03.12.18

The Cisco of Africa, and so much more

BY Evans Manyonga 11 MINUTE READ
A colourful childhood, a true passion for electronic engineering and computational devices and a career in the navy culminating in establishing a modern tech juggernaut, is the backdrop of Metacom’s Managing Director Réan van Niekerk’s intriguing story. 
“Born in Johannesburg, I grew up in Cape Town, Worcester, England, Pretoria, and Johannesburg; eleven schools later, I matriculated at Bergvliet High in Cape Town. My parents taught me tremendous values, from hard work and ethics to dreaming big, and so much more, for which I shall be forever grateful,” he explains. 
 
The continuous change during his childhood made him adaptable and fiercely independent. While the close bond he shared with his siblings – younger brother and older sister – added to a close knit family structure. “This continuous change during my childhood certainly presented some challenges, but made me very adaptable and fiercely independent. 
“From a very young age, I loved electronic engineering, and lived for computational devices the moment I learnt about them in the 70’s. I built some of the earliest computer kits in the country, and cut my teeth on programming assembler and machine code after school, long before PCs were available,” he explains. 
 
A stint in the army and six years in the Navy instilled discipline and the value of teamwork. Van Niekerk also studied computer systems and programming while enlisted and subsequently entered the world of entrepreneurship thereafter. 
“I ventured out on my own in 1987, driven by my extreme desire for independence and the ‘can do’ attitude. My first companies were mostly successful, and after years of experience, loads of self-study in engineering, technology and entrepreneurship, I founded Metacom.”
A firm believer in the value of family, Van Niekerk has two children from his first marriage and two more with his wife Alice. “We have an incredibly special relationship with our children and live our lives for our family. Alice has always been extremely supportive of my ambitions and especially building Metacom. Without her support, constructive feedback, wise counsel and love I would not have achieved what I have,” he explains. 
 
What inspires you and what keeps you awake at night?
I am hugely inspired by the current trends in communication technology and the future possibilities this brings to seamlessly integrate the power of various technologies and automation into our lives. 
I often lie awake at night dreaming of these possibilities, but specifically how to ensure perfect uptime, reliability and system integrity at present and more so in the future. I am always keen to explore more technologies, but must simultaneously stay focussed on that which is most important today.
 
Stepping out of your comfort zone amidst the existing tech giants 16 years ago was a brave move. What drove this decision to “build it better”?
I simply love a challenge and stepping way out of my comfort zone! Starting out on my own gave me the freedom to re-think my contribution to the future of technology and especially information and communication technology. One of the core pillars when creating Metacom was to provide exceptional service and support to our customers, something which is sorely lacking in the industry. 
In technology, things can and do go wrong. You need a team of dedicated and highly committed individuals to jump into action immediately and resolve the issues as they occur. This is core to our philosophy of being customer focused and passionate about service excellence and system reliability.
Who is Metacom and what have your customers come to depend on you for over the past 16 years?
 
Metacom is primarily a managed, high availability point-to-point network communications provider, integrating all types of connectivity into one unified and very secure infrastructure. Our customers require extremely high levels of network reliability and our track record bears testament to the fact that Metacom can deliver. 
Although we cannot prevent or plan for all problems, the entire team at Metacom is completely focussed on reliability of communication and everyone jumps into action if or when a problem is encountered. Our customers expect us to stay at the forefront of technology, as we already do.
 
Metacom now operates in 22 countries, 18 of which are in Africa. What have been the challenges since inception? 
 
Metacom developed what many consider to be the most reliable failover communication technology and algorithms, tested in-depth and perfected over many years of service. This is ideal for South Africa and the African continent where reliability of communication systems are questionable at best. 
Our large South African customers, with outlets across Africa, therefore opted to use our routers and infrastructure at their international branches across the continent. Our reputation in this arena expanded, and we now supply our services to other organisations across Africa and abroad.
Our exponential growth has required significant resource planning, especially technology, people and finance. This has certainly presented its fair share of challenges, but with careful planning and excellent execution Metacom has consistently delivered superb technological and financial results.
 
Africa is a tough market to get right. How did you achieve this?
 
You need to be very flexible and adaptable when doing business in Africa. Yes, Africa is tough and the business and regulatory landscape changes from country to country and month to month. 
Metacom fortunately has a very strong and flexible operations team, with the authority and leeway to ‘make a plan’.  
 
For example, in some African regions you cannot simply plan an installation that is only 100 km from your technician’s base in one day. Sometimes, you must use a 4×4, and with terrible road conditions that trip may take a day just to get there, then a few hours on-site, and another day to get back. Numerous factors must be taken into account, but you must simply make it happen.
 
Please explain the move to Belgium and why it makes strategic sense to service North Africa from Europe?
 
We opened an office in Belgium as an opportunity arose in the region, and it has always been in our growth strategy to expand internationally, especially in Europe. 
 
Marius Visser, Business Development Executive at Metacom, immigrated to Belgium in early 2017 and is actively setting up business in Brussels. 
Belgium is not only central to the European region, but has a very strong financial sector, which will be to our advantage. As experts in the African communication industry, we believe Metacom is ideally suited to assist European companies wishing to expand into Africa, not only with our exceptional products and services, but also consulting, our expertise and regional knowledge.
Metacom employs a team of field technicians in all major centres throughout South Africa, ensuring technical support and expertise on the ground across the country. We also have strong relationships with technical contractors in most African countries that are ready to attend to our installations and field maintenance equipment.
 
Can you share critical milestones in the company’s history? Moments that made you realise that you were doing the right thing.
  • Developed the first GPRS based EFT communications equipment in South Africa,
  • Developed the first GPRS based SCADA communications equipment in South Africa,
  • Pioneering GSM based routers in South Africa,
  • Creating a sophisticated communications infrastructure,
  • Signing deals with some of the biggest corporates in the country,
  • Expanding into Africa,
  • Expanding into Europe.
 
What would you attribute your success to?
Hard work, focus, total commitment, exceptional people, passion in everything I do and attention to detail, while always remaining vigilant, and a huge dose of “can-do” attitude. Building Metacom over the last sixteen years has been the greatest joy of my life. With all the stress, late nights, eighteen hour days for extended periods of time, not to mention the shortage of skills and expertise in South Africa, I am satisfied that we have created a business engine that will continue to grow and provide excellent products, solutions and services to our customers, for many years to come.  
I have been most fortunate to meet and employ an incredibly talented team of people, without whom this would not have been possible. The commitment of each Metacom employee is paramount to our success, and I work very hard to ensure that each person is valued and respected for their contribution.
You work with various cross-border African retail stores, banks and other notable blue chip companies providing critical solutions for their operations. 
 
Why do customers choose you rather than your competitors? What truly sets you apart?
 
Metacom has a reputation for getting things done. Using our locally designed and engineered routers and network infrastructure, we have repeatedly impressed our customers with our ability to solve some of the most complex communications problems when necessary. 
Due to the fact that we design every aspect of our routers and equipment in-house, we can implement new features fast and ensure the very best and most reliable communications solutions for our clients. The added benefit is we can do all this at an incredibly competitive cost!
 
Can you explain the ‘Metacom Way’ and how you use this strategy to draw talent to match your work ethic and culture?
 
As one of our employees recently said, “Most of the Metacom staff have been working for the company for more than five years. This is a great testimony of a business working together like a family and one of the key factors in our success.”
The “Metacom Way” is an ethos that has permeated throughout the company, and is something upheld by every employee, leader and a factor in every decision we make. A can-do attitude is part and parcel of Metacom’s service delivery, as is the commitment to solving a problem, no matter how complex it may seem at first.
Teamwork, brilliant engineering, innovation and a massive dose of can-do attitude is what it takes to sometimes move mountains for our customers. This philosophy and approach extends to attention to every detail, especially in the design of our equipment and infrastructure. 
 
I firmly believe that collectively these are the reasons why our customers often refer to us as their business partners, instead of just being another supplier. We really work hard to collaborate with our customers to make their business a success.  
As one of our employees recently said, “Most of the Metacom staff have been working for the company for more than five years. This is a great testimony of a business working together like a family and one of the key factors in our success.”
Metacom designed and developed the most advanced/sophisticated enterprise router in Africa, which was recently featured as the product of the week on Gadget Magazine. Tell us more about the MC6000 Enterprise Router and why customers love this home grown product? 
With sixteen years’ experience in the African market, and a large portfolio of corporate customers, we certainly have the exposure to some of the greatest business thinkers in the country. We have collated all this information over time to design and build incredibly reliable and feature rich routers which are mission critical to our customers’ businesses. 
 
Two years ago I decided to embark on our most ambitious project yet, to design the hugely powerful and flexible MC6000 Enterprise Router. This router integrates most services required by retailers and banks, such as communication, video player, internet radio, WiFi, LTE and ADSL into one beautifully integrated unit, with expansion slots to add anything your remote site requires. The unit is built on proven expertise and technology and is already proving to be a great success.
 
How important is reliable communication in the internet age? Explain the risk of failure or the impact of unreliable solutions on businesses.
 
Reliable communication is of the utmost importance and cannot be overemphasised. When communication systems are down, companies can lose millions per hour, and so much more in brand and reputational damage. In some cases loss of communication can be life threatening. 
Metacom has engineered reliability and failover communication algorithms into the very fabric of everything we do. I can confidently say that our customers can depend on our connectivity, knowing that their data is in the best hands possible. 
 
Metacom is also a multimedia content distributer, what does this mean?
 
Metacom is fundamentally a high availability networking, information and communication technology company. We embarked on a strategy to develop and implement various products on our network, tightly integrated into our current services and monitoring systems. We believe that by providing these services in-house, our customers can rest assured they’ll have the best and most reliable service imaginable. The various products work and are tested as one unified solution, thus preventing the inevitable finger pointing between a host of unrelated suppliers. 
One of these solutions is the distribution of multimedia – video and radio content – as well as media streaming for online radio stations. This gives our customers the ability to distribute advertising media, and internet radio, at a cost point that is causing quite a disruption in the industry!
 
Annual growth of 40% is something other specialist companies could only dream of and all credit is due to your integrated in-house solutions development and passion to find a reliable solution every time. Please share why you believe you are the only company in SA currently able to provide this. 
 
I love this question! Metacom is the only company that has the full spectrum of engineering and operations expertise to:
1. Design, develop, manufacture and maintain sophisticated routers and equipment,
2. Build high availability networks,
3. Install and maintain our equipment in the field,
4. Proactively monitor and control all routers remotely,
5. Provide all connectivity to third parties, all under one roof!  
Adding to this our exceptional focus on customer service and attention to detail, makes for a winning combination!
Metacom also works with financial credit providers and credit bureaus to provide retail analytics focussed on demographic and psychographic analytics. As one of our senior software engineers says, “Metacom is acompany of dynamic problem solvers.”
What value does this offer your clients?
Metacom provides private and public Wi-Fi hotspots or access points to our corporate customers. This is a fantastic service to customers, but costs the retailer money. Permission based retail analytics is an incredibly powerful tool to ascertain who your customers are, and to design marketing campaigns that are carefully crafted to reach your target market. In conjunction with Wi-Fire of the Blake Group, Metacom is investing heavily in this competency, as I believe that this will be a massive growth area.  
 
The Internet of Things is evolving and rapidly advancing across the globe, what are your thoughts on the influence and power of this technology in the near future.
Although Metacom has actively been involved in the Internet of Things since inception in 2001, I believe that there are massive opportunities in this space. Internationally, research and development will continue and the product and adoption curve of new technologies will be exponential for a significant period of time, or at least until the singularity occurs.
I am fascinated by the possibilities of hyper-connectivity. It is, however, concerning that humankind will have to manage the effects of this as there will also be a downside, as the continued growth of technology will be faster than people’s ability to adapt. This may also cause a further bifurcation in society, those that ‘have’ and those that ‘do not have’ this technology at their disposal.
What would you consider as your most notable accomplishment to date?
Growing Metacom organically without venture capital has been a fantastic adventure and achievement. Metacom is privately owned but managed as a corporate, allowing us to continuously re-invest in technology, systems and processes while operating in a structured manner. We have numerous corporate customers that have trusted us with their mission critical communications for more than 10 years.  
We have always regarded this as an honour and taken this huge responsibility very seriously, keeping us on our toes and preparing for the next challenges and trends. I have the privilege of leading an incredibly strong team of people, creating tens of thousands of products, interconnected across 22 countries, all monitored from our International Operations Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, and all doing something useful for our customers. This is awesome!
What is your dream for the future Metacom?
Metacom will continue to focus on engineering and developing state of the art information and communications equipment and related technologies. I am on a mission to add at least one new product range annually. Metacom shall continue to build its position as a leader in our interconnected world.
What do you hope to be remembered for?
Being a decent human being, caring for people, passionate about engineering and technology and caring for my family, the arts and the finer things in life. I take the time to get to know people, listen carefully, pause and reflect every day. The opportunity costs of entrepreneurship are potentially very high and one needs to carefully assess your priorities every day to ensure that your business success doesn’t come at the cost of the other components of your life that matter too.
30 Second Bio
Favourite Quote: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
Favourite Book:  The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
Favourite Destination: Where my family is. Ashford Castle, Ireland
Favourite City: Cape Town
Favourite Tech gadget:  My iPhone
Ideal Day: Work, exercise, family, music and a good book.One day, flying through space listening to Beethoven.
How do you unwind and relax: What’s that?
Biggest inspiration: My family. Meeting Alice, my perfect wife.
 
 
11.06.17

Innovation is a Culture

BY Evans Manyonga 7 MINUTE READ

He is deeply entrenched in the new wave of digital technology coming to the fore and has wide-ranging experience in structuring transformation business engagements around digitisation, smart- technology sourcing, business-aligned IT, technology-portfolio optimisation and future-edge tech.

As CEO of In2IT South Africa, he manages the business along with a mandate to drive technology innovation. Under his leadership, In2IT has been able to establish differentiation in the consulting and technology services space.

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WOULD YOU CONSIDER IN2IT AS AN IT SPECIALIST?
In2IT is a multinational technology company that provides digital services to many of the top 100 companies in South Africa. In2IT uses automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning to solve various technology challenges that many large corporates face. In2IT is a specialist in business processes, IT infrastructure and application management as well as software services.

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AS THE CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF IN2IT SOUTH AFRICA HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO KEEP MAINTAINING YOUR SPOT AS THE BEST IT SERVICE PROVIDER IN SOUTH AFRICA?
A services company that thrives on innovation is only as good as its people. The chief reason we continue to be a trusted partner of large corporate companies is the passion of our engineers and how they engage with and service our clients. At In2IT, we believe in the philosophy that the best way to manage people is not to manage them. Those employees that manage themselves and show initiative are the ones that excel and embody our work ethic. We lead by example and provide employees with ample avenues to innovate and grow. It is also important to empower them and break the ‘halo’ that is usually associated with senior management, that makes them unapproachable.

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IN2IT TECH WAS NAMED SOUTH AFRICA’S MOST INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY FIRM FOR 2017 BY GLOBAL BRANDS, HOW HAS THE EXPERIENCE BEEN AND WHAT ARE THE KEY BENEFITS FROM THIS?
Innovation is a culture that has to be woven into the fabric of the business. We must remember that the light bulb was not invented due to the continuous improvement of the candle. It requires innovation and a revolutionary approach, where newer solutions are developed and utilised to resolve old problems. This is generally not as easy as it sounds.
Furthermore, as an organisation, we believe we must be ready to embrace failure in order to learn from it and move ahead. The experience and feedback from our clients is always encouraging, but validation from third-party organisations or analysts confirms that we are on the right path.

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WHY DO YOU THINK YOU RECEIVED THIS RECOGNITION INTERNATIONALLY?
Our approach towards new age technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and digital transformation is the key reason for our innovation and global recognition. A software chatbot has no nationality. It can be used in any part of the world with ease. Automation could potentially make the outsourcing industry redundant, especially those companies that have experienced growth because of labour arbitrage of delivering from low cost locations. It is thus heartening to see the international recognition In2IT is receiving.

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IN2IT HAS PARTNERED WITH MICROSOFT FOR FURTHER EDUCATION AND TRAINING PROGRAMMES. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE INITIATIVE AND HOW IT CAME ABOUT?
There are predictions that millions of jobs will become redundant with automation. The only way those affected can survive is through unlearning and then relearning. We have been partnering with various organisations who are world leaders in this space. In2IT has set up the In2IT Academy where we provide training for these future skills. As a corporate, we also have the responsibility of transferring these skills to our youth. In2IT launched the In2ITIntellect Programme where we have been hiring unemployed graduates from rural South Africa and enabling them to gain future skills.

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THE IOT IS A NEW FIELD OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE ICT SECTOR THAT IN2IT IS QUITE FAMILIAR WITH, HOW HAS IT IMPROVED YOUR SERVICES IN COMPARISON TO THE TRADITIONAL WAY OF SERVICING CLIENTS?
Currently, close to 25 billion devices are connected today. However, as per industry projections, the Internet of Things (IoT) will revolutionise the way we operate and by 2020, it is predicted that more than 50 billion of these devices will connect with each other. To contextualize this, for every person in this world there will be seven devices connected to the Internet. This is a huge opportunity for business and as such, we have set up an IoT lab in Sandton, South Africa, where clients are able to simulate real-life situations before deploying this technology in real life.

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TECHNOLOGY IS EVOLVING AND RAPIDLY ADVANCING ACROSS THE GLOBE, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE INFLUENCE OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE NEAR FUTURE ON A GLOBAL SCALE?
The World Economic Forum (WEF) announced last year that we are at the start of the fourth industrial revolution. In my view, ten years from now we will spend most of our time in autonomous vehicles, be it a car or human carrying drones. 3D printing cafés will also be widespread like Internet cafés of the past. We will have a device sitting next to our microwave to print calorie controlled food for consumption. These advancements in some form and fashion are already happening. For instance, it was recently announced that Dubai is testing self- flying taxis.

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IN A FEW YEARS’ TIME THERE WILL BE NO BANK TELLERS, CASHIERS, PETROL ATTENDANTS OR CAR GUARDS BECAUSE OF NEW AI MACHINES BEING INTRODUCED BY TECH COMPANIES. THIS WILL PUT MANY JOBS IN THE RETAIL AND SERVICES SECTOR AT STAKE AND ALSO BRING OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENTREPRENEURS TO INVENT MACHINES THAT WILL MAKE OUR LIVES MUCH EASIER. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TECH VENTURES?
Companies across the globe are exploring ways to automate various functions and business processes. One such technology is to use blockchain and the IoT to create machines that would change the way retail industry works. The future of retail lies in the tech industry, similar to what we have seen in other industries like Uber – the giant in ride-sharing, and Airbnb – the biggest hotel chain in the world. Today a simple transaction of you swiping a card on a till goes through tens of intermediaries. A decentralised technology like blockchain can cut through all of this and make it a real-time transaction.

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IN2IT HAS BEEN IN OPERATION FOR MANY YEARS, WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER THE COMPANY’S MOST NOTABLE ACCOMPLISHMENTS SINCE ITS INCEPTION?
In the IT industry, revenue has a linear link with the number of employees. We have consciously made sure that we move away from a traditional resource-linked way of addressing challenges in large corporates to a more automation-focused method. Thus growth of the revenue is not linked to the number of resources you hire. This has been a good accomplishment. We are now multinational and able to serve clients in over 9 countries directly and over 26 countries through partners, thus being a partner of choice if you are going multinational.

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WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN YOUR JOURNEY AS A COMPANY THUS FAR?
When you start a company there are many roadblocks that you overcome. For us the biggest challenge has been to ensure we continuously build technology, tools, processes and teams that differentiate us from others. These are like four legs of a table and if one leg is missing, the table is of no use. In2IT is already in a fast pace growth mode and we will maintain this.

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WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE OF AFRICA IN THE TECHNOLOGY SPACE?
Technology today is a great enabler in balancing society. With access to high speed broadband, youth from urban to rural areas will be hugely instrumental in creating innovative solutions. More than 70% of Africa’s population is below 30 years of age. There are hundreds of tech zones being set up across the continent and it is only a matter of time before the next big tech start-up has its headquarters in Africa.
What are your thoughts on the increasing gap between industry regulation and the disruptive market? In essence, do you feel regulation is moving at the same pace as disruption and what challenges are likely to keep arising from this?
One of the biggest challenges new age technology innovation faces is around regulations. While these regulations were created years ago, the advent of new technology demands significant changes to enable disruption. While a disruptive idea would certainly find its way to enable changes, lack of deregulation would bring costly delay.

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HOW MUCH VALUE DO YOU PLACE ON COLLABORATION IN BUSINESS?
The problems of today demand collaboration to find the right innovative solutions. We place huge focus on internal as well as external collaboration. Our innovation council has representation from customers who are open to ideas and experimentation. Similarly, we have collaboration sessions not only with companies who own product, software or IPs, but also educational institutions.

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WHO HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST MOTIVATION IN BUSINESS AND WHY?
There are many aspects in business that are a great source of motivation; the first customer who puts his bet on a bunch of young guys to solve his technology challenges, to the hundreds of employees who are giving all they have to build a great company one brick at a time.

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HOW DO YOU JUGGLE BUSINESS AND FAMILY TIME?
For an entrepreneur, purpose itself determines the drive and power. Thus, business talk does come through to the dinner table and inside the house. Thankfully, technology has made it easier to work from home or from my daughter’s tennis tournament. My spouse has been a great source of strength in handling family matters. It also helps to have a great team at work, who can independently handle tricky situations and complex decision making.

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WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE COMPANY IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
We have identified two more provinces, apart from Gauteng, where we intend to set up innovation labs on new-age technologies. These will be rolled out over the next six months. We are well on target to have trained and absorbed over 100 unemployed graduates in our workforce before the end of next year. During the same time we intend to launch digital workforce or Bots to replace some of the mundane tasks being carried out in the remote IT infrastructure management space.

 

[highlight color=#4a9ddd ]30 Seconds with Surabh Kumar:[/highlight]

 

Best quote
“Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.”
Favourite book
Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane by Brett King
Favourite Destination
Indonesia
Favourite City
Bali
Favourite Gadget
The latest 3D printer at work that can print real life objects from your phone.
How do you unwind and relax
I read around 25 to 30 books a year and that’s a great way for me to switch off and relax.
Biggest Inspiration
My grandfather, who came from an extremely poor family, did his MBBS, worked hard to raise his eight kids and practiced medicine for over 60 years to serve those in need of urgent medical care, but could not afford it.
Ideal day
Starts at 05h00 am and finishes at 22h00 pm with 4 hours with family and 12 hours at work.
Best moment in your life
Co-founding In2IT with two of my best friends, and the birth of my two daughters.
11.01.17

From the Editor: The Secret

BY Evans Manyonga 2 MINUTE READ

We have all been there. Looming deadlines, tight schedules and a vast amount of work to do with seemingly inadequate resources or manpower. Yet we somehow get it done or at least spectacularly fail while trying. Being productive is more about being organised than it is about planning. We all have different ways of channelling our inner productivity aura. For some, the illusion of chaos is an effective form of organisation (picture a disorganised desk and an equally disorganised desktop), while for some being super organised, neat and having a close attention to detail that borders on obsessive-compulsive disorder does the trick. 



Ultimately, time is our greatest resource today, and maximising on the few hours we get has become increasingly essential. 
This is our Most Productive People in Business issue – we sat down with some of the leading people in business to understand what makes them tick. What works for them might not necessarily work for you, but you never know until you try. Ultimately, you are the king or queen of your castle. In the spirit of being productive I have listed three elements that may just make you more efficient: 
DELEGATING 
More often than not we spend a lot of time doing tasks we could easily delegate to equally capable team members. The main aspect with delegating is simply ensuring the instructions are clear, and enough guidance and support is available. If you have spent time building the perfect team then trust them to get certain things done. 
RECHARGE 
Take a walk, go to the gym or even go for a jog. Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy schedules, we forget to actually give our bodies time to breath. Studies have shown how effective this is. As little as 15 minutes a day could have a massive influence on your health and psyche. 
HARNESS THE TECH 
Technology is meant to improve our lives and make us more efficient, NOT make our lives more complicated and (for some) unbearable. Harness technology and bend it to your will. Dropbox, Google Docs and Skype, among many others, are a few tools that can simplify your life. Choose what works for you and become efficient in this exciting tech era. There are a billion apps but you won’t need them all. 
Our cover personality, Elon Musk, is one of the leading minds in tech globally. Much has been said about the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and major corporations are scurrying to get ahead in the race. The question is; how far can we go with AI and how will this affect the global landscape? Our cover story on page 20 investigates this. 
There are no certainties in life, but the one certain thing I know and can feel is we are heading for interesting times from a tech perspective. Read, enjoy, deliberate and question, but above all, take something away from this edition.

I would like to officially welcome my deputy editor, Saarah Survé, to the team and the new chief sub-editor, Walter Hayward. You have both been a breath of fresh air and I look forward to producing more banging issues with you.
10.18.17

Innovation Is A Culture

BY Evans Manyonga 1 MINUTE READ

Passionate about demonstrating technology as a true enable or business transformation, Saurabh Kumar is a CEO of In2IT Technologies South Africa and co-found of In2IT Group, which has offices in 9 countries globally. Kumar holds an MBA in Marketing and Finance as well as a bachelor of Engineering (Electronics).

He is deeply entrenched in the new wave of digital technology coming to the fore and has wide-ranging experience in structuring transformation business engagements around digitisation, smart- technology sourcing, business-aligned IT, technology-portfolio optimisation and future-edge tech.
As CEO of In2IT South Africa, he manages the business along with a mandate to drive technology innovation. Under his leadership, In2IT has been able to establish differentiation in the consulting and technology services space.

WOULD YOU CONSIDER IN2IT AS AN IT SPECIALIST?

In2IT is a multinational technology company that provides digital services to many of the top 100 companies in South Africa. In2IT uses automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning to solve various technology challenges that many large corporates face. In2IT is a specialist in business processes, IT infrastructure and application management as well as software services.

…Read more in our latest edition in stores now!

From the Editor: Clean Is Progressive

BY Evans Manyonga 2 MINUTE READ

There is no standard definition of clean technology. It has been described by Clean Edge (a clean technology research firm) as “a diverse range of products, services, and processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduce the use of natural resources, and cut or eliminate emissions and waste”.

Clean Edge further explains that “clean technologies are competitive with, if not superior to, their conventional counterparts. Many also offer significant additional benefits, notably their ability to improve the lives of those in both developed and developing countries”.

Clean technology ultimately reduces the use of natural resources and ensures emissions and waste are either completely cut out or dramatically reduced. In the age of conscious use of finite resources and environment conservation this has become essential. The benefits of clean technology are therefore quite obvious.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is the fact that generally clean technology is still evolving from a tech advancement perspective, which means we are still discovering its endless possibilities within various sectors.

The roots of clean tech are firmly entrenched in emerging technologies and industries (core aspects of biology, resource- efficiency streamlining and second-generation production concepts in traditional industries). Due to this aspect the sector has received strong investment in recent times as different players are trying to reinvent their offerings to stay afloat while younger players have noticed a gap that can be explored. In essence, clean technology is a sector that is not only here to stay but also a sector that will strongly influence the way we live.

Imagine solar energy for townships, a device that cuts the cost of electricity, a consulting company that supplies solar systems for sectional complexes, retirement villages, commercial businesses, industrials, schools and fuel stations. Even more intriguing, imagine a plant system that treats water of varying quality and intensifies other water treatment systems cheaply and efficiently by disrupting and coagulating harmful pollutants. These are some of the exciting highlights of our clean tech feature on page 38.

As always, our issue is jam packed with a plethora of exciting content.

Our cover personality, Saurabh Kumar, is the CEO and co-founder of IN2IT, a proudly South African company, which recently won the coveted ‘Most Innovative Company Award’ presented by Global Brands Magazine. Consistent and disruptive Kumar has steered IN2IT towards global success. He shares his journey and explains why IN2IT is ahead of the curve.

This issue is a tribute to the clean tech sector and an endorsement of going green as the new way of living in the modern era. Read on and become part of these conversations. Above all interrogate, reflect and re-invent.

09.19.17

“It’s like a light bulb comes on”

BY Evans Manyonga 7 MINUTE READ

Qualifying as the only South African male preschool teacher in 1996 proved to be the first of many achievements that Robin Booth would get under his belt. Passionate about solving problems, he went on to attain further achievements in the teaching field: from the teachers’ lounge to the principal’s office, opening his own school in 2005 and selling it five years later.

Booth founded the Synergy Schooling Approach, which demonstrates how easily personal and academic excellence can be achieved when a teacher uses skills in boosting self-esteem and developing the child’s internal motivation for success. He also has his own website where he gives moms and dads intelligent solutions to their everyday parenting challenges.

The first time I did a big development I was honest with myself about what I didn’t know, and then got people who were experts to support me. But I believed I could, so I went ahead and did it.

In 2001, Booth built his own house himself, setting a solid foundation for what would be a great venture eight years later. Today, he’s one of the biggest property dealers and investors, operating both locally and in the US with his company Capital Partners.

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What inspired you to choose teaching as a career?

At a core level, I’m a great problem solver; when I find solutions to any type of challenge, I love sharing those solutions with others such that their lives are enriched and more fulfilling. I chose the preschool age range to specialise in. In those formative years for a child, it’s never about learning content, but more about learning to be human. The things I taught them would last a lifetime and create the foundation for their life-long success and fulfilment.

What was your approach in opening your own school?

The quality of our learning about academics, ourselves and life is deeply connected to the relationships we have with the people around us. In business, what creates success is the quality of the team and the communication within the team. Ninety-nine percent of people will recall the class in which they learnt the most as the one with a dynamic and passionate teacher who had a respectful attitude toward the learners. In my school approach, all our teachers were highly trained life coaches and experts at empowering learners, while at the same time using their own internal motivation to challenge their own learning. What would take three weeks to cover in a traditional school was covered in one day by our learners. The best thing about this approach is that it’ll never be outdated, as it taps into the core of our striving to unlock our best potential.

Why did you then decide to sell the school?

Perhaps my greatest learning curve in this process and in business is that I can solve a problem in just a few weeks, but can spend a lifetime trying to convince people that the solution works. I was tied to the day-to-day tasks of running a school. I decided it was time to move away from this and focus more on the sharing of our experiences and insights on a global scale. The school was a non-profit organisation; the vision was a successful coming together of teachers, pupils and parents to create something meaningful that would impact everyone. The school was then turned into a private school after I sold it, and the new owners reverted to the old methodology. A few months later, I asked them to change the name so they could create what they wanted, while my brand could be safeguarded.

In 2001 you started building your own house, which eventually took three years to complete. How was that experience?

That was a crazy experience, but it gave me valuable insight into building and development. I worked every day with my own hands for three years, and learnt everything from first-hand experience because I did everything myself: carpentry, cabinet work, tiling, shuttering and welding. At that time, we were pushing the boundaries of modern residential home building, using steel beams, cantilevered columns with huge glass panels, and off-shutter concrete walls. Now that style is common. It was really fulfilling, especially when the TV show Top Billing wanted to do a primetime story on the house. 

What have you done your own way to ensure you always stay ahead of the game?

I value the ability to reinvent myself. Our traditional school system indoctrinates us into believing we are static, and that we choose a career for life, and that we must spend our childhood preparing for adulthood. Our own beliefs are the things that limit us from achieving and experiencing more. In my companies, we challenge the status quo and that’s why we continue getting asked to be keynote speakers at conferences and at the annual GIBS Career Expo for more than 2 500 of South Africa’s top students.

How does the South African property business compare to that of the US?

The fundamentals of property and business in any country are the same. What vary in each country are the market, the regulations and the people.

You’ll find that successful investors are not limited to a country’s borders. A good deal is a good deal no matter the location, as long as you’ve done your due diligence.

 

Are there different risks involved in investing in big developments or single ones, multi-family or commercial residences?

There’s only one big difference between all these: your belief system. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” This isn’t about skills or expertise.
The first time I did a big development I was honest with myself about what I didn’t know, and then got people who were experts to support me. But I believed I could, so I went ahead and did it.
Know thyself, be thyself, and then go get it!

How do you go about coaching and mentoring investors for business and property investment?

The most important thing about mentoring and coaching investors and businesspeople is understanding their natural path to wealth and success. Although there are many different paths to wealth and success, we can put these into eight different categories.

Most people fail in business because they’re following a path to wealth that doesn’t work for them.

So with me, they first do a 10-minute online test and once they know and understand their results, it’s like a light bulb comes on for them. Then I coach and work with them to develop strategies that get them to their financial dreams and to having fulfilling lives. It’s incredible to watch!

Tell us more about your company, Capital Partners. What differentiates it from other property businesses out there?

It’s incredibly exciting! We’re doing what no one else is, having solved some of the real challenges for the everyday, amateur investors as well as the pros. We’ve found a way for foreign investors to buy real-estate property in the US with up to 90% finance, without needing a credit history, without needing to prove income, at interest rates between 3% and 4%, with no transfer or closing costs—all within five days, at no risk. On top of that, we get that property tenanted and managed for the investor by the best national property group in the area, and then ensure all legal and tax compliances are set up and completed. All of this is totally legal, transparent and compliant. We’ve solved perhaps the biggest stumbling block and challenge all investors have in wanting to grow and profit from investing in real estate. It’s actually difficult to believe at first.

So you ensure property buyers/investors get the best deals?

If we’re not willing to buy it for ourselves and our own portfolio, then we wouldn’t offer it to anyone else. This is important, because we’re also investors, so we know how to evaluate and provide what investors are looking for. Creative problem solving is the strength of this team, and the solutions we’ve created totally redefine what makes a good deal. As we are the ‘good teacher’, we don’t have to sell ourselves to the investors, or get them to trust us—they can see for themselves how great the deals are. They can take ownership of the process from the start, and remain in control at all times.

How has having a business coach influenced you as an entrepreneur?

I’ve known my business coach JT Foxx for a few years now, and I’m still continually learning from him and his other coaches. His insights into marketing and branding are incredible, and these have really paved the way for our growth. He has shaped the way we negotiate deals and create joint venture partnerships, and the way we place importance on relationships. We couldn’t have taken this company to the next level without his coaching.

Any projects in the pipeline? What can we expect from you in the near future?

Three weeks ago, I paid R1 300 for a house in Florida that was worth R1.5 million rand. Fully financed, already tenanted, and all expenses and finance costs paid by the rental income—and with no risk to me at all. We’re so excited by this model of investing that we’re buying property deals like this for ourselves and are now sharing them with other investors. No one out there has done this before. Here in South Africa we’re in the process of developing apartment blocks of between 100 to 200 units, and we also cater for short-term house flipping and developments. Our main drive in all our deals is to bring the concept of ethical investing to the table. As investors, we feel that as we’re creating wealth and success for ourselves, we can share with other people so they can do the same for others. 

30 seconds with Robin Booth

• Favourite quote?
“If I keep doing what I’ve always done, I will keep getting what I’ve always got.”

• Favourite book?
“The notebook that has my name on it, constantly inviting me to create the life I want.”

• Favourite destination?
“That place in my heart and soul that lights up and makes me feel like shouting into the wind. It’s a bit like kitesurfing a big wave towering overhead, and every ounce of my focus and attention is alive right in that moment.”

• Favourite tech gadget?
“The 3D printer. This is going to allow us to colonise Mars, print new body organs if ours fail, and print houses to fill up the housing shortage.”

• How do you unwind and relax?
“Surfing big waves, or going kitesurfing and coming out the water having given it my all, or doing some serious CrossFit.”

• Biggest inspiration?
“I love reading books by people who have believed they can do it: from Ernest Shackleton, to Nelson Mandela, to Elon Musk.”

• Best moment of your life?
“That light-bulb moment when I was 28 years old and realised I could create a belief system that focused on the empowering of the new, as opposed to the fear of the past and unknown.”

09.01.17

From the Editor: Fast and Furious

BY Evans Manyonga 2 MINUTE READ

The pace of technological advancement in Africa is increasing. A shift from the Dark Continent to the shining modern landscape is becoming evident. It’s brimming with possibility.

Strong foreign investment, a driven (cheaper) workforce crying out for employment or making their own, relative political stability, a market primed for tech uptake, and increased globalisation are elements impelling Africa forward into the next generation. Recent stats point out that no part of the planet is urbanising faster than sub-Saharan Africa. The continent’s population of approximately 1.1 billion is expected to double by 2050. More than 80% of that growth will occur in African cities.

Several countries already enjoy the benefits of advancing technology. Chief among these is South Africa; the Western Cape in particular has seen stronger initiatives toward becoming ‘smart’, including the provincial government last year launching 50 free public Wi-Fi hotspots in partnership with Neotel in Cape Town (these have subsequently increased). The topic of high data prices has been well-documented. Service providers should remember that cheaper connectivity essentially means greater connectivity: with all inhabitants being able to harness the power of the Internet and The Internet of Things. A more connected city—a fast city—works for its people.

In this, our Fast Cities edition, we look at some of the continent’s top urban centres that are innovating to ensure Africa doesn’t lag behind the rest of the planet. Technological advancements will enable better approaches to solving the continent’s many challenges and, ultimately, progress.

On another note, our cover feature goes behind the scenes at YouTube and CEO Susan Wojcicki’s plans to out maneuver TV, satisfy home-grown creators, placate advertisers and entertain its billion-plus viewers—with the help of A-listers such as comedian Kevin Hart, talk-show star Ellen DeGeneres and singer Katy Perry, among others. It’s big and it’s here to stay. And it’s simply about adapting.

So, read on and become part of the conversations. Above all, live and learn.

08.01.17

“Everyday life is my motivation”

BY Evans Manyonga 1 MINUTE READ

A four-year degree completed in three years, with 18 distinctions, while working three jobs. Smart, goal-driven and dedicated, Erna Basson is flying the flag for young serial entrepreneurs.


“I sold my student vehicle to start my first company at the age of 22. It was a marketing and events agency. I had no investment capital or bank loans—I only had the R30 000 from selling my car and a bachelor’s degree. But I was hungry for success and I built that company into a multimillion-rand business and increased our profit by 100% year-on-year. I then started my second company at 26.”


Basson has sold both these companies in the last six months, bringing the total in her business portfolio to eight. The three major entities are involved in hair extensions, business coaching and public speaking. She has also formed lucrative partnerships with world-renowned serial entrepreneur JT Foxx (who is also her business coach) and Ndaba Mandela, co-founder of Africa Rising and one of BET and ICON MANN’s 28 Men of Change.


This year has been a groundbreaking one for Basson, and the apex of her career in terms of accomplishments as well as both personal and business growth. Among other accolades, she has been nominated for the 2017 Africa’s Most Influential Woman in Business and Government award; she was the first South African woman to be featured on the cover of Global Women magazine; and emcee’d one of the biggest events of the year, Tycoons of Wealth. And as from 2018, she will be a mentor for the Nelson Mandela Entrepreneurial Programme.


Read more in our latest edition in stores now! 

From the Editor: Age is just a number

BY Evans Manyonga 3 MINUTE READ

Not so long ago, 30 was considered the age at which young adults come to maturity and start to be taken more seriously by their family and their peers. Today, things have changed; there’s no age limit on progress or world-changing ideas—you can start your own business at 17 (like Gift Lubele), or be the youngest ever MP in the history of South Africa’s Parliament at 24 (like Hlomela Bucwa).
In the spirit of young entrepreneurship, I’ve decided to focus on two individuals who have pushed boundaries and lived up to the mantra of ‘age is just a number’.

MARK ZUCKERBERG 

One of the most notable young entrepreneurs of the current generation is Mark Zuckerberg (33),the American computer programmer and Internet entrepreneur. Co-founder of Facebook, he currently operates as its chairperson and CEO. This Harvard dropout pursued a project that ended up changing the world, creating the social media and social networking service that currently has more than 1.19 billion users and a net worth of $64.7 billion (R838 billion). By the time Zuckerberg reached the age of 30, he had influenced the new age of communication and redefined the way humans operate in the modern era, with Facebook providing a way for people anywhere in the world to communicate with each other and meet new friends. Zuckerberg saw a gap in the communications space, and transformed the way the majority of Internet users stay in touch. Facebook’s new mission statement, “Bring the world closer together,” says it all.

DAVID KARP 

This 30-year-old is the man behind short-form blogging platform Tumblr. The American web developer and entrepreneur’s net worth exceeds $200 million (R2.5 billion), and Tumblr has been valued at $800 million (R10.3 billion). Karp taught himself to code, and dropped out of school at the age of 15 to be homeschooled. After receiving an internship at animation company Frederator Studios, he soon set his sights on developing something big enough to capture the world’s attention. Which he did in 2007, aged 21—founding Tumblr from the bedroom of his mother’s apartment in New York City. Tumblr enables users to curate pictures, videos and text in one place online, and now reaches as many as 170 million people worldwide.

Our cover personality this edition is Erna Basson: serial entrepreneur, top business coach and motivational speaker—and Fast Company SA’s inaugural Top Achiever under 30.

A mover and shaker, she has made great strides in business since starting her first company at the age of 22. Now Basson’s showing other aspiring entrepreneurs how to succeed at their own ventures. Her story is not only compelling but inspirational and heartening as well. We celebrate and congratulate South Africa’s other game-changing millennials—bright sparks such as Lubele and Bucwa—in our annual Top 20 under 30 feature. The tenacity and focus of these young people is a ray of light, and a sign that the future of the country (and indeed the world) is in good hands. Read, learn, enjoy. And remember that you’re never too young to dream big.

 

07.03.17

“You simply have to innovate beyond the innovation.”

BY Evans Manyonga 13 MINUTE READ

With a huge grin, Gil Oved introduced himself to an audience at the University of the Free State back in 2015. He told them he’s a businessman, an entrepreneur, an investor, a fashionista (he was the 2014 GQ Best Dressed Man), a TV personality and a published author—“all before I’m 40.” That was 16 days until his 40th birthday. . 

Witty, energetic, articulate and immaculately dressed (always immaculately dressed), Oved epitomises the modern connected entrepreneur. From a teen TV presenter in the 1990s to a multimillionaire today, he has been a firm believer in his mantra of “passion-fuelled optimism”, which has led to his success as a business mogul as well as the co-CEO of The Creative Counsel, South Africa’s largest advertising agency. 
As a respected and award-winning entrepreneur, Oved is often called upon to deliver talks or interviews about his journey and to give advice on how to succeed in building one’s own business empire. So it was no surprise when he became a Dragon on South Africa’s version of Dragons’ Den (along with Vinny Lingham, Lebo Gunguluza, Vusi Thembekwayo and Polo Leteka Radebe—with whom he has co-authored the business-insights book, And For All These Reasons . . . I’M IN), and chosen as the first Shark in the Shark Tank SA series. 
But, as Oved told the UFS audience, “I still feel like I have a lot to do, I’ve got a long way to go, I’m very ambitious—I feel like I’ve only just begun.” 

How did you enjoy your time on Shark Tank SA? 
My time in the Tank was incredible! It was a wonderful opportunity to be part of such an illustrious panel of investors—and to take part in a show that sparks conversations that need to be had in South Africa far more frequently. Those are, of course, conversations about entrepreneurship. The format is such that you have no preparation for who’s coming into the Tank. You don’t know if they’re going to be old or young, man or woman, tech or other . . . and that’s a very strange dynamic. The cameras are rolling and mics are on. You have a few minutes at best to try and get your mind around what their business is all about, and decide if you would back them. Simultaneously, you need to outwit the other Sharks: If they suspect you’re onto something good, they might bid you out of the deal! Shark Tank South Africa is not only about an entrepreneur selling his or her idea to an investor but also about the mentor/investor selling himself or herself to the entrepreneur, while competing against the other Sharks. It’s intense and exciting. On a personal level, it was an important platform for me, as it allowed me to live out what I feel very strongly about: inspiring entrepreneurs and engaging them. It was not only about the hundred or so entrepreneurs who came into the Tank, but about the other tens of thousands of others who watched the show and saw the possibilities. The show gives entrepreneurs a licence to take risks, a licence to live their dreams, and a licence to succeed—and that’s what is incredible about these kinds of programmes. 

Describe a day at The Creative Counsel.
There’s no such thing as a typical day—but that’s both tough and thrilling. The beauty of living this kind of life is that it can be turned on its head by a single call; a single brief can change the trajectory of the business. One minute you’re imagining something in your head, and a few months later the campaign’s rolling out and is there for everyone to see. That’s a very exciting thing to be part of. We have a very diverse set of clients in various industries, each with its own challenges, target markets and unique stories. The type of advertising we do is also very unique; it’s fast-growing, ever changing, non-traditional advertising. It’s a mixture of social media, technology, online and on-the-ground brand activations that are direct and very personal, and that’s where the money’s going. We are pioneering new things all the time. I love this space! 


You have clear opinions on the impact of technology on our future. What do you see as an effective transition solution to ease the strain on the economy once jobs are automated? 
According to 2015 Gartner research, by 2025 a third of all jobs will be lost due to new technologies. For example, artificial intelligence and robotics mean not only blue-collar but also a lot of white-collar, intellectual jobs will become obsolete. And we’re not talking about in the next 100 years—we’re talking over the next eight years. The question is, what does this mean for people? The lingering debate—and this is a huge concern—is that all too often, we talk about what technology is doing positively in our lives, but forget the pitfalls. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge tech freak (I love it), but at the same time I don’t think we should assume it’ll only have positive benefits. Tech will make numerous jobs redundant, and we’re not talking about this reality. I don’t think we’re adequately addressing the downside. I don’t believe that as many new jobs will be created as old jobs lost. During the Industrial Revolution, similar predictions were made; however, more jobs were created than consumed by automation in the past. That’s not the case this time round. The Industrial Revolution caused tech to change manual, physical jobs into mental jobs. The problem now is that the new wave of technology is replacing mental jobs. All we have to offer as humans is brawn and brain. So if the brawn jobs have been taken, and the brain jobs are going to be taken, then how much more value can humans actually offer? I think it’s an inevitability that tech will result in mass unemployment. And the discussion is not just about what value a human can add to the world; it’s also a question of what a human will derive from his or her life if the person doesn’t have a purpose—very often created in the work environment. To some extent, it may be argued that people won’t need to work as much and will be wealthier than they are now. The truth is that the world’s GDP has increased tremendously in the last 100 years. While there’s still an unacceptable number of people on the poverty line, relatively speaking there are a lot fewer people who are at the bottom of the poverty scale than there ever have been in history. Speaking to the world’s population, even the poorest of the poor have more access to sanitation than ever before, partly due to technology. Humans have created tech, and tech has helped to increase wealth even for the poorest people, relatively speaking. So these are big, important concepts. But having said all that, massive unemployment looms—and this must be addressed. The question then is, what do you do about it? Start thinking about how to become so good at something, and so creative in your approach to it, that computers and machines simply can’t compete.

It doesn’t matter which industry you’re in, it’s all going to get disrupted. There’s nothing that’s immune to tech. The only thing that can help you survive in this scary new world is keeping a keen eye on the trends and staying ahead of the curve.

You simply have to innovate beyond the innovation. 


Which technologies do you think are going to make a massive impact? 
Blockchain and cryptocurrency are two technologies that are going to change our lives fundamentally. These two are going to up-end the entire way the world does business. That will disempower central banks—which will come with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Governments will fear becoming much weaker and losing control. History has shown us that governments don’t respond well to loss of power, so unquestionably they will try to intervene. That will cause volatility, which will create things like populism and a degree of anarchy. We need to stay alert, and hope to be on the right side of all of this. 

Do you see potential openings in new jobs as emerging technologies arise? If so, how could this help countries like South Africa? 
I’m seeing incredible opportunities in fintech, agritech and civictech. Absolutely I see these helping South Africa—in fact, I see them helping Africa! There’s a whole discussion around the fact that there are populations who’ll never engage with a PC or computer, but will understand connectivity entirely through their phones and mobile devices. That’s amazing; it means that many African and developing countries are leapfrogging the kind of costs that were incurred by Westernised societies. There are exciting tech scenes in Nairobi, Lagos, Kigali and Cape Town. I’m seeing an incredible blossoming tech scene out of Joburg, too. What’s cool for me is that there’s a dire need to find African solutions to African problems. One that’s always quoted is M-Pesa, the African money-transfer system started by Safaricom in 2007, and which now caters for 40% of Kenya’s transactions—that means 85% of Kenya’s population uses M-Pesa. It’s made Safaricom the most profitable company in East Africa, and it’s changed the way East Africa does business. Rural fishermen in Kenya used to be price takers, hoping that whatever they caught would earn a good price. If there was an oversupply, they’d sometimes earn a lot less, and sometimes nothing. But now with M-Pesa and related technology, fishermen know in real time what the market is paying, and they hone their efforts in the right direction; as a result, they’ve become price makers and not price takers. For thousands of years, these fishermen survived because of entrepreneurial flare, but now because of technology, they’re not only surviving but thriving—and that’s incredible. So I look at Africa and see the potential tech brings, and I get excited. All over the world, there’s an ageing population placing a burden on government budgets, which continue subsidising these ageing and declining populations. Contrast that with Africa: currently at 1 billion people, but set to grow by an incremental 3 billion over the next 85 years. By that time, 40% of the world’s youth will call Africa home. All these people will need to be fed, housed, educated, entertained etc. You fly over Africa and you see huge empty spaces that are completely uninhabited, with no infrastructure. There’s need for trains, roads, hospitals, malls and schools—and, of course, a plethora of tech solutions unique to the continent. Opportunities to create that infrastructure exist, but don’t expect a guy in Silicon Valley to come up with the solutions. And this is what bothers me. Uber is coming in, the Chinese are coming in, yet we who live in South Africa—the gateway to Africa—and who are in the same time zone in many cases, are not grabbing the opportunities presented by this huge growing population. You have smartphone penetration coming in at double-digit growth and sometimes triple-digit growth. Data costs are plummeting. So we need to start planning for this massive boom. And that’s what gets me up in the morning. 

Do you see, in the next 30 years or so, more technology being implanted in the human body to increase lifespan or quality of life? How far should we go with such tech? 
Since time immemorial, people have been looking for the elixir of youth, the holy grail of immortality; it’s been a conversation piece since man became civilised. It’s a simple question, just ask anyone: Would you like to stop ageing? Well, is there any individual who would say ‘no’? Would you like to live forever? Of course yes! People will try to be philosophical about it; there’s nothing glorious about ageing, so people have looked for ways and means to do so gracefully, at great cost and expense to their quality of life. I think ageing is a disease, like catching a cold, and is therefore avoidable. Tech will bring about a situation where it will not only retard ageing but will stop it altogether. We’re programmed at a cellular level to age, just like a flower is programmed to wilt at a certain stage; and just like people can extend the life of flowers, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to dramatically extend our lives and, rather than a 43-year-old ageing gracefully, not age at all. I’d rather grow wise and not grow old! So tech will do that. There have been amazing advances. It’s said that people being born now will live to 100 years. As for implants, there are already things you can swallow that will help assess your vital stats, and that’s going to increase lifespan. There’s always going to be a push back to tech becoming more pervasive. There’s always the conservative query of, Where do you draw the line? That line can be drawn if you wish, but it’s like the inevitable wave: You draw a line in the sand and a wave comes and obliterates it, and you have to draw another line further away from the tide. But the tide is always moving. Each of us, even those claiming to block the march of tech on their own lives, is already living in an augmented-reality world. Every time you pick up your phone and watch a Facebook Live event, and every time you go into a shop and look up a product, or book a movie ticket on the way to the movies—that’s an augmented-reality world. It’s a world where you’re not living in the two-dimensional space your body is in. It has already happened. So, it’s not a question of if, but to what extent you’re going to engage. 

What can companies start doing now to prepare for the transition to a more automated, robotic environment? 
It’s simple. The way I see it, every company in today’s new modern economy needs to see itself as a tech company, regardless of which industry it’s in. In fact, every division within that company should see itself as a tech startup. As soon as companies and management embrace this and restructure their organisation to suit that, the less chance there’ll be that a disruptor will come in and usurp them from their place.

I’ve always lived my life thinking that I’m six months away from liquidation, and that kind of wariness and trepidation has allowed me to stay one step ahead of the game.

You can’t afford to take your eye off the ball, because it’s always just a matter of time until competitors come in and eat your lunch. You have no idea which industry will merge into another. You could be a telco that gets into banking, or a bank that gets into fintech; better still, a startup garage company that decides to do money transfers and, before you know it, completely eats Western Union’s lunch! Companies need to immerse themselves in tech and overinvest in it. I always worry that you get companies that don’t want to introduce new products that will cannibalise their margins. You talk about products and services that are ‘margin-diluted’. Here’s the bottom line: If you’re earning a certain margin, if there’s a new product that your guys can come up with that will be margin-diluted but a superior product or service than one you currently offer, why would you be so arrogant to think that only you guys can come up with it? Surely, if your team can come up with it, it will be a matter of time before someone else comes up with it. The difference is that it’s not margin-diluted for them—it’s absolute profits they wouldn’t be making otherwise, and one is greater than zero for that competitor. This is how companies like BlackBerry and others failed, because they didn’t want to introduce innovation that was margin-diluted. Others didn’t care because they were entering a market they weren’t in before. So the many incremental profits are profits that they didn’t have before. 


Are there certain fields of study a young person should consider for a future where more jobs will be automated? 
Since no one is immune to the intervention of technology, my advice is to get involved in industries that require massive creativity; the more creative the job profile, the longer you can stay off the imminent risk of tech eating into your job potential. It’s more about a mindset than an industry. The only thing that humans can now actually offer that computers are yet to offer is highly sophisticated creative input and output. 

How do you see the advertising world changing once more items are manufactured via 3D printers, and more designs can be downloaded from the Internet? 
The whole thing is going to completely revolutionise the industry in a way we can’t even imagine. A quick anecdote that I enjoy: When electricity was first invented, for the first few decades everyone kind of knew it would change the world, but they had no idea how, and they didn’t know how to apply it. Until electricity got into homes through sockets and grids, there wasn’t much use for it, because electricity wasn’t ubiquitous. There were very few applications for it. One of the few applications, believe it or not, was ‘amusement parks’ where scientists [such as Giovanni Aldini] used to get fresh cadavers, place them on chairs and electrocute them. As a result, they would reanimate—they would move around and their eyes would flutter. It was a big treat for people in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Now, if you think about what electricity has done for the world since, it’s unfathomable. I imagine 3D printing will be similar. Right now, you get people buying them and printing flimsy things like a comb or a little toy, but it’s going to be a fundamental seismic tectonic shift—and it will happen very quickly. 3D is coming into many industries, and I don’t doubt for a second that this is imminent. I foresee a situation where every home has a few printers, and whereas most of the products you can buy online now, you’ll soon buy only the designs, and the rest you’ll print. There are implications for job losses in manufacturing.

Imagine a life where, if you wanted a toothbrush, you could go on the Internet and pick the exact one you needed with the exact specs at the time you wanted, and it suited your exact needs—and you only printed one, because you only needed one! There’d be no wastage and you’d get to use it in minutes of deciding what you want to buy, and you’d do it at a tiny fraction of the price. So that will destroy industries and create new ones. For us in advertising, it means we’ll have to think completely differently about how we engage consumers, how we market to them, what we offer them; and, to be honest, I don’t think anyone can predict what the consequences will be. Again, it’s about gearing yourself up for being nimble and being dynamic, and seeing the changes and facilitating for those changes before they hamper your margins and growth. 


With the movie industry being so good at playing on people’s fear, do you see society initially rejecting artificial intelligence? 
Art imitates life, and life imitates art; for every movie coming out showing you the scary side of AI, there are movies showing you the amazing benefits of it. Movies, theatre and entertainment are all a reflection of the psyche of individuals. Forty to 50 years ago, there were sci-fi movies that showed the worst of things that are now pervasive in our lives. With any new tech, there will be the critics, naysayers and doomsayers who will present the scariest outcomes. And, certainly with AI, there’s a lot to be scared of. There’s no reason to believe that AI won’t at one point risk humanity. We’re so reliant on tech and so connected that if AI got the better of us, it could risk humanity. But is that a reason not to try and make it work for us, and to put things in place so that it doesn’t destroy us? No, it’s not! The immediate benefits of AI are incomprehensible. We need to embrace new technologies while being aware of the risks. 


30 seconds with…Gil Oved:


Favourite quote? 
“Leonard Bernstein, the famous composer and genius behind some of the most loved 20th century musicals including West Side Story, gave a series of lectures in 1973 at Harvard. He finished off these lectures with: ‘I’m no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is yes.’ ” 

Favourite book? 
“It changes all the time, but at the moment it’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.”

Favourite city?
“New York, baaaaby!” 


Favourite tech gadget? 
“Right now, it’s gotta be my Amazon Echo—I love Alexa!” 

Your ideal day? 
“Waking up thinking it’s going to be just another day, and getting the one phone call that changes everything and changes the trajectory of your day, week and month.” 

How do you unwind and relax? 
“I do transcendental meditation at least once a day for 20 minutes; and unwinding and relaxing after my team Spurs has won. The problem is: when they lose, it’s the extreme opposite. . .” 

On how he has accomplished so much thus far: 
“I have one word: ‘why’ . . . I learnt to say it a lot. In fact, if you add another word to that word ‘why’, it becomes even more powerful: ‘Why not?’. Why not me? Why not here? Why not now?”