Anton Moulder
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The recent NetProphet 2014 conference, headlined by WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange, saw a variety of industry thought leaders share their expertise with Cape Town’s digital elite – an unrivalled opportunity to say the least. From Jody Ford’s (Vice President of Marketing at eBay) insight into the seamless merging of the online and offline world, to Nicole Yershon of Ogilvy London’s Digital Innovation Lab – an R&D ‘tech incubator’ which explores progressive tech thinking within the group, the audience were of course relishing the insight that the tech gods had to share.

Taking a step back, it’s a humbling realisation that even the largest and most successful companies were once startups themselves, and encountered all-too-familiar stumbling blocks along their path to disrupt in the industry. With the underlying theme of Making Business Sense of the Internet , the geeks at Urbian have shared their key takeouts from the ‘rock concert for entrepreneurs’ and identified three important considerations if you’re planning on throwing yourself into the deep end and dedicating your professional career to a cut-throat space that everyone wants to play in…

1. Go MVP. Unless you have money to blow.

If you’re the average man on the street with a great idea and the determination to boot, chances are you don’t have the budget to support your passion project; using your life savings to bootstrap your way to what you hope is your corner office in the Silicon Valley.

In situations like this, it may not be your 150-page business plan that’s going to take the market by storm, but your working prototype of its core features (MVP) that’s going to work the hardest for you. By having something to take to market, you’ll be able to enjoy the greatest perk of all: the opportunity to reap feedback and constructive criticism from your potential target audience before spending your rent on functionality that no one cares about. Feedback manages risk.

In many ways, the industry relies on extensive experimentation until you hit your lightbulb moment. Aaron Marshall, Founder and Creative Director of Over, spent over $2000 in the App Store, investigating various interfaces and user experience models, and educating himself on what the consumer responds to and repels against. He then proceeded to create version one of the Over interface in Keynote, instead of spending his capital on a hot shot designer that can rock the pants off of Photoshop. He broke all the rules and got a working prototype to market in the space of three months and today, Over has enjoyed an estimated 6 000 000+ downloads.

On the contrary, if you’re a trust fund baby with deep pockets, go wild. You’ve got nothing to lose.

2. No one cares how fancy your tech is.

In the on-going tussle of developers and entrepreneurs vying to be the first to market with their shiny new technology, there is little evidence to support that being the first to the playground is the leading reason for success. Many may not realise that while on the path to creating disruptive innovation, a more feasible approach may be to take an important consumer insight and apply the right technology to facilitate a solution, instead of force-fitting your fancy footwork and creating an application or business model that has no unique selling point whatsoever.

Jody Ford from eBay mentioned, ‘We’re going to see more change and development in retail in the next three years than we’ve seen in the last 10 years. Although this change is enabled by technology, it’s ultimately the consumer that will drive and decide how that change will happen.’

By focusing our attention on consumer behavior, mass adoption should eliminate a lot of the guesswork around what is considered a success or failure – they either love it, or they don’t. No matter how simple or intricate your solution is, make sure it is something or does something that your target audience can’t live without.

3. You’re not too good for us.

Many local start-ups are choking and shelving their advanced digital product ideas due to the restrictions of the infamous feature phone, as well as limitations in the form of inadequate infrastructure and connectivity in Southern Africa. Chances are that their ‘niche gamified loyalty app’ won’t necessarily enjoy mass adoption since a good percentage of the country is still rocking a Samsung E250, or one of the low-cost devices in the Nokia buffet. Unfortunately, this back-seat approach may indirectly be supporting a tech-averse society, which in turn will further hamper tech education if there are only a handful of entrepreneurs with the guts to drive innovation in a third world country.

However, with the introduction of affordable smartphones to the market such as the MTN Steppa, forecasts indicate a significant growth in the number of South Africans with access to smart devices in the next few years. In the future, this will also enable entrepreneurs, and especially brands, to learn more about various markets by means of smart data – regardless of their consumers’ LSM status.

A positive opinion shared by a number of guest speakers is the rich, untapped potential that the African market boasts, unlike the highly competitive and saturated markets such as the United States and Europe. Many successful local entrepreneurs today were simply people that identified an existing business model elsewhere and adapted it for a South African market. Wayne Gosling and Daniel Guasco, co-founders of Twangoo, replicated the business model made famous by Groupon US, and sold their company back to the discount vouchering giant only few months post-inception. The potential this model offered may have been obvious to many local onlookers, but Gosling and Guasco took the gamble, and it paid off.

A fair point raised by Rob Stokes, Group CEO of Quirk, is that most entrepreneurs are ahead of their time, which is useless if they are selling something that no one is buying. Question is, is it better to be ahead of the curve, or try and compete against it when the time is right?

 

It’s apparent that the staggering tech advancement in the last few years has caused a ripple-effect of trends and innovation. Lines between traditionally siloed industries like advertising, business and tech/start-ups are now blurred, with cross-pollination between the online and offline worlds becoming more and more popular. Opportunity in our emerging market is rife, however given the staggering failure rate of start-ups, there is no calculated right or wrong way towards success. According to the NetProphet ‘Sellouts panel’, luck has everything to do with it.

Contributors:

Anton Moulder, Head of Strategy

Michele Sanders, Senior Producer

Alexis Olbe, Account Director

Lise-Marie van Wyk, Senior UX Designer

Dean Norman, Developer

Johan van der Merwe, Developer

Gerard van Eeden, Quality Assurance

Taryn Bain, Social Media Manager

Thalea Pretorius, Office Manager

Keagan Macpherson, Intern

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