Herman introduces us to his upbringing in Apartheid-ruled South Africa and how that has shaped him as an innovator, a challenger, a rulebreaker. He talks about how innovation thrives on adversity and how that is helping build businesses in South Africa.
We look at the value of testing an idea before you create a solution, or at least understanding the real problem you are trying to solve instead of just offering innovation as a solution.
People – and businesses – are creatures of habit, yet innovation is constantly happening. Although there are many ways to do the same thing differently, we choose to stick to our old ways. Why is this?
Why is failure seen as negative, when we can learn from each failure? Herman describes some of his failures, what he learnt from these, why it’s important to fail early and why it’s important to test your solution with the people you are are innovating for, in their environments. We also talk about why Herman’s other projects have been successful – what he did differently – and how startups are challenging the status quo, disrupting and innovating to solve real problems by understanding the market they are solving for.
If you are unfamiliar with design thinking, listen to episode 1, where we discuss the methods and mindsets of design thinking and clear up some of the terminology.
Welcome to Great Minds Design Think Alike. Where we investigate design thinking, the challenges, the successes and the problems it solves. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of design thinking, check out episode 1. Be sure to subscribe so you get the newest episode as it’s released. Great minds design think alike is hosted by Stuart McDougall, owner of Tenaka, a leading design thinking consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa and is proudly brought to you by Mac Media.
In this episode I’m talking to Herman Singh from Future Advisory where we dig deep into innovation, creativity through adversity and his experience with product success and failures
The conversation with Herman:
SM: So I’m sitting here today with Herman Singh. It’s quite a privilege I think because Herman as far as I understand you are highly educated. Linked with all the good universities here in South Africa, the business schools and overseas and you have also served on a dozen boards. Very experienced. I’m interested first of all to find out where you have come from? What you have done? And how that has led to your business future advisory that you run currently in the innovative space that you are working in?
HS: Cool. Good, Thanks Stuart it’s good to be here. Thank you for the invitation. I was actually born in a town in Kwazulu Natal called Inkomazi, which is right opposite the Sabi cycle plant. If anyone knows that part, it’s called the Inkomazi River. From those beginnings I actually left Durban very young. I actually left Durban at the age of about 15/16 to go to university. But what was interesting for me was my grandfather, probably the richest person of colour in the country for many many years. The reason was basically because of the rules of apartheid. He figured out that you have rule makers, rule breakers and rule takers. And he said the apartheid government was making rules, everyone in the country was taking the rules, he was going to figure out how to break the rules without going to jail. And so he built up a very great business. He owned 2 hotels and was actually in the liquor business. He was one of the bulk sellers of liquor, had his own brand of whiskey, it was amazing. Especially because he was a very devout Indian. He built up a business by being very very innovative.
And that kind of got me on a very early track where at a young age I decided I was going to study engineering. The problem at the time, we had White universities, Black universities, Indian universities and Bush universities. So the universities of colour were called bush universities. They were literally in the bush and I decided I was going to go to Wits. So Wits University said, we are really sorry but there is a university for you people. You should go there. And I said yes yes, but your rules on your website say, if i study something that’s not offered at the Bush university but is strategic to the country, I can study at Wits. They said there is a reason we call it Wits. What I did was I basically found out that Aeronautical Engineering was not offered at the University of Durban Westville which was an Indian University. But it was a strategic skill.
I basically signed up to do Aeronautical Engineering at Wits and the next week I changed because the rules never said I had to finish the degree I signed up for. So I basically got in. Wits at the time was a very Jewish school and that community was very anti-apartheid as well. And they basically protected me and made sure I got through Varsity without ever being found out. I ended up graduating with an engineering degree but not in the field that I started. That really got me a little bit creative in my life. I figured there were rules, but there is always a way to use the rules to your advantage or to and to work around the rules. Because of that I just ended up being a naturally creative person my whole life. Between my grandfather and getting into Varsity that set me up.
SM: So it’s kind of thing of saying I don’t want to be boxed and I understand the rules around the box, how do I get out of the box.
HS: I actually think adversity is a good thing. People think oh look at me I’m previously disadvantaged. I’m really sorry but I think this disadvantage it’s a fantastic thing. In South Africa now, people can’t get jobs, take the white community for example, they heavily cast out a form of formal employment. I’m seeing astonishing creativity in that community, because they are building businesses, because they can’t get jobs. And they are building amazing businesses. In a weird way, the government might actually be doing them a favour. In a strange way.
Many of them, if they would have been in a formal job they would have lived their lives away you know. In a sense would have been intellectually dead, but now they are thriving. It’s forcing you to be creative. And I think South Africa is an interesting country. we always have weird laws and weird rules, I just find that in a strange way has helped us drive creativity in this country
SM: So I actually looked at an article that you had written, which was why most startups fail. And there were a couple of mistakes that you said startups make. Where they fail in terms of business. The very very first one was the sense of them focusing so much on their product and services and what they are developing and not the people that will obviously become their customers. We are coming from a human centred space and understanding the people and what you were talking about now. It’s again understanding the people, the environment that we operate in. How do you see that plugging into innovation?
HS: Powerful question actually. I think it’s going to be a question that we are going to be grappling with for the next 100 years. So I’m just going to give you a few examples, the principle is the following: Firstly people fall in love with an idea or they are crazy about Tech. So they fall in love with an idea, fall in love with tech so they go out and they build something. I meet dozens of people every month. Who come to me with the following comment: “Hey Herman can you help me I have built this thing?” Then I ask them why did you build this thing. They say no, I thought it would be really cool. So they have gone out and built it. And often it’s the guy at Tech. I saw what looked like a need so I built something. Now the challenge in the world was best summarised by a guy called Clayton Christensen. Clayton Christensen wrote a book about innovative dilemmas, the innovative prescription, the innovative solution.
He has written a couple of books. He talks about the fact that everyday people wake up and they have to do a series of jobs. I have to get to work, I have to work, I have to eat, I have to drink etc. He uses an example of a guy stopping to pick up a cappuccino, he is thirsty but that’s not what that is about. The guy is going to use public transport, his family in New York is going to take the bus, he has got to carry his rugsack and umbrella in one hand. He only has one hand free. Keep him busy and occupy him during his community. That’s what this guy is trying to do. Now the question is what else can do that. Don’t try to compete with coffee, cause maybe it’s a sandwich, it’s a problem with the sandwich. How do you have a sandwich with 1 hand and it’s dirty and its greasy, wont you want something to keep its temperature either hot or cold? During the duration is it self contained? Does it get dirty? Is it easy to sip? doesn’t get dirty? It’s really important to understand.
Are people trying to send money across the border? Because they want to give their folks on the other side money? Or do they want their folks to pay for school fees? Or do they want to buy groceries or do they actually need a fridge. If they need a fridge, send them a fridge. If they need groceries, send them groceries. Because groceries and fridges are much cheaper in South Africa. And actually it’s cheaper to buy it here and send it overseas than to send money overseas. If you go out and build a money transfer system what problem are you solving? Oh, I’m trying to solve a problem so people can get money across the border. Yes but what problem is it actually trying to solve? The guy is actually trying to get groceries out of the fridge to pay school fees. Why not pay the school fees here, because if you send the money maybe the money will end up with alcohol, airtime or a girlfriend and not school feels.
So the point I’m making is that it’s absolutely critical that you get some kind of sociological view of the world. You have to got to understand the problem that people are actually trying to solve. And it’s been famously said that if you can find a problem that a billion people have and solve that. That’s how you build unicorns.
SM: Sometimes that problem that people generally stir away from because it might be the most difficult problem to solve, The most challenging problem to solve. And I think there lies the biggest opportunity for that business because if you can start solving things that other people don’t feel like solving or think it’s too difficult to solve. I mean that’s essentially i think where a nugget could stand from.
HS: I think what tends to happen is that in life think about this, most people in winter put on 11 items of clothing, if you count all the items up. And if you think about it, how many ways are there to put on 11 items of clothing? So you have 11 choices for the first item, then you have 10 choices for the second, then you have 9 choices for the third. All the way down, it’s basically 11 factorials and it runs into dozens of millions of options yet everybody gets to dress the same way. Why is that? Because we have found a way that works for us so we stick to it. And that’s true to everything in our lives.
The minute we find the route to work that works we stick to it, the minute we find anything on the menu we stick to it, the minute we find a holiday destination, my in laws go to Mossel Bay every year, why would you go to the same place every year. Basically it’s the fact that they are just used to it. So businesses, humans I guess are creatures of habit and once you find something that works, you stick to it. We don’t change to check whether there is an alternative and when society, technology, processes are the best practice changes we don’t go and review it.
The world is basically cluttered with volumes of inefficiency everywhere and they target each environment.
SM: In your experiences and some of the projects you have worked on. Has there been situations where you feel like there was failure involved in it and how was that interpreted into learning because that’s also one of the things that we promote as business is that we fail forward elements. Have you got an opinion on that?
HS: Yes and I think failing is a critical part of it. Anyone who says they have never failed they have never learnt. I have got some really stunning failures in my career. One of them was when we tried to relaunch Impeza South Africa, that really blew up. I launched a partnership with prime media something called Muwali mobile wallet way back in 2008, that thing blew up. We had a number of things that we have designed that have blown up. I launched a system in Lagos Isusu. Isusu is a money transfer person and we made an electronic version of that called Isusu to try and see if Standard bank can get into that market and that also blew up. So the one that disappointed me the most was the Isusu one because I really was sure we were trying to solve a real problem. I think sometimes you too early to market. For example, in 2001 I worked with a company called email corporation they are now called Striata. I spoke to the CEO yesterday. He just launched something and I said to him you just cracked this problem 20 years later.
So what we were trying to do 20 years ago was why can’t we email somebody something with a button that says pay. You just press pay and it automatically takes money in your account. So why don’t we do that. So we built this really clunky horrible thing. We said this is going to be amazing for various reasons it never took off. 20 years later Mike his name is Mike he is telling me Herman this thing is pumping. I have launched in America, he is based in London now doing fantastic. So it’s about timing, the market is not big enough, the market is not mature enough, the market is not comfortable with technology enough, the market is not trusting enough. Sometimes it’s just a bad preposition you got it wrong, the segment is not big enough. So you kind of very quickly learn what questions to ask earlier on from the failures that you have had. People sometimes say Herman, you are very critical, I have got the scars, I have been down this road. I’m going to ask you 5 questions if your answers are wrong in these 5 things. I’m not going to get engaged in this thing. So I have learnt what the questions are you should ask.
SM: And with those failures you are talking about as well is there an element of going back and looking at them and saying, the different times around the market and what you are aware of now that 2020 hindsight. Would there have been more clarity? That if there had been more engagement with the potential users or did the engagement happen and the failure still happened. I’m interested to know how much the people you were targeting?
HS: The Germans say Yan and the Afrikaaners say Yanya. I can give you examples of both. I can give you examples of both. If i take Nigeria for example, the problem I was trying to solve in Nigeria was, Nigeria has no malls, so people have huge market places out of wood. And everyone has got a little store and its centrally located market space which runs for square km, is normally the food court. And the food court is just open flames with pots with people cooking. Now think about this, how volatile the situation is. You have got wood frame shops, you have got clothes everywhere, you have got people running around the court, there is food, there is fire, there are dresses, people are wearing dresses. So fire is a huge issue. The problem with fire is not only can it kill people but it can burn down your store. You will lose your stock. The thing that people used to do, they didn’t want to walk home with their money, their takings. They would drill a hole into the frame, and stick their money into the wooden frame and plug it or put it into the ground. The problem is if a fire came out, it would take their working capital, take out their stocks and take out their shops. This is a triple worm, you lose everything.
So we sat down with them, we actuated what we thought was a great solution for everyone, which is the person that would come around everyday and collect the cash around and deposit it into the bank. We build a branch here and send a person around to collect your cash, we take a fingerprint and we bank your money for you. We thought we had done it right and it turned out, because these folks are working with their hands all day, their fingerprints were terrible. and we didn’t know that until after we had launched it. We couldn’t capture fingerprints because Nigerians work very very hard. So that’s something we should have thought of. We had not figured it out. We had done a lot of talking to customers and there were a few other issues.
The traditional Susus were upset with us because we were taking their business away. and there are things that I think in hindsight could have been done a little bit more. We could have figured it out. But I thought we had done enough research.
The other extreme if I look at it. We have launched e-currency, we have launched mobile wallets with Prime media for example. There I would definitely say we didn’t do enough research. What we are trying to solve was, Prime media s view was look guys we own Ster-Kinekor. People waste a lot of time buying their tickets, wasting their time buying popcorn isn’t there a way that we can build a wallet that you can pre order everything before you arrive and your phone is basically your ticket to everything? And for various reasons it failed. The user interface was the problem, the apps were not there, we built an app and at the time it was a java world and there were probably 250 flavours of Java on different phones. So we tried to build this app, to keep this app updated on all the phones before the iPhones came along and before android came along with impossible. This is one of the reasons why Mxit really struggled because they had the same problem we had. And we were working with Mxit trying to figure out from them. How did you guys solve this problem?
So with hindsight if I look at it, I guess we could have spent more time chatting to the people with the problem. We could have spent more time understanding the broader ecosystem. and we could have spent more time understanding the business model that we were working with.
SM: So we have fetched on some of those challenging problems that you have touched on. Give an example of a project that you find really successful and what the reasons and the nuggets behind those being?
HS: Luckily in my career I can give you many. But I can give you one. It’s a South African one, we built the fourth biggest ride hailing app in the world, it’s running in Iran it’s called Snapp. I will talk about the instant money we built in South Africa which today generates 300 million rands revenue per year for Standard Bank. So instant money was an interesting idea, we said people are often sending money home. The challenge is you have to go in and find a way to collect your cash in deep rural areas. And often people in the city are sent to the city to work and they get paid weekly monthly and some of them are in offices and they all need to send money home to their families. We said well how do we fix this because people are just unbanked. So what we did was we went to the Spar organization. You got 800 businesses, why don’t we connect all of them to each other so that you can go into a Spar, hand in cash, get a voucher on your phone, send the voucher to somebody else, he can go to another Spar in deep rural. He can get his cash. That thing worked beautifully. Ok and Spar loved it, because when you get your cash on the other side you are not going to leave the store with cash. You are going to spend 60% of the money in the Spar. So Spar was happy. The bank was happy we were making revenue.
And then we said why don’t we connect to the internet banking platform so that you can send using internet banking or mobile banking. You can send from your account directly without having to go to a spar. You could send e-money to someone and they can go and cash it out Within. So we then said well why don’t we also add our own ATMs? So we can send you this money and you can collect it at your own ATMs. It’s so massive at Standard bank. Very few people realise we started building this thing in 2008. And everyone at the bank laughed at us. They thought we were crazy. We are these weird people living outside the bank. And we just ignored the bank. And we went and solved a real problem for real people. Today that thing is doing billions of dollars every month helping ordinary people kind of live. So I love that.
The second example is we opened it in Iran. In Iran MTN I think has got 55% market share. And we started a business there called Snapp. And it was a taxi hailing app. We started building a business called Bambillo. It was an ecommerce site. But we were up against the biggest in the country which was Dijikala. And we were getting hammered and in that business if you can’t scale you can’t survive. So we actually started profiting the business, trying to say we should be getting into cosmetics, we should be getting into our own brands of fashion. Meanwhile on the side we built this small little taxi app. But our real business is ecommerce. We gotta get this ecommerce thing. We were spending 80% of our board time trying to get this ecommerce thing running. Basically taking on Takealot. Effectively of Iran. We weren’t winning. Anyway, what’s starting to happen is this fricken taxi thing started growing. And I would go to board million and say what is this thing? This number over here. This thing is the taxi thing. Don’t worry about this taxi thing, let’s look at this ecommerce thing.
We suddenly realised that sometimes it’s important in life to look at unexpected successes and unexpected failures. and unexpected successes are really powerful. We never expected this to do this. So we suddenly realised that we were sitting on something. Waiting to understand what sort of thing. We realised that in Iran every car is a taxi. So the way that Iran works, everyone that wants a ride goes to the main road and puts their hand up. And anybody who is driving in that direction will stop and say how far down this road do you want to go? If your trip ends before their trip ends they will take you. And you haggle with them, I’ll pay you a dollar whatever the fare is, there is no fixed price. It’s safe. They have been doing this for a 100 years. They have been doing this since they had carts and horses and we never realised that baked into the social fabric of that country. was the concept everybody with transport could offer anybody else transport anytime as long as you are on the main road. I didn’t know that. And we built this thing that basically enabled whatever was existing. This went on to get like 99% market share.. On the last fundraise this thing was valued at a billion dollars for MTN. Unfortunately Mr. Trump came along and stuffed that up.
Great business is still sitting inside MTN. Again i cant claim genius in that. The genius was recognising we had something. There was opportunity. I can say a lot of our success was recognising that you have got a fruit here. You must mobilise and make that and make that thing work. But if don’t try a lot of stuff you not going to pick up those diamonds.
SM: Going back to the Standard Bank one that you were talking about a minute ago. Was there any form of product testing in those early stages? Because you are going back to about 2008. Was there like low fidelity prototyping or that kind of thing that you used back then?
HS: Absolutely. We basically had to build a proof of concept. And then we had to try and get it running between one or two or five Spars. The first problem that we had was we thought the Spar organisation was like Shoprite and Pick n pay. Absolutely not. Spar is a franchise organisation. The very few companies on stores. So we had to go and sign up every franchise. The Minute they said no I don’t want to be part of this. We would go off running back to head office.
SM: It’s a new thing, change, what do I get out of it?
HS: Yes. Exactly. I’m too busy selling my… A lot of them were Portuguese, Greek folks who used to run a corner cafe. Wanted to scale up and bought a Spar. They just wanted to do what they just wanted to do. So we had to kind of try and find willing partners. So we eventually took company owned stores. And we said why don’t we just run this thing we company owned stores? And the problem that you have with things like this is, you building a network. It doesn’t work, it’s like you building a phone system. Where only 10 people can call each other. It has no value. The thing only works if anybody can call anybody. Every Spar can talk to any Spar. So the initial days were very very tough because you didn’t have critical mass, the network wasn’t fully built, There was no branding, people didn’t trust it. And the real problem we had was signal strength because we did an interview until the tilth. So we had to figure out a way to build out something that could work without doing a deep integration into the till infrastructure. And they said they are not going to do that. So we said why don’t we give you points of sales that we would run. The problem that we had was many of the Spars were in the basement of a mall. And deep rural, and the signals were terrible. We had 2G, we didn’t have Edge, GPRS, you didn’t have HSDPA, we didn’t have any of that, never mind 3G. So getting that signal up you need to squeeze a little bit of data up so we have built multiple versions of our product just to see how to get around . Eventually we realised we had to modify our point of sale machines so that we had 2 or 3 sim cards in it. So if Vodacom failed we switch over to MTN and switch over to Cell C. So these were all the things we didn’t know. There was a lot of unknown.
SM: Technology changes
HS: Changing antennas on these things and none of these things were enough. So we did a lot of pivoting, pivoting, pivoting, redesign, redesign until final we got it right. I must say the first 2 years were crazy .
SM: And the user in that testing stage? How you were saying the stores were part of the main group of Spar. How did you attach those users? How did you get users to actually start using it so that you could have proof of concept so that it could work?
HS: Good question. What helped us at the time Shoprite Checkers was running something similar. So we actually went outside Shoprite Checkers. We said to people this is cheaper if you just walk 100m down the road and go to Spar and do it there rather. The Shoprite Checkers listening to this podcast will freak out. Totally legit.
SM: That was 2008, water under the bridge.
HS: Totally legal, We went on the pavement, we went on your property. And then we found out that, what we would do, we would go and look at the queues at Shoprite Checkers. And we would say, people are waiting for like half an hour. We would go up to folks in the queue standing on the road and say you know Spar does the same things and it’s just 100m down the road. So instead of queuing you can just do that. and what happened that thing went virtual. They went and told their mates, told their friends. And then they found out unlike Shoprite you could actually send money from Standard Bank directly to a Spar. People loved that. I tried selling it to Shoprite, Shoprite said no no no we own the whole thing. Spar said we got nothing. As a challenger I can afford to be more radical so Spar was prepared to take more risk than Shoprite was. Spar was playing to win, and Shoprite was playing not to lose. And depending on what position you take you have a different risk stuffs. So Spar said let’s risk it. We did things then we would never do today. If I went to them now and said let’s go talk to the guys in the queue they would never do it.
SM: It’s strange that you say it because we see that from where we come from. A position ourselves is sort of an observational research because standing there and actually seeing people queuing. Seeing oh there is an opportunity here and a need to be able to solve the problem these guys have in terms of queuing and that. That’s observational. Nowadays we should do a lot more observational research in terms of just our own way of telling the service providers or the people that supply us products. Of the things that we think can be done better.
HS: I was talking to one of my staff in my Vodacom days. He was my risk officer. We used to chat and I said what do you do, he said he does this risk thing. What do you do in your spare time? I breed chickens. What do you mean chickens? I buy these day old chickens and I grow them until they get big and then I slaughter them and then I sell them. I said that’s interesting. How do you this thing? explain to me where is your market. He is like I take my bakkie and I go and sell these chickens but I wanna grow. And I said how are you even going to do that. So this guy, he started telling me. This is a guy who is a risk officer but clearly very entrepreneurial. He says you know what I figured out? I figured out there were some tannies that were coming in and they were buying 20 chickens. And then I asked them why are you buying 20 chickens? They said because I’m reselling them when I get back to the township. He says fantastic.
Can’t I do deal with you? I will deliver 20 to you every week. He said that’s fantastic. He said people were complaining about the quality. He said you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to buy you a freezer but you can only buy your chickens from me. So what he ended up doing is i will give you the freezer for free but you gotta buy your chickens from me and sell them. How is that different from saying you buy a printer from me? I’ll give you at a discount but got to buy your ink from me. There is no difference right? This youngster had figured out this entire thing on his own. Why because he had looked at family. You would never figure this out through market research. You could research your head off. You could never pick up that this lady is the same lady she was coming in, this was her behaviour and actually everyone knows that chicken is the primary source of protein in this country. People don’t realise how that value chain works. and actually it’s bloody expensive to jump into a taxi to go to Shoprite Checker and buy a chicken. When in fact aunt down the road has a freezer with 50 in it. And that’s how you solve the problem. There was even a huge sale.
SM: And the margin is probably less.
HS: The margin is less and most importantly the net benefit to the community was massive. Because now we don’t have to take a taxi to go in to buy chickens.
SM: Again that’s someone who is putting himself in a space and saying how do I understand this consumer better? How do I understand what’s going to meet their needs and benefit them? And it’s also coming from a place of saying, how do make life better. The life of the consumer that buys from that person?
HS: So two points on that. The first point and I agree with you totally. The first point is understanding the customer’s pain point. We often don’t do that. We often go in with a pre-defined solution. And South Africans are creative beings, especially with big businesses. Here is how this is going to work for you. And the other point that we often don’t get is often what you want to do is understand. How does the community do it currently? Let’s build our solution to enable that. Don’t go there and try to kill the stokvel. Try to enable the stokvel. Don’t try to kill the taxi business in Iran. The informal taxi business in Iran. Try to enable the taxi business in Iran. When we move from I’m gonna take it to I’m gonna enable it. The advantage is society is highly unlikely to change their behaviour. But if you go in and you chasing the existing behaviour, I have got a better way of doing it. Using exactly the behaviour you are using now. That works a lot better that requires a lot of research, time and understanding and observation and testing.
The issue in Iran was it’s a Muslim country and you got to be really careful about gender mixing. Therefore what you gotta do is check the drivers, making sure. The Uber problem that we got in South Africa, we had one of these incidents. One incident in Iran. We had to dive in and change the complete way that we had recruited drivers to make sure that we can give a guarantee to female passengers that they were safe in those taxis. It was a huge huge effort. Especially when the government came in and said listen you can’t allow this to happen in a taxi. So those kinds of things you learn as you go.
SM: So we always look at through the lenses of desirability for whatever you are innovating or building as being the key. This is how we work. We start with desirability and then the feasibility and the viability comes after that. But I mean what you are saying is the importance of compliance and understanding the bureaucracy or whatever the restraints are within the environment that you are going to be operating in or producing products are important and have to be considered very clearly in the stages of innovation and development otherwise the failure is gonna come sooner I suppose.
HS: I like it. I like talking to startups. As I say to them, I have got 4 tests. 4-5 tests. My first is don’t talk to me until you can demonstrate to me proof of product. So show me that you have got something that works. You got to physically work whatever this thing that you are building. The second thing after you have shown me, is proof of market. Show me the people who are paying first. There is a business market. The third thing you are going to show me is proof of skill which talks to your feasibility issue. Show me that this thing can scale and that it’s not me doing podcasts. For example i cant scale this, It’s too organic its too analogue. You can’t scale something that is organic and analogue and its digital platform based solution. The third thing you are going to do for me is go to show me that you have got a path to profit. You show me those 4 things I’m interested. But if you can’t show me that you got proof of product, proof of market, proof of skill and path to profit I’m not interested. So a lot of people come to me with ideas and I ask them those questions. I go guys you already launched something and your product doesn’t even work properly and you wanna talk to me about scaling you. I think you need to go back and redesign this product and often founders don’t wanna hear that.
SM: They have invested time and money in it already.
HS: Most of what they have invested is emotion.
SM: Yes actually you are 100% right there. Too attached.
HS: I have had conversations and people have phoned me months later and said Herman I’m sorry I was upset with you when you said that but after six months of plugging this thing I think you are right. I think I got to change my user interface.
SM: Awesome Herman, I really really appreciate your time. So your business is Future Advisory. Do you wanna give us a bit to hand of in terms of what Future Advisory is doing and who you are looking forward to engage with?
HS: Sure. Future Advisory is basically a digital transformation company. We work in 20 countries around the world. A lot of our work is in South Africa. We have been appointed as advisors to the Saudi telecom industry. We are building out a digital transformation agenda for the Saudi. and Saudi telecoms has just been appointed digital transformation for the whole government. So we are basically effectively helping the Saudies to digitally transform their country. We work with banks. What we do is we help large companies digital transform because they have got huge vested investment in old tech, old process and old skills. We help them migrate that rapidly to the new world. Second thing we do is we help startups accelerate . and the reason is eventually startups and large companies intersect. What we are trying to do is drive that intersects that’s basically what we do . So we have a small investment fund. We also fund startups as well if they meet our criteria, exciting times to be in the space.
SM: To get hold of you do they just go to your website?
HS: So it’s www.future/advisory.co.za and you can click and contact us. We have a number of forms that you can fill out to apply to be part of our programs. We mentor startups, we have angel funders, we have got early stage funds, we have got late stage funds. We really trying to help this venture capital and start an ecosystem in South Africa to accelerate because that’s the only way to create jobs
SM: Brilliant, I agree. In itself is a need for this country.
HS: I learnt it with this chicken story of mine, you know. You must try to create jobs. You must try to build businesses
SM: Right because at the end of the day, the results is jobs. Brilliant. Thanks Herman
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