“It’s a paradigm shift to what’s in the market. It’s almost too good to be true. It’s definitely something that doesn’t exist.”

Words every entrepreneur wants to hear! I couldn’t actually believe the words coming out of this guy’s mouth, and this isn’t exactly a guy off the street – this is a co-founder of a very well-known South African company, who currently has his fingers in about 15 other pies, looks like. On a separate note, excited in advance to have coffee with this guy in January and talk coaching rather than affordable housing. I wonder if it’s because SA is a smaller market than America, but in general I have been more impressed with the calibre of executive-level business people I have met here than the ones I have worked with in America. Broad generalisation I know, but I’ll stick by it.

Having said all that, a lot of work still to do in terms of validating assumptions with the target market and working to co-create some specifics of the vision. Emailing just now one of our friends/advisors who is in Switzerland who essentially says the same thing. Industry experts are a great kickstart but they can only take you so far.

So this week has so far been the very definition of hectic. Tuesday I did whatever I normally do in the office (management I guess…), then off to this market research meeting at a swanky hotel in Claremont, back to the office, then off to the Philippi Farmers Market to check in with the GrowZone there and then to take the gardeners to Mama Rosie’s place, and back. We are having some challenges with growing vegetables organically rather than using chemical fertigation. Now, obviously from a moral, health, environmental, etc. standpoint I would much prefer to go organic, but actually it should not be our decision because who are we to decide on behalf of the entrepreneurs we are trying to enable? If you can grow things significantly faster and healthier using chemical-based fertilizers, and that translates to a significant difference in income and food production, isn’t that better, actually? It’s strange I’ve had a bit of a paradigm shift on this myself the last few days seeing in person the difference that it makes, and it is stark. Also, the lessons of community engagement are important and stepping back to realise when I may be pushing my own values and assumptions onto others unfairly, because of the influence that I have, is key.

Actually this all gets back to the co-creation theme which is actually my word of the year. Until this year I didn’t even know what the word meant, and now I live it every day. On a related note, until I got to Cape Town I was good at reading body language, yes, but I have developed such a greater insight into people here it’s a bit amazing. Here, it’s intuition: when I travel back to the U.S.A. I can do it, but like a skill I have to dig out of my brain rather than something that comes naturally. Strange, perhaps, in some ways. Perhaps not in others. I have been told it’s the spirituality of the mountain, or some spiritual fault line … who knows, all I know is how my mind works. Actually even being able to observe this about myself is a pretty fundamental paradigm shift; similarly my body. I was realising this morning on the drive into work that my shoulders felt tight, well, we did press yesterday and although they are not sore, they are tight. I probably wouldn’t have noticed this a year ago.

Tuesday night (and a decent portion of Wednesday morning; I think I left around 1:30am) was spent at my boss’ house working on this business case. For the most part I was reviewing the doc and offering comments. Due to the lack of sleep I missed the workout Wednesday and woke up early to work a section on how, specifically we would approach launching the business, and also on the flow of the document. Then, after stopping by to go over my work, I went by the office to check in briefly with the people there and then back where I wound up writing the financial analysis section. Here is where I got a taste of my own medicine where I wrote this whole section and forgot to include the most important piece of data which is the profitability of the enterprise! Well, as I said I got to spend most of my time pointing out the holes in the other part of the document so to have my ass handed back to me was really only fair, and sometimes do you do in fact miss the forest for the trees.

Speaking of insights, I experienced some road rage in the morning on the way from my place to Newlands. Then, I was eating all the fruit in sight … this is not normal; this is stress. It’s very interesting to step back and observe these things about yourself rather than just getting buffeted along with the flow of things. Well, this is what A New Earth teaches you to do, actually. I’m not so sure I even need to read the rest of the book (although I will), in terms of figuring out how to generate the awareness in terms of observing my own behaviour, ego, feelings, stress levels, etc. But speaking of stress, I wrapped up my work around 6:30 and went to get one of the interns from our office, who is going back to Denmark in a week or so. On the drive to the office I literally felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders because even though we still have a lot of work to do, delivering the business case by a deadline was important and stressful, but turned out to be key because our Swedish investor apparently considered the fact that we hit our commitment around the deadline to be extremely important.

So we went down to Hout Bay for dinner, and I at least had a fantastic time talking and getting insights from this intern into various things and people. She’s very cool because she has a much more natural gift of understanding people than I do, or at least she has discovered this capability within herself at a much younger age and therefore has had more time to practice it. But I was also surprised because we were talking about her and an area that I considered to be one of her comparative strengths was an area that she thought was a weakness. Which just goes to show, I suppose, you never know how you look through other people’s eyes!

Thursday was spent doing some planning and discussing a very exciting re-branding we are planning for early next year. Then we had a long check-in meeting about the Hub, after which I headed to the Old Mutual headquarters in Pinelands for a meeting with one of our key advisors, who gave me a ton of insight into a lot of things around FoodTents. Really being forced to take the time to step back and reflect is what is necessary, and this point was re-enforced to me by a co-worker who talked my ear off a bit after hours. In the interim, we had a presentation with the take-aways from the FoodTents workshop last week which was, in a word, FANTASTIC. Great to get everyone in the room, on the same page, with the areas we need to improve. It was all very validating of what we basically already knew, and are already working on, but validation is important, and being data-driven is important, and also there were definitely a couple of very key non-obvious insights that were made, that are very useful. Exciting stuff.

Finally, we wrapped up the Purple Heart vending business, reconciled finances, and celebrated with both a chocolate mousse cake and milk tart. And Coke. And I had a Fruit & Nut bar. So that was more sugar in one dose than I had had in a long time, but it was fun. The next morning I brought the leftover milk tart to the morning meeting, and my one co-worker thought I was trying to bribe him. I wasn’t, but I think the milk tart didn’t hurt later on when I suggested that since we were out of toilet paper in the Hub, and this was a public space, we’d better sort it out. The little things matter.

The main activity for Friday was that we had a film crew from ANDE filming us and FoodTents, so after the morning presentation which was Craig from Ubuntu Bridge teaching us some Xhosa, we headed out on an extended field trip to Cheshire Homes (which is a home for the disabled) and then to Mama Rosie’s GrowZone. That was an interesting experience about which I have really only one comment: filming is a lot less glamorous than it sounds!

Visiting Herman at Cheshire Homes is always great. On this day we met his pet porcupine. I was, however, more interested to get to talk to Mama Rosie (and buy some of her bags!). I had never really had much of a chance to assess her business skills, so I asked her a bunch of questions about her existing businesses, how she planned to sell the produce, etc. I am now also wondering, and I need to ask one of our experts about this, about the role of gender when it comes to engaging with people from different backgrounds. As I think about it, we do need more women at heart anyway: pretty much all of our people who work on the ground are men. I also learned that one of Mama Rosie’s sons died in a shack fire last year, and now she lives in the rebuilt shack and feels unsafe. No wonder. And: damn.

So this hasn’t been the best week at the gym for me, just not even matching my PRs on back squat and press. Not sure why, after a rest week. Probably because of high stress levels, and also, to be honest, too much drinking. After weeks of not really drinking anything, going back to “normal” levels is actually unacceptable to my body. Guess I am learning my lesson, time to stop drinking during the week!

Now: off to the beach for a workout. In the most hectic southeaster I have encountered yet. That means it’s windy. Seriously windy.

For those who understand, no explanation is needed.

For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.


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