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This year the Urbian team took time out and headed off to NetProphet. From speakers like WikiLeaks prophet Julian Assange to the future of retail from eBay’s Jody Ford, the topics covered felt like they were more than just thought leadership, they felt current & timeous. Some of the Urbianites shared their thoughts on what stood out to them this year.

 

“Digital Is Blurring The Lines.”

Anton Moulder, Managing Partner/Strategy.

This years Netprophet was full of interesting speakers both locally and internationally with a varied range of speakers from corruption “whistle blowers” like Julian Assange from WikiLeaks to advertising exec Nicole Yershon from Ogilvy Labs to eCommerce platform expert Jody Ford from eBay to Andrew Valentine talking about successful start-up business models.

I was really left with 3 things:

1. The advancement of digital is continuing to blur the lines between industries like advertising, business and tech/start-ups. Clients are going to need to educate themselves in order to pick the right agency for the right job. There is no such thing as a full-service agency.

2. The world of online and offline is merging like never before. The companies that figure out ways to allow people to seamlessly move from online to the physical store are poised for industry disruption.

3. While Africa is often shrouded by it’s limitations especially in infrastructure and connectivity, it is also poised for huge untapped potential unlike that of the saturated and overly innovated markets of Europe and the US. There are countless ways to either use digital to provide a service and meet a need or to merely out execute existing services that could be done better.

 

“Horse Before the Cart.”

Dean Norman, Programmer.

The one speaker that stood out for me was Aaron Marshall, the creator of the popular social photography app Over. He described the process and timeline of Over’s development and emphasised the benefits of using a “Horse before the cart” approach to product creation. By forgoing seemingly important steps in creating a brand and business, he managed to create a functional MVP in a relatively brief period of time.

If all you have is passion and an idea, the likelihood of pushing your startup through big budget processes is an impossible/unrealistic task that will most likely leave you frustrated and in debt.

As a budget starved startup, having a tangible product should be a priority. Depending on your circumstances, pursuing a “Horse before the cart” approach is viable. Once that product materialises you at least have something to leverage your way into the market.

 

“First Understand The Consumer Behaviour, Then Worry About The Technology.”

Gerard van Eeden, Experience Strategist.

Tackle consumer behaviour first then focus on technology.

Let me start off with outlining some quotes which resonated with me from the conference.

Jody Ford – eBay’s current VP of Marketing:
“We’re going to see more change in retail in the next three years than we’ve seen in the last 10 years, and this change is enabled by technology, but ultimately it will be the consumer that drives it and decides how that change happens.”

Aaron Marshall – Founder of Over:
Mentioned that you need to become a consumer to understand your consumer – which is why he spent over $2000 in Apple’s iTunes store test driving applications before launching his own.

Rob Stokes – Founder of Quirk Marketing Agency:
Declared that the problem with most entrepreneurs is that they are ahead of their time, which is useless if you are selling something that no one is buying.

These quotes above shed some light on the importance of understanding consumer behaviour, and how it needs to be the first step when you have the goal to innovate and create a true disruption in the market. I am not saying that it is not important being the first to the digital playground with a new piece of technology but it clearly isn’t the leading reason for success.

 

“Designing For Mobile On Mobile.”

Johannes van der Merwe, Programmer.

At this year’s Net Prophet event there was a gamut of interesting speakers sharing their stories, ideas and predictions for the future of the web and tech. What caught my attention was the presentation by founder and designer, Aaron Marshall, of Over photo editing software, a newcomer with a surprisingly large uptake.

At its core Over is an iPhone/iPad app that gives people the ability to add well designed, artistic text and artwork to photos, integrates with all the major social networks and it comes with all the features you would expect from a photo editing app.

What sets Over apart from the crowd and what caught my attention was the statement by Aaron Marshall:

“We plan to do for mobile what Adobe did for the desktop.” – Aaron Marshall

A concept I found intriguing. Designing for mobile on mobile will become an inevitability as the world moves towards mobile as the preferred medium.

Though the app in its infancy seems to output a generic or predictable design aesthetic, (a sort of ‘insta-art’ or ‘post-secret’ sensibility) I would like to see how this application matures and becomes more than a photo editing application, living up to its mobile Adobe aspirations.

 

“Varied And Intricate Our Digital Industry Is.”

Keagan Macpherson, Quality Assurance Intern.

As someone who is relatively new to the digital industry, I was both excited and anxious about this years NetProphet. I’m a tech junky, like most of the people I expected to see at the conference, but on the one hand I was keen to hear about current trends and advances for digital innovation, and on the other I was worried that many things would just go over my head. Luckily I wasn’t as inept as I anticipated.

While I found that several of the speakers spent too much time educating the audience on how their specific startup or business came to be, the overall focus of the day exemplified just how varied and intricate our digital industry has become. What I took away from this, was that the nature of this industry, in many ways, relies on extensive experimentation in order to find something that sticks.

 

“An Agile Approach To Developing Prototypes.”

Lise-Mariè van Wyk, Designer.

The challenge most user interface designers face, is swiftly creating pixel perfect layouts for mobile, tablet and desktop, without compromising on design quality. So the question is, how can design be both good quality and the output thereof faster than the speed of light?

The answer, according to Aaron Marshall is working with platforms that enable production teams to “run really fast experiments”. Aaron is the founder and designer behind the highly successful photo editing application, Over.  Speaking at this years Netprophet event, Aaron discussed how he designed and planned Over in Keynote. That’s right, he didn’t even open Photoshop. Most user interface designers would shudder at this thought.

The roll of the designer, as we know it might be coming to an end with the rise of online design applications like Webflow. It encourages designers to create their design in the browser.

 

“To Sell Or Not To Sell.”

Michele Sanders, Producer.

Swept up in the inspiring accounts of innovation and success by the likes of Jody Ford (Vice President of Marketing at eBay) and Aaron Marshall (Over founder) at this year’s NetProphet conference in Cape Town, it was easy to forget that the official title of the gathering was ‘Making business $ense (sic) of the Internet’

An intention brought into sharper focus by the ‘Sellouts’ panel, where Quirk Group CEO, Rob Stokes, fresh from the sale of a majority stake in his company to global communications giant, WPP, mentioned that it had taken several years for Quirk to become ‘acquisition ready’ from a due diligence perspective. Having gone through the process several years ago myself, it was a sobering reminder that, amidst the emotional peaks and troughs of any startup journey, one still needs to take care of business beyond chasing that next big pay-cheque.

And that in itself invites further reflection: are you in it for the ‘lifestyle’, or do you build your company with the intention of selling from the start? How many of us have had the foresight (or perhaps, the opportunity) to employ the exhaustive selection process described by Andrew Valentine, founder of Streetcar (now Zipcar, following a successful merger), to find the right business model before we rush headlong into The Next Big Digital Thang? Or are we, as suggested by all three of the ‘Sellout’ panelists, simply subject to the vagaries of Lady Luck? Given the staggering failure rate of startups, it’s an understandable, if unpalatable, conclusion. Twangoo sold their company to Groupon US for an undisclosed sum mere months after inception — by their own account, owners Wayne Gosling and Daniel Guasco had been actively seeking a buyer for their fledgling outfit, but could they have anticipated that the very company they copied their business model from would come bearing a cheque, and not a rite? Possibly not.

 

“It’s Still Customer First.”

Thalea Pretorius, Office Administrator.

Overall what I took out of Net Prophet was that possibilities are endless if you work hard passionate about what you do and surround yourself with the right people anything is possible. I particularly liked the Over story; I like hearing how far people have come. Aaron Marshall’s story was both heart-warming and interesting and how he overcame his obstacles to create a popular app such as Over without having a big budget or backing from bigger companies. It’s a reminder that sometimes you don’t need to sell your soul to be successful.

I enjoyed being in a room filled with like-minded people and be wowed by the likes of the big players in the digital space like Ebay. The way they are changing the game in the retail space I found fascinating. I like that in this new digital age the focus is still solely on the customer but with innovative technology and fast forward thinking things are being done quicker and easier. As Jody Ford, the vice President of Marketing for Ebay nicely said, “Customers want to get what they want when they want it wherever they are.” It may not be things we don’t already know, but certainly helps broaden your mind to see how you can apply similar thinking to solve problems in the African retail space.

 

“South Africa Is Ready For Great Tech.”

Taryn Bain, Community Manager.

As South Africa is such an amazing, emerging digital market and so many possibilities for innovation and experimentation lay ahead of us, we should definitely not sit by idly thinking that most of the population is not yet ‘tech-literate’ enough to embrace innovative and advanced apps and products. Instead we should be grabbing the proverbial ‘bull by the horns’ and start creating tech-forward apps and digital products to drive the growth, interest and exposure to the amazing tools, services and products we could be giving to people.

Check out some of the talks from this years NetProphet here: http://www.netprophet.org.za/

 

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