“The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.” — Lou Holtz
In the weeks after I left Skyrove, I had a few tentative job offers and several overt approaches to form joint ventures or allow someone to buy into my new company. I was more surprised by this than I perhaps should have been, but I was nonetheless surprised.
In the end, I chose to partner up with a French operator, and if you haven’t already since I’m way behind at this blog you can read about the launch here.
There were many reasons for this choice, some strategic, some tactical but the overriding one from my perspective?
Support. These guys understand me when I speak, agree with my reading of situations, point out my blind spots, and trust me.
They also happen to have a fantastic track record. It’s quite funny now looking back on it all; how I met their local country manager only in October. He told me later when he first met me and I told him my visions for Skyrove he almost immediately thought ‘we might buy this company.’
Didn’t turn out that way, obviously, but we get to partner up and start fresh from any baggage from the past. One of the big, big problems I always had at Skyrove is that it had a consumer brand. This never really worked for my strategy, which was to focus on venues and partnering with big operators. You can’t really partner with a big operator if they either don’t respect you or consider you a threat. Well, I guess there are exceptions to every rule, ha!
It is difficult to describe how important trust and respect are between partner companies, peers, and also CEOs and shareholders. Of all the things I have learned in the last 20 or so months, that is one of the most key lessons. I will never take on an investor for his or her money alone. Entrepreneurs need to realise that they must interview their investors the same as investors interview them!
Ask what happens if they disagree with the company management. Ask other portfolio companies about the level of expected interaction, and whether the board can act as strategic sounding boards. Does the investor have industry experience?
Remember there is an opportunity cost to everything. The guy to whom you give 20% means you can’t give that same 20% to another investor. So choose carefully.
The stakes are higher, always, when the board or shareholders has the ability to replace the CEO. As my mobile carrier exec friend for whom I have a great deal of both respect and affection, once told me: if you want to buy a company you don’t talk to the CEO. You talk to the shareholders.
Loyalty and trust. That really is everything isn’t it?
Deeds speak louder than words, and what is said behind your back speaks louder than what is said to your face. Don’t think the compliments don’t get repeated just as often as the backstabbing and the harsh words.
It irks me to no end when my initial first impressions turn out to be false. I have a few stunning examples of this: people in my career that I thought would be great to work with who turned out to be nightmares. People I thought I could trust who I could not. People who said all the right things and then did something else.
People who told me I could trust them and made me doubt the trustworthiness of others whom I should have trusted more, earlier.
It’s like the saying: ‘Karma’s only a bitch if you are.’
You don’t get someone to trust and respect you by ordering them to. You do it by listening to them, explaining your point of view, and changing your mind if necessary, and holding the course, if necessary.
Anita explained this to me recently; without realising I had taught her, and maybe others, always to look for the hidden agenda. Consider the source.
It just sucks when your judgment is wrong, and you get burned.
Then again, with sport and life, you do not get better by playing it safe or having everything always be easy. I can only hope to be better at selecting the people who are actually grownups, as opposed to the ones that I fool myself into believing are grownups, despite evidence to the contrary.
Shirfu says we must detach, for our own mental health. Sure, we know this. But just like getting enough sleep, and exercise, and eating properly, what we should do and what we want to do are not necessarily the same thing.
It feels really good to get all excited by wins, and down by losses (yes, this feels good too!), and to get indignant with righteous indignation for things like not honouring written contracts.
Or, you know, lying to your face about the thinking behind certain things.
So. Now I have partners and stakeholders in my business. I remember one time telling some folks the differences between doing business with the French and, say, the Americans. Each business culture is different: South African, Egyptian, English, French, American, Japanese. Some are more relationship-oriented than others, but in the end all business relies on trust and understanding. The further apart the language and the culture, the harder it is to get understanding.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately. Back when I was barely out of my teens, and working for Ask Jeeves International, I really had a dream job. I got to travel the world and work with different cultures to accomplish similar, but different, shared aims. The guys at AJI had structured things smartly for lots of reasons, by having joint ventures, so I got to understand the benefits and drawbacks of local control vs global brand consistency.
But mainly I loved working across cultures. To go back, after that, to the U.S.-only mindset that occupies most American companies, and certainly my next two employers, was actually quite difficult for me.
So in a way it’s perhaps not terribly surprising that I find myself living in South Africa, having established a partnership with a French company.
Next step is to learn French.
Shouldn’t be that hard; I did learn telecoms after all and some people are in for years and don’t get it. Although, as I was told in that same breath as ‘don’t talk to the CEO, talk to the shareholders’ that people not in the industry don’t stand a chance of understanding it, because it’s always changing. Now faster than ever, with the game-changer that is OTT.
And then we have net neutrality. I participated on behalf of WAPA in an ISPA (this is the Internet Service Providers Association), on the subject of net neutrality, which actually turned into a broader discussion on peering, caching, and zero-rating.
Nerdy stuff, sure, but for me the interesting insights that everyone can understand is that all internet traffic is inherently prioritised; a technical fact we mostly ignore when thinking about net neutrality subjects. But important nonetheless, for context.
The second thing is that zero-rating (which means that consuming certain content is free to the end user) is, in my opinion, going to be the key battleground for Africa. Without explaining why, I’ll urge those of you who care to think about it for yourselves.
One other thing happened this week. I got sick. Sore throat and bodyaches, and it was annoying because it kept me from my training addiction and made me crave weird food. Like veggie burgers. Seriously, WTF body?
- “Agility trumps scale.” – Harvard Business Review
- “’Core network’ is like ‘backhaul.’ It means whatever you want it to mean.” – Ellie
- “Yeah, but then you’d kill Telkom.” “Welcome to politics.” – Ellie & Mark
- “That’s a little bit dangerous because all traffic is inherently prioritised.” – Ant
- “How’s your mole? Is it a good mole?” “I don’t know. It’s not my mole.” – Paul & Ellie
- “For obvious reasons, don’t move your arms.” – Yolande
- “My phone’s been ringing off the hook.” – Neelay
- “So you head a French overseas company. So funny and nice for you. Next step is to choose Orange as internet provider.” – Cedric
- “It took them, what? 5 minutes to respond to your email? Ah. 13 minutes.” – Ellie
- “You must not let fate control your destiny.” – Shirfu
- “Who’s going to do it?” “Well. That’s the million dollar question.” – Ellie & Sybrand
- “Baie geluk!” – Handre
- “Sometimes people don’t listen to me. They do eventually.” – Ellie
- “I mean, really: what part of this is not personal?” – Lara
- “Ugg, I must be sick. I want the veggie burger.” – Ellie
- “That’s not small, is it?” – Sarah