Monday, February 2, 2015

The role of purpose in your personal and business brand development

On Saturday, 31st January 2015, I made my way to my first Girl Geek Breakfast. I have attended many Girl Geek Dinners (GGD) in Johannesburg and always enjoyed them so this was my first Cape Town experience - I was pretty excited. Sarah Rice was the guest speaker and her topic was:

The role of purpose in your personal career development

She shared her personal journey, which I really enjoyed. Turning 40 and getting divorced last year, had a profound effect on her (as to be expected). She spent a lot of time reflecting on herself and her business, Batstone and during that process she discovered...

Brand purpose drives sales far more than product marketing. Businesses need to ask themselves, "Why do we exist in the world."

She gave an example: An ISP selling "fast internet connectivity" doesn't stand out any more than their competitors in the cutthroat industry of giant Telecommunication companies. She spent hours, days and weeks work shopping with top executives until they finally uncovered, their Brand Purpose - "connectivity is a human right." Once they embraced that as their core value within the organisation, turned their marketing efforts to tell the world about this core belief, their sales increased as a result.

The same thing happened with Apple. In 1997, Apple wasn't doing so well so they hired Steve Jobs to turn things around. H largely focused on convincing Apple's employees to remember their Brand Purpose and forgot about the technical specs of products. Apple needed to shift focus from laptops, phones and other devices and move towards their a focus on their core beliefs.  At Apple, they believe that "people with passion can change the world." Selling that message to their consumers, boosted sales and Apple forged ahead, leaps and bounds above their competitors without a single product campaign. Instead they focused on heroes, showing what ordinary people are capable of.  As a result, Apple launched their "Think Different" campaign which eventually saved the company from bankruptcy, built the greatest turnover in business history and transformed Apple into one of the most valuable corporations in the world.

Sarah also shared that while all these notions are great in theory, its important to follow up your purpose with delivery. I guess the same applies in businesses as it does in our personal lives. We need to focus on WHY we do what we do, and not so much WHAT we do. Unlocking the WHY is far more important than the WHAT and that's a major behavioural change that's required for Brands to soar beyond their competitors.

She left with words that really stuck with me. "Have the right conversations, with the right people at the right time and you're bound to change the world." 

About Girl Geek Dinners:
Girl Geek Dinners were founded on the 16th August 2005 as a result of one girl geek who got frustrated about being one of the only females attending technical events and being asked to justify why she was there by her male counterparts. She decided that she wanted this to change and to be treated just the same as any other geek out there, gender and age aside.  After all to be geeky is to be intelligent, have passion for a subject and to know that subject in depth. It’s not at all about being better than others, or about gender, race, religion or anything else. Those things just detract from the real fun stuff, the technology, the innovation and the spread of new ideas.

About Sarah Rice
Sarah is a technology communications specialist with over a decade's worth of experience. She ran the IT focused PR agency, Sentient Communications, for almost nine years before shutting it down at the end of 2011. Sarah then worked with 22seven in an eight-month contract to launch the financial services product to the market, after which she joined South African social network, Mxit, as the VP: Communications. After two years as an employee Sarah realised that she was much happier being her own boss so in late 2013 she joined Brendan at Batstone. In other news she has two kids, an honours degree in Educational Drama, an unhealthy obsession with audible books and finished her studies without the use of 'The Internet’

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Opportunity & Responsibility by Brett Magrath

When I think back to the early days of starting up businesses these two factors have always played an interesting role. As an entrepreneur you are always on the lookout for opportunities. There are those that dream of the day and those that grab the opportunities with both hands. The interesting dynamic is that at no stage did I ever even consider the responsibility that came along with such a decision.

In 2007 when Brad and I first started working on Zoona there was an opportunity to get back into the entrepreneurial world, where we could control our own destiny. This time it was round three and maybe even the last chance after previous failed attempts. The opportunity was bigger, but having experienced failure before, plus I was now married to Cath with Eva on the way, this meant that the responsibilities of chasing this opportunity became a little more real.

By June 2009 we had a Bank of Zambia license, had past 1000 transactions in a month, we had built up our staff base and most importantly had proven we could survive…somehow. The opportunity was growing and the idea of become a successful Zambian money transfer business was real, but as always, as the opportunity got bigger so too did the responsibility. From a personal stand point Eva was now 2 years old and Cath was now pregnant with Jasper. My personal responsibilities had grown tremendously, but with the business growth the responsibilities towards our employees was also growing. Lots of things come to mind but two early examples that cross my mind are convincing Konrad to leave his job to join us right back in the early days and signing a bond application form for Leshain knowing she was now dependent on us being successful.

Over the years there have been numerous phases of opportunities and responsibilities and it has been great. The growth, in particular of our employees, which is our driver to achieve our goals. As a business Zoona has always set big goals, but those around us know we are building a track record of achieving them. If we look at our company WIG’s, this approach is strongly embedded in the company’s DNA and achieving these goals is no longer about certain individuals, but about ensuring that everyone in the company is ready to grab the opportunity with two hands knowing the responsibilities that come with it.

Having taken some time off on over the December holidays, it’s allowed me to reflect about what I see as the current state of Zoona’s opportunity and responsibility:

I truly do believe that Zoona is well positioned to become a billion dollar business, I have listened to Mike say this for a number of years, but I am now a true believer. I genuinely believe that with our achievements to date and the team we are building that we have got to a level where this is more real than becoming a successful Zambian business was in 2009.

Over the years I have seen a migration from personal responsibility to employee responsibility and now a responsibility to our agents. With our new focus on the consumer, it is time to fundamentally change how our market transacts and how their economies function. We need to move from being nominated as one of the top ten companies in the world to help girls out of poverty to THE top company that HAS achieved this. Our Zoona model can truly deliver impact and we need to take on the responsibility of understanding our customers and consumers and ensure that our products and services meet their expectations. By doing these simple things and ensuring that each day we are turning ideas into actions as rapidly as possible, we will achieve this.

Here’s to a great 2015!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Zoona Consumer Roadshow 2015 - Zambia

In January 2015, the first action point for the Consumer Insights team was to conduct a wide array of consumer focus groups in several different towns across Zambia. I must admit I was very excited, and a little anxious, about heading out into parts of Zambia I had yet to explore. 

This presented the perfect opportunity not only to learn more about Zoona’s consumer base, but to also develop a better understanding of what Zambia looks and feels like. So the towns were picked, and although we couldn’t fit the entire country into our one week of travel, we were about to get an in-depth introduction into Central, Copperbelt, and Northwestern provinces. 
Saviour The Mechanic

The trip began for me in Lusaka where Saviour and I would drive to Ndola (about a 5 hour trip) to pick up Megan and Fearne, who were arriving from South Africa the following day. As we drove out of Lusaka, and through Kabwe, I was struck by how beautiful the countryside is during the height of the rainy season. Everything was so green and vibrant. Once we collected Fearne and Megan from the airport, the true journey really began. I can’t think of a better (or at the very least more revealing) way to get to know your colleagues than by buckling your seatbelt and strapping in for what would be approximately 18 hours in a car together over the course of one week. If this isn’t the definition of “Making it Real” then I don’t know what is! 

Anyways, back to the important stuff: Consumer Insights!
In each of the towns we visited we did two things:
  1. We walked around the town visiting the booths.
  2. We held consumer focus groups.

So we set off from the airport, having collected Megan and Fearne, and set off for our first destination: Solwezi. Although warned before-hand by a few of our colleagues who had previously done this drive about the condition of the roads, I still don’t think any of us were prepared for what we were about to experience. Having left Kitwe late in the afternoon, we hit the part of the road that was in the worst condition just as it was getting dark! Cue Massive Thunderstorm. I have skydived, I have bungee jumped, but I must say driving this stretch of unpaved road full of potholes in the pitch black, in a downpour of rain definitely tops my list of ‘thrilling’ experiences. So just to give some context, the reason that I have spent so much time describing these first few hours of the trip is because in my mind it set the tone for the rest of the trip. It gave us massive insight into what it means to drive 50km on an unpaved road full of potholes (which even in the best of conditions would not be an easy feat) in a more rural part of Zambia. It allowed us to contemplate more realistically the challenges that face the communities located along these stretches of road many kilometres away from the nearest town, and bank. Relative to this first car ride up to Solwezi, the rest of the driving that week was a breeze!

A note about the focus groups:
They were each organised by the aggregator agent based in the area, and I am so proud of Angela, Sandra, Paul, and Misozi for doing an amazing job in bringing these events together from the location to the group of participants.
Well done Paul, Misozi, Angela and Sandra for organising top notch focus groups.
What I enjoyed most:
Great looking Zoona kiosks
I very much enjoyed getting to walk around and get a real feel for the towns we were visiting, and what doing transactions at Zoona outlets in these towns really looked like and felt like. I spoke both with Zoona consumers outside of outlets, and strangers who may have never even heard of Zoona before. The major insight I gained from conversations at the outlets is that casual consumers were relatively happy with the Zoona service and mostly used it for business purposes or to support their families, and that everyone from students to lawyers to housewives use Zoona in some way to access financial services.

Surprising insights:
Something that surprised me from my conversations with strangers (which consisted of me going up to random people asking if they knew where I could send money) was that fewer of them used or had heard of Zoona than I expected. Actually, the majority of them pointed me in the direction of Shoprite, which in their words is the cheapest and therefore best. This was a huge eye opener for me because I personally had been very unaware of how Shoprite was actually affecting our business through competition on the ground. All in all these casual conversations proved very fruitful and were a great way to meet present (and hopefully future!) Zoona consumers.

Focus group learnings:
Finally, we come to the focus groups (wasn’t this the whole point of the trip to begin with?!). I think it was great that we undertook these events for our Zoona consumers. It provided us with in-depth insights into how our top consumers interact with and use our product while also allowing us to show our appreciation to our top consumers.

In conclusion:
These sessions allowed us to understand and interact with our consumers in a way that isn't feasible over the phone or even in casual surveys outside of outlets. I really enjoyed hearing about consumers’ first experiences using Zoona and how they had heard about it. I found it enlightening to hear about how the quality of customer service from tellers was inconsistent, and how regular consumers wanted to be recognized as more than a casual consumer with promotions or discounts. It was like we got an all access pass to everything Zoona, in it’s everyday existence. We can now move forward in a productive direction and provide our consumers with exactly the products and improvements that would help them most. Zoona has built a strong foundation for itself, and is clearly appreciated by it’s consumers. I think that through the insights gained on this roadshow, Zoona has empowered itself to truly “make it real” for it’s consumers.

The crazy Zoona team with Sandra

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Learnings from the Girl Effect Accelerator

Mike sharing the Zoona story
Zoona was recently selected by the Unreasonable Group and Nike Foundation for the Girl Effect Accelerator because of the impact our business is having on girls and young women in Africa. Girls in Zambia and Malawi are able to get jobs as Zoona tellers, become business owners as Zoona Agents, and develop into entrepreneurs as Zoona Aggregators. These opportunities enable them to re-invest their income back into their children’s education (when they choose to have children), creating positive ripples across their communities.

This is the Girl Effect in action, and we believe that Zoona has the potential to multiply this many times over.

Last month, Lelemba Phiri and I had the privilege of attending this two week accelerator program at Campovida, two hours north of San Francisco.

If I could sum up our experience in one word, it would be: “accelerating”!

Despite the relaxed camping environment with shared tents and outdoor showers, the two weeks was packed full of mind altering conversations and business building activities. Check out this great video summarizing the experience.

The quality of the other entrepreneurs was phenomenal, and we felt humbled to be in their presence. The other participants are truly taking on the world’s toughest challenges – and succeeding. And all of them are real businesses that are growing incredibly quickly. The cohort had operations in 30+ countries and averaged $2.2 million in revenue last year. Each of these ventures deserves a mention and all the support we can give them!

Marketing guru Seth Godin teaches all
Bridge International Academies
Jayashree Enterprises
Green Light Planet
Off Grid Electric
Eco Fuel Africa

Despite our differing geographies and industries, I was astounded by how we were all facing similar business challenges. From raising capital to building a team to achieving focus to scaling into new markets, all start-ups have to overcome the same hurdles around the world. These challenges – and our perseverance to overcome them – are what connect entrepreneurs together. I learned so much from this group and am proud to call them all friends.

We were also humbled to receive so much advice and coaching from an astonishing set of mentors that came to stay with us during the program and help us work on our businesses. Some of the key highlights include:

Entertained by Michael Fitzpatrick
Tom Chi, a co-founder of Google X that designed Google Glasses and driverless cars, shared a rapid prototyping framework designed to help our business learn 10X faster.

Jeff Hoffman, founder of, helped us craft a brand message to lead our growth as we scale into new markets.

Seth Godin, taught us the secret of marketing by distilling it down to its most simple form: “people like us do things like this”.

Michael Fitzpatrick, one of the world’s top cellists, mesmerizing us with sounds in a private concert.
Great support from Google's Patrick Pichette

Patrick Pichette, the CFO of Google and a huge Zoona supporter, drove 3.5 hours (each way!) to visit for an afternoon and shared insights into how to build a culture of A-players.

The program culminated with each company presenting to an audience of 600 people at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This was a fabulous experience and one that helped spread the message that entrepreneurship can be a tremendous force for good in the world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Trying to Scale Excellence in Africa

My big mouth and me. I do one blog about the importance of scaling excellence and then a mate of mine and entrepreneur I admire asks me for some insights on how best to do it. Serves me right but in the interests of sharing and starting a good conversation.

So let me be upfront. I largely have absolutely no idea but this is what we are trying.

  • ·      Accept upfront that great ideas are by and large worthless. The value in Africa is the team and the ability of that team to execute. Capital in Africa follows traction not concept
  • ·      We as Africans need to stop assimilating risk – we need to celebrate not cut the tall poppies. Rather then seeing someone stumble go “see I told you they were running to fast” rather go and pick them up and say “that was brave now just go and try again with what you have learnt”
  • ·      Keep an open mind. Often we are so busy in the doing – we miss the wood from the trees. We need to re-structure our work calendars from 100% the chaos of today, to 30% today and 70% the future – you can not create the business of tomorrow or you are being obliterated by the business of today
  • ·      Be disruptive. Just because it is, does not mean it should be
  • ·      Be brave – sometime you just have to trust your gut as there are not enough data or reference points to be sure you are right
  • ·      Appreciate it is a global village – if you are standing still you are going backwards at a rate of knots
  • ·      Hard work, hard work, hard work – I like to watch the Yoda clip from Star Wars: Do or do not, there is no try
  • ·      Dream big, surround yourself with good people, have fun and get just get stuff done
  • ·      Always ask and challenge your model – are we delivering value that someone is willing to pay for
  • ·      If you cannot explain what you do in a simply way, you do not know what you are trying to do well enough. Forget the elevator pitch – find a kid and tell them what you do – if it is simple and they understand you are golden
  • ·      The customer is everything – repeat it until you can no longer see anything else in your vision. Plot every engagement you have with them and then establish what are the two or three things that are most important to them – not to you, but to them and then just focus your best efforts and people and those few things until on what matters to them you are exceptional at
  • ·      Start from the bottom and the beginning but at every step of the way meets the customer expectations. So maybe you want to create a car – rather start with a skateboard and re-iterate and improve the model till it grows up to be a car but make sure it was an awesome skateboard that improved. Do not dream of building a great car but give the customer a useless car as version one
  • ·      Slow down to speed up, start with your actual existing processes, get visibility, make incremental improvement – and then get ahead of the curve
  • ·      Surround yourself with A Players and invest in their growth and development but also set expectations and make sure they have absolute clarity on what is expected of them and the need for them to set up and be accountable and take ownership. If they are the right people you need to then get out of their way and let them be awesome. If they are not the right people then you are in big trouble. Whatever time you personally are spending on recruiting talent – increase it by 400%. Getting the right people into the company is critical. Donald Trump might be able to go “ you are fired” – we do not have that – so just understand the absolute technical debt of poor performers in your company and just absolute get the talent pool into your business as a hallmark of excellence. When someone starts at your company you need to know they will be an A Player in the environment and culture of your business. Remember an A Player in one company might not equal and A player in yours – hire for culture and fit – and focus on future potential in your company and not past performance in another
  • ·      You must create, live and breathe your company values and beliefs. These are not just for the wall and dusty storerooms, but need to be yours and the business compass and guide in every big decision you make or the company your make. Your staff and customers need to know these and see by your actions that you are accountable to them. As you scale and pressure mounts these need to be your cornerstone to keeping you grounded – and as your time gets further away from the coalface what the business stands for is felt
  • ·      Foster communication channels for good stuff to happen. It is not about everyone agreeing but having a voice. Seek out the quietest voice in the room. But once everyone has spoken decisions then needed to made and supported and driven – regardless of whether people agreed, if they have ben heard they must then jump onboard
  • ·      Focus on two or three big things. You cannot be great at everything. Chose two and three and then strive for excellence at those and only those. Find the “choke point” for your customer – the thing they value most and then make that your center of excellence
  • ·      Learn the power of the word no and create a system that makes is easy for you to go: that is not my core, that is not what will make us excellent – and because if I do it – it will slow down my journey to excellence – so no I cannot take that project
  • ·      Generate cash. Given the cost and scarcity of good growth capital, grasp that turnover is vanity, profit sanity and cash reality. Get enough cash and runway for your business – and making smarter decisions gets easier
  • ·      Be resilient as the continent we call home – if this was easy everyone could do it
  • ·      Share – this is something that is new to us – lets create a growing entrepreneurial community rather than isolated secrets of success
  • ·      Truly embrace – the one-day chicken, next day feathers. There is no way you have ever made it – the moment you stop focusing and improving or thinking you are a bwana you are dusted
  • ·      Even if you are a goldfish in a shark tank – just decide to be the shark. Someone is going to win why not us
  • ·      Get consistent in delivery – excellence is not a one off – it is being able to do something on repeat over and over again well
  • ·      Invest in yourself. If Usain Bolt and the best sports teams in the world have coaches – then surely so should you and your teams. Statistically the best investment you can make is education – so invest in educating and growing you and your team
  • ·      Grasp that to scale excellence we as the founders and leaders are often the bottleneck. We need to move from being doers to enablers. Be prepared to unlearn your own skills and re-learn the skills that a growing business needs
  • ·      Spend your time on the most important things as our time is the most important resource we have
hHope there might be some value in the read - Sahle kahle Brad

Monday, November 10, 2014

Zoona Joins the B Corp Movement!

Zoona is thrilled to announce that we are now officially a Certified Benefit Corporation – the first company in southern Africa to receive such recognition. There are over 1,000 Certified B Corps in 34 countries from over 60 industries. Zoona is proud to now add Zambia, Malawi, and South Africa to that list for the first time, and to join a community of companies who have committed to be both the best in the world and the best for the world.

What does it mean to be a Certified B Corp?  For Zoona, it means that we are able to prove to the world that Zoona is an awesome company that’s delivering great value to our employees and our agent network, and as a result to the communities they serve. As our CEO Mike Quinn said, “Joining B Corp is a great way to show our commitment to use business to help emerging entrepreneurs grow.  It's also a critical step towards our goal of becoming the most trusted money transfer service in our operating markets.”

We are proud to be part of the movement to bring high standards of accountability to companies in Africa and worldwide, and are confident that this accountability will help to ensure that we are able to empower emerging entrepreneurs and to continue to improve as we expand to new markets.

The B Corp assessment process evaluated Zoona on our commitment to our employees, customers, ethical standards, and to environmental protection.  Now that we’ve completed the assessment (with a rockstar above-average score, we might add!) we have a framework to measure our success against rigorous values and responsible practices as we scale as a company.  The framework ensures that we are delivering value to all of our stakeholders: our investors, agents, individual customers, employees, and to the broader community.

We shall strive to grow as a business with our values at the forefront: Integrity, Fun, Entrepreneurship, Commitment, and Togetherness and Being Real so that we can help communities thrive!

In other words, Zoona is awesome!

Rwanda Reflections

I have just spent a pretty special week in Rwanda and thought I would share some insights.

First Impressions of Rwanda

So my brother and co-founder of Zoona and I ended up going to Boarding School from 7 years old in SA and ended up swapping parents and holidays in Singapore and Zambia for our childhood. Having spent time in Singapore as a kid, Kigali bought back a lot of the same memories. On the surface very clean, efficient, and gearing for growth with a big sense of community and purpose – in fact both cities are the only ones I have been in that I have not seen a single piece of litter, anywhere. Below the surface though, you sense an underlying current that the option of towing the line is not really up for debate.
This time last year I was in Mauritius and the Minister of Commerce publically stated his government had Rwanda on their radar as one of the countries that could compete on their national strategies, and having been there I could see why. There is a real commitment and positivity towards investment and growth.

Sharing is Caring

I had a really good conference with Omidyar team and investees. The key difference was that it was driven and focused on sharing and solving problems. Often these events focus on a few smart people talking down to you – which can be pretty draining. This event just put issues on the table and open and transparent conversations followed.
My key takeaways were: be excellent at your core, scale excellence, get focused, attract and maximize talents of A players, and, get serious about your personal and business flow and development as an entrepreneur. These are all key challenges and opportunities faced by so many businesses.

Playing it forward

I was invited to the IT tech hub and got to present to some up and coming tech entrepreneurs from Rwanda, Egypt and Nigeria. Really enjoyed the event and it was awesome to share the Zoona stories and all our ups and downs and to really sense the positive impact on some young talent. Mentorship and sharing small success stories like ours can help create more and more people who are committed to change in Africa.

Hitting a brick wall

While we were in Kigali we spent an afternoon at the Genocide Memorial. Like many of us I have been fortunate and blessed to have a pretty normal and even privileged life.
The visit to the memorial was something that had a profound impact on me. In brief, 700,000 men, woman and children were systematically and brutally murdered, mutilated and raped in a blink. The memorial was set up to remember, respect and reconcile. When I walked out at the end, going through the child chamber, the only words that I can use to describe me was...I was an empty shell and really felt my soul was crushed.
For the rest of the day and night I felt really lost. The next morning I started to feel my batteries recharging. Sitting in a room with all the other Omidyar investees it was just so clear that good people trying to do good things is all that really matters. I know we rightfully talk about bottom line and revenue growth...These are all so key and critical but so too is the impact a business can have.

I really am humbled and celebrate the impact we, as a team, have in Africa. The more we grow and scale, the greater that impact will be. So as much as we are motivated and driven by our business success we should also know that the positive impact Zoona has on individuals, communities and countries, and maybe one day a continent, is certainly something to ponder on.