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.