Monday, June 4, 2012

Bringing billion dollar success strategies to Zambia

Mike Quinn reports on his and Brett Magrath’s recent visit to San Francisco to meet Mobile Transactions’ investors and supporters.

One of the great benefits of having the Omidyar Network (ON) as an investor in your business is that you are invited to the annual Omidyar Network Executive Forum (ONEF). ON is the brainchild of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam - it is an impact investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. ON believes that human capital can be as valuable as financial capital in helping organizations grow and increase their impact and therefore it helps its investee companies in strengthening their skills in key areas such as strategy, leadership and operations.

From the 8-10 May Brett and I joined around 120 top executives from ON funded companies around the world for the 3 day event in San Francisco for keynotes, workshops, peer learning, practice-area networking, one-on-ones and small-group coaching. Not only did we meet and exchange ideas and experiences with other growing companies but we also had the chance to learn from people who ‘have been there done that’ and in the process changed the way we live our lives. We are so flattered that ON, by choosing to invest in Mobile Transactions, thought we were ready to join this group of amazing people.

There are so many highlights from the meeting it is difficult to chose which to write about but in addition to meeting with Pierre Omidyar, founder of the Network, two particularly stand out.

Reid Hoffman talked about Driving Innovation: how to exploit risks to achieve “breakout opportunities”. The secret is to choose the right risks! He also stressed how important people are to an organization, that companies need to identify and hire people who possess what he calls an “infinite learning curve”, people who continue to learn and ask questions throughout their career that can scale with a rapidly growing organisation.

Reid has a truly awesome track record in business, he was a member of the board of directors at the founding of PayPal and later he co-founded LinkedIn. LinkedIn currently has over 135 million members in over 200 countries: at its IPO in May 2011 it was valued at over $3 billion US dollars.

One of the most memorable events was the keynote from Julie Hanna, Chair of the Board of Kiva. Julie is an accomplished entrepreneur repeatedly building successful consumer internet and business software companies. She is driven by her belief in technology as a democratizing force for social, political and business disruption and in entrepreneurship as the world's greatest change agent. Julie has helped make Kiva, one of our partners, a TIME Top 50 Website and the world's largest micro-lending marketplace for poverty alleviation.

Julie’s talk Bringing Humanity to Business was truly inspiring especially as by sharing her own story of being a refugee in America she challenged commonly held perceptions, “viewing people through the eyes of pity is dangerous because it wreaks of a stench of superiority.” I have to say that I completely agree with her. There are many complicated forces that keep people in poverty but I believe the best way to help disadvantaged people break-out of this trap is to unlock their potential by exposing them to opportunities.

Our final day in the US was used to meet old and new friends. We made a presentation at the Kiva offices and were able to share directly with each other our excitement of the success Mobile Transactions’ Agents are having in raising funds through Kiva (over $120,000 in Kiva loans to date!).

We also met with Patrick Pichette, CFO of Google and early supporter of Mobile Transactions, and had the opportunity to visit the Google campus. There he showed us some of their new technologies, including a Google Near-Field-Communication (NFC) chip in a phone that enables payments to be made by just swiping an Android phone on a point-of-sale device. Brett and I responded by showing Patrick our e-voucher scratch card, which does the exact same thing by storing value for retail purchases but only costs a few cents to the consumer and can be redeemed using even the most basic SMS/voice phone. I think we were mutually blown away by each other’s technology, and it was great to see how similar we were thinking but for very different market segments.

However different our environment is to Google’s, Patrick laid down a challenge to us in how we should think about building our business. He said Google evaluates new ideas based on two criteria: 1) Can it reach a billion users? (or else what’s the point?) and 2) Can technology change people’s lives? His challenge was that we should evaluate our opportunities in the same way as Google does. There are approximately four billion underbanked and underconnected people in the world who could use Mobile Transactions’ products. It was great to hear such positive affirmation in our model and approach, and the test is now whether we are up to the challenge. I think we are.

This post was written by Mike Quinn and edited by Jill Kent