LEKKER , INNOVATORS WHO UNDERSTAND THEIR MARKET’S OWN CHALLENGES HAVE A BUILT-IN ADVANTAGE.
innovation and design make things easier, simpler, more efficient and more fun for people. David Kelley, legendary design-thinker and founder of IDEO and the Institute of Design at Stanford, calls it human-centred design—and he says it all boils down to good old-fashioned empathy. “Try to understand what other people value,” he says. Masie agrees. He says innovative business should set out to derive less value than it creates, and this is one of the key pillars of building a sustainable economy—something of which the world could do with more. In Africa, the definition of ‘business model innovation’ should lie in offering real solutions to real problems, impacting real people. Were we simply to innovate technologically in order to compete globally, we might come up with products that are totally irrelevant to African citizens. I would like to see us instead developing products and services that are relevant. How can business improve service delivery in rural areas, for instance? This is not to say that technology is irrelevant in Africa—far from it. Technology is essential in overcoming the challenges on the continent. Added to that, the next billion users of the Internet and other technologies are going to come from Africa, and the scramble for their custom has already started. If local is lekker, innovators who understand their market’s own challenges have a built-in advantage. You don’t have to look far for inspiring examples. Lumkani, an innovation that was refined on the UCT GSB Masters in Inclusive Innovation, is a tech startup and social enterprise that wants to minimise the loss of life and property caused by fires in slums, via the world’s first networked heat detector. M-Pesa is a mobile moneytransfer service born in Kenya which allows users to deposit, withdraw, transfer money and pay for goods and services with a mobile device and is busy taking the developing world by storm. Wyzetalk, a South African social business platform that drives intra-business communication and collaboration, is hoovering up market share at home and abroad. Ironically, the combination of the social and infrastructural challenges faced in Africa may mean the innovations and products made on the continent are more robust because they have to work that much harder to succeed. Masie believes African innovation leads the world precisely because of this. The opportunity for needs-driven, human-centred design on the continent is vast. And there is no guessing where the combination of empathy and innovation in such a context will lead. Walter Baets is the director of the UCT Graduate School of Business and holds the Allan Gray Chair in Values-Based Leadership at the school. Formerly a professor of Complexity, Knowledge and Innovation and associate dean for Innovation and Social Responsibility at Euromed Management—School of Management and Business, he is passionate about building a business school for ‘business that matters’.
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FAST BYTES Fast Company SA takes a look at the innovative new ideas and products currently making waves in South Africa and abroad
R E WA R D I N G YO U N G S T E R S F O R L I F E -A F F I R M I N G B E H AV I O U R
Luxury bluewater performance A powercat is incredibly simple to operate and offers more than a mere yacht does: more space, more speed with less expensive engines, and less fuel consumption—thanks to a semi-displacement cat hull designed for performance at high speeds. South Africa has some of the world’s best cruising waters, making sailing the newest member of Leopard Catamarans’ power fleet—the Leopard 51 PC—more fulfilling. This first-class powercat’s twinhull design allows for a smoother drift in beam seas, which makes her settle much faster than a monohull. Sleek in terms of design, she comes with a multitude of exciting features including a large forward cockpit, an expansive flying bridge, redesigned underbody and an interior with modern appliances. Designed by Simonis Voogd and built by Robertson & Caine, this high-performance catamaran is bluewater-ready, able to reach a top speed of 25 knots. With ownership programmes from The Moorings, you could purchase the catamaran and earn a 9% per annum guaranteed income for five years plus usage, without maintenance or upkeep costs.
G E T YO U R S E L F C O N N E C T E D !
Boasting some of the lowest prices ever seen in South Africa, OpenWeb has launched an incredible Uncapped ADSL sale, offering up to 60% discount. CEO Keoma Wright says OpenWeb Home Uncapped is an affordable and redefined ADSL package perfect for home use. “Prices range from R139 for 2Mbps to R349 for 10Mbps.” The special is subject to activating a debit order or auto deduction from a credit card. It allows for one ADSL line to be connected at a time, but unlimited devices may be connected from this same line.
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In July, South Africa’s largest youth development programme, loveLife, launched iloveLife. Designed for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, it is an interactive digital platform that encourages holistic development in order to equip young people with important tools to help them navigate life. “Over the last 16 years, we have done innovative work with young people in order to bring down HIV infections, but we need to work hard to remain relevant; we need to find new ways of doings things,” says loveLife CEO, Grace Matlhape. That opportunity is the explosive growth of mobile phones in South Africa and the resulting surge in the number of people with Internet access. Added to this growth is the massive uptick in engagement on social media platforms via mobile devices, particularly among younger users. loveLife already engages with 1.5 million young people a year through a network of community activators who implement face-to-face interventions. The trailblazing move into digital space with iloveLife.mobi means the non-profit can make its extensive knowledge, expertise and programming accessible to millions more. Smartphones, feature phones, as well as basic cellphones can be used to access the mobi site. Just by signing up and creating a profile earns the young users points. This mobile-based incentives system, which is funded by the German state-owned KfW Development Bank, rewards young people for life-affirming, empowering and healthy behaviour. Completing enlightening self-assessments and knowledge quizzes, reading and sharing informative articles, referring friends, taking polls and linking to Facebook accounts are all online activities that earn valuable points. iloveLife also encourages youngsters to complete “Keeping it Real” activities. Attending loveLife events, visiting a clinic or taking preventative tests regularly scores more points.
P A R T N E R S H I P TA R G E T S D I G I TA L A D V E R T I S I N G M A R K E T GIRAFFE IS THE TO P S O U T H A F R I C A N STA RT U P
Mobile startup employment company, Giraffe, has just bagged itself a ticket to Geneva, Switzerland where it will take vie for the $500 000 equity prize in 2016. The achievement comes after Giraffe was crowned the top South African startup by Seedstars World 2015: a global seedstage startup competition for emerging markets. This winning startup is behind a mobile platform that helps connect employees with employers across the country. Two months after it launched in January this year, it had connected 10 000 jobseekers with more than 1 000 employers. Co-founder Shafin Anwarsha said the recognition was a massive confidence boost for the company. “We’ve always believed in our vision to help reduce unemployment in South Africa and beyond; we think what we’re doing is really cool and we hope to help a lot of people. The Seedstars award really affirms other people’s belief in our idea and business model, and it encourages us to keep pushing to make it a success.” Giraffe was pitted against 11 other tech-savvy teams from around the country. African payment solution, Causal Nexus, was the runner-up; musicstreaming service, NicheStreem, came in third. Jayshree Naidoo, head of Standard Bank Incubator (a main sponsor and host of the event), added: “Standard Bank has seen the need to recognise the startup community and access innovative companies that can improve our value chain as well as our corporate client base”.
SouthernX has partnered with nugg.ad, Europe’s largest targeting platform, to provide real-time technology for audience targeting and data management. Powered by machine learning, the technology enables nugg.ad partners to deliver target group-specific digital advertising for display, video and mobile advertising for both direct sales and programmatic platforms. This is the first time that nugg.ad will be utilising its technology in sub-Saharan Africa. “Moving to South Africa with the nugg.ad product is a major step for us. Together we offer the African digital market a versatile and efficient targeting solution which is accompanied by our consulting expertise and certified data-protection services,” says Stéphane Printz, director of sales and business development at nugg.ad. Advertisers will be able to target users through lifestyle, past purchase behaviour and demographic information such as age, gender, income and language. Targeting can be drilled down further to focus on users who have a propensity to purchase certain products and who show interest in certain categories. Publishers can access the data for users who visit their websites, which also allows their direct sales teams to better monetise each impression, as they are now able to sell brands to their actual target audiences, in a premium environment.
Unlocking online shopping VCpay is a free app that lets users create Mobile Virtual MasterCards that function the same way as a regular credit card. These virtual cards allow one to shop online for goods, while also giving access to convenient services like Uber. The cards created can be configured, which puts users in control of payments and ensures they have the most secure way to pay online. Users simply complete an in-app registration to get enrolled into the system, and create their own free-to-use VCpay account. However, it needs to have a positive balance in order for cards to be accepted. It’s easy to top up: from transferring funds via EFT, depositing cash at one of the thousands of EasyPay till points across South Africa, to linking one’s existing credit card or redeeming promotional vouchers. VCpay offers a secure alternative to people who would normally pay with their own plastic credit card, and provides those without one with a way to finally take part in e-commerce. To learn more, visit www.vcpay.co.za or download the app directly from Google Play, Apple App Store or Windows Store.
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FAST EVENTS Upcoming events Fast Company will be attending
TECH4AFRICA Date: 6 August Time: 08h00–18h00 Location: Cape Town Stadium tech4africa.com No suits and ties; no plenaries, committees or chairpersons. Tech4Africa will bring you a day of tech, music and film goodness. Creatives, technologists and students of all stripes will gather to witness, inspire and share their visions that will galvanise ideas of tomorrow. Placing greatest emphasis on learning, interaction, engagement and discussion, Tech4Africa will be a place for new ideas and will encourage people to make and change things. The conference will focus on great content for all who attend, plus free Wi-Fi, coffee all day, fun at night, and an electric atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else. The R500 ticket price includes all tech sessions, workshops and evening entertainment.
2ND ANNUAL SA ENTREPRENEURSHIP E XPO Date: 6 & 7 August (Soweto Entrepreneurship Expo); 27 & 28 August (Limpopo Entrepreneurship Expo) Time: 10h00–15h00 Location: TBC The SA Entrepreneurship Expo is a platform for government departments, private companies and state-owned companies—which offer financial and non-financial support, tenders and more to SMMEs—to exhibit and interact with the small business owners and emerging entrepreneurs. The exhibition will provide a perfect opportunity for private companies and government organs to showcase their products and services to all participating SMMEs across South Africa. They will engage directly with business owners in an open debate about various challenges and the opportunities that could be better utilised by SMMEs.
WOMEN’S MONTH SUMMIT – INSPIRE, EDUCATE, C O N N E C T Date: 20 August Time: 08h30–14h00 Location: Hilton Sandton, Johannesburg firstname.lastname@example.org This summit provides an ideal setting for women to share and discuss ways in which they can become successful in the workplace and in business. Delegates will learn from some of South Africa’s leading women in business, academics, philanthropy, politics and government. The summit will also give women an opportunity to network and exchange strategies with other professionals to fully achieve their potential of climbing up the success ladder and inspiring the next generation of women.
GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF GROWTH, INNOVATION AND LE ADERSHIP (GIL) 2015: AFRICA Date: 20 August Time: 08h00–17h15 Location: The Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town www.frost.com/GILAfrica Frost & Sullivan’s global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership focuses on sharing, engaging and inspiring a continuous flow of new ideas and fresh perspectives that leverage innovation as a resource to help address global challenges. Year after year, CEOs and members of their Growth Team gain access to best practices, tools and strategies from a global network of today’s best thinkers, visionaries and thought leaders.
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8TH SA INNOVATION SUMMIT Date: 26 to 29 August (Market on the Edge on 28 & 29 August) Time: 07h30–17h00/17h30 Location: Cape Town Stadium innovationsummit.co.za The annual groundbreaking summit is back in Cape Town, and the theme for 2015, “Innovation Intelligence”, seeks to address the mystery of creating that elusive competitive edge through new and convergent thinking. This exciting theme will be unpacked through a full and varied programme that will include a local and international plenary, panel debates, break-away sessions, highly interactive workshops and an in-depth matchmaking service facilitated by industry professionals. The summit will look closely at the key challenges faced by entrepreneurs, developers, researchers, thought leaders, inventors and investors, and will also propose inventive solutions and powerful tools to overcome these challenges. Participants can expect mind-opening experiences that seek to influence and lead current thinking in the field of innovation and the problems ordinary South Africans face. The Market on the Edge exhibition brings together entrepreneurs with technology providers, funders and government agencies.
THE POWER CONFERENCE AND E XPO: WOMEN DOING BUSINESS Date: 28 August Time: 08h30–15h00 Location: Protea Hotel Hunters Rest, Rustenburg The Rustenburg Business Women’s Networking Forum will be hosting this first-of-its-kind business conference and expo. All small and medium business entrepreneurs are welcome to attend. Renowned businessmen and women will speak at the event, and the exhibition will be a platform for entrepreneurs to showcase their businesses.
INFRASTRUCTURE AFRICA Date: 1 & 2 September Time: 07h30–17h30 Location: Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg www.infrastructure-africa.com The need for infrastructure development in emerging markets is critical. In most African countries, particularly the lower income nations, infrastructure emerges as a major constraint to doing business. The Infrastructure Africa event comprises a two-day high-level conference providing expert advice on the current state of infrastructure and the anticipated impact of future development; a Ministerial Infrastructure and Development Round-table discussion; and the official Gauteng Infrastructure projects workshop. Join Africa’s most senior business leaders, policy makers, regulators, financers and developers as they advance, debate and champion the delivery of Africa’s critical infrastructure requirements.
HELLO AMBASSADOR Date: 4 & 5 September Time: 09h00–00h00 Location: Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, Newtown, Johannesburg www.helloambassador.co.za Hello Ambassador is an annual creative festival based in Gauteng. The theme for this third year is “Citizen”, and the event will consist of a two-day conference featuring the following: talks by 25 speakers, panellists and workshop hosts from a variety of creative disciplines; a Creativity and Innovation Expo; workshops and VIP events; competitions and awards; a street fest and after party. From well-known CEOs to creative pioneers, experts, innovators and local entrepreneurs, we’ll bring you the people who’ve seen it all and are willing to share their vision. Big names include Nando’s founder Robert Brozin, Pepe Marais of Joe Public, award-winning novelist Lauren Beukes and many others.
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ONE MORE THING
Beware the robot apocalypse?
THE FEARS OF SCIENCE FICTION—robots subjugating humanity,
cities destroyed by machine wars, humans made nearly extinct and forced to live underground in some sort of 1990s New York City rave culture—have expanded from the fantasy world of books and films to fact-based conversations at TED and on Twitter and in the blogosphere. The folks now warning of the existential threat posed by artificial intelligence include Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. Even real-life Iron Man Elon Musk tweeted last year, “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” Maybe this is why he’s so eager to get to Mars. It’s shocking to hear technology barons, who usually embrace any advancement and reject government intervention, urging caution and suggesting regulation. The worst-case scenarios of AI usually involve the machines becoming increasingly frustrated with us, their creators. They kill us because we are an impediment to the progress we created them to pursue. Or they kill us because we try to turn them off, because they’re trying to kill us. But, really, what are our tech leaders so afraid of? Is it that in a world where human and machine consciousness were indistinguishable, we could be friends with machines, and those machines could be programmed to sell us stuff? It would be as if your friends today all turned out to be ‘influencers’ whose every utterance was optimised to drive your purchasing decisions. This would be horrifyingly effective advertising, but not genocidal—mere steps beyond following a brand on Instagram. We already know what happens when nearly everyone on the planet carries a high-definition camera and
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Baratunde Thurston is the author of The New York Times best-seller How to Be Black and CEO and co-founder of Cultivated Wit, a creative agency that combines the powers of humour, design and technology.
Illustration by Kirsten Ulve
E LO N M U S K , ST E P H E N H AW K I N G A N D OT H E R S A R E C O N C E R N E D A B O U T T H E DA N G E R S O F A RT I F I C I A L I N T E L L I G E N C E . M AY B E T H E Y S H O U L D N ’ T B E
handheld supercomputer: 86% of us make movies about our pets. Now, imagine billions more conscious beings making cat art in every medium possible. Scary? Yes, but it’s hardly a human baby farm. Perhaps our tech pioneers are afraid of too much logic in our everyday lives. We could have congressional districts that make sense! An AI Congress could be the best thing ever, governing with full information based on the will of the people and not shadowy funders. If that’s too much to ask, what if AI could limit the marginal and meaningless choices we make each day: Which route should I take to work? Which of these 20 types of laundry detergent should I buy? What do I say during this moment of small talk that has lasted far too long? Let the AI decide! With all due respect to the boldface AI worriers, do we need to invent a boogeyman from the future when we have the present to worry about? Is tomorrow’s machine enslavement so much more terrifying than today’s vast amounts of child labour, human trafficking and incarceration? Our current human law enforcement could certainly use some superhuman intelligence to counter the systemic and implicit bias that leads to such disparate levels of arrests, violence and abuse. We may be giving the machines and ourselves too much credit. We don’t need to imagine a future filled with human suffering at the (liquid metal) hands of supersmart robots. Many are suffering now at the hands of their fellow humans. It’s possible that artificial intelligence is the only way forward for a species that seems unconcerned with its own survival. Perhaps with all the time AI would save us, we would focus on the interactions and decisions that truly matter: our friends and family, the welfare of citizens most in need of assistance, and the health of our community.
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