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INNOVATION BY DESIGN 2015

World-changing solutions from Nike, Facebook, Google, Slack, L’Oréal and more INDEX Design Award winners SA EXCLUSIVE

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BRAIN GAIN

Why SA’s brilliant expats are bringing their skills home


REAL PEOPLE. REAL SOLUTIONS.


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October 2015

Contents With age comes wisdom “Those of us who have a fair few years behind us are often in an even better position, as we have made more mistakes to learn from,” says Branson.

COVER S T ORY

“It’s all just living”

At age 65, Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson has no plans to retire any time soon. The billionaire businessman and philanthropist has been keeping busy, with plans to launch a 900-satellite constellation above the Earth to beam broadband Internet to people in the remotest areas. BY ROBBIE STAMMERS Page 28

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Contents

SP E CIAL FEATURE

Innovation by Design

3D for free Google’s Cardboard app and viewer—made from corrugated paper, two lenses and Velcro—create a remarkable virtualreality experience. (page 42)

Fast Company celebrates the best in problem-solving design worldwide, featuring Nike, Google, Facebook, Slack, Airbnb and more Begins on page 42

FEAT U RE S

36 Brain Gain

In the midst of economic woes and political instability, why are so many highly skilled South African expats returning to their homeland? BY CHRIS WALDBURGER

74 LIFE: Improved

Five award-winning new designs are addressing serious modern challenges and have the potential to disrupt established industries BY KATIE DE KLEE

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   5


Contents

N E XT

14 Welcome home, Alexa

Amazon’s answer to Apple’s personal assistant, Siri, is the home-based Alexa, who— via the voice-controlled Echo device—helps with everything from cooking to online shopping BY AUSTIN CARR

20 The Full Spectrum L’Oréal scientist Balanda Atis is leading the cosmetics industry’s effort to make well-matched products for women of colour BY ELIZABETH SEGRAN

C REAT I VE C ONVERSAT I O NS

18 An Honest Woman

Actress turned eco-friendly homegoods entrepreneur Jessica Alba outlines the expansion of her Honest Company BY KC IFEANYI

24 Empire State of Mind

Lee Daniels discusses the seasontwo return of his hit series, and how it has opened dialogue about topics that traditionally have been taboo INTERVIEW BY JJ MCCORVEY

Changing thought patterns The INDEX: Award promotes the application of design and design processes to improve vital areas of people’s lives worldwide. (page 74)

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REG U LARS

08 From the Editor 10 The Recommender 34 Watch This Space

Bettél’s wooden timepieces are getting a helping hand from Kickstarter

69 Disruption Ahead

The dynamics of business are now based on value, skill and knowledge—smart is the new cool BY MARK MCCHLERY

70 Safety Net

Cybercrime is a global business. The Liability Guy, Simon Colman, helps you understand the risks in order to adapt BY RENE FRANK

72 Fit To Be Sized

Actress and comedian Melissa McCarthy is reinventing plussize fashion BY KC IFEANYI

82 The Great Innovation Frontier

If we are to solve Africa’s challenges, we need our leaders to keep the space of possibility wide open BY WALTER BAETS

84 Fast Bytes & Events 88 One More Thing

What rules do companies like Google and Reddit have to play by when it comes to freedom of information? BY BARATUNDE THURSTON


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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. OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   7


From the Editor

The short and long of it

Our 1st anniversary issue As I write this note, the Fast Company SA team is beaming with pride. The many late nights, tight deadlines, hard research, Eskom and, more recently, Skype glitches might have made our lives a tad more difficult, but we made it! The tough times have made us appreciate the good times.

As a tribute to this inaugural year of publishing the most progressive business media brand in the world—inspiring a new breed of innovative and creative thought leaders actively inventing the future of business—I have taken a brief look back at our first 10 cover personalities and the progress they have made in their respective sectors.

8   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

Evans says the first year has flown by so fast, but there have been so many disruptive developments.

ISSUE 1: FACEBOOK CEO MARK ZUCKERBERG

ISSUE 4: ENTERTAINER AND ENTREPRENEUR JARED LETO

We predicted it, and Zuckerberg has ensured Facebook now dominates mobile. The acquisition of WhatsApp has been a game changer. Free phone calls, anyone?

Leto truly is the embodiment of Generation Flux. Juggling multiple careers, he is an actor, musician, tech investor and philanthropist, and has won top awards for both his music and acting talent. One line sums up his philosophy: “I don’t compartmentalise. Whatever you are doing, you should be passionate about. If you’re not, then say no.”

ISSUE 2: GRAMMY-WINNING ARTIST AND ENTREPRENEUR PHARRELL WILLIAMS Williams is the king of collaboration, and is now partnering with top South African retailer Woolworths as its new style director. (At the time of writing, Pharrell was in South Africa for two public concerts.)

ISSUE 3: GOOGLE CO-FOUNDER SERGEY BRIN The R385-trillion giant, which lets loose too many innovations and milestones to count, is literally embedded in almost all forms of modern technology today. In July, the fortunes of Brin and co-founder Larry Page grew by over $4 billion each in one day as shares surged by 16%.

ISSUE 5: ENTREPRENEUR AND INVENTOR ELON MUSK The CEO and CTO of Space X, chairperson of SolarCity, product architect and CEO of Tesla Motors is still one of the most productive people in the world. The South African-born Musk recently released the solar-powered Tesla Powerwall battery for homes and small businesses. He is confident of building a colony of 1 million people on Mars.


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IN HARMONY

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Sum Of Its Parts THE The SECRETS OF GENERATION FLUX Take an executive education short course and go from good to great.

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INSIGHT S FROM INNOVATI V E SOU TH A FRICA NS

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS AND LIFE

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Boy Genius: SAM BERGER The Power of Sound: TOYA DELAZY Doing the Indie Shuffle: JASON GRISHKOFF From Corporate to Consulting: ANN NUROCK

201769 Exec Ed Course Print Ad Fin.indd 1

ISSUE 6: COMEDIAN TREVOR NOAH Another home-grown golden boy, Noah will take the seat on the widely popular and highly respected US late-night programme The Daily Show on September, 28— replacing popular actor, comedian and film director Jon Stewart. Now that’s what you call making a mark globally.

ISSUE 7: FORMER APPLE CEO AND ENTREPRENEUR STEVE JOBS He may no longer be with us, but his influence is still tangible. (I sit here typing on my Mac and checking for messages on my iPhone.) The business comeback story of Steve Jobs is the greatest of them all. Now excuse me while I upgrade to iOS 9…

SUSAN LYNE

Leading AOL’s BBG Ventures

“If you’re at Tesla, you’re ... at the equivalent of Special Forces.”

ELON M U SK

CEO and CTO of SpaceX; chairperson of SolarCity; product architect and CEO of Tesla Motors

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VIRTUAL WORK REALITY

Why more women are telecommuting

evans@fastcompany.co.za @Nyasha1e 201757

World’s Most LOGIC Creative People in INTUITION Business MEET M EET 2015

&

THERE'S A PLACE WHERE

STARBUCKS, NINTENDO, TRANSNET, JOE PUBLIC and others on overcoming troubled times to emerge stronger than ever

SnowCon Strategy

Snowboarding by day, brainstorming by night

Threaded Man brand

IN HARMONY

Styling the everyday African male

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STEVE JOBS

A M Y P OEH LER

Actress, Producer

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PLUS SA’S TOP 50 including Gareth Cliff, Maira Koutsoudakis,

LudwickUMarishane, R Ashley Uys, OLOA ’S LC OL Xuza, UL FRIC OSiya R F AT A CHRavi Naidoo, n VE S pe CO ING ESS Kirsten w O Goss DIS INK SIN No ns TH BU o P ca ti TO p li Ap 15 20

INSIDE OBA M A’S STE A LTH STA RTUP

Is Greater Than HThe O W TOWhole P TThe ECH IESSum F RO MOf Its Parts GO O GL E, FACEB O O K, AND AMAZO N ARE INF ILT RAT ING T H E U S GOVERNMENT Take an executive education short course and go from good to great.

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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?

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Why mobile payments are big business in SA

GWYNETH KNOWS BEST HER BRAND IS POWERFUL AND DIVISIVE. CAN SHE BUILD A BUSINESS THAT MATTERS?

SEPTEMBER 2015

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THE NEW RIVALRIES

Apple vs Xiaomi Snapchat vs Twitter Facebook vs Microsoft

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

AUGUST 2015

Comedian and next host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show

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BIGGEST BUSINESS COMEBACKS Lessons from MARVEL,

THE REAL LEGACY OF

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MAY 2015 2015/03/12 2:05 PM

TRE VOR NOA H ,

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How he resurrected Madame Zingara

Evans Manyonga

Gwyneth Paltrow + The New Business Rivalries + Periscope + The Walking Dead + Rick Treweek

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Issue10 2 Issue

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OurHood

The new way neighbours are connecting

Rise of the machines

The first black president of the United States is still going strong. His ability to keep pace with the digital evolution not only ensured he landed the coveted and powerful job but also aided him in setting out a clear and concise message to the world.

Life-changing wisdom from CEOs, chefs, directors, surgeons, inventors, ELON MUSK & more

Our current cover personality is Sir Richard Branson, who needs no introduction to South Africans. Wisdom, integrity and empathy are key points from his feature on page 28. Another major focus of this issue is design. The recipients of both our 2015 Innovation by Design accolade (page 42) and the Danish INDEX: Award (page 74) offer a glimpse into the power and necessity of groundbreaking design to solve modern challenges. We dedicate this milestone edition to you, our readers, and hope you enjoy it as much as we had the pleasure of putting it together. Feel free to give us some feedback.

Obama’s Stealth Startup + Yahoo + Domino’s + BioTherm Energy + Code & Coffee

IN HARMONY

HOW TRE VOR NOA H, CH A RLIZE T HERON, FA N A MOKOEN A , NEILL BLOMK A MP A ND OT HERS A RE M A K ING IT BIG A BROA D

Creativity meets sustainability

The Real Legacy of Steve Jobs + Biggest Business Comebacks + Lego + Amazon + SnowCon

South Africans making their mark abroad + Dropbox + JT Foxx + Björk + Lynette Hundermark

2)

JT Foxx

Helping underdogs become millionaires

Design Indaba 2015

Known for her prowess on the silverscreen, Paltrow has become a modern career woman with her lifestyle brand Goop: a website and newsletter that offers style, food and wellness recommendations from Gwyneth and her circle of influencers.

Issue 9 2 Issue

THERE'S A PLACE WHERE

One of our World’s Most Creative People in Business, Poehler has ensured commerce and comedy keep her looking up—both in front of and behind the screen. Her secret is being able to evolve. Her company, Paper Kite Productions, produces the Comedy Central hit Broad City and Difficult People for Hulu, and has recently concluded a deal for two more comedies for ABC and NBC. (The latter has also committed to a pilot for the comedy, Dumb Prince.)

WHAT AMAZON IS REALLY SELLING INSIDE LEGO’S FUTURE LAB NASA CHIEF SCIENTIST’S MARS MISSION

Issue 7 2 Issue

Issue 6 2 Issue

&

SOUTH LOGIC AFRICANS INTUITION ON TOP OFM MEET EET THE WORLD

ISSUE 10: ACTOR AND ENTREPRENEUR GWYNETH PALTROW

ISSUE 9: US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

SECRETS OF THE MOST PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE

2015/03/12 2:05 PM

ISSUE 8: COMEDIAN, ACTOR AND PRODUCER AMY POEHLER

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CAN DROPBOX DOMINATE DIGITAL DATA? / BJÖRK’S CASE AGAINST STREAMING

MARCH/APRIL 2015

GOOGLE UR LOOKS TO LO THE FUTURE: COCo-founder A'SSergey Brin, sporting his Google ULL RIC OLeyewear R F T AF HOGlass VE G A S SC CO DIS INKIN SINES TH BU P TO

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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

Actor, Musician, Entrepreneur

Secrets of the Most Productive People + Silicon Valley’s Race Problem + Richard Griffin + Susan Lyne

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RE V E A L S THE TRUE JOB S

The LOGIC World’sINTUITION MEET M EET 2014

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LOGIC INTUITION MEET M EET

“My work is never a job. My work is my life.”

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THERE'S A PLACE WHERE

The Secrets of Generation Flux + Steve Wozniak + Benedict Cumberbatch + Jason Grishkoff + LeBron James

&

SPECIAL BUMPER EDITION

Issue 5 2 Issue

Issue 4 2 Issue

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THERE'S A PLACE WHERE

SPECIAL REPORT: Silicon Valley’s Race Problem

BEING BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH / NIKE BACKS LEBRON / DO WE NEED MANAGERS?

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Fast Company has teamed up with Chivas Regal to bring you expert entrepreneurial tips and insights, the latest news on tech and business trends, and all the details and updates on The Venture. The local leg of this competition closes on November, 5—so if you believe you’re the next undiscovered social entrepreneur, go to www.theventure.com now!

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   9


The recommender What are you loving this month?

Favourite books Rozanne McKenzie Fast Company SA team

TV presenter, Flits on kykNET & radio presenter, Jacaranda FM

This One Time by Alex van Tonder: Since the birth of my

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance This may not be the first biography on Elon Musk—and surely it won’t be the last. However, technology writer (for Bloomberg Businessweek) Ashlee Vance tells the stories of both SpaceX and Tesla with intricacy and insight, including the tech details in footnotes for those who are interested. Musk is portrayed as a perfectionist not immune to occasional fits of anger and frustration. Perhaps the key element in the book is his portrayal as humanitarian genius, going after a quest greater than worldly riches. This is Musk the man, his motivation, and the way he foresees the future. 10   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

son 18 months ago, I’ve struggled to find time to read, but I raced through this book! It’s about a writer, Jacob Lynch, and his blogging alter-ego, Brodie Lomax. He’s on top of the world until he finds himself in a really bad situation of his own doing. This thriller is written so well, and the suspense made it hard to put down. The story is current and delves into the many issues arising from the increased popularity of social media.

FAVOURITE STORE Nicole Shapiro

Associate director, Added Value South Africa

Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream: This artisanal ice cream shop in Johannesburg is a foodie’s dream, with delicious and innovative flavours. On one Sunday per month, the brand hosts its Ice Cream Sunday event with an exclusive menu (with flavours like Pistachio Shortbread and Guava; and Caramel Popcorn), live music and a great vibe. It’s a fun and delicious day out—and probably the best ice cream you’ll ever taste!


The recommender

FAVOURITE COFFEE MACHINE Gianni Mariano Founder and CEO, Mastrantonio

Moka: In this crazy world of lattes, flat whites and techno coffee, there’s nothing like the gurgle of my magical Moka coffee maker. It has served me loyally for around 30 years—still relevant and still capable of providing a perfect cup, time after time. Simple to use and beautiful, it works just as well on a portable gas burner as it does on any stove—making it a perfect companion wherever I go.

Favourite artist Jono Bruton

Founder, Dead Reckoning

Pierre de Villiers: Spending every spare moment in the ocean leaves me

high and dry when I’m away from the coast or chained to the designer table working on the next clothing line. I follow a Facebook page created by this exceptional water photographer from East London. Looking at his photos puts you right into the ocean, as if you were there. Nothing lifts my spirits more than a daily reminder of how beautiful the ocean is. Each picture’s title is based on what the artist felt at the time—which can be quite amusing.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION Josie Dougall

Brand and strategy guru, CN&CO

Lowveld: My favourite destination is anywhere in the South African Lowveld: sitting in an open Landie, the clean air rushing over my face, the wind in my hair and the sounds of the bush all around me. There’s nothing more relaxing and more grounding than a few days away from the rush of life surrounded by our beautiful piece of Africa. I think better, sleep better, and always manage to reset myself on these getaways. OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   11


The recommender

App Alley

David Greenway Geek, tech whisperer, sock stockpiler

LastPass: Keeping your Simon Wall

MD, Tractoroutdoor.com

I’ve been travelling quite a bit of late, and these two apps are lifesavers. Tripit saves all your hotel and flight info by simply forwarding your booking confirmation to an email address; it also syncs to your shared calendars.

Songkick Concerts helps you discover music gigs in different cities. It automatically scans your Spotify playlists and lets you know which of your favourite bands are playing in the city you’re visiting.

online existence secure is more important than ever. LastPass stores all your usernames and passwords in a secure, highly encrypted vault. It imports all your passwords from your computer and helps you generate unique, secure passwords for the future.

Brett Mallen

CEO, Africa Investments at Sanlam

FaceTime:

I used to be disparaging about the use of social media to publish pictures of inane family moments—until I travelled more for work. Now my family’s posts are a tonic that makes hotel rooms feel less further from home. FaceTime allows me to hear my toddlers’ revelations on Lego or their upbeat remix of “Twinkle Twinkle”, or my wife’s guided tour of the new additions to our renovated home.

Ensly Dooms

Carmen Dell

Social media lead, Ford South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa

Deezer: As a creative, I need fuel for my fire—and I find that in music. When I need to think up content strategies, campaign ideas or just to be in a mind space that takes me on a journey or helps me stay on trend, I listen to music. Deezer offers 35 million tracks to which I can listen via my smartphone or PC. It also has a wide selection of international and local music, so I never miss a beat. It’s one of my favourite apps, and I access it daily from car to work to the gym. 12   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

Co-founder and director, About Finance

Xero:

This app is ‘accounting on the go’. While enjoying a coffee, you can invoice clients and keep up to date with your numbers and cash flow from your phone or tablet. When you get the bill, take a picture with your phone and upload it to the app—and it records your expenses. No more hanging on to receipts for expense claims! It’s cloud-based, so you and your accountant can access it from anywhere, any time.


TOUCH. PAUSE. ENGAGE Seartec’s digital display solutions deliver a combination of breath-taking image quality and clarity with cutting-edge technology. Whether you need massive-scale video walls, touch-screen displays or HD TV, Seartec will help you to engage and captivate your audience. Seartec constantly strives for high performance and global competitiveness - just like the Boks. We would like to wish our boys all the best at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Seartec is behind you all the way!


N E X T

Welcome home, Alexa In the race to win the connectedhome market, Amazon’s voice is starting to ring louder BY AUSTIN CARR

Illustration by Kyle Bean

14   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

“How do we get an intelligent personal assistant into the home of every Amazon customer?” That simple query, according to sources involved, set the mission for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the team he tasked with creating the e-commerce giant’s latest entry into the hardware market: the Amazon Echo, a $179 (R2 400) cylindrical speaker roughly as tall and sturdy as a bottle of Merlot cut off at the neck. Sure, the Echo—which officially launched this past June in the US—is good at playing music, delivering excellent bass and clear treble. But the key is what’s inside:


Next

Alexa, an always-listening Siri for your living room. It’s Amazon’s vision of the platform of the future, one that gives you the ability to control your home by voice. Say the word Alexa, and the device’s top glows blue, awaiting your command. Like Siri, she can respond to a laundry list of queries and requests—Alexa, how tall is Mount Everest? Alexa, could you set an alarm for tomorrow morning? But whereas Apple designed Siri primarily for mobile consumption through iPhones and iPads—push a button and talk—Alexa is invisible and ever-present, a natural interface for the connected home. For decades, we’ve heard and seen visions of what the smart home of tomorrow could bring, from HAL 9000 and The Jetsons to Minority Report and Her. But this promise has leapt toward reality in recent years, thanks to improved technology and economic manufacturing, growing venture-capital (and crowdfunded) investments, and a network of socalled Internet of Things devices. Just as they did on PCs and mobile

The logical next step is to allow people to shop without having to touch a thing—making the Amazon Prime experience even more compelling. devices before, tech giants are racing to build the next big platform, this time for the connected home—a market poised to grow to $58 billion (almost R790 billion) in the next half-decade. The domestic arena has tempted tech giants at least as far back as Microsoft’s release of the Xbox

Illustrations by ROCK3RS

console in 2001. But now, rather than only battle to build the connected-TV box that could be a digital hub for the home, these companies have shifted their focus from hardware to voice interfaces, which may be the trick to getting their ecosystems widespread adoption. Apple’s HomeKit platform will enable Siri to control devices such as the window shades and coffee maker; Google has integrated voice commands into Nest, the smart-home company it spent $3.2 billion (R43.5 billion) to acquire; Microsoft is making its personal assistant, Cortana, a key feature for the Xbox One. What makes Alexa stand out in this crowded market is that Amazon is already an essential homemanagement tool for a whole lot of people, especially the estimated 40 million who have signed up for Prime membership. Run out of paper towels, need to replace your smoke detector, or just want to cue up the latest episode of Orphan Black? With its e-commerce reach and growing video ambitions, Amazon is there for you. The logical next step is to allow people to shop without having to touch a thing—making the Prime experience even more compelling. As the Echo took shape years ago at Amazon’s secretive Lab126, best known for developing the Kindle e-reader, the responsible teams were bullish about the myriad use cases for an ever-listening virtual assistant inside the home: If you’re in the kitchen with hands covered in barbecue sauce, why not have Alexa set a timer for your ribs rather than fiddle with your iPhone? What if she could read you the news as you took your morning shower? Or order an Uber when you’re hurrying to catch your flight? The applications were seemingly limitless. But the company was wary of spending resources to solve problems that didn’t exist—or creating new ones. Bezos was personally involved in keeping Alexa’s voice cues simple, to avoid subjecting users to unnecessary and frustrating

ASK HER ANY THING HOW A M A ZON’S A L E X A CA N HEL P AT HOME 01

Cooking Use Alexa to set a timer, add items to your phone’s grocery list, or offer meal tips through the cooking-assistant app.

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Media and Entertainment Alexa syncs with iHeartRadio, Pandora and Amazon Prime’s media library; streams audiobooks through Audible.com; and can queue up news from The Economist or TMZ.

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Personal Assistance Amazon’s voice service will do everything from checking your Google Calendar for appointments to defining or spelling a word.

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Shopping Further streamlining Amazon’s vaunted one-click ordering, Alexa allows Prime users to reorder goods simply by asking.

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Home Tech Alexa is able to control Philips Hue lights, and turn on and off appliances plugged into Belkin’s connected outlets. She also works with Wi-Fi–connected garage-door openers and home-security systems.

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W H AT A L E X A NEEDS TO BECOME M A INST RE A M

AN AGNOSTIC E C O SY S T E M

Perhaps Amazon’s biggest hurdle: Alexa will have to embrace—and be embraced by— some of the company’s main rivals. If products such as Apple TV and Google’s Nest thermostat gain more widespread traction with consumers, A M A Z O N W I L L H AV E T O F I N D A WAY T O G E T T H E M T O I N T E G R AT E W I T H A L E X A .

DIY SIMPLICITY

Installing connected-home devices can be a costly headache, syncing various services over Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, different accounts, and apps. Until these products are easier to use and connect, or arrive in P R E - PA C K A G E D H O M E K I T S W I T H I N S TA L L AT I O N I N C L U D E D , this market will have a hard time breaking through.

P E R S O N A L I S AT I O N

For a service that aims to be an assistant in the home, Alexa is still surprisingly stilted in her interactions. To become a true companion, she’ll have to D E V E L O P B E T T E R L A N G U A G E S K I L L S A N D L E A R N T O I D E N T I F Y M U LT I P L E V O I C E S —not just a user’s own, but also a spouse’s or child’s—and respond accordingly.

KILLER APPS

Inevitably, Alexa will live or die based on which services and applications its partners choose to build for the platform. The trick for Amazon will be M A I N TA I N I N G Q U A L I T Y A N D VA L U I N G C O N V E N I E N C E O V E R C O O L . The best applications for Alexa are the ones that are simple, useful and addictive, like asking for the weather forecast.

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Amazon’s fund seeks to establish what’s missing from current connected-home devices: one service—and one voice—to unite them all. While there have been a slew of promising inventions in recent years that are capable of turning our homes from dumb to smart, these gadgets haven’t actually made our lives easier; instead, they’ve left us with an ever-growing number of separate apps, remote controls and operating systems to monitor. “Alexa removes these barriers and opens up a world of new interactions,” says Dave Shapiro, co-founder of Scout Alarm. The challenge for Alexa will be remaining agnostic as its ecosystem grows. The fact is, Amazon is no more likely to build a dishwasher than Apple is to create a microwave, so it must rely on third parties such as GE and Whirlpool to support its voice service. That means creating a platform so universal that it may even welcome products from

Amazon’s Alexa Fund seeks to establish what’s missing from current connected-home devices: one service—and one voice—to unite them all. competitors like Apple and Google. As promising as voice technology is as a means of controlling the home, it’s likely only a stepping stone. The real achievement, industry insiders say, will be when Siri or Alexa can learn your patterns well enough to automate these tasks altogether. Which means the voice interface of the future may be the one that all our dishwashers, refrigerators and air conditioners use to speak to each other.

Illustration by ROCK3RS

A CURE FOR THE HICCUPS

interactions such as asking Alexa to turn off a light only to hear, “Which one?” “He was very specific about it,” says a former product manager involved with the Echo’s development. “I remember [going over an interaction] in a session with Jeff, and he was just like, ‘This is not going to work. People don’t want to go through all these steps, ’cause it’s annoying.’ ” The teams killed a lot of promising applications to streamline the user experience. When Amazon announced the Echo in late 2014 and rolled it out to beta testers and the tech media, the reception was mixed. Many felt the product was cool and different— certainly a departure for Amazon­— but they questioned its utility and immediately launched into Siri comparisons. Thus began an inevitable pitting of the two voice assistants against each other in knowledge games, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of Alexa’s mission. Both services have cloud-based ‘brains’ that are constantly updated, in part, through user-generated questions—so it’s no wonder Siri, several years older than Alexa, is smarter. Furthermore, Alexa was developed for a totally different environment than Siri. When placed in the home, Alexa is a star. Amazon aggressively added features before the Echo’s launch this year, including the ability to sync with Google Calendar and read books aloud from Audible.com. It also made waves by announcing a $100-million (R1.3-billion) Alexa Fund to attract third-party developers to build on its platform and integrate the voice interface into their software and hardware. Though the list of initial partners was short, it nevertheless offered insight into Amazon’s vision of the connected home. With the Internet-connected security system, you can monitor your home right through Alexa; with the cooking-assistant service, you can ask Alexa for recipes; and with the Wi-Fi–connected garage-door opener, you can make sure your car isn’t getting battered by a gale raging outside.


Beyond Engineering The Graduate School of Technology Management (GSTM) at the University of Pretoria has been offering internationally recognised programmes in Engineering Management, Technology Management and Project Management since 1989. Programmes are offered at Honours, Masters and PhD levels and attract more than a 1000 registered postgraduate students, making us the largest graduate school of this kind in Africa. The Masters in Project Management is accredited by the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) of the Project Management Institute, USA. Domain specialisation provides for exciting research opportunities in Engineering Asset Management, Systems Engineering Management, Operations and Services Management, Project Management as well as Technology and Innovation Management. The GSTM is a member of several local and international associations and participates in many local and international conferences, events, and meetings. Taught Programmes •

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www.up.ac.za/gstm


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An Honest woman JESSICA ALBA CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER, THE HONEST COMPANY

First Jessica Alba wanted to protect your baby from harmful chemicals. Then she wanted to safeguard your home. Now the co-founder of eco-friendly brand, the Honest Company, is aiming to save your face. With Honest Beauty—launched in September—Alba is expanding into makeup, a category she thinks could use help. “People watch their diet, they buy organic cotton clothes,” she says. “But when it comes to their beauty routine, it’s completely compromised, from the neck up.” It’s only been three years since Alba and partner Christopher Gavigan launched Honest (Alba was one of the Fast Company US Most Creative People in 2012). But their business has been a quick success: Revenue is projected to hit $250 million (R3.3 billion) this year—up from $150 million (R2.03 billion) in 2014— and Honest is valued at $1 billion (R13.5 billion). With the makeup line, the company is poised to grow even faster. “Beauty has been a passion project of mine,” says the actress. “With years of experience in the makeup chair, I’ve seen how you can transform yourself and your mood. But I felt there wasn’t [makeup] that’s going to work but also be safe.” To create the new line, Honest hired a team of in-house chemists, who avoided more than 1 400 chemicals. They haven’t been able to make everything work, but the company is just getting started. “We’re going to make mistakes,” says Alba. “You have to pivot quickly and really listen to consumers. We have such a vocal community, and they were yelling at us for three years to launch beauty. They really are excited and hungry for this type of product.” —KC Ifeany

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How she stays productive B E S T D E V E L O P M E N T S I N C E 2 0 1 2 “The transition to image-based communication. I love that apps have made creativity and storytelling so much more accessible. It’s given me a ton of inspiration and helped me connect with so many people.” A D V I C E S H E W O U L D G I V E H E R S E L F I F S H E C O U L D G O B A C K T O 2 0 1 2 “Take the time to do things right and don’t get caught up in being the first to market—just be the best at what you do. Hopefully I’ll listen to myself!” W H AT ’ S N E X T An Honest Beauty pop-up store in L.A. “We really want to learn from that experience,” she says. “Women want to see and smell the products. Hopefully we’ll be able to roll out brick-and-mortar branded stores from our learnings.”

“Exercise is actually a great productivity tool for me. Productivity is more than just tackling the work that’s in front of you. It’s ensuring that you’re fuelled and inspired to get things done the best they possibly can be.” Photograph by Adam Amengual


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How I get it done

Face forward As manager of the L’Oréal US Women of Color Lab, Atis develops makeup for a global market.

The full spectrum L’Oréal chemist Balanda Atis is helping the cosmetics giant break colour barriers BY ELIZABETH SEGRAN

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When the Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o became Lancôme’s first black spokesperson last year, fashion magazines and blogs welcomed the news as a sign that the legendary makeup brand is embracing women of colour—especially those who have traditionally had trouble finding the right shades in pharmacy

aisles and department stores. On billboards and in magazine ads, the 32-year-old Academy Award winner wore the brand’s newest foundations, in hues that were deeper and darker than anything Lancôme had previously released. Behind the scenes, at the headquarters of L’Oréal Paris, Lancôme’s parent company, Nyong’o’s appointment signalled a broader effort by the cosmetics giant to stay ahead of consumer demand by placing diversity and globalisation at the centre of its strategy. In the US, the multicultural beauty market is currently outpacing the overall industry, posting a 3.7% increase in 2014, according to research firm Kline & Co. What’s more, the global cosmetics industry is now worth an estimated $197 billion (over R2.6 trillion), and is growing by about 4% annually. In 2014, ‘new’ markets (anything outside North America and Western Europe) accounted for 39.6% of L’Oréal’s $29.9 billion (R406 billion) in sales. To take an even bigger slice of that international pie, the company is investing in products tailored to the diverse skin tones of women in places like South Africa and the Middle East, as well as in the US. One of the keys to this strategy is L’Oréal chemist Balanda Atis, who created the (literal) foundation for Nyong’o’s Lancôme campaign and now heads L’Oréal’s Women of Color Lab in Clark, New Jersey. The lab, which opened in 2014 and includes scientists, marketers and product developers, is tasked with formulating groundbreaking products for multicultural women—including foundations, lipsticks and eye makeup. It’s a personal quest for Atis, who grew up in a Haitian community in East Orange, New Jersey. Over the years, she saw friends and family struggle to find makeup that looked good on their skin. “The colours were often too red, giving the skin a bruised look; or too black, making the skin look muddy,” she recalls. She joined L’Oréal in 1999 as a researcher in

Photograph by Benedict Evans


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the mascara lab, where she racked up patents for products that make lashes plumper and ­longer. And though she appreciated her own company’s attempts to be more inclusive, releasing makeup catering to African-American and Latina women with campaigns featuring celebrities like Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, Atis still found the new formulations too pale for many women. This has been a challenge for the entire cosmetics industry, according to Karen Grant, a global beauty-industry expert at research firm, NPD. “A cosmetics company needs to dedicate a lot of resources to successfully create products for a new market segment,” Grant says,

Over the years, Atis saw friends and family struggle to find makeup that looked good on them. citing the cost of scientific research, focus groups and educating retailers, among other things. And then there’s the perception that women of colour spend less on makeup than Caucasian women, which meant that the path of least resistance for many companies was to stick with the products they knew best. It’s true that women of colour have historically spent less on makeup: A recent NPD survey found that only 42% of black women use makeup, compared with 64% of white women. But Grant says this is largely because there are fewer products available to them. “It’s a cycle,” she says. Atis wanted to change this dynamic. In 2006, L’Oréal’s R&D team presented the company with new foundations that were meant to be a breakthrough for women of colour. When Atis tried them, though, she still could not find a match for herself; the shades simply did not run dark enough. She told the head of L’Oréal’s makeup

Illustration by Martina Paukova

division that its new range fell short, and was met with a challenge: If you think it’s fixable, let’s see what you can do. Though L’Oréal didn’t release Atis from her mascara projects to work on foundations, her managers allowed her to use the labs on the side. Atis quickly enlisted two other scientists who were equally committed to this mission, and the task force got started. Finding the right data was the first step. For several years, Atis’s team crisscrossed the country, using special probes that measure light absorption to evaluate women’s skin tones. Back at the lab, they used this information to create prototype shades. Their main hurdle was that darker colourants commonly used in the industry looked dull on skin. The team’s revelation came when they stumbled upon a rarely used pigment—ultramarine blue—that created deep, pure colours without sacrificing texture and vibrancy. It was a huge leap forward. During field tests, women with dark complexions embraced the new shades. When Atis presented her research to L’Oréal’s top brass, they pulled her onto the task full-time and eventually leveraged her work to create more than 30 new shades across L’Oréal’s brands, from the mass-market Maybelline to the upscale Lancôme. “What Balanda started is still changing the game today,” says Malena Higuera, senior vice president of marketing at L’Oréal Paris. “We’re using these innovations to build first-tomarket breakthroughs.” Atis’s research team has grown into the Women of Color Lab, where she has a new goal: to ensure women in each of the 140 countries where L’Oréal products are available, find makeup that matches the texture and colour of their skin. “We’re always looking at new colourants and other raw materials,” she says. “We want to demonstrate that we can address the needs of women of colour on a global scale through scientific innovation.”

HOW TO PURSUE A SIDE PROJECT TA K ING ON A F T ER-HOUR S WORK CA N BE DAUN T ING. HERE IS B A L A NDA AT IS’S A DV ICE F OR ACHIE V ING YOUR GOA LS

Get comfortable with your team

Spending days and nights together on the road and in the lab, Atis’s team formed a tight bond. “We often had to crash in the same hotel room,” she says. “I was raising my goddaughter, so sometimes I’d bring her to hang out with us while we worked.” One of the chemists even ended up marrying her cousin.

Don’t be afraid to press pause

There were periods when Atis’s group would work for several weeks and then take a break because of other ongoing projects and obligations. Atis also took some time off to adopt a child from Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Be resourceful

Atis had to think creatively when she needed resources that weren’t immediately available. To gather information about skin tones from a large sample of women around the country, she had her team tag along on L’Oréal’s road shows and mall tours to collect this data. “We even persuaded the company to sponsor our travel,” says Atis.

Make a compelling case

It took time for Atis’s group to amass enough evidence to convince L’Oréal’s senior management of the importance of their work. Atis says they eventually got through by showing L’Oréal the ecstatic feedback they received from women who had tried their new shades: “Patience was key, and it eventually paid off.”

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Fast Company promotion

Bright ideas

The SA Innovation Summit— which was billed as one of the 46 global innovation events to attend in 2015—and renowned for connecting inventors with funders, marketers, markets, distribution channels and more, was held in Cape Town from 26 to 29 August. Several innovators and inventors were awarded for their efforts and brilliant, disruptive and groundbreaking efforts. PhD student Moses Kebalepile was the overall winner of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Inventors Garage competition for his prototype, the Asthma Grid. He walked away with R25 000 in cash, incubation support from Standard Bank as well as an iPad. “I was surprised to win!” said Kebalepile. “There were so many good projects showcased at the TIA Inventors Garage. It just goes to show the incredible potential and talent that we as South Africans have. I think the work we do locally is as good as what comes from the West, if not more inspired. The ecosystem for technological entrepreneurs is right; with platforms and opportunities like

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Several innovators and inventors were awarded for their efforts and brilliant, disruptive and groundbreaking efforts.

this, we have a chance to positively impact the economy.” He plans to further his research and explore other designs for the Asthma Grid with the prize money he has won. Christo Rossouw came second with RE-LIT, his rechargeable light design that uses a solar panel. Billy Hadlow came third with the FAABulous Stove, which burns combustible agricultural material and can also charge a cellphone or power a light. Adrian Padt, designer of The Rocket Works, won the Climate Innovation Centre prize of a R100 000 grant for commercialisation support for the best green solution: a highefficiency biomass fuel stove that reduces harmful emissions and fuel usage by up to 87%. Santa Scheepers

KIRST Y DU PLESSIS

The countr y ’s bes t inventor s won big at the SA Innovation Summit


The full list of winners announced at the 2015 SA Innovation Summit Tec h nology In novation Ag ency Inventors Ga rag e Com petition Winner: Moses Kebalepile— Asthma Grid Second: Christo Rossouw— RE-LIT Third: Billy Hadlow— FAABulous Stove Most votes on Facebook: Josua Nghaamwa — Master Terminator

The SABS De sig n In stitute

Straight up! The Flyboy, a self-balancing battery-powered electric vehicle, was originally designed for commuters to cover ‘the last mile’ to or from work quickly.

Under the dome Alosha Lynov’s company, Wautilli Ikhaya, produces low-cost, fast-building geodesic shelters made from sandbags and waste.

came second in the same category, with the ZingCo Electrical Vehicle Project—a car battery-drawer solution. Both Padt and Scheepers were finalists in the PwC Pitching Den competition for startups. The Market on the Edge attracted families and children to be inspired by the inventions and get involved practically. Schoolchildren built their own solar panels and constructed Lego robots that they programmed to perform basic functions. A 24-hour Hackathon competition at the summit brought techies together to design software to solve challenges in early childhood development. The winning group—comprising Kanya Msila, Batandwa Baba, Sello Lehong, Samuel Molahloe and Mapaseka Dipale—designed a tech solution

called NappiDaddi, which empowers fathers to be more involved in the life of their young children. “It’s vital that we inspire the next generation to be innovative from an early age,” said summit chairperson, Dr Audrey Verhaeghe. “The eighth SA Innovation Summit brought all the role players together to invest in brilliant ideas and inspire even more creative thinking. We want to turn all these brilliant ideas into new products for the market, which ultimately create employment and elevate the country both socially and economically.” For more information on the 2015 SA Innovation Summit, visit www.innovationsummit.co.za, email: info@innovationsummit.co.za or telephone 012 844 0674.

10 prizes were awarded to the inventors of the following innovations, to attend a one-day design workshop: FAABulous Stove Master Terminator CRIPS Fluidised Bed Fast-pyrolyser Polyhammer POP-UP Hydroponic Garden Asthma Grid MABU Casing Soils Omniharvester eSentry The Braai Tool

PwC Pitc h i n g De n com petition for sta r tu ps Winner: Johann Kok— K Measure (R25 000) Second: Jasper Pons— DroneScan (R15 000) Third: JP van der Spuy— Callpay (R10 000)

Clim ate In novation Cent re G ra nt Winner: Adrian Padt— The Rocket Works (R100 000) Second: Santa Scheepers— ZingCo (R70 000) Third: Deon du Preez— Solazela (R30 000)

PwC 2015 Vi sion to Rea lity top 10 fi n alists a n nou nced at t he SA In novation S u m m it: eMoyo Telemedicine Africa (Pty) Ltd PayFast 10X Investments BabyGroup Nomanini Origin Dynamic Systems (Pty) Ltd Everlytic InfoSlips Xpitec (Pty) Ltd

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Creative conversation

“I’m giving voice to those who don’t ordinarily have voice” As Empire—Fox’s high-octane, King Lear–esque prime-time smash about the ascendence to super­ stardom of a musical family—returns for its second season in September in the US, creator and executive producer Lee Daniels explains why the show resonates with viewers and what’s happening below the surface.

INTERVIEW BY JJ MCCORVEY

Photographs by Zach Gross

Empire’s first-season finale in March was the highest rated for a new series in the past 10 years. How do you approach writing a show that has connected with so many people? Everything I do has to come from my experience or those of people I know. Situations I’ve been in, or food that I’ve tasted; experiences that are real and honest to me. Season 1 dealt with a lot of the issues that I grew up dealing with. So now the challenge is: Okay, what stories can I honestly tell? Now people know who I am. It’s a very odd feeling. I didn’t know how famous one could really become from TV. I’ve never really paid attention to it or watched it.

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Wait, you didn’t watch TV before Empire? As a kid, yeah. Like, The Brady Bunch and Good Times. I watched CNN, and then I gave up on that. I watched BBC and National Geographic. And then my boyfriend got me hooked on The Real Housewives of Atlanta and I got seduced into TV that way. Season 1 of Empire tracked the rise of Cookie and Lucious, the music entrepreneurs and parents whose family is at the heart of the drama. What are some of the storylines from that season that came directly from your life? I’ve said this before—the whole flashback scene where Lucious

throws [his son] Jamal into a trash can is very real. It really happened. Walking down the stairs in your mother’s heels in front of your father is a real experience. Having relatives who are in jail or selling drugs, and then turning that into a real and le­­gitimate business, is real. These are people who exist in my family. The show makes it dramatic. It becomes fun because we have to make light of it. And we have to have entertainment, and we want it soapy, so we’re sort of winking at the camera and having fun with the audience. But you know, under that laughter there’s some serious shit going on and issues being talked about. What can fans expect to see in season 2 of Empire? There’s a financial change that has come with the success of the show. Family members, friends from college, all sorts of people are coming at you. It gets real. So now on the show we’re addressing the African-American experience with money. People with money. We explore Cookie’s and Lucious’s pasts. We explore how their children connect to the impoverished, because they’ve never even experienced what it’s like to be hungry. It’s what my kids are going through right now,


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Hard truths Daniels uses the over-the-top drama of Empire to explore real family dynamics.

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Creative conversation

when they’re around cousins and stuff. It’s powerful, because it’s real. Does that make sense?

You tackle a lot of topics on the show that are largely taboo in the black community. Jamal, the R&B star, comes out as gay. His brother Andre has bipolar disorder. And it’s so very disturbing. Because African Americans want the best possible role models—and we should. But what happens is, anything that doesn’t fit within the norm is dismissed. I just remember the idea of going to a psychiatrist or a therapist of any kind in my day was like, “What are you talking about? That’s for white people. Are you crazy?” The cast of Empire is mostly composed of minorities, but you’ve also put a lot of effort into making your writing team diverse. Can you talk about the impact of those choices? Listen, I can’t win for losing. I get in so much trouble when I talk about making it a point to have African Americans to speak about the African-American experience.

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LEE DANIELS

H o m e tow n Philadelphia

30-SECOND BIO

It does, and I’m going to come back to it— Well, wait a minute. Let me tell you something else. I got a lot of flak for portraying Lucious and Cookie as heroes for being drug dealers, and [what that means for] the representation of the African American. But I’ve always got flak, from Monster’s Ball to Precious. And that’s part of being an artist. Telling the truth is unsettling to people. What’s so great about this particular story is that Cookie’s mother will be indicative of my mother. My mother never did drugs, never spent a day in jail, and yet she had kids, inclusive of myself, who spent time in jail. What does that say about a woman who’s gone to church every day, and is a strong single parent?

Fi l m o g ra p hy The Butler (2013), The Paperboy (2012), Precious (2009), Tennessee (2008), Shadowboxer (2005), The Woodsman (2004), Monster’s Ball (2001) Ce l e b rit y frie n d s Oprah Winfrey, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell, Timbaland

Ca st i n g a p p r oa c h “It’s instinctive and intuitive. And sometimes completely radical. I remember people saying, ‘Are you serious? You really want to cast Mo’Nique as Mary in Precious? She’s a comedian.’ But I remembered Richard Pryor in Lady Sings the Blues. The most fascinating, powerful performances come from people who are comics.” O n t h e i m po r ta n ce of co l l a bo rat io n “I’m not gonna pretend to know that I have the answer, and I think that gets a better performance, and better work from your crew—when you say, ‘We are collaborating, guys. Help me. Because I trust you to make magic.’”

But I also have a white producing partner [Danny Strong], and he’s great at one thing that I’m not good at, which is structure. I’m great with specificity, and with nuance and character, but not with storyline. I can’t think about what’s going to happen 10 episodes in. That’s what makes ours an incredible partnership. But in regard to the actual verbiage and that kind of stuff? That’s the reason we have this wonderful group of black people, women, and Puerto Rican and Hispanic writers. I’m told it’s historic, really. I’m giving voice to those who don’t ordinarily have voice. It’s something I’ve strived for from the very beginning of my career. And now, to be able to do that in a way that isn’t just in front of the screen, but also behind the screen, is epic. I am the most content that I’ve ever been in my career. I’m proud to get up to go to work. Do you feel a responsibility to shine a light on things people often overlook or don’t know much about? The minute I start feeling responsible to everybody, then I start editing my thoughts and my work. And then I’m trying to be safe—and I don’t want to be safe. The concept of responsibility lies in a place of sometimes not being honest. There are certain films that I’ve passed on which were about historic people. If they can’t be flawed and have their story told in a very truthful way, then I’m not interested. Because no one is perfect. Is that the reason you passed on directing Selma? Ohhh, now your claws are coming out! [Laughs] I think the reason I didn’t do Selma was bigger than that. We were trying to get the movie financed, and I had already done a civil rights movie, which was The Butler. And I thought doing Selma

would have been a repeat. I didn’t want to be known as that guy. But yeah, Martin Luther King, Jr was a human being. Let’s just say my interpretation of King would have been different. You’re developing a movie based on Richard Pryor’s life. What have you learnt from working in TV that you’re now applying to filmmaking? I’ve learnt that the studios and the networks aren’t the enemy. Before Empire, I’d never collaborated with anybody before. I was the be-all and end-all. So I’ve learnt that, at least with Fox, it’s a collaboration—which

“If they can’t be flawed and have their story told in a very truthful way, then I’m not interested. Because no one is perfect.” is something I didn’t know how to do. I think it’s also made me a better filmmaker, because the art of television moves at a pace that is ferocious. It’s quick, quick, snap snap snap, and you have to make the decisions pretty fast. You just signed a multiyear contract with Fox to develop, write and direct new TV projects. What will you be working on under this new deal? Let me just tell you: Y’all need to strap up, because y’all ain’t ready. I can’t believe they were stupid enough to let me in on prime-time TV! Just sit down in front of the television, have your cocktail, and get ready for Lee Daniels. Because we’re just beginning. That’s all I can say about that.


“I’VE NEVER SEEN WORK AS WORK AND PL AY AS PL AY— IT’S ALL JUST LIVING” Richard Branson has no plans to retire any time soon. Here’s how the billionaire businessman has been keeping busy By Robbie Stammers Photographs by Virgin Atlantic South Africa

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Most people know the (self-described) “tie-loathing adventurer and troublemaker” as the founder of the Virgin Group of more than 400 companies, with an estimated net worth of $5.1 billion (almost R70 billion). But did you know he also holds multiple Guinness World Records, from kiteboarding across the English Channel and ballooning across the Atlantic, to having the most followers on LinkedIn (more than 8.3 million)? And he owns an island.

In an exclusive interview with Fast

Company SA, the world’s most popular entrepreneur chats about his plans to launch a constellation of broadband satellites, the time he took a phone call from Nelson Mandela while in the bath, and about becoming a “grand-dude” of three.

Fast Company: How often do you and your family visit South Africa? Richard Branson: Visiting South Africa feels like a homecoming,

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and I try to visit as often as I can. It is the site of one of my favourite Virgin Limited Edition properties, the stunning Ulusaba Private Game Reserve. I always have a wonderful time there, checking in on all the magnificent animals. We also bought and refurbished a beautiful hotel and vineyard in Franschhoek, called Mont Rochelle. South Africa also pulls on my heartstrings, as it was the birthplace of my esteemed old friend, Nelson Mandela. Madiba’s love for his nation was infectious, and I definitely caught his enthusiasm and respect for the country. It is also the home of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, whom I always look forward to seeing and learning from when visiting there.


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Projects with purpose “Human spaceflight, launching satellites and creating the constellation have the potential to transform lives in ways that almost no other companies have done before,” says Branson.

“South Africa w  ill always hold a special place in my heart, and we [Virgin Group] are always looking for new and exciting opportunities to grow our brand there.”

health club chain needed rescuing and thousands of jobs would be lost. Obviously, when Madiba calls, you jump! He was always trying to do what was right for his people. The decision was both an emotional and business one. Fortunately, we rescued the health club chain and turned it around into one of the leading companies in South Africa. The Active Group now has clubs in the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Singapore, Thailand as well as one club in Namibia. We are also looking at other countries across Africa, and hope to add in Kenya soon. The transaction with Brait is a huge testament to what the business has already achieved—and we believe the future is even more exciting.

You launched The Elders with Madiba and a group of the world’s other respected individuals. It seems Mandela had a profound effect on you and was someone you looked up to. What is The Elders initiative doing currently?

What are your thoughts on the country’s current and future propositions as a business investment option?

and we’re always looking for new and exciting opportunities to grow our brand there.

Looking ahead, I am optimistic about the future of South Africa. We have a wonderful business in Virgin Active, which is building health clubs across the country to ensure the nation is healthier and fitter. We created the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in South Africa almost 10 years ago to help give entrepreneurs the information, support and guidance they need to grow successful, sustainable businesses. Our hope is that this will create jobs and stimulate the local economy. South Africa will always hold a special place in my heart,

In July, investment holding company, Brait, paid £691 million (R14.4 billion) for 80% of Virgin Active, with Virgin Group retaining a 20% stake. Would it be fair to say the call from Madiba— which resulted in your purchase and subsequent growth of the most successful health club franchise in South Africa—was more than just an emotional decision that ended well? I was in the bath when Madiba phoned, urging me to fly straight to South Africa because their principal

Nelson Mandela redefined leadership. He showed that great things can be achieved by leading through wisdom, empathy and integrity, with no other agenda than humanity. He taught the world about the power of forgiveness and the importance of treating everyone equally. His strength was in his compassion, moral courage, and a wonderful ability to bring light into any situation. I was fortunate to see the human side of Madiba and his joyous, infectious character. The Elders was founded in 2007 by myself, Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Peter Gabriel. The Elders brings together a group of leaders who speak freely, are fiercely independent, and continue to use their collective experience and influence for peace, justice and human rights worldwide. [It is now chaired by Kofi Annan.]

Artist and entrepreneur will.i.am was in London earlier in the year, promoting your pledge to launch 900 broadband Internet satellites above the planet. But many in the industry are sceptical. Can you tell Fast Company readers more about this exciting announcement and why some people may not be too enthusiastic to believe your claims?

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Living and loving life Branson is a regular visitor to Virgin’s Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in Mpumalanga. This year he and his wife, Joan, became the proud grandparents of Eva Deia, Artie and Etta. Sir Richard enjoys being with his family at their home on Necker Island, which he bought in the late 1970s and which doubles as a resort.

Virgin Galactic has always planned to build a commercial spaceline that can create positive change back on Earth. Virgin Galactic has dedicated teams for both the second spaceship in Mojave, California, and the LauncherOne small satellite rocket launch service in Long Beach (also in California); they are both making wonderful progress. I remain very excited about our efforts to democratise access to space, which includes enabling people like you and me to experience seeing our home planet from space. Human spaceflight, launching satellites and creating the constellation have the potential to transform lives in ways that almost no other companies have done before. Earlier this year, OneWeb Ltd announced ambitious plans to create the world’s largest ever satellite constellation. The plans are moving ahead, with a group of leading international companies joining us to fund and develop the incredibly exciting project. Airbus Group, Bharti Enterprises, Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat and Qualcomm, Inc. have all signed up alongside Virgin, The Coca-Cola Company and Grupo Salinas as founding shareholders of the new global communications

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system. Our vision is to make broadband affordable and open for all. It’s a project with purpose, with the power to change the world. By connecting remote areas, we can raise living standards and prosperity in some of the poorest regions. Alongside providing funds for the project, each founding shareholder brings its own specialist expertise to the table: Airbus Group has the industrial and space knowledge; Bharti Enterprises and Grupo Salinas have the telecommunications experience working in emerging areas; Hughes Network Systems has the distribution and ground systems in place to serve the technology; Coca-Cola has the people power and know-how to deliver the product globally; Intelsat has the satellite experience; Qualcomm has the chips and user terminals; and Virgin Galactic LauncherOne has the ability to launch and replenish the satellites. We are now one step closer to creating the world’s largest satellite constellation.

You recently were blessed with three grandchildren. Has this caused you to reflect more on your life? Can we expect

Sir Richard Branson to slow down any time soon to smell the roses and spend more time with family? I recently celebrated my 65th birthday, an occasion that’s supposed to carry associations with this incomprehensible word: retirement. I can assure you, I have no plans to retire! As each year passes, I’m glad to have a little more experience to share with others, and I’m thankful to be surrounded by my family and loved ones. This year has been extra special, as I have become a ‘grand-dude’ for the first time. Joan [his wife] and I absolutely love watching Sam, Isabella, Holly and Freddie grow as parents, and helping them to look after their beautiful children: Eva Deia, Etta and Artie. Spending time with my grandchildren certainly keeps me on my toes, just as taking on new challenges with Virgin keeps me energised and excited. There’s no need whatsoever for older entrepreneurs not to try new things. In fact, those of us who have a fair few years behind us are often in an even better position, as we have made more mistakes to learn from! I can’t imagine not working, as I’ve never seen work as work and play as play—it’s all just living.

“Nelson Mandela r edefined leadership. He showed that great things can be achieved by leading through wisdom, empathy and integrity, with no other agenda than humanity.”


Next

Wanted

Watch this space Bettél’s handmade wooden timepieces are getting a kickstart

About a year ago, Stuart and Makeeda Swan were returning home from holidaying in Indonesia when they were inspired to create their own distinctly stylish wooden watches with interchangeable leather or fabric straps. Based on the sketches they drew in a notebook while on the plane, the first Bettél piece was created in December 2014. Applying the knowledge he gleaned from studying mechanical engineering at university, Stuart quickly formulated production methods and testing procedures to guide the six-month prototyping process to completion. Each timepiece is meticulously handcrafted and hand-assembled inhouse, including the straps and wooden box in which it is packaged. In addition to the wood (imbuia and beech), Stuart uses carbon fibre, stainless steel and leather. Now with 12 timepieces in the Classic Range and five in the Carbon Range, the Swans are confident of taking their business to the next

level. To aid them in this endeavour, they are utilising Kickstarter, the United States– based crowdfunding web platform, to raise funds to grow their business. Timepieces can be purchased at www.bettelwatches.co.za or off Kickstarter from October, 8 at a discounted rate. For updates, follow Bettél on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (bettelwatches).

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Touch wood The Bettél Classic Range includes the Acorn in Beech White.


Fast Company promotion

New investment frontier GIL 2015 congress highlight s subs tantial business oppor tunities for Africa as a result of convergence

Convergence across industries is resulting in the rapid emergence of new business models as well as substantial investment opportunities for the African continent. This was highlighted by Frost & Sullivan senior partner Dorman Followwill in his opening presentation at the Growth Innovation Leadership (GIL) 2015 Africa congress that took place in August in Cape Town. Japanese companies have already started looking to Africa for investment. “Africa has less than 2% in Japanese investment, so there is plenty of potential here,” stated Frost & Sullivan regional director for Tokyo, Japan (APAC), Robin Joffe. “Japanese companies are now specifically looking to invest in emerging countries”. The economy of the continent is at the precipice of change where today’s converging forces will become significant in shaping the visionary future. “Companies will need to evolve and identify ingenious business processes to tackle transformative changes if they are to stay ahead of the curve,” remarked Frost & Sullivan global director for growth implementation solutions, Mark Simoncelli. Citing examples of implementation of innovative solutions, he also shared his insights into the emergence of new business models in Africa. Not only do more Africans have access to mobile phones than clean water and electricity, but there are also 400 million unique mobile

subscribers in Africa, with only 150 million using traditional bank accounts. This leaves 250 million Africans with access to mobile phones but without access to a traditional bank account—creating incredible potential for the financial services industry. Other key highlights from the day included: Rapid-fire presentations of how convergence and connected efforts across industries (energy, healthcare, chemicals, automotive and ICT) are changing Africa; the CEO Panel discussion that highlighted the impact of connectivity and convergence, as well as investment into Africa; and a GIL Bite on “Highlands Trout: A South African Success Story on Aquaculture in Japan”, delivered by Reginald Labuschagne, financial director of Highlands Trout. The afternoon session ended with an executive address from Birgitta Cederstrom, global commercial director for GIL, in which she recognised the 2015 Growth, Innovation and Leadership Award recipient: Neftaly Malatjie, CEO of Southern Africa Youth Project, for his exceptional zest in transcending all obstacles to establish entrepreneurial opportunities for young Africans. GIL 2015: Africa partners—T-Systems, Orange Business Services and DHL—also shared their success stories and their vision for Africa in 2020, inspiring the leaders and other

key decision makers in the audience. “The 2015 congress, which attracted over 280 C-level executives from various African countries and a wide range of industry sectors, was an epitome of how absolutely essential it is to identify innovative strategies, collaborate, advance existing relations, and to build on the relationships that we have forged here today,” concluded Frost & Sullivan operations director, Hendrik Malan. “Frost & Sullivan is proud to be a part of the burgeoning community of established as well as innovative leaders in Africa who are transforming the continent.” Frost & Sullivan works in collaboration with clients to leverage visionary innovation that addresses the global challenges and related growth opportunities that will make or break today’s market participants. For more than 50 years, it has been developing growth strategies for the global 1000, emerging businesses, the public sector and the investment community.

The economy of the continent is at the precipice of change where today’s converging forces will become significant in shaping the visionary future.

Frost & Sullivan’s GIL journey will continue with its next congress in Monaco on October, 23 and Frankfurt on November, 17. The GIL Africa congress will return to Cape Town in August next year. To pre-register for GIL Africa: 2016, or to attend the acclaimed Frost & Sullivan conferences around the world, contact Samantha James, corporate communications for Africa: samantha.james@frost.com.

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   35


BRAIN GAIN

In the midst of economic woes and political instability, why are so many highly skilled South Africans returning to their homeland? By Chris Waldburger

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“I wish I had big pockets, because I love each and every one of you, and I’d like to fit each and every one of you in my pocket and return with you to South Africa.” So said the late Nelson Mandela, when he addressed a group of South African expatriates in Trafalgar Square in 1996. His words would be pivotal to Angel Jones, a South African living in London and working for the iconic advertising house, M&C Saatchi.

J

ones, who had left South Africa after Mandela’s release, had never intended to be away from home for so long. But Madiba’s words were like a trigger, and she returned in 2000, co-founding Morrisjones—where she would create the kulula.com brand, the Wimpy “Foreign” advert, the Bafana Bafana World Cup Parade and the Rubybox “Come to Me” ad. In the midst of this success, Jones would begin the Homecoming Revolution as a side project. It would not remain so for long, though. “We launched in 2003 in the days before social media, and so thousands flocked to our blog,” she says. “A year later, First National Bank came on board as our founding sponsor, and so we became a non-governmental organisation for the next three years. Uniquely, we have moved from being an NGO to

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a commercial entity, as we recruit talent for South Africa and Africa with partners throughout the continent. “We obviously have our website and blog, and we host big international events in London, Johannesburg and New York where we match homecomers with employers and relocation providers. We had [former South African president] Thabo Mbeki recently at our Johannesburg event, and [Public Protector] Thuli Madonsela at our London event.” Jones points out that there is simply no other recruitment agency quite like the Homecoming Revolution. “We are unique in that we offer a completely holistic service. We provide services regarding all the difficulties of relocating—property, schools and the actual relocating process—and on top of that, we sell a dream or a story.” She is upfront about the fact that, for expats returning home, there are trade-offs involved. “Living in London was safe for me; I was only ever a little happy or a little sad. In South Africa I have a bigger life, with moments

of great joy and then terrible sadness.” But is this so-called ‘brain gain’ something that is really happening? According to Jones, there is constant inflow and outflow from the country, but a 2014 survey from Adcorp posits a figure of approximately 400 000 homecomers over the last five years, “despite the doom and gloom” currently in the country. In its own recent (2015) survey among 740 people, 79% of whom were South African, Homecoming Revolution notes that the reasons people leave the country are, in ranked order: career opportunities, travel, political and economic instability, and crime. Meanwhile, the factors pushing South Africans and Africans back home (despite skilled jobs abroad) are, again in order: friends and family, lifestyle, a sense of belonging, and making a difference. But perhaps the key finding is the fact that more than half of those surveyed report they do want to return home, with a further 21% being undecided, and 26%

Return trip Homecoming Revolution’s worldwide Speed Meet events—such as this one held in London in March—bring together hundreds of Africans with employers and relocation providers.

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responding that they do not plan to return. Crime, sadly, remains the biggest deterrent against returning home. But overall, 75% of those surveyed requested to be kept updated on job opportunities at home, with 42% asking to be updated on entrepreneurial opportunities. It is this desire that has spawned the success of the Homecoming Revolution. Every month the website receives 12 000 unique visits, and 7 000 visitors browse the career portal. Much of this demand is due to the global slowdown, which was timed with many of the positive vibes emanating from the 2010 FIFA World Cup—although Jones notes that 2015 has been something of a “bleak year”, with loadshedding being the proximate cause of many emigrants seeking a way out. “We gain and lose every year. To be honest, we don’t mind if we lose. Our attitude is, go out there and get your global experience— but then come back.” And she believes many will. “There are just so many opportunities in South Africa and all over Africa. This is the next frontier of economic growth. And so we have graduates from Oxford in England, Columbia in New York, who are not African, who suddenly have this African appetite. These are MBA graduates and highly skilled people. There is also a sense that our economy is not rigidly hierarchical—like London’s, for example; we are inventing it daily. This, coupled with the idea that you can build your own country’s economy, is a big homeward pull,” she adds. For Jones, the service her company provides is not simply a job but a mission. “Every person who returns creates a ripple effect, perhaps of five new jobs. This is significant for our economy and our country. On top of that, even with all our unemployment, we have huge numbers of vacancies in critical skills sectors waiting to be filled. It is hugely powerful to repatriate a South African with a vital drive to make a difference and grow a business,” she explains. “And we are not the only one. We partner with Kenyans Come Home and MBTN [Movebacktonigeria.com], because what we are seeing is that the African diaspora is becoming a crucial force for the continent.” Graeme Codrington, a well-known South African speaker, futurist and strategy consultant, is one of the

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#heartAfrica Since 2003, there have been 38 global events, face-to-face interactions with 17 000 African professionals worldwide, and notable speakers such as Thabo Mbeki and founder Angel Jones (left) in attendance.

“There are just so many opportunities in South Africa and all over Africa. This is the next frontier of economic growth.”

homecomers featured on the Homecoming Revolution website. He left South Africa for Wimbledon, London in 2008—but after more than four years, he decided to move back with his wife and daughters. “From a business perspective, I think it’s a very clever decision,” he says. “Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, is the last frontier of economic development in the world. What’s happened in Southeast Asia in the last 25 years is about to happen in Africa—and if you see pictures of Seoul 30 years ago, you could be looking at Mombasa and Lagos today.” But Codrington also points to the intangibles of the South African experience, such as the sense of making a contribution, or the national character. “We also wanted our daughters to be South African in their characters. There is really something about being a South African that maybe you don’t recognise when you’re in South Africa, but you do recognise it in other South Africans around the world: sort of a go-getter [attitude], a resilience that probably emerges out of our context— but it is definitely a gift we can give to our daughters.” Matimba Mbungela, Vodacom’s chief human resources officer, is another who has made the journey home. Despite acknowledging the good infrastructure and lower levels of crime one enjoys in England, he is sure he made the right decision to return. “Essentially, my view is that coming back home was worth it. I have been in different parts of the world, but there is something unique about the vibe of South Africa. South Africa has its own challenges, but I think this is by far the best country to live in.” What Mbungela also points out is that a returning expat carries the aura of international experience. “People value your contribution, and I suppose there is a level of confidence that comes with that; people respect your input. So, here in South Africa, there are massive opportunities; and from that perspective, we are an emerging economy—an economy that needs those skills.” Despite all the challenges South Africans face, stories like these give pause to the pervasive Afropessimism. Instead, they substitute for that gloom a sense of the quest—fraught with danger, as all quests are, but equally fused with hope.


Why Airbnb, Google, Nike and more are this year’s hotbeds of Innovation by Design Typography by Superfried

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What defines world-­changing design? Fast Company US assessed more than 1 500 submissions for our Innovation by Design Awards, with the help of nearly four dozen handpicked judges. The finalists—some of which are highlighted on these pages—are business efforts that attack

intense challenges with ­elegant solutions. From ­individual dreamers like 21-year-old Boyan Slat to startups like Slack and titans like Facebook, Google and Nike, these initiatives use ­design to bend the universe to their vision. Disruption and design go hand-in-hand.

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Styling: Lacey-June Berry; grooming: Sonia Leal-Serafim. Sweater: Ralph Lauren; shirt: J.Lindeberg

A workplace watercooler with designs on replacing email and more By Rick Tetzeli n a conference room at the back of his Vancouver offices, past the bright faux-grass wall, elegant canopies covering a couple of meeting spaces, and a dozen busy young staffers standing in front of raised workstations, Stewart Butterfield is picking at his takeout lunch from a local Japanese joint, running through a quick history of Japanese emigration to Vancouver that culminates in a passionate recommendation of his favourite yakitori spot. He especially loves their chicken hearts. “They are to dark meat as dark meat is to white meat,” he says. “It’s simply more intense.” Butterfield—who runs the hottest business-software startup to come along in, oh, ­forever—is far more philosophical, ruminative and entertaining than your typical CEO. Over the course of two days, our discussions ramble through topics such as contemporary academic philosophy, Phish, mergers and acquisitions, McDonald’s, the dilemma of constraints and possibilities as reflected in software design and Christian Bök’s Eunoia (a novel with five chapters, each of which uses a single vowel), constipation, Mark Zuckerberg, addictive sex and

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Photograph by Clayton Cotterell


Slacker-in-chief Slack CEO Butterfield, photographed in Vancouver on July 23, 2015

GUTTER CREDIT TK

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Art credit teekay

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librarians. And, yes, poultry. “I am suspicious of anyone who prefers white meat,” he muses, grinning at his own gall. “They’re self-deluded. It’s simply impossible to prefer the texture or the flavour.” Butterfield feels the same way about Slack, his messaging/group chat/document-sharing application: It is impossible for him to imagine anyone preferring email or other traditional modes of office communication. Launched in late 2013, Slack has already attracted 1.25 million daily active users at hundreds of US companies including Comcast, Dow Jones, Expedia, Blue Bottle Coffee, Intuit, Zappos and even NASA. According to the company, 800 million Slack messages were sent in July—up from 290 million in January—and there are currently 10 times as many users as there were a year ago. Customers seem to find it more useful, engaging and just plain fun than any prior communication tool. Venture capitalists have noted this passion, backing Slack with $340 million (R4.6 billion)— the company is currently valued at $2.8 billion (R38.3 billion). That’s a heck of a lot of money for a startup that’s just two years old, lacks a sales force, and is trying to take on Microsoft in the hypercompetitive market for enterprise software. For all of its buzz, the company has a long way to go before it poses a serious challenge to the industry’s longdominant players. But if Slack continues to have this kind of impact, it could redefine the way we communicate at work. Using the software, much of a company’s interaction takes place in lively group-chat ‘channels’ that replace those endless reply-all email chains that have become a bane of modern corporate life. To share something, you simply post to the channel, rather than CC’ing a select group. If you need to alert someone specific, you can type her username with an “@” à la Twitter, or send her a direct message. Slack syncs everything across smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers that are tied into that network. The experience feels fundamentally different—more contemporary, more in tune with people’s out-of-office digital lives—from what we have experienced for 20 years, closer to social media than old-fashioned email drudgery. Slack isn’t just another office tool: It’s a welcoming environment where employees (virtually) live. That’s a big shift, enabled by and concealed in the app’s thoughtful, quiet and inviting design. Slack’s look and interface aren’t showy. Everything

“I F YO U G O TO W O R K I N A D R A B, COLOURLESS B U I L D I N G, W O R K CAN FEEL S T E R I L E ,” S A Y S O N E U S E R. “S L A C K I S N ’ T S T E R I L E .”

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seems natural, and everything seems to work the way you’d expect it to. Slack is taking off not because it screams its ambition to replace your current work tools, but for a more profound reason: It wants to be your friend. The night before our office lunch I meet Butterfield at Vij’s, a l­ ocal Indian spot where he has been a regular for the past 16 years. Butterfield has spent most of his working life in Vancouver, just a three-hour drive from Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The vibe at Vij’s reflects the fact that tech hubs are emerging all over the world—there’s a feeling of young, smart wealth here, but also a Canadian restraint that’s quite different from Silicon Valley flash. Butterfield has never followed any obvious path to tech stardom, and that idiosyncratic journey is crucial to the Slack story. The software is a direct reflection of the unique personality that shaped it. Butterfield was born in the backwoods of Canada in 1973 to a hippie-ish mother and a draft-dodging father, who lived in a log cabin and named their baby boy Dharma Jeremy Butterfield. It wasn’t until he was 12 that his parents, who by that time had made the psychic and literal move to the city of Victoria, British Columbia, and had successful careers in real estate, let him legally change it to Stewart. When he was 7 years old, Butterfield got his first computer, and while he loved playing video games, he was hardly a traditional tech geek. In his studies he was drawn to philosophy, and at the UK’s Clare College, Cambridge, he wrote his thesis on “the difference between living things and non-living things”, he says. “And guess what? The answer is that living things are alive! It took me 30 000 words to get that across.” In the late 1990s, Butterfield moved to Vancouver, and in 2002 he and his then-wife, Caterina Fake, decided to launch a company to build their own MMO game called Game Neverending. It was as quirky as its founders—and a financial flop. In 2004, Butterfield, Fake and an employee decided to use the image-sharing technology they’d created for the game to launch something they named Flickr. The pioneering photosharing website presaged much of what was to come in the world of social media, and was a fast success. They sold it to Yahoo in 2005, for around $25 million (R342 million).


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As part of the sale, Butterfield became a Yahoo employee—a three-year ordeal that proved instructive. “It was mind-blowing,” Butterfield says. “I’d never worked in a big company. All the software was terrible. The payroll, time-tracking, benefits, intranet even the 401(k) [US workplace savings plan that lets employees invest a portion of their salary before taxes are taken out] was designed in a weirdly bad way.” Butterfield eventually quit to launch another game, called Glitch. It, too, went nowhere. But when they were developing the game, he and his crew of programmers had come up with a cool way to collaborate on their company’s little network. Seeing the chance to create a work environment that was a million times better than what he had suffered through at Yahoo, Butterfield transformed that program into what would become Slack. The new company launched in December 2012, with a total staff of just eight people. From the beginning, Butterfield designed Slack for end users like himself, rather than first considering the needs of corporations or the demands of IT managers, which is how most enterprise software is created. As a result, Slack—unlike predecessors such as HipChat and ­Yammer—is a triumph of humane thinking. “We’re really conscious of solving problems in a way that doesn’t fetishise the purity of UI [user interface] design at the expense of the user,” says Slack’s design director, Brandon Velestuk, who has worked closely with Butterfield since joining Slack in 2014. “There was always an understanding that this was a tool people were going to spend their entire day in, so we sought to bring an empathy to the design.” Slack’s in-app communications are intended to reinforce the idea it’s designed for you, a regular human being, by other normal people. When you log in for the first time, a dialogue box pops up to say, “Hello. Thank you for signing up for Slack. We’re really happy to have you!” In the morning, you may be greeted with cute little phrases such as, “Please enjoy Slack responsibly.” “Slack’s tone might not be a benefit for every kind of company,” Butterfield acknowledges. “But even people who work in the most boring parts of the most boring accounting firms are still human beings. Some of them

still go home and smoke weed, for example—not that smoking weed is the hallmark of humanity.” It’s a voice that sounds, not coincidentally, a lot like Butterfield’s. “I used to respond to every tweet myself,” he says. “That tone was established by, oh, 15 000 tweets. There’s a very particular place we want to be in people’s minds: not too boring and stodgy, but never slapstick. We want it to be relatable— genuine, respectful. One of my favourite tweets—something we’ll do every once in a while—is, ‘Absolutely!’ with the exclamation mark.” There’s a hint of pride not far from the surface. “I consider that my masterpiece.” That approach helps explain why, at many companies, Slack has been introduced not by IT managers but by regular employees who have heard about the software from friends or have used it elsewhere. Slack came to Zappos, for instance, via a developer who started using it with his team. Seeing how much they enjoyed the experience, collaboration product manager David Fong started rolling it out to anyone who wanted it. So far, about two-thirds of Zappos’s 1 400 employees have elected to get Slack on their computers. “It feels right to so many people,” Fong says. “Zappos is very focused on culture, and Slack is a fun user experience. It’s like, if you go to work in a drab, colourless building, work can feel sterile. Slack isn’t sterile.”

“M & A G E N E R A L LY D O E S N ’ T W O R K ,” S AYS B U TTE R F I E L D. “T H E S P E C I A L C U LT U R E IS CRUSHED; THE PACE OF INNOVATION I S S L O W E D .”

As the waiter at Vij’s wraps up our leftover lamb popsicles and vegetable koftas for Butterfield to take home, Slack’s CEO is laying out his ambitious plans for his company’s future. “Replacing [Microsoft’s] Exchange Server as the essential hub where all the information flows, I think that’s something we’ll do very well,” he says. “We can be the bottom layer of the technology stack, and make everything else better.” Thanks to adoring word-of-mouth and increased media attention, Slack’s public profile grows every day. Revenues—some companies pay fees of up to $15 (R205) per user per month, depending on the level of security and services—are closing in on expenses, and should accelerate after Slack introduces a more robust and expensive “­Enterprise” version later this year. In order to deliver on Slack’s potential—and justify that high valuation—Butterfield and Co. must now convince corporate America that it is truly an indispensable product. The first step is to merge Slack with every other crucial piece of software on a corporate network. Slack is in the process of creating integrations for a slew of products from a wide range of third-party vendors. Twitter, Box, Dropbox, Stripe, and Google products such as Drive and Calendar are already integrated, along with dozens of other apps. One particular workplace favourite is Giphy, which lets users post random GIFs into conversations (try to find that in your Outlook). According to Butterfield, more than 400 companies are waiting for Slack to integrate their applications.

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A I R B N B B R A N D E V O L U T I O N Still, Slack has to clear some major hurdles before it can become a truly significant player, and getting oldline companies on board is going to be challenging. The company’s early customer base has primarily been startups and media companies, which tend to have simpler structures and, crucially, less-stringent security ­standards—a huge area of concern for enterprises of serious scale. While Zappos’s Fong loves Slack, he won’t allow it to be used for anything that’s customer-related or financial. That wariness was reflected by other IT managers I spoke with, most of whom rely on Microsoft products. “I like Slack’s ease of use; I like the file sharing and the searchability,” says the head of technology at one New York investment group. “But in its current format, Slack is unlikely to find traction in a firm like ours. As things stand, my impression is of a fuzzy, feelgood millennial hipster tool rather than a buttoned-down, conservative and justifiable platform.” While he’s open to reexamining Slack in the future, he’s sceptical. Ask Microsoft about Butterfield’s ambitions and the response is diplomatic but dubious. “When you have 1 million, 2 million [overall] users, there’s one set of requirements,” says Julia White, GM of product marketing for Office at Microsoft. “But then when you go big, there’s a whole new set of requirements.” According to White, one out of every seven people on the planet uses Office. Garnering tens of millions of corporate users as an independent company could be hard for this and many other reasons. But Slack may be an attractive takeover target or strategic partner for a bigger company. Butterfield swears he isn’t interested in selling. “M&A generally doesn’t work,” he says, alluding to his experience with Flickr which, since the Yahoo acquisition, has been overshadowed by newer photo services like Instagram. “The special culture is crushed; the pace of innovation is slowed.” He also admits this is exactly what he’d say if he were, in fact, trying to sell the company. Whatever happens to Slack, there’s a decent chance Butterfield and Velestuk will be remembered as the guys who finally vanquished email—which, after 20 years, is starting to feel as stale as pneumatic tubes once did. “I could talk to my kids about it and say, ‘Well, there was this thing called email back in the day. I used it quite a lot...’,” says Velestuk. “That would be pretty nice.”

“T H I S W A S A TO O L PEOPLE WERE GOING TO SPEND T H E I R DAY I N , SO WE SOUGHT TO BRING AN EMPATHY TO T H E D E S I G N .”

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A service that makes you feel at home wherever you go W

hen Airbnb chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall came over from CocaCola in June 2014, CEO Brian Chesky gave him a present: “The strategic North Star for the company,” Mildenhall explains, the insight that Airbnb can help usher in “a world where all 7 billion people can belong anywhere”. The company introduced a communityfocused rebranding shortly thereafter that ­included a cleaner website and apps with splashier imagery, as well as the Bélo, its cheerful new logo. These changes began to communicate that Airbnb is the experiences users have, not just its website. Since then, Mildenhall has continued this evolution by bringing to life Airbnb’s values in a series of warm and fuzzy TV ads. “I knew that the most valuable source of storytelling would come from the community,” he says. Step one, therefore, centred on users’ ­stories— notably one about two men, former guards on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall, who were reunited as host and guest on Airbnb. Step

two introduced the personal experience of using Airbnb: A woman, travell­­ing alone, has her hosts treat her like family. In July, the rebrand reached its apotheosis with a 60-second spot—which debuted on American TV just after Caitlyn Jenner’s emotional appearance at the ESPY Awards—in which a baby toddles his way down a hallway toward a glass door while a woman’s voice asks, “Is man kind? Are we good?” The effect: The value of experiencing life through others’ eyes is at the core of Airbnb’s brand, placing it within the larger cultural conversation. Next year, Airbnb will be the official housing sponsor of the Summer Olympics in Rio de J­ aneiro, giving the company a major in to the growing Brazilian market and a global platform for its message. After all, Mildenhall says, “When you get a universal human truth, there is no containing it.” —Jillian Goodman

Photograph by Chloe Aftel


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The air I breathe

GUTTER CREDIT TK

Airbnb CMO Mildenhall, photographed in San Francisco on July 27, 2015

Art credit teekay

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G O O G L E C A R D B O A R D

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A virtualreality viewer for the people

Photograph by Daan Brand


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iStockphoto (roller coaster, canyon, forest); Hans-Peter Merten/Getty Images (Eiffel Tower)

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hile folks wait for the 2016 release of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset (expected to cost around $1 500—R20 500—with the appropriate PC to power it), Google Cardboard lets anyone curious about immersive 3D worlds try them today—for free. “VR is a fundamentally new experience,” says Alex Kauffmann, a senior interaction researcher at Google who oversaw Cardboard’s design, “and in order to understand that, you just have to try it.” Cardboard simulates VR via simple hardware and sophisticated software. The physical viewer is just corrugated paper, two lenses and Velcro. Assembly takes three steps, and with the

The year in design at G O O G L E

latest version released in May, users can insert a smartphone of any size. The DIY kit is free to download, and Google has given away more than 1 million kits since its debut in June 2014. The Cardboard app employs a series of clever tricks to create a remarkable VR experience. The app halves the screen into two images, which the lenses converge into one, and it taps the phone’s ­accelerometer to track a ­user’s movement to mimic looking around within a world. Google shows off what Cardboard does ­using space games, Jack White in concert, and a programme that lets teachers offer guided field trips. “Cardboard is the gateway drug to this industry,” says Craig Dalton, co-founder and CEO of DodoCase, the accessories maker that has printed custom Cardboard viewers for Conan O’Brien and ­Oscar Mayer. “If the VR– software-­developing ­industry focuses its energy on Cardboard,” he says, “there will be a monetisable ecosystem all the way up the food chain to Oculus.” —JJ McCorvey

STYLISH NEW FACES FOR WEARABLES The design studio, UsTwo, created a range of bold watch faces for Android Wear, Google’s operating system for wearables, including models that integrate calendar and weather data—allowing users to glean informa­tion at a glance.

A NEW FRAMEWORK FOR GOOGLE APPS Google’s refreshed design language, dubbed Material Design, seeks to unify how its products work across platforms, so people will always be able to intuit the ways the same app will be­­have on different devic­es, even on an entirely new one like a car dashboard.

AN INBOX THAT GETS THINGS DONE Inbox by Gmail over­ hauls the email experience by using artificial intelligence to predict what’s most relevant, combining emails into categories such as Purchases and transforming mes­s ages into a to-do list.

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   51


Second that emotion Emotient CEO Denman, photographed in San Diego on July 28, 2015

E M O T I E N T

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Software that can read a face in the crowd

52   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

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uman emotions are messy, unpredictable and often inexplicable. Which makes Emotient’s achievements all the more impressive. The San Diego–based startup makes facial-recognition software that can detect minute muscle changes and convert the information into easy-toread data visualisations that can help companies ­better understand their consumers’ emotional reactions. “It’s difficult for many of us to express how we feel,” says Emotient president

and CEO, Ken Denman. “There’s a gut instinct that we like or dislike something, but we don’t know why—it’s an implicit response.” Emotient can be deployed in public places such as amusement parks, shopping malls and sports stadiums— anywhere with cameras. At a Disney theme park, for example, the technology could find out which attractions are most pleasing or identify where customers are growing frustrated from long lines, leading management to improve the user experience. It’s being marketed for use in advertising as well, and researchers are studying its potential in retail, healthcare, ­education and politics. “When you create content, you really have to be good,” Denman says. “You have to under­stand the emotional journey of the consumer.” —Kim Lightbody

Photograph by Justin Maxon


SquareSpace 7, a revamp of the company’s namesake site-creation product, simplifies page building by letting users directly manipulate the layout rather than go through back-end forms to add text and images before previewing their work. It also introduced new photo and calendar options thanks to deals with Getty Images and Google. “We are going to make all these things that were otherwise difficult for you ­easier,” says SquareSpace founder and CEO, Anthony Casalena. —Claire Dodson

S Q U A R E S P A C E 7

A website builder anyone can use

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C U E D E E P H E A L T H T R A C K E R

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A diagnostics lab in a domino Photograph by Will Anderson; Illustrations by Stephen Chan

ur client’s vision was to take this complicated science and convert it into something that was meaningful to people,” says Scot Herbst, designer of the Cue health monitor. Home healthcare is a $30-billion (and growing) market, but it hasn’t been a hotbed of innovation and design.

Cue, an elegant Rubik’s Cube–size device, lets consumers test their fertility, inflammation, testosterone, vitamin D and influenza exposure without stepping foot in a doctor’s surgery. Users collect a small sample of saliva, blood or mucus with a disposable wand, insert it into the ­appro­priate

colour-coded cartridge, and receive test results on their smartphone within minutes. From there, Cue suggests improvements for each aspect of users’ health. Cue plans to add tests for strep throat, cortisol and cholesterol—and anything a lab might do today. —Nikita Richardson

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   53


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A friend who makes sure you’re okay

The connector Facebook Safety Check designer Yaniv, photographed in Tel Aviv on July 29, 2015

Makeup: Michel Edri at Solo Agency

54   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

Photograph by Goran Ljubuncic


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hen a disaster strikes, Facebook has naturally become one of the first places people go to check on loved ones. “We [already] see the activity going on,” says Idit Yaniv, a Tel Aviv–based product design manager at Facebook, “and we want to enable people to connect more easily during times of need.” In the after­math of Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines last December, Yaniv and her colleagues released Safety Check, which transforms that worried search into a proactive tool that a­ utomatically

sends a notification to users if they’re within range of a natural disaster. Users can then mark themselves as “safe”, and the update gets transmitted to their Facebook friends. Yaniv helped to refine Safety Check’s design by travelling to the Philippines following the typhoon. Some Safety Check users were confused by the “Are you okay?” notification because it didn’t look anything like Facebook. To make users more comfortable, she added the names and profile pics of other friends who had recently used it. “A simple design can impact people in a tremendous way,” she says. Safety Check has since been rolled out for three other natural disasters including the first Nepal earthquake in April. More than 7 million people used Safety Check to notify over 150 million friends and family members that they were safe. —JM

The giver Facebook Donate designer Eriksson, photographed in Menlo Park, California, on July 23, 2015

Coming Soon

F A C E B O O K D O N A T E

A news feed update worth liking While following the news of the Ebola ­c risis in West Africa last November, Facebook product designer Eric ­E riksson, along with a handful of co-workers, hacked together a Donate feature: a button atop users’ news feeds that enabled them to contribute to relief efforts. “We’d never done anything at this scale in terms of ­c haritable giving,” Eriksson says. During the campaign,

Photograph by Anastasiia Sapon

though, he noticed that many users wouldn’t go through with a gift even after clicking on the message. Eriksson’s team ironed out the flow, and by the time the Nepal earthquake hit in April, they were ready. Instead of three charities, users were presented with one— International ­Medical Corps—and the promise that Facebook would match their donation (up to $2 million, about R27 million). These changes reduced the process from five or six steps to just one. By the end of the Nepal ­c ampaign, which ran just over a

week, more than 760 000 people had ­donated $16 million (R219 million). The ­revamped Donate product plays upon Facebook’s greatest strength—its 1.5 billion connected ­u sers—and ­i ncorporates a viral element. Users can share a status update when they donate, and that post also contains a ­d onate button that friends can click on. “We’re scratching the ­s urface of enabling this network to do good in the world,” says Eriksson. —JM

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T H E D R I N K A B L E B O O K

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A book worth consuming A

n advertising agency, a non-profit and a scientist walk into a bar—and change the future of access to clean water. ­Theresa Dankovich, a ­Carnegie Mellon scientist who r­ ecently invented a new kind of paper covered in silver nanoparticles that’s capable of killing 99.99% of waterborne bacteria, teamed up with Water Is Life and designers at the ad shop, DDB Worldwide, to package her creation. The Drinkable Book combines Danko­ vich’s paper with a filter tray and purification instructions. Water Is Life is developing the book in a number of languages and intends to distribute it globally to reach the 783 million p ­ eople who lack reliable access to safe drinking water. Each book boasts enough sheets of the filter paper to provide up to four years of potable water for each user. —NR

Coming soon

C I N D E R S E N S I N G C O O K E R

A cooktop that’s foolproof 56   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

All you need for a perfectly cooked steak is a good cut of meat, salt and pepper—and Cinder’s kitchen appliance, which features tech that’s used to guide space satellites. The cooker’s airtight lid and software algorithms help heat meat (or vegetables or pie filling) to the perfect temperature and hold it there using precision thermometers. “Our goal was to make a connected device that feels like a sous chef is working with you,” says CEO Eric Norman. Cinder is set to ship to selected countries in early 2016. —CD

Photograph by Will Anderson


Coming soon

V I R G I N B E D

A desk that you can sleep in

Noticing that few patrons actually used the desks in their rooms, execs at Virgin Group’s hotel arm decided to meet business travelers where they more commonly work: the bed. Designers at Rockwell Group augmented the hotel bed with an ergonomic headboard and a cushioned seat at the foot. The Chicago Virgin Hotel, which opened earlier this year, already has the hybrid sleeping–work space, and the company plans to install it in 20 locations by 2025. —NR

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T H E O C E A N C L E A N U P

A wavemaking fix for sea trash Trash buster

GUTTER CREDIT TK

Michel Porro/Contour by Getty Images (Slat)

The goal of Slat’s Ocean Cleanup array is to fuel the world’s fight against oceanic plastic pollution by initiating the largest cleanup in history.

Art credit teekay

57 FastCompany.com October 2015

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n 2013, a teenage Dutch student named Boyan Slat devised an idea to corral the ocean’s plastic pileup: What if we could use natural ocean currents to gather bottles and bags inside long, floating barricades? Referencing how he wants to use the tides to direct trash into his receptacles, Slat says: “Why move through the ocean when the ocean can move through you?” He raised more than R30 million via crowd-funding for a research expedition and founded The Ocean Cleanup. The organisation aims to launch its barriers in 2020, with a goal to remove nearly half of the Great Pacific garbage patch within 10 years. (See more in the INDEX: Awards feature on page 74.) —CD

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   57


Graphics: Roberto Rosolin; styling: Tzarkusi; grooming: Victoria Bond at Caren Agency

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I B M U . S . O P E N S E S S I O N S

A grand slam of bringing data to life E

Photograph by Mads Perch

very year, IBM ­collects reams of data from the US Open tennis tournament and churns it into analysis including firstserve percentages, total backhand unforced errors, shot-placement maps, and so forth. Last year, however, IBM’s creative team had a different thought: What if we turn that data into music? The result was IBM Sessions, a partner­­­ship with former LCD Soundsystem frontman

James Murphy to create a musical composition out of what was happening on the court. Each data point IBM collected was assigned a musical value, and an algorithm took care of the rest: The music changed every time a point was scored. “We wanted to create a really immersive experience that allowed us to use these thousands of data points and IBM technology to create music in real time,” says

Ann Rubin, VP of branded content and global creative at IBM, whose team worked with Murphy to fine-tune the software. Users could follow IBM Sessions, which also had dynamic visuals accompanying the music, via a special mobile site or live at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in New York. The final tally at the end of the tournament: 187 matches, 400 hours of music, one album featuring remixes of Murphy’s 12 favourite matches, and two million views overall. —JG

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   59


L E A T H E R M A N T R E A D M U L T I T O O L B R A C E L E T

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A carry tool you don’t have to carry

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hen Disneyland refused to let Ben Rivera in with his Leatherman multi­ purpose tool, his frustration bore inspiration. Rivera, Leatherman’s president, developed the Tread, a wearable that looks like jewellery rather than a pocket knife, but still includes 29 tools (a variety of screwdrivers and wrenches) within its steam­punk, stainless-steel aesthetic. Rivera designed his original prototype off the idea of a bicycle chain: interconnected links that are rigid yet flexible, and most important, adaptable. He even rigged his Apple Watch to his Tread, a hack that may evolve into a product extension. That’s just one of the possibilities he envisions, citing nichefocused Treads for photographers and police officers. “Each link”, he says, “is a little app for the real world.” —CD

ACORNS

An app that turns a spare-change jar into a portfolio 60   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

Fifty-two percent of Americans don’t have any investment in the stock market. Acorns’ sleek app helps fledgling investors ease their way in by rounding up everyday purchases and putting the extra money into stocks, real estate and gov­ern­ment bonds—based on a user’s age, income and goals. To promote saving early, users under the age of 24 pay no fees. —NR

Photograph by Will Anderson


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N I K E + Y O U R Y E A R

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A personalised video to cheer on runners

Z O O M C I T Y A R E N A L E D B A S K E T B A L L C O U R T

A basketball court that makes you an all-star

he idea was simple: recap Nike+ users’ 2014 achievements including how many miles they’d run, how fast and for how long. Nike had compiled this information from Nike Fuelband users and other data-tracking exercise apps throughout the year. “We could

have sent an email, but you’d delete it,” says Ben Taylor, an associate planning director at the creative agency AKQA, who worked with Nike to convert this data into something more memorable than a standard message in your inbox. “The numbers

alone can’t really capture something like finishing a marathon. We wanted to find the magic in the data.” Taylor’s team hit upon the idea of creating something that felt like a personal short film, combining all that Nike+ data with location and weather information to make 100 000 algorithmically generated animations (created by the French illustrator Mcbess) for the most active Nike+ users. The resulting videos felt unique to each user: A runner in Los Angeles might see herself sprint past the Hollywood sign, while a New Yorker got a glimpse of himself jogging through Brooklyn. Each video challenged its recipient to reach a new milestone in 2015, such as completing a marathon. The customisation effort paid off: More than 50% of recipients shared the videos on social media. “The more data points you can access, the richer the stories you can tell,” Taylor says. “We’re very excited to take it to the next level.” —KL

For the NBA All-Star Weekend in New York City, Nike built an experiential shrine to hoops. The fullsize basketball court’s floor was an LED video display that could replicate being in LA’s Staples Center or participating in an outdoor game on New York’s legendary West Fourth Street courts. Called Zoom City, it also played videos and interactive tutorials, making it possible for anyone­—in theory­—to do a lay-up like LeBron by following diagrammed arrows below their feet. —KL

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   61


N A R I T A I N T E R N A T I O N A L A I R P O R T T E R M I N A L 3

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f you’re flying a discount carrier, the low-budget aesthetic usually starts the moment you arrive at the airport. “Limitation is the mother of creativity,” says Naoki Ito, chief creative officer at the Japanese firm, Party, which collaborated with architects Nikken Sekkei and the retailer Muji to design Narita Airport’s Terminal 3 in Tokyo (Terminal 3 serves the region’s low-cost airlines). Ito’s design constraints included a budget of $121 million, or R1.6 billion—just 60% of the resources given to the airport’s other two terminals—as well as a 15-minute walk between Terminal 3 and the next terminal. Due to the budget, there could be no expensive moving pavements or illuminated signs. Ito’s answer: “Consolidate two or more functionalities into one, and create a space within this compact system,” he says. A running track

helps replace both the moving pavement and the signs. The cushioned surface is easy on the feet and fun to use, and it also directs traffic through the terminal. The blue lane is for departures, and an earthy brown is for arrivals. The furniture is comfortable and utilitarian enough to offer space to sit or take a quick nap; the food court uses low-cost wood in community-style tables that maximise space. The ‘two into one’ design’s blend of style and frugality helped the team win over the public. With the 2020 Olympics approaching, construction has amped up in Tokyo, including an expensive, taxpayer-funded stadium that many citizens see as a careless use of re­­ sources. Ito wanted the terminal (which is funded by both public and private funds) to respect their wallets. “The [Japanese] people want it used in an efficient way,” he says. “They don’t want it to be wasted.” —CD

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GUTTER CREDIT TK

An airport that’s the epitome of cheap chic


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Terminal bliss

Kenta GUTTER Hasegawa CREDIT TK

Narita International Airport’s outpost for budget airlines slyly enlists each element to perform more than one function.

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T O P A R K OR N0T TO PARK

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A parking sign you can actually understand

L

ast September, Los Angeles councilman Paul Krekorian approached his fellow members with a novel idea: He’d recently come across a guerilla project that could completely transform how people in the City of Angels parked—by making it easier for them to avoid parking tickets. The scheme, called To Park or Not to Park, was created by LA ­native and interactive designer Nikki Sylianteng who— after suffering one too many citations—decided to rethink the look of most parking signs. She created an easy-to-read grid,

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Park place Designer Nikki Sylianteng, photographed in Brooklyn on July 30, 2015

along the lines of the kind in a good mobile calendar app, laminated it with packing tape, and put it up outside her bedroom window, with a URL showing where passers-by could download the template to make their own signs. In April 2015, Sylianteng’s project went global as Kre­korian piloted a project to instal more than 100 of her signs in downtown LA. The attention inspired municipalities in Brisbane, Australia; Vancouver; and Fargo, North Dakota, to explore Sylianteng’s project as well. “I’ve gotten emails saying, ‘Are you a sign designer?’ and I’m not,” says Sylianteng, who now lives in New York. “It’s about being more thoughtful about who the person using whatever it is you’re making, needs.” —NR

Photograph by Gus Powell


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Working together, moving forward How P w C suppor t s South African emerging companies

It is of critical importance to the development and transformation of South Africa that its small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector—and with that, emerging companies—be nurtured and supported. Among the many benefits of encouraging a thriving entrepreneurial landscape are those of economic growth, poverty reduction, job creation and societal upliftment. Aided by their often more agile nature and driven by their need to experiment, SMEs are also crucial to creating a culture of innovation, energy and creativity. Often, they are the ones at the forefront of innovation rather than their more mature corporate counterparts.

The bad news South Africa has been shrouded in a cloud of negative sentiment of late, and part of this is due to the many challenges that exist for our entrepreneurs:  In recent years, there has been a

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marked decrease in entrepreneurial activity in the country, owing to low levels of overall education (especially maths and science);  Our overall business environment is considered to be unsupportive—our ease-of-doing-business ranking for startups is 61 out of 189, lower than that of Afghanistan, Albania and Kazakhstan;  Our business failure rate of around 75% is one of the highest in the world; and  Our history did not provide for adequate preparation to become entrepreneurs, particularly among disadvantaged groups.

relationships between the private sector and South Africa’s entrepreneurs. Mentoring and networking are still in their infancy in South Africa; if these facets were improved, it would greatly facilitate business growth. Accessing capital is less difficult than is commonly believed. Rather than a lack of funding, there is a lack of knowledge about where and how to access it. There is a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem visible— Cape Town is a good example.

The good news

What PwC i s doing in t he ecosystem

We have a strong and diversified industrial base (including automobile manufacturing and exports), worldclass infrastructure (especially in selected provinces such as the Western Cape, and when compared to other emerging regions) and a highly sophisticated financial sector. Compared to other emerging regions, South Africa currently ranks 43rd out of 189 in the overall ease-ofdoing-business rankings—way higher than Nigeria (at 170th) and higher than any of the other BRICS countries (Brazil comes in at 120, India at 142, China at 90 and Russia at 62). Ample opportunities exist for corporations to provide entrepreneurs with increased access to procurement opportunities and to integrate them into their enterprisedevelopment strategies; what it boils down to is that we need more collaboration and better working

It is imperative for all ecosystem stakeholders—the entrepreneurs themselves, the government, the private sector, investors and tertiary institutions—to support our entrepreneurial businesses. PwC, as a major corporate, is doing just that. In 2013, the firm opened an office at the Bandwidth Barn to build grassroots relationships with some of the top emerging companies. This year, PwC collaborated with the SA Innovation Summit to present the second Vision to Reality awards programme, with the SA Innovation Summit PwC Pitching Den being used as a platform for the top 20 Vision to Reality finalists to introduce and sell their ideas. The summit brings together a unique mix of innovation enablers who contribute to a conducive environment for our finalists, providing them with the opportunity


to make commercial connections with funders, global investors, marketers, intellectual-property lawyers, and distribution channels.

A new se r vice for e me rg i ng com pa n ie s The PwC Accelerator Africa, one of 25 global PwC Accelerators that represent a separate PwC service line, assists emerging companies (high-growth, scalable businesses with an annual turnover of more than R20 million) and ecosystem stakeholders by providing them with their own individually designed ‘building blocks’ and catering for their unique growth needs in becoming (inter)national leaders. As their independent and trusted adviser, the PwC Accelerator is committed to assisting these companies by providing them with privileged access to the most relevant markets, the best international talents, and the most appropriate financing solutions. By leveraging PwC’s (inter) national network and extensive competencies, adapted to the way of working preferred by the respective CEOs, the PwC Accelerator effectively accelerates the growth of these emerging companies. PwC also provides support for earlier-stage companies (with an annual turnover below R20 million) by way of supporting the relevant ecosystem stakeholders through, for example, incubators, accelerators and relevant events. The firm does this by providing talks, training and monetary support.

The ecosystem pu blication The PwC Accelerator—together with the Silicon Cape Initiative, Microsoft BizSpark, City of Tshwane and Wesgro—launched a publication titled Emerging companies and the ecosystem at this year’s SA Innovation Summit in August. The publication was underpinned by the detailed survey participation of more than 530 ecosystem stakeholders

including technology-enabled emerging companies (from earlystage to approximately R100-million revenue per annum), investors, government, tertiary institutions and other ecosystem stakeholders. Among several questions this publication asked was: How do we turn the current negative sentiment around and put South Africa’s economy ‘back on track’? Part of the answer is simple, in theory: Make entrepreneurship work, with the collaboration and support of other entrepreneurial ecosystem stakeholders. Megatrends dictate that future economies 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 their businesses. The publication covers various pertinent topics including women in business, and the fact that the statistics for emerging companies are still disheartening—the percentage of female founders and company employees is still too low. The business case is clear for having more women on company boards: Global research by Catalyst has shown that companies with diverse boards tend to outperform those with no women on their boards; in other words, there is a direct correlation between diverse boards and stronger financial performance. Furthermore, the publication produced other key findings and surprises. By digging deeper into

Small and mediumsized enterprises are crucial to creating a culture of innovation, energy and creativity.

some of the anecdotal myths around this ecosystem, a number of them were debunked. A further deep dive was taken into some current ‘hot topics’ such as digitisation, internationalisation, enterprise development, education, and the use of advisers. Interviewees included entrepreneurs such as Michael Jordaan, the founders of Yuppiechef and Groupon, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s Mike Herrington and a number of venture capital directors and representatives from tertiary institutions. Successful entrepreneurship does not only benefit our entrepreneurs; it helps the country and its people as a whole by stimulating those aspects that will move South Africa forward. Entrepreneurship, in a nutshell, is the answer to many of Africa’s challenges. In order to begin to realise the vast potential this sector of the economy holds, though, there needs to be more collaboration between stakeholders such as the government and public sector institutions, the private sector, investors and institutions of higher education. Support for the sector includes increasing the size of the corporate procurement pie to give entrepreneurs increased access to corporate supply-chain opportunities; improving mentoring and networking structures to facilitate growth opportunities; and closing the funding gap. If we all work together, we can turn the tide of negativity and create a South Africa that is able to look after its own. Maija de Rijk-Uys

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   67


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PwC 2015 Vision to Reality Awards top 10 finalists 01

04

Ba byG rou p, South Africa’s

O rig i n Syste m s is a legal software company providing specialist contract drafting, risk management and compliance solutions to many of South Africa’s largest companies. Developed by a team of lawyers and IT professionals over a period of eight years, the company’s Updraft solution uses legal algorithms and dynamic databases to mimic the legal drafting process followed by lawyers. The software cuts drafting time by 80% to 90%, and the controlled drafting process is so intuitive that it can be completed by non-lawyers— resulting in significant cost savings and easy user-adoption. In the corporate environment, the drafting solutions are coupled with proprietary contract management functions that automatically manage the full life cycle of the contract; trigger reminders on contract deadlines; generate business intelligence and reports; draft associated compliance documents; and provide a secure and interactive repository of all of the company’s legal documents. In other applications, the Updraft software is used to support a range of legal support products offered to small businesses and individuals. In this context, Origin Systems currently supports 1.25 million individuals and approximately 350 000 small businesses, as well as a range of insurance and affinity products.

e-commerce store for momsto-be and new mothers, provides the widest selection of local and international brands delivered across South Africa and eight other countries. The portfolio includes BundleBox, a popular subscription service for moms. BabyGroup enjoys a high customer lifetime value at low acquisition costs as a result of an intense focus to deliver to customers a genuinely positive and personal experience while offering great value and convenience. In June 2015, the company developed and launched its own range of baby products to positive reviews. It is looking ahead to both geographic and range expansion in addition to developing its own products and white label products.

02 PayFa st is an online paymentsprocessing service for South Africans and South African websites. It enables easy, secure and instant transfer of money between buyers and sellers. Clients do not require a merchant account to use PayFast and there are no lengthy contracts or fixed monthly costs—only pertransaction fees. Integrated into over 60 different e-commerce systems and six different payment methods, PayFast provides fraud and security monitoring as a free valueadded service.

03 Nom a n in i, a portable point-

of-sale service, facilitates cash transactions in informal markets. With its rugged terminals and highly scalable, cloud-based backend, enterprises are able to distribute prepaid mobile and electricity vouchers efficiently and facilitate micropayments in frontier markets across Africa and beyond. Nomanini has signed partnerships in Kenya, Namibia, Ghana, Zambia and Mozambique, with active terminals processing over five million transactions in those regions, including South Africa.

05 10X Inve st m ents aims to

make investing simpler and better, to give people the best possible value for their long-term savings. Investing is complex, with expensive and opaque products. Investors are expected to navigate hundreds of different choices, ‘helped’ by an array of middlemen. They invest in poorly performing funds with high fees that can halve their long-term investment. 10X eliminates these risks by providing the single best investment solution, with advice and risk management embedded into its product. There are no complex or competing choices. 10X automatically invests people according to their investment

68   FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A  OCTOBER 2015

time horizon in well-diversified passive tracker portfolios. All investors earn competitive longterm returns that can double their final investment value. The company provides online financial planning tools and education to help people set realistic financial goals; pension fund administration, investment management and consulting services to companies; and retirement investments to individuals.

06 Everly tic is a central hub for all digital communications. The system gives companies the ability to manage and segment their databases, compose beautiful HTML emails, send email and SMS campaigns with ease to any number of recipients, and track everything that happens. However, Everlytic goes beyond mere email and SMS marketing: With its production messaging engine, companies can power the delivery of any digital message—whether sending an invoice in a branded template, an order notification, or any other system-generated email or SMS.

07 I nfoSlips, an award-winning

e-documents provider, helps companies replace their ‘flat’ documents such as statements or invoices with beautifully designed, interactive and secure InfoSlips—delivered on anything from a laptop to a smartphone.

08 Xpitec provides a range of

software development services and products to the defence, industrial and commercial sectors. It offers a series of software development and engineering solutions as well as an exciting range of software and hardware commercial products.

09 eMoyo is a successful provider of trans- and telemedicine services and products to South Africa, Africa and Australia, and soon to Chile and the United

States. Founded by medical doctor Dirk Koekemoer in 2005, the company is well known for producing high-quality, innovative products and services and is positively changing the way healthcare is being provided to a greater number of patients. Its current flagship product, the KUDUwave, designed by Dr Koekemoer, is the most unique and cost-effective diagnostic audiometer on the market today. It is designed to overcome environmental challenges and carries the European CE quality mark, conforms to SABS requirements for audiometers, and is registered with the US Food and Drug Administration for distribution into the States. Recently, the KUDUwave received accreditation for distribution in Australia. More than 550 KUDUwaves have been sold and are working well in occupational and primary healthcare environments. eMoyo played a critical role in the SA National Tuberculosis Control Programme policy for treatment of multidrug-resistant TB patients. To ensure early detection of hearing loss due to ototoxicity, the Department of Health rolled out KUDUwaves across South Africa.

10 Tele m ed icine Africa prides itself on pioneering telemedicine technologies in Africa, driven by the philosophy to provide integrated, multifunctional, scalable and dynamic solutions and products that will improve the provision of care both today and in the future. It aims to transfer wellness, awareness and lifeskills to people across southern African society so that all people would recognise the importance of knowing one’s status. The company successfully implemented its first large-scale telemedicine project in the Limpopo province, including the provision of training to doctors and nurses. Telemedicine Africa also conducted a research project for the Southern African Development Community Secretariat, where all the Ministries of Health in the SADC countries were visited to assess their e-Readiness.


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Disruption ahead

Mark McChlery

Smart is the new cool T H E DY N A M I C S O F B U S I N E S S A R E N O W B A S E D O N VA LU E , S K I L L A N D K N O W L E D G E

L

ISTENING TO CERTAIN songs is like reading

your horoscope and thinking, “Wow, that’s me today!” Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” played on the radio the other day and I was taken aback when my 5-year-old sang along verbatim. (I’m pretty sure we’d had “Postman Pat” playing all the time just a few weeks ago.) It made me look into the lyrics—only to realise they were empowering, dreamy and tantamount to a war cry. I found myself drawing parallels to the topic of disruption.

Board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and chess used to be the standard entertainment of every family vacation. But just last month, I had to jump to action to remedy a draining battery on the tablet that was holding my daughter’s rapt attention. This phenomenon is bemoaned by today’s parents—and derided by grandparents—but the pervasive adoption of technology by children these days is simply rewriting the operating system of the world’s economy. Not in a flash release but rather update by silent update. Globalisation, ubiquitous tech platforms, population density and age demographics are causing trends to break down, break up and, in some cases, simply break. To some, it reeks of doom and gloom—especially following all the media coverage of the woes of our economy: power outages, precarious sovereign-debt ratings, rising inflation, slow growth in gross domestic product underpinned by poor government performance and burgeoning living costs, as well as the dichotomy of our top-performing stocks on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. (Incidentally, the JSE All Share Index traded at a new record high as recently as April this year, with much of the top performances and value coming from South African companies showing significant growth outside our borders.) The proliferation of data as well as its speed and

The knowledge economy dictates innovation— and thus disruption.

frequency mean the regular Joe Citizen knows more—or at least thinks he knows more about what is going on in the world. Knowledge is not power: It is potential power, and the dynamics of business are now based on value, skill and knowledge. Smart is the new cool and, as a result, the knowledge economy dictates innovation— and thus disruption. Richard Dobbs co-authored No Ordinary Disruption, in which he cites Standard & Poor’s 500 Index as the benchmark. He reports that in 1950, a company occupied its place on the S&P 500 for an average of 60 years; in 2011 that metric dropped to 18 years. He goes on to forecast that in 2027, based on the current rate of churn— thanks to mergers and acquisitions, and the rapid rise of startups—75% of the companies on today’s index will fall off. These days, the era of dominance is akin to that of a professional athlete rather than the tenure of a distinguished professor—lasting years and not decades. The consumption-based pricing models for cloud computing services—infrastructure-, platform- and software-as-a-service channels—serve smaller, more agile businesses to scale at pace until they hit the radar of larger, established companies that have built expensive on-premise tech platforms. The impact of this on business in general is simply that it creates the demand to offer more and to offer differently, and challenges us to reimagine our landscape constantly. This simply breeds innovative disruption. With so much published on the subject, it is near impossible to claim to have a unique view on it—but I will bet that the “Fight Song” lyrics, “Like a small boat on the ocean / sending big waves into motion … I might only have one match / but I can make an explosion”, is a new spin. My love for music is not as pure as some, and my yearning for a vast collection of vinyl records has more to do with wanting an office like Harvey Specter… But those are media-driven trends, and a conversation for another day.

Born in Zimbabwe, educated in Johannesburg and now living in Cape Town, Mark McChlery is CEO of Seartec, the primary avenue-to-market for the Sharp brand in South Africa. He is viewed in high authority in the world of office automation.

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   69


Next

My way

Safety Net Cybercrime is a global business—so understand the risks and adapt, says The Liability Guy BY RENE FRANK

Sometimes you’re fortunate to meet a person by pure chance, who then goes on to inspire and impact your thoughts on matters you didn’t even consider important. Normally, you would contact Simon Colman when you’re worried you may have a lawsuit on your hands, or when you know you’re taking on risk. But you really should just meet this “Liability Guy”, as he calls himself. The very busy executive of digital and product development at SHA Specialist Underwriters took time out to speak to us about the new risk posed by the booming entrepreneurship landscape: cybercrime. We’re all very glad about the development and innovation taking place every day in South Africa and globally. But what we often only consider later—and sometimes too late—is the new avenue of risk all these new and wonderful innovations have opened up. “Innovation is not only for the good people. Often it’s also an opportunity for criminals,” Colman notes. Every day, directors of companies make decisions on behalf of their

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organisation. These decisions carry significant responsibility and can potentially cause financial or reputational harm to the business. “The fact that organisations need enough information to make a decision on innovations, inventions and ideas submitted while being cognisant of legal and confidentiality issues is a real catch-22 problem, and there’s not really a way around it.” With the rapid pace of innovation and development, it seems we’re moving too fast to understand the potential risks. “It’s a massive problem”, says Colman, “especially in smaller businesses where entrepreneurs have skills specific to their chosen field. A small engineering business may be at the top of the design and fabrication game, but it’s highly likely that other, perhaps more administrative, functions are lacking. He continues: “In the SME [small and medium enterprise] space, most businesses have recognised that investment in technology provides an efficient way of reaching a broader marketplace. Unfortunately, that dependence also has a dark flip side to it. For example, cybercrime is having a marked effect on the SME sector. Every day we read about a business that has fallen victim to some elaborate scam or malware infection. I was in a meeting recently where four out of the five attendees had either fallen victim to ‘ransomware’ or knew someone who had since the start of the year.” Ransomware is a type of malware

that prevents users from accessing their computer system. It then forces victims to pay a ‘ransom’ through an online payment method in order to restore access or data. What can organisations do to better cope with such cyber threats? “I believe it’s about collaboration and networking—in the physical sense rather than the IT sense,” says Colman. “Even [owners of] big businesses realise that they can’t be ‘Jacks of all trades’. It’s highly unlikely that a small business will ever employ an IT security consultant full-time. There are, however, growing numbers of entrepreneurs in the IT security space who can spread their expertise across large groups of businesses, diluting the costs. “Business owners in South Africa also underestimate the value of using social media not just for marketing but also for learning. Twitter and LinkedIn, for example, provide excellent platforms for keeping up to date with trends and developments. Ten years ago, it

“Given that SMEs are more likely to fall victim to online crime rather than a burglary, it makes sense that they should be insuring themselves against [cybercrime].” would’ve been difficult to get the opinion of industry leaders on topical issues. Now, just by clicking a ‘follow’ or ‘connect’ button, they can be informed, 24/7. “A little-known fact is that businesses can also insure themselves against cybercrime. Given that SMEs are more likely to fall victim to online crime rather than a burglary, it makes sense that they should be insuring themselves against the pandemic,” he adds. Is cybercrime preventing true entrepreneurship in Africa? “The vast distances from one end of the continent to the other, coupled


Flip side “Innovation is not only for the good people. Often it’s also an opportunity for criminals,” says SHA’s Simon Colman.

with a general lack of physical infrastructure in most places, mean that entrepreneurs have had to rely heavily on mobile technology to transact with their customers. Currently, the success of mobile telecoms in Africa has greatly contributed to the growth in SMEs, which cannot be disputed. We need to look ahead, though, and be aware that malware and ransomware are going to become bigger problems in

that space,” Colman cautions. “In April, Symantec produced its annual Internet Security Threat Report. Out of six million apps analysed by security specialists, one million were found to have been infected with malware. All the recent reports I’ve read indicate that desktop—and even laptop—usage is declining and mobile technology is rising exponentially, so it makes sense that that’s where criminals will be

turning their attention,” he notes. “Our continent represents a big part of any global business’s growth strategy, and cybercrime is a global business in itself. We need to be ready.” The growth of entrepreneurship and technology is not going to wait for businesses to get their ducks in a row. They have to understand the risks, adapt and react—or suffer the loss of both money and infrastructure.

OCTOBER 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.Z A   71


Next

Passion project

Stepping out McCarthy knows that a woman’s sense of style doesn’t depend on her size.

Fit to be sized Actress Melissa McCarthy wants to fix plus-size fashion BY KC IFEANYI

One of the benefits of being a famous actress is having unlimited clothing at your disposal. Except when you don’t. “I could not find, with consistency, something that felt young and modern and easy to wear,” says Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy. “And then I started thinking, Why don’t I make the closet?” So she did: In August, she launched her first clothing collection, working with Sunrise Brands to create a line of all-size, fashion-forward basics. Priced from $54 (almost R750) to $169 (R2 300), Melissa McCarthy Seven7 items will be available in plus sizes at selected US retailers. In a new twist for this market, MelissaMcCarthy.com will carry the same styles in sizes ranging from 4 to 28 (32 to 56 in SA).

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The plus-size clothing industry generated $17.5 billion (about R240 billion) in the US in the year prior to April 2014, and still 81% of plus-size women say they’d spend more on clothes if they had better options, according to a survey by online retailer, Modcloth. Given that the average American woman is a size 14 (size 42)—which is where the US plus size starts—that represents a huge untapped market. Lately, retailers have been getting better at serving plussize customers: Both Target and H&M have launched specialised lines in the past few years, and Isabel Toledo partnered with Lane Bryant in 2014 on an exclusive collection. But even ultrastylish plus-size-only clothing isn’t good enough, says McCarthy. She wants ultrastylish clothing designed for women regardless of size, and she wants to be able to find it in the same places so-called straight-size women shop. “Women do not stop at a magical size 10 or 12 [38 or 40], and I thought, Why would clothes? I have been every size under the rainbow, but my style never changed.” Going in, McCarthy says, “I think there was the assumption that they would just make their line and I would slap my name on it.” But the actress—who dreamt of studying fashion until her high school best friend, the now-famous shoe designer Brian Atwood, convinced her to do comedy instead—was involved in every stage of production, pushing the Seven7 team to make their designs more contemporary. Her collection includes items like patterned pants and form-fitting skirts that plus-size retailers have typically shied away from—but that’s kind of the point, says McCarthy. “You can’t say to people that a woman doesn’t want this,” she says. “I want it.”

It’s in the details Four t h ing s Melis s a McC ar t hy is doing t o m ake her line s tand ou t

01

Pricing for q u a lit y “The quality and construction is often so bad,” McCarthy says of plus-size clothing. Her line uses fine fabrics and finishes, and is priced on the level of a department store luxury brand.

02

Sizing for accu racy Designers typically use fit models to prototype a collection, and they are usually size 30 or 32. Not so with Melissa McCarthy Seven7: All garments in the collection are built on two fit models, one size 44 and the other size 50.

03

De sig n ing for fa sh ion Plus-size clothes typically “either look young or incredibly old”, McCarthy says. Her collection aims squarely in between, with trend-oriented pieces that are intended to be mixed and matched.

04

Ma rketing for a pproac ha bility A line designed for real women should be advertised on real-looking models. That means using non-models whenever possible, no blank stares, and no strange poses.


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Subscribe to Fast Company SA ror 1 year and save R110! Get Fast Company South Africa now! The annual subscription is for 10 print issues of Fast Company SA magazine (April/May & Dec/Jan double up as one issue each). The cost of the subscription is R240 (including 14% VAT and postage) for 10 print issues. Full payment must be made before the subscription is valid. This offer is for South Africa ONLY. If you would like to subscribe, email Taryn Kershaw for more details: taryn@insightspublishing.co.za.

THE NEW RIVALRIES

Apple vs Xiaomi Snapchat vs Twitter Facebook vs Microsoft and more

SMART MONEY

Why mobile payments are big business in SA

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

INSIDE OBA M A’S STE A LTH STA RTUP H OW TOP T ECH I ES F R OM G OOG LE, FACEB OOK , A ND A MA ZON A R E I NF I LT R AT I NG T H E US G OV ER NMENT

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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?

9 772313 330006

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LIFE: Improved Five award-winning new designs are addressing serious modern challenges and have the potential to disrupt established industries By Katie de Klee

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he key focus of the award—presented by the Danish non-profit INDEX: Design To Improve Life—is to promote the application of design and design processes to improve vital areas of people’s lives worldwide. It is divided into the five categories of Body, Home, Work, Play & Learning, and Community; the finalists and winners are selected by the international Award Jury according to form, impact and context of the designs. A former award jury member, the late Professor John Heskett, said design is “the human capacity to shape and make our environments in ways that satisfy our needs and give meaning to our lives.” The 2015 edition rewarded five top designs: a solar battery, a language-learning app, an ocean cleanup scheme, an app to diagnose eye disease, and vertically grown vegetables. (The Desolenator—a mobile desalinator that runs on solar energy to purify any type of water—won the People’s Choice Award.) Although wide-ranging in their reach and effect, the winning designs share a common conceptual simplicity: Their disruptive power lies in their democratic dispersal of innovative design thinking that works toward solving some of the greatest modern challenges.

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These winning designs are affordable, accessible, infinitely scalable and unexpectedly transformational. But, most importantly, they symbolise big and necessary changes in big, established industries. Three of the five have this revolutionary potential: One could overthrow the conventional carbon-fuelled energy grid; another takes education out of institutions and makes it free and accessible for anyone with a smartphone or Internet connection; while a third puts vital healthcare into the hands of those who have not yet had access to experts. Here are the 2015 winners, which each received an impressive €100 000 (around R1.55 million) in prize money.

THE OCEAN CLEANUP

The biennial INDEX: Award, with a purse of €500 000 (about R7.7 million), is widely recognised as the most important design accolade in the world—showing people how to “Design to Improve Life” for themselves and for others around them. The awards address issues such as HIV/Aids, scarcity of potable water, terrorism, sustainable transportation and elderly care, among other things.


Current affairs Research by The Ocean Cleanup indicates that using a single 100km floating barrier, deployed for 10 years, will remove 42% of the Great Pacific garbage patch— estimated to be more than 70 million kilogrammes.

01 DUOLINGO

The Ocean Cleanup

In 2012, 19-year-old Dutch engineering student Boyan Slat came up with an ingenious idea for sustainably cleaning up the world’s oceans. The Ocean Cleanup array is the first ever system that uses the natural rotating currents, known as gyres, to passively collect tonnes of plastic rubbish against stationary barriers. The project is completely safe for marine life, is designed to be almost entirely energy self-sufficient (running on solar and wind energy), and uses only existing technologies in the building of the floating stations. Every year, about eight million tonnes of plastic is thrown into the ocean. The array stations work like giant funnels, trapping the plastic debris (which Slat has proven typically sits in the top three metres) against long booms while all living things are free to swim or drift below. The plastic is sorted and recycled into new materials or converted into oil. Research by The Ocean Cleanup indicates a single barrier of 100km, deployed for 10 years, could remove 42% of the Great Pacific garbage patch. The Ocean Cleanup is also one of Fast Company’s 2015 Innovation by Design Award winners (see page 42).

02 Duolingo This language-learning app offers free, top-quality language lessons via mobile phone. It is shaping the future of education with short, game-playing, adaptive lessons that form around the specific capabilities of an individual student. Currently, the app has more than 100 million registered users and uses 23 different languages. Average users spend 30 minutes on the app per day, but it is designed to fill even just a couple of free moments. Founder Luis von Ahn grew up in Guatemala and witnessed at first hand the barriers faced by poor communities. Second languages are often learnt by those looking to escape poverty, but courses are typically expensive. Duolingo democratises language learning and encourages better cultural connections. Another particularly innovative aspect of the app is the continual improvement of the programme through citizen research and the distillation of collective genius to translate pages of the Internet.

Score! Each time a lesson section is completed, gamers receive rewards in the form of virtual currency called Lingots, which can be used to buy items to enhance their learning experience.

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03 #heartAfrica Since 2003, there have been 38 global events, face-to-face interactions with 17 000 African professionals worldwide, and notable speakers such as Thabo Mbeki and founder Angel Jones (left) in attendance.

The home of the future

Elon Musk is well-versed in the discipline of disruption. Ruffling the feathers of the vehicle industries with the Tesla Model S, and with plans to colonise Mars with SpaceX rockets, Musk announced in April 2015 that his company would be using its automotive battery technology to wean homes and workspaces off the grid. The biggest challenge of solar energy is how to store it when the

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sun goes down. The Tesla Powerwall is a rechargeable, wall-mounted, lithium-ion battery that is able to store solar energy for use at night, during power outages, or for hours when energy prices hit peak rates. The Powerwall costs $3 500 (over R48 000), and multiple units can be stacked in households with higher requirements. The complete pack includes solar panels for the roof, the battery to store the

surplus energy, and an inverter to convert solar power into electricity. (It will be available in South Africa by the end of 2016.) Musk’s vision is that the Tesla Powerwall will allow users to cut their energy bill and carbon footprint, and eventually to become energy-autonomous. The Powerwall also has huge potential in countries without well-established electricity infrastructure.

TESLA ENERGY

Tesla Powerwall

The judges agreed that the Tesla Powerwall is a step toward revolutionising the way we generate, consume and manage energy.


Eye phone Peek Retina taps into an existing channel—mobile phones—to reach a significantly larger group than current healthcare distribution methods can.

05 Peek Retina

04

Sky Greens Vertical farms have existed for over a century, but none has mastered the system with the same remarkable design as Sky Greens. Founded and designed by 51-year-old Jack Ng in Singapore, Sky Greens is the first low-carbon, waterdriven vertical farm that uses significantly less land, water and energy than traditional

farming and which cuts the carbon footprint caused by importing food. Each vertical farm unit is nine metres high with 38 shelves that rotate throughout the day using a hydraulic system, which itself recycles water back into the soil. The plants receive sunlight at the top

and water at the bottom. Compared to a traditional, monolayer farm, the vertical garden produces 10 times more crops per land area unit. The future of sustainable farming is not necessarily out in the fields: Ng’s design represents a prospective urban landscape where agriculture and architecture are integrated.

Green houses

TK/PEEK VISION

According to Sky Greens founder Jack Ng, his design will be able to integrate architecture, urban planning and cultivation technologies in developing “the world’s first Agripolis”.

Peek (Portable Eye Examination Kit) is a portable, affordable and simple method of carrying out comprehensive eye examinations. According to the World Health Organisation, there are 285 million visually impaired or blind people in the world. Four out of every five of these cases could have been prevented with early diagnosis and appropriate (often uncomplicated) treatment. The Peek Retina comprises an app and an adaptor that allows the user to take high-quality images of a patient’s retinas, which can then be examined for signs of problems. The system is potentially groundbreaking: More people in rural African communities have access to mobile phones than to running water. If these phones could become the bearers of better health, then individuals can have access to expert care even in the most remote places.

Katie de Klee is the editor of the online design publication, DesignIndaba.com.

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Glenfiddich and Fast Company SA

More than 150 guests from various business sectors attended a whisky-tasting and networking event organised by Glenfiddich and Fast Company SA . Held at The Cape Town Club in the Mother City, it was a classy affair. A live band and the finest whisky made the event even more memorable.

01

02

03

 0 1 The plush main lounge area of The Cape Town Club

 0 2 Editor Evans Manyonga, Venessa Lees, publisher Robbie Stammers

 0 3 Matthew Wilson, Grant Holloway, Heidi Wilson, Venessa Lees, Jeremy Dore

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04

05

06 0 7

08

10

09  0 4 Mark McClery

 0 5 Samantha James, Catherine Brassei

 0 6 Jeneith Dumpies, Keolebogile Makung

 0 7 Grant Holloway, Taryn Kershaw,

 0 9 Joel Guy, Luthando Jezz Tibini

Charles Kershaw

and friends

 0 8 Robbie Stammers, Braam Malherbe

 10 Anneleigh Jacobsen, Alastair King

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Next

The Great Innovation Frontier

Walter Baets

Dream big ... limitations can come later I F W E A R E TO H AV E A H O P E O F S O LV I N G A F R I CA’ S C H A L L E N G E S , W E N E E D O U R L E A D E R S TO K E E P T H E S PAC E O F P O S S I B I L I T Y W I D E O P E N

I

F YOU WANT to design a car that runs at 600km/h, the last person you should hire is an engineer. Why? Because he or she will tell you it’s impossible. But, of course, you already know it’s impossible—that’s why you want to innovate in the first place!

“An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how it can’t be done,” says Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE foundation, an educational non-profit organisation that wants to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. He has a point. I have nothing against experts or engineers; they come in extremely handy at the end of the innovation process, at the building stage. But at the beginning, you need the dreamers: the creatives, the artists—the fantasists. The bigger the dream, the greater chance you have of succeeding. Along the way, several critics are going to cut that dream down to size—so the bigger it is at the start, the better. Some of the major breakthroughs in human civilisation have come from dreamers: Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison both credit their discoveries of relativity and electricity, respectively, to their dreams; Dr Frederick Banting famously woke up at 2 a.m. on the morning of October 31, 1920 with the idea that led to the discovery of insulin and won himself a Nobel Prize; Stravinsky, Wagner, Beethoven, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney all claimed to have heard their music first in their dreams. By contrast, history is cluttered with expert opinions that have been proven catastrophically off the mark. From Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society of London, pronouncing in 1895 that “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible”; to the unfortunate (engineer) Ken Olsen—president, chairperson and co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation—stating confidently in 1977 that “there is no reason for any

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Organisations desperate to create innovation cultures … should limit the role of the experts and engineers up front and fan the flame of creatives.

individual to have a computer in his home”. The lesson here for organisations desperate to create innovation cultures to keep them competitive in tough economic times is to limit the role of the experts and engineers up front and fan the flame of creatives. And it starts at the top. It is critical that innovation leaders have big dreams (or in organisation speak, a vision) and that they are able to communicate these clearly to their teams: the ones (yes, including the engineers) who will be responsible for actualising this vision. Recently writing in the Harvard Business Review, leadership development consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman identified, as two core characteristics for innovation leaders, the ability to paint a clear picture of the destination and the ability to set stretch goals for their teams. The reason for this is not just because leaders need to be motivational (although that helps in creating infectious action) but, more practically, because a clear vision helps one decide which ideas to pursue and which to shelve. When Alice in Wonderland asks the Cheshire Cat which road to take, the cat asks her where she would like to go. When Alice replies that she doesn’t really know, the cat responds sagaciously that if you don’t know where you would like to go, then any road is a good road. So in the absence of a vision, any decision is the right one. This may be fine if you’re Alice in Wonderland, but it could be problematic when there is more at stake. Joe Nocera writes in The New York Times that Steve Jobs “never stopped relying on his singular instincts in making decisions about how Apple products should look and how they should work” and that, despite his famously nasty streak, his “instincts have been so unerringly good—and his charisma so powerful—that Apple employees were willing to follow him wherever he led.” Much lip service is paid to innovation in organisations, yet few manage to achieve the magic formula to become innovation legends like Apple. The secret, I believe, lies (in part) in dreaming big—like Jobs—and granting your people a licence to dream too. In Africa, we are surrounded by seemingly impossible tasks: daunting social and environmental challenges that only a dreamer may be crazy enough to think we can solve. The continent needs leaders who can dream these dreams and who can keep the space of possibility open and allow others to dream alongside them. As Walt Disney, one of the most famous dreamers of all time, once said: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” 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’.


INNOVATION BY DESIGN 2015

World-changing solutions from Nike, Facebook, Google, Slack, L’Oréal and more INDEX Design Award winners SA EXCLUSIVE

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Why SA’s brilliant expats are bringing their skills home

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THE NEW RIVALRIES

Apple vs Xiaomi Snapchat vs Twitter Facebook vs Microsoft and more

SMART MONEY

Why mobile payments are big business in SA

GWYNETH KNOWS BEST HER BRAND IS POWERFUL AND DIVISIVE. CAN SHE BUILD A BUSINESS THAT MATTERS?

R35.00

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I T IS MORE THAN A M AG A ZINE, I T'S A MOV EMEN T The Digital version of Fast Company South Africa is now available on Apple iPad and Android tablets


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

Worker well-being The newest global research by Steelcase unveils that a holistic approach to well-being is required. No longer can organisations think of well-being as just physical or mental health; they must consider the physical, psychological and cognitive needs of workers. The research reveals that the places where people come together to work can be designed to have a positive impact on a variety of dimensions of worker well-being. And when intentionally considered and designed, the workplace can help foster healthier, happier and more creative—and thus, more innovative—employees.

SIX DIMENSIONS OF WELL-BEING WERE IDENTIFIED THAT CAN BE IMPACTED BY THE DESIGN OF THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT, AND WHICH ALL PLAY A KEY ROLE IN TODAY’S NEWEST LEADERSHIP TRAITS:

01 M indfulness—Staying

03 Optimism—Fostering

05 Meaning—Finding a sense of

fully engaged in a world filled with distractions. 02 Authenticity—Bringing your whole self to work.

creativity and innovation. 04 Belonging—Feeling connected to others.’

06 Vitality—Engaging the body in

FAST, RELIABLE, AFFORDABLE WIRELESS BROADBAND B U S I N E S S M A N A L A N K N O T T- C R A I G , J R

announced in August the imminent commercial launch of H E R O T E L : A N E W W I R E L E S S I N T E R N E T P R O V I D E R (WISP) that will provide FA S T, R E L I A B L E W I R E L E S S broadband at affordable rates to households and small businesses. “ W I S P S A L R E A DY S AT I S F Y T H I S C R AV I N G , W I T H NET PROFIT MARGINS REACHING AS HIGH AS 4 0 % , ” S A I D K N O T T- C R A I G . “However,

due to the fragmented nature of the industry, WISPs suffer from lack of co-ordination. H E R O T E L P L A N S T O C O N S O L I D AT E T H E D I S PA R AT E R E G I O N A L WIRELESS BROADBAND PROVIDERS UNDER A N AT I O N A L B R A N D , and unlock the

economies of scale.” HeroTel plans to launch in April 2016.

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purpose at work.

movement to support physical and mental vigour at work.

SMARTER, MORE EFFICIENT TRAVEL For many entrepreneurs, travel is essential in order to conduct business, sell their product or service, see clients and meet with investors. A successful and productive business trip does not happen by accident. Here are some tips from Darlene Menzies, CEO of SMEasy, to become a smarter and more efficient business traveller:  Minimise the stress involved in travelling by using apps and online services.  Instead of hiring a car, use services like Uber that offer a pickup as you get off the plane, a cashless transaction, and time to work in the back of the vehicle.  Check in online 24 hours before your flight so that your boarding pass is already on your phone.  Find accommodation using online booking services such as Booking.com, lastminute.com and Airbnb.com to save time and money.


Fast bytes

CliffCentral’s new app

THE CREATIVE COUNSEL COMES OUT TOPS The Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year competition has named Gil Oved and Ran Neu-Ner— founders and owners of The Creative Counsel (TCC)—as the overall winners for 2015. Spokesperson for the competition, Christo Botes, says Oved and Neu-Ner were selected due to the phenomenal success their business has achieved in its 14 years of operation. “TCC is today the largest advertising group in South Africa by staff and turnover—with a targeted presence in Africa—and plans to expand further into emerging markets.” He adds that TCC has perfected the process of job creation: a trait inherent in entrepreneurs and a key reason the competition seeks to discover and unmask South Africa’s economic heroes and celebrate the role they play in society.

South African online radio station, CliffCentral, has launched a smartphone app that will allow people to listen to the station live and send messages to the CliffCentral team, among other things. Users will be able to stream at low-, medium- and high resolutions and be able to download podcasts for offline listening in order to save on mobile data. Headed by former 5FM DJ Gareth Cliff, CliffCentral launched in early 2014 and now has more than 137 000 subscribers on WeChat. The CliffCentral site itself sees three million monthly page views, and its podcasts have been downloaded over four million times.

From left to right: Fred Roed (World Wide Creative CEO), Louis Janse van Rensburg (World Wide Creative Joburg director), Rina Broomberg (CliffCentral.com co-founder), Greg Cohen (CliffCentral.com operations manager), Linda van der Nest (marketing executive at CORE Group), Andy Skinstad (FONK Cape Town CEO) Front: Gareth Cliff

ONE FOR THE GUYS Fast Company SA has joined up with The Cape Town Club to bring you the inaugural MAN Day event. MAN Day is about everything that men love about being men. The usually-private venue will be opened to those guys interested in experiencing what club life is all about. Attendees will be able to plot their own MAN Day. Brand experiences will include an introduction to personal fashion styling, an Xbox gaming room, cocktail demo, food demo by Kitchen Cowboys, pop-up shops, Audi experience area, guided whisky and brandy tastings, craft beer experience, hot beard shaves, eye screenings and more. Tickets cost R500 per person (pre-sales only). Email info@capetownclub.org.za or telephone 021 424 5586. Ticket price includes: Access to guest-speaker sessions; 3 complimentary drinks tokens; MAN food throughout the experience in various rooms, plus a tray service; and a MAN Bag stuffed full of free gifts, entry forms for various on-the-day giveaways, product samples, discount vouchers and more from all our brand partners.

ARE YOU AN ECO-INNOVATOR? C O N S U LT I N G F I R M I M PA C T A M P L I F I E R S U P P O R T S S O C I A L E N T R E P R E N E U R S A N D I M PA C T I N V E S T O R S : entrepreneurs who

have designed their business models to address critical social and environmental challenges while achieving financial success. These investors, however, are confronted with a range of challenges in deploying their capital:  International investors are finding it difficult to locate investment-ready deals that are not coupled with untenable risks.  Many available opportunities are within the early stages and still require a maturation process.  Once a promising investment has been identified, there is still a high risk associated to it. Business support, close monitoring and risk management are lacking. To address these needs, I M PA C T A M P L I F I E R H A S D E S I G N E D A UNIQUE FIVE-MONTH INVESTMENT READINESS PROGRAMME FOR E N T R E P R E N E U R S . It covers everything from building

one’s impact case, business modelling, how to gain market access, a clear growth strategy, financial planning, pitching to investors, and writing an investment case for funding. With funding from the Doen Foundation in Holland, E C O - I N N O VAT O R S W I L L I N C L U D E U P T O 1 0 E N T R E P R E N E U R S I N T H E E N V I R O N M E N TA L G O O D S A N D S E R V I C E S S E C T O R such as alternative energy, solid

waste reuse and effluent treatment, clean water access, sustainable agriculture, and ecological building, to name a few. E C O - I N N O VAT O R S I S O P E N T O A P P L I C A N T S U N T I L N O V E M B E R , 1 5 A N D W I L L B E G I N I N L AT E J A N U A RY 2 0 1 6 . I N T E R E S T E D E N T R E P R E N E U R S S H O U L D V I S I T W W W. I M PA C TA M P L I F E R . C O . Z A T O A P P LY.

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Fast Events Upcoming events Fast Company will be attending

SA International Renewable Energy Conference Date: 4 to 7 October Time: 07h00–19h30 (day 1 from 08h00) Location: Cape Town International Convention Centre www.sairec.org.za Convened by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, S A I R E C I S T H E S I X T H I N A S E R I E S O F C O N F E R E N C E S that are a global platform for the advancement of renewable energy. Comprising a conference, an exhibition and a series of side events— U N D E R T H E T H E M E , “ R E - E N E R G I S I N G A F R I C A” —it will bring together renewable energy leaders in government, the private sector and civil society from around the world. T H E F O C U S I S O N R E M O V I N G B A R R I E R S T O T H E R O L L O U T O F R E N E WA B L E E N E R GY globally, promoting development and innovation in this sector, and highlighting the role that renewable energy can play in terms of A C C E L E R AT I N G D E V E L O P M E N T I N G E N E R A L .

Business of Design Conference Date: 7 & 8 October (Cape Town); 21 & 22 October (Joburg) Time: 08h00–19h00 Location: Inner City Ideas Cartel, Cape Town; Joburg venue TBC www.businessofdesign.co.za Business of Design is a two-day conference led by T O P I N D U S T RY E X P E R T S A N D D E S I G N P R O F E S S I O N A L S to guide, I N S P I R E A N D O F F E R P R A C T I C A L T O O L S to change the way people do business. The third, Spring 2015 instalment boasts fresh topics, with the Cape Town conference H O S T I N G I N T E R N AT I O N A L S P E A K E R J I M B R E T T: P R E S I D E N T O F W E S T E L M , T H E U S - F O U N D E D H O M E WA R E R E TA I L S T O R E . The programme will include lectures, panel discussions, workshops and audience participation.

Tech4Africa 2015 Date: 7 & 8 October Time: 09h00–17h30 Location: FNB Stadium, Johannesburg Tech4africa.com T E C H 4 A F R I C A I S T H E L A R G E S T T E C H I N N O VAT I O N , startup and entrepreneur platform on the continent. With 12 tracks, four event days (including a hackathon), a startup day, and M O R E T H A N 5 0 E X C E L L E N T S P E A K E R S , the event will be a place for new ideas— E N C O U R A G I N G P E O P L E T O I N N O VAT E A N D C H A N G E things. The greatest emphasis will be on L E A R N I N G , I N T E R A C T I O N , E N G A G E M E N T A N D D I S C U S S I O N .

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Fast events

Code For Cape Town Women in Tech Mentoring Day Date: 10 October Time: 10h00–12h30 Location: Cape Town Science Centre Code4ct.com Following on from the two Code4CT Women in Tech mentoring sessions held in July, Silicon Cape will be hosting a session F O C U S E D S P E C I F I C A L LY O N T E L L I N G T H E S T O R I E S O F I N S P I R I N G “ F E M A L E F O U N D E R S ” . This continues the theme of Silicon Cape’s #SCTechTalk in August, and forms part of Africa Code Week. VA R I O U S F E M A L E F O U N D E R S O F T E C H - B A S E D C O M PA N I E S W I L L S H A R E T H E I R S T O R I E S , describing their journey into tech, some of the challenges along the way,, and lessons they have learnt. T H I S W I L L B E F O L L O W E D BY I N T E R A C T I V E D I S C U S S I O N G R O U P S to discuss key ideas raised in the presentations.

Digital Cape Town: Creating a Smart City Date: 16 October Time: 08h00–10h00 acceleratecapetown.co.za T H E C I T Y O F C A P E T O W N I S E X P L O R I N G S M A R T- C I T Y B E S T P R A C T I C E S A N D S O L U T I O N S to create Digital Cape Town. This includes the four pillars: digital economy, digital infrastructure, D I G I TA L G O V E R N M E N T A N D D I G I TA L I N C L U S I O N , T O D E V E L O P A D I G I TA L C I T Y S T R AT E GY . Accelerate Cape Town is H O S T I N G A N D R E S T E L Z N E R , C I O AT T H E C I T Y , to share this strategy and how business can engage in delivering smart-city solutions. D A M I E N C A L L A G H A N , S E N I O R D I R E C T O R AT I N T E L , will discuss the Internet of Things which will shape these smart cities. A C C E L E R AT E C A P E T O W N W O U L D A L S O L I K E I N P U T F R O M B U S I N E S S with regard to what it sees as enablers and inhibitors to maximising digital technology in Cape Town, so C O M P L E T E O U R D I G I TA L C A P E T O W N S U R V E Y AT W W W. S U R V E Y M O N K E Y. C O M / R / D I G I TA L C A P E T O W N .

Business Tech Show Date: 28 & 29 October 2015 Time: 08h00–17h30 Location: The Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town businesstech-show.com L E D BY S O M E O F T O D AY ’ S K E Y I N D I V I D U A L S who are shaping business technology in South Africa and beyond, this first-of-its-kind show in South Africa I S A R E V O L U T I O N A RY I N I T I AT I V E T H AT C O M B I N E S T H R E E O F K I N E T I C ’ S L O N G S TA N D I N G A N D P O P U L A R E V E N T S , “Cloud and Virtualisation Africa Summit”; “ I T I N F R A S T R U C T U R E & B R O A D B A N D S U M M I T ” ; and the “Enterprise Mobility Africa Summit”, to demonstrate how the effective use of strategic technology and I N N O VAT I O N C A N B E U S E D A S A T O O L T O D R I V E B U S I N E S S F O R WA R D . Reaching out to SMEs, entrepreneurs, startups and large corporates, it will S H O W C A S E T H E L AT E S T T E C H T R E N D S , E X A M I N E T H E E V E R - C H A N G I N G M O B I L I T Y A N D A P P L I C AT I O N L A N D S C A P E , and focus on the evolution of cloud adoption.

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One more thing

Fighting words I N F O R M AT I O N D O E S N OT WA N T TO B E F R E E T H E S A M E WAY T H AT I ‘ WA N T ’ D O U G H N U TS , S O L E T ’ S STO P T H I N K I N G T H AT I T D O E S

I

RECENTLY GOT into a fight on the Internet. I was on a tech podcast discussing Google’s decision to remove links to revenge porn from its search results when victims request it. Having found it nearly impossible, legally, to get the actual revenge porn sites taken down, these victims had sought redress via the search engines that could lead a potential employer or friend to the damaging material. If you can’t make it disappear, you can at least make it more difficult to find.

I supported Google’s decision to make life harder for the world’s creeps, but my host considered it a slippery slope. “If you’re going to say, ‘I’m going to make a search engine’,” he said, “you should make one that indexes what’s on the Net, regardless of content.” He was concerned that “editorial intervention always introduces bias”, choosing instead to put his faith in an algorithm that “can be completely objective”. My adversary was espousing what sociologist Tricia Wang, currently in residence at Ideo in Shanghai, calls information universalism. We should not stomach any limitations on speech because of what the First Amendment guarantees (that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press). Not only is this a misreading of the United States Con­stitu­tion but, as our lives increasingly interact with the Internet, this attitude—while noble in theory—is more dangerous than ever. Consider Reddit’s near collapse last July. Over the years, a belief set in that Reddit should support a

Baratunde Thurston

community for any topic no matter how insidious, objectionable, dangerous or stupid because “information wants to be free”, and any management whatsoever would be censorship and shove us over the edge of that slippery slope toward child-murdering Thought Police. True lovers of freedom—a tiny but loud cohort with too much time on their hands—should celebrate the dedication of private Internet resources to the shaming of fat people. To their minds, the inventive engineers at DARPA who created the Internet intended for the /r/CoonTown subreddit to exist within this global network of networks. “Techies confuse the open protocols of the Internet with a sense that information itself should remain open and unmanaged,” Wang tells me. Indeed, the First Amendment has nothing to say about what Google Inc. and Reddit Inc. can and cannot do to create a service they consider useful. It is only concerned with actions of the government, specifically laws, to restrict speech. Information universalists are applying their feelings to the business decisions of companies and expressing outrage when we are not allowed to say whatever the hell we want—or at least not wherever the hell we want. Google’s job is not to reflect exactly what is on the Net; its job is to help us find relevant information (and deliver us unto advertisers). Technically speaking, Google captures between 0.04% and 4% of the Internet’s content. Google is amazing, and yet Google does nothing! Similarly, Reddit was not founded to uphold the inalienable rights of terrible people to spread their terrors. Rather, it exists to spread memes and images and provide a forum of whatever kind its owners feel like providing. The belief that human bias is only shown through banning forums or deleting search results—and not in the human-designed algorithm or site interface—is naive. There is no such pure state. Our prejudices are everywhere, our filtering systems unavoidable. Information management is a feature, not a bug. Those who argue otherwise are far more than information universalists; they are information extremists.

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.

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Profile for Fast Company SA

Fast Company SA - October 2015  

Fast Company SA - October 2015  

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