Mosaic Theory


Once upon a time, there was once a company called Gowex. I called them a bunch of clowns, especially considering that whole bit about making up their finances.

Then again, as I’ve discovered in business, nothing you read in the press is true.

Heck, ask me a question and I’ll give you an answer. And because I’m me, in almost all cases, I’m not going to wilfully mislead you, because that’s not ethical nor do I want to explain myself later. But still, my truth has my spin. I’ll often tell you my bias (an approach I learned from The Economist), but still, it’s a bias.

Sometimes we don’t even know our own biases. We are, after all, very good at deluding ourselves.

But Gowex? Clowns. Gowex didn’t really know how to monetise public Wi-Fi. China Mobile quits its Wi-Fi rollout; some of the numbers from that are frankly amazing. How do you spend $2.75 billion without understanding your ROI? Well, we have similar market distortions here.

The ones I feel really badly for are all the little companies; startups and the like, which don’t really understand the game they are playing. I see them all the time; people with a software product that’s a very basic feature that someone else could code in one month; companies with no idea how to add value or be relevant in an ecosystem. All the little Wi-Fi hotspot companies from around the world that my European friends sometimes tell me about that either go bankrupt or have their parents pour cash into them to keep them afloat.

Then again, that’s business hey. Darwinism. Solve a problem, sell to customers, don’t just sit on your laurels because the market changes around you. Ignore the changing world at your peril. Especially telecoms, which changes every six months!


Home in winter

Mosaic Theory was explained to me when I was interviewing for Skyrove. I remember it quite vividly, Doug was telling me various things scattered through our Skyrove conversation, and then he asked me if I knew what mosaic theory was. I said no.

He said it’s where you are told or learn enough discreet pieces of information that you can piece together a story or insight or information even though you haven’t been told directly. He then told me that he’d just told me enough pieces to figure something out. I had, of course, already naturally put 1+1+1+1 together in my head, so he was just labelling for me the process my brain had gone through.

What he didn’t realise? What he’d just given me the info to figure out didn’t matter to me one whit. Not my game. Some people’s rags are other people’s riches, right? And the reverse.

Pretty sure that was the same conversation where he was exclaiming how every time he saw me I looked so healthy and rested. Hopefully most of the time I still do; despite all the loss of sleep and hair that came from running a company. Yeah, I had no idea what I was getting into. But it’s a hell of a lot easier the second time around.

Fast forward now two years, and I’ve been gathering little bits of info for the last 9-10 months. I surprised the heck out of Philippe, my French counterpart, when I came out with an assertion during a phone conversation and he was completely shocked by my entirely accurate inferences about discussions I was not privy to. Mosaic theory. Pay attention to the people around you that matter, make inferences, test them in small ways. I do this stuff naturally, about things I DO care about.

What do I care about? I care about my partners’ businesses. I care about the industry. I care about the war that’s going on between the big Silicon Valley global monopoly OTTs and the telecoms giants.

Let there be no mistake: there is a war. Some of what happened at that dinner is not in the press, but it scares the living daylights out of me.

Just a highveld farm

Just a highveld farm

As Neelay says, our biggest enemy is time. Maybe inertia, too, for the industry. It faced a burning platform once when voice revenues being cannibalised by data. But this is different; you can cannibalise your own revenues more easily than you can deal with death by a thousand cuts from other companies trying to leech off your infrastructure.

No, the macro war, which has been going on for years, and will continue to escalate in the next 3-5, is between the telcos and the likes of Google and Facebook. Think Time Warner, Comcast, Vodacom, or Telkom is bad? Well imagine if Google was your only choice for ISP. Walmart can’t completely kill all the small stores, but much of telecoms is a game of bigger scale. Choke the industry and kudzu will take over. If kudzu wanted to data mine everything about you, and move your personal data to offshore privacy havens.

So, my job interests me in more ways than one. It’s always useful to feel a part of something much bigger and more important than you. Let’s see if we can’t put consumers first in mobile marketing and give the telcos a way to bash back at Google and Facebook while we’re at it.

This may also be one of the reasons that some days, I wonder what I think my job actually is. Apparently entrepreneurs often spend so much time working in the business that they don’t work enough on the business. I maybe spend too much time looking at the industry globally, or locally at the whole industry from my WAPA perspective, and yes I do get stretched too thin. But, as they say, deliver real value and you’ll do ok.

So in blog time we’re now in late July/early August.  Neelay flew to Cape Town meet our team there and attend one of the City of Cape Town meetings. We had a company strategy session with lots of good coffee which was interrupted by a phone call from a telecoms mentor of sorts. Funny how you can pull strings and on the very same phone call insist you no longer care. I call bullshit.

But I’m glad that people who do care, call me.

My leaving Skyrove gift ... can you guess who it's from?

My very belated leaving Skyrove gift … can you guess who it’s from?

That, in and of itself, is another insight I had. You make something personal for me and I’ll go to the ends of the earth. I don’t mean for anger or revenge; or even to build something. I mean to save something that I think is worth saving or fix something that I think is worth fixing. If manifested wrong, this can turn into martyrdom, but I obviously try not to go there.

Neelay is such a Joburg boy (actually he’s from Pretoria) that he doesn’t know, understand, or even like Cape Town. I find this all quite hilarious. There was a funny moment when we were driving in Woodstock and he said something about this being hippie central. I then had to explain the difference between a hippie and a hipster.

Back in Joburg, where I really am feeling extremely happy and at home, I also had the pleasure in this time of meeting one of the top operating-strategy minds I’ve yet encountered. Some people are good strategists; some people are good at operations. Few are good at both. Wilfried also happens to like good food and wine, so I thoroughly enjoyed our first meeting. Well, except for poking some holes in my hero worship! But that’s ok; I can retreat back into self-delusion easily enough. Just like a turtle. Or an ostrich.

But now the real work begins. We may be in the same boat, but it’s a whole other kind of burning platform from what I’m used to.

From what any of us is used to!

World Cup also concluded around this time, which made me reflect on a couple of things. Firstly, I’ve never been a particular fan of team USA in anything. I am not sure why, maybe because we always seemed to win the medals game in the Olympics. And then there was growing up next to Canada and watching Hockey Night in Canada (the theme song still rings in my head!), and cheering for Team Canada in international hockey tournaments. I remember one time the USA beat them and all of the U.S. had become ice hockey fans in the last two weeks, and then forgot about it a month later.

Bandwagon fans. Worst insult ever.

So I’m a bandwagon fan when it comes to World Cup. Just don’t follow soccer, or really anything other than the Patriots, so it’s not so much a soccer thing as that it’s just not a big part of my life right now to spectate professional sports.

I know that for years when I lived in America I managed to ignore World Cup. But having experienced it in South Africa, and then been in Europe when the local team was playing, you get caught up in the magic. It’s called the Beautiful Game for a reason. And that reason has nothing to do with FIFA of course, ugh. Or the diving.

But the artistry of a perfectly-executed goal, and the sheer immensity of emotion on display, both from winners and losers, is extremely beautiful to me.

I was rooting for France this time around because South Africa wasn’t in it, and I’m kind of French by association. Most of the games I wound up watching in my Joburg apartment, which has DSTV that I haven’t used before or since (I really don’t watch TV), except for the one game I watched with the other commuters in Lanseria when some air traffic problem delayed all the flights in the country by about three hours and my 8pm flight didn’t leave until nearly 11.

Voila ... airport World Cup!

Voila … airport World Cup!

Just like last World Cup, it gives a nice thing to talk about with pretty much anyone you happen to bump into. The funniest thing that happened as a result of this fandom was that I got into a bit of a friendly spat with the manager at Tasha’s Morningside (he was a fan of Germany, which beat France in the semi-final). So, at an early Monday morning meeting when I was having a catch up with a guy I hadn’t seen in about 6 or 7 months the first words out of my mouth: “You! Don’t even talk to me!”

Funny what sport can do. Even to bandwagon fans!

Not just sport, actually: it’s emotional buy-in, even if it’s not that important to you.

Moral of the story? Pay attention to how you feel. And why.

  • “He told you about that??” “He told me some of it. The rest I figured out.” – Philippe & Ellie
  • “I want to be a teenager in private, and an adult in public.” “That might work.” – Ellie & Sam
  • “I’m not sure they know what they were doing.” – Steve
  • “Wait. What? They sold you the whole thing?” – Steve
  • “You’re only allergic in South Africa.” “Shut up, Neelay. I’m allergic in France, too!” – Ellie
  • “Good luck raising R2 billion.” – Ben
  • “I think, to launch a new company, people don’t take you seriously if you’re not based in Joburg.” – Neelay
  • “Well that’s clearly not entirely true or you wouldn’t be bothering to call me right now.” – Ellie
  • “I’m afraid this is going to be the new normal.” “Me too. But God I hope not!” – Ant & Ellie
  • “I’ve got a problem. I’m like addicted.” – Doug
  • “He’s not impressed. But I’m like F-you!” – Doug
  • “I’m so glad I live in Johannesburg where there’s constant pollution and smog all the time, but you don’t smell fish!” – Neelay
  • “Here’s a general rule for life. Don’t be a jerk!” – Alon
  • “Let me rephrase that. I will never, EVER again do business with people who don’t fully back me.” – Alon (love this guy  – he was almost right)
  • “I don’t even know. I didn’t even read it. It was insulting.” – Ellie
  • “I’ll send it to you. Cuz I can’t Tweet it to you.” – Ellie
  • “Since I work with –, I’m sure he’s more than unreasonable.” – Philippe
  • “Oh. That’s true. This is Vodacom.” “Exactly.” – Ellie & Clive
  • “Team Telco’s losing, because it doesn’t understand it’s in the game.” – Ellie
  • “There is clearly a war.” – Wilfried
  • “We may be busy but never too busy to make sure we’re going the right direction!” – Ellie
  • “We’re supposed to have an update with that idiot on Monday.” “Which one?” – Paul & Wendy
  • “I guess the answer is yes.” – Ellie
  • “They clearly don’t know who they’re not responding to.” – Ant
  • “They’re bankrupt. How expensive could they be?” “The cost of the debt.” “Good point.” – a few telco nerds
  • “Just start.” – Wilfried
  • “How can he be a Marxist?!?!” – Ellie
  • “We’re in the same boat.” – Wilfried
  • “What is this? This is a joke!” “No! This is Cybersmart!” – Josh & Ellie
  • “The oke at Lincoln Pie doesn’t want a 25Mbps fibre.” – Paul
  • “The easiest way to take a radio out is a rifle.” – Paul
  • “I love it. You’re so calm. I can be kind of high strung. And then you’re just like: ‘Why don’t you just do a layer 2 tunnel?’” – Ellie
  • “Wow. You really do know the right people.” – Donovan
  • “People who challenge you on real stuff. Not on bullshit.” “Amen.” – Katlego & Ellie
  • “I agree this is a good game to play!” – Philippe
  • “Does the winter ever end?” – Ellie
  • “But they throttled everything else, too. Which they didn’t mean to.” – David

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