When national strengths become weaknesses

Back in 2010 I hear Dr Vincent Maphai speak on “Understanding the levers of our Society” during a BYM conference. Seriously smart guy and I find myself remembering parts of his speech almost every time I read the news. His comments and thoughts seem more relevant every time there is a new crisis, such as the Limpopo textbooks or Lonmin. Here’s some parts of his talk that I scribbled down and really stood out for me: [Note: I’ve paraphrased a lot as it is reconstructed it from my notes]

South Africa is still a very young democracy. Most countries took a very long time to become a stable democracy. Think of the UK which took over 400 years, Sweden who took 80 years or Turkey who 70 years later is still wrestling with the concept. We mustn’t be in such a hurry. Things will settle, we must be patient.

Being very involved in the ANC struggle all the way through apartheid, he observed that “the tools that you use to liberate yourself are not the tools you need to successfully run a country.

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What does Silicon Cape do…. exactly?

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This is a question that I was often asked in my role as coordinator at the Silicon Cape Initiative. But it’s the wrong question – you should be asking what is Silicon Cape trying to achieve. Let me explain…

The Silicon Cape Initiative was formed on the premise that South Africans are generally very bad at advertising what we have and what we can do.

When you look at the various countries that have tried to stimulate innovation and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem there are 2 distinct camps. The first (read Russia and China) have tried to do it through building infrastructure. The have built large techno parks and tried to entice entrepreneurs to fill them with innovative companies. In most cases this approach fails, normally only after massive amounts of capital has been spent.
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The 5 roles you need in a startup

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There are a couple of key roles to fill in an IT startup. I’ve recently recalled a great blog on “5 People you commonly find in a startup” by John Sharp in a couple of conversations as I feel that knowing what your strengths are and what sort of team you need around you can be key to business success. The 5 types are:

 

Visionary – The person who come up with the idea. The type of person that identifies the problem that the team will solve and the high level look at how to do it.
Wizard – This is the operations side of the startup, the person who works the magic and makes the impossible actually happen.
Wiseman – They’re your investor or Advisor. They bring money and experience into the mix.
Willing Slave – One of the most crucial roles is the person who can actually build the product. Outsource this at your peril.
Deal Maker – This is the guy who can sell the idea. They get investors onboard, find customers and sells to clients.

Now that doesn’t mean that every startup has to be 5 people, only that these 5 roles need to be covered. The Wizard can be the Dealmaker, or the Willing Slave or Wiseman the Visionary. Most times there are multiple hats worn by the same person.

I was recently looking at an opportunity with a friend of mine. It is a great idea with huge scope and lots of potential. I turned it down. Right from the beginning there was an obvious overlap in our skill sets. We were both Wizards, which led to big overlap in operations and decision time – something a startup just can’t afford.

Knowing where your skills fit in your startup is an absolute must. In the same breath, finding the right mix of people so that your startup covers all the bases is just as important. Especially if you are looking for funding.

I’m very happy in the knowledge that I’m about 60% Wizard and 40% Closer. Don’t ask me to come up with a world-changing idea, but give me one and I’ll draw you a road map. Where do your skills lie?

True Leadership

I recently submitted an application to “The Chosen” and had to write a 400 words on leadership. Thought it might be nice to add here too and I would love to know what you think…

South Africa has inspired some of the greatest leaders of our time. From Mandela to Gandhi, people have been inspired – through some form of suffering – to lead the transformation of society and of the world. True leadership inspires and empowers others.

The most crippling action in our society is thinking small. Thinking that you are insignificant. It is the duty of our leaders to change that; it is our duty to change that. For this country to flourish and for real transformation to take place, people need to be lead to the door of possibility and empowered to open it. That is true leadership.

We need to shift the mindset from being constrained by the past and limited by the present to being free in the possibilities of the future. For us to live in an equal society, it is not the leveling of status that needs to happen but Continue reading