Only about six weeks later do I manage to post this …. I’ve been a bit busy.
For the next few years at least, August and my birthday is probably going to be more important to me for a reason other than the anniversary of my birth: the anniversary of my arrival in telecoms.
I remember that first August before I started at Skyrove, sitting in The Grand in Camps Bay reading a Tom’s Hardware article explaining how Wi-Fi worked. I think it took me about three hours. Now I could skim the same thing in 15 minutes, and probably tell you the areas where it over-simplified for expediency.
I remember not knowing what backhaul meant really, or the difference between bandwidth and capacity or licensed/license-exempt spectrum, or the difference between designing for coverage, capacity, or location-based services.
I remember when I thought a ruckus was a disturbance, when I didn’t understand why a mobile carrier would want to engage in something called ‘offload,’ what NFR kit was, and when I thought ‘presence analytics’ was the coolest thing since sliced bread.
I remember sitting in meetings one of the Skyrove investors had arranged, trying to figure out what on God’s green earth I could offer these big companies with my little company in a commodity space that they couldn’t do themselves.
Well, times have changed. Best thing pre-birthday was walking onto the campus of a pretty big telco, bump into the CCO by accident and have him rattle off questions about the status of 2-3 different projects; then in our meeting, realise exactly the extent to which the guy I think of as my strategic soulmate (we’re the same age, see the market the same way, agree on what strategies make sense in this industry, are both ‘company men’ [strange that the term is not gender-neutral but it is not!], get along quite well personally, and idolise the same archetype) has understood our value prop enough to sell it internally. A quote like “I never understood how you could make money off of Wi-Fi until he explained it to me” is case-in-point.
The best post-birthday thing? Word that a competitor of mine was in the cross-hairs of one of my allies.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Maybe. Well, it’s even better when your friends all openly admit to having the same [mostly friendly] rivalries. Not all rivalries are friendly though because not everyone plays fair or open cards.
So this one is the good guys vs the other guys. Or so we say at least.
This is so much fun. Once I figured it out at least.
Another thing I realised, that I was telling Adam recently, is that I was thinking inside the box at Skyrove even though I didn’t realise it. I was anchored by the current Skyrove customers’ pricing sensitivity. Just add a zero or two to the proposals you put out and it will change your mindset. That’s just one example.
A birthday is always a great time to reflect on the last year. In this year, I would like to thank the following people for what they have taught me or otherwise just been there when I really needed them (in alphabetical order because how else?):
- Anita, for teaching me the practical details of accrual accounting and helping me navigate the ins & outs of SARS, and for noticing the little things I tried to do as a leader that 95% of people never notice
- Blake, aka the Wizard of Oz, for just being himself, because he’s one of my favourites
- Cedric, for giving me advice on everything from strategy to managing my board, for sharing his years of context and experience; also for one of the funniest moments of 2013 (trying to drink wine in China… )
- Jens, for just assuming I knew about rain attenuation and what normally happened in the 60Ghz range, having my back 110% of the way, and for introducing me to the best technical partner I could ask for
- Kate, for being there to support me through my breakup and tell me just what I needed to hear
- Lara, for being an epic Regionals training partner, and remaining one of the sweetest, most grounded lovely people I know
- Neelay, for not moving my car, being good at what he does, opening up lots of doors, making me laugh, and just generally making me feel supported and happy to do what I do
- Rob, for giving me Tristan & Megan, and a whole new appreciation for why sleep deprivation is a bad thing
- Rudolph, for pulling off ICCAT even though it surely took months off both of our lives, for giving me some perspective at a time when I really needed it, and for raising the bar on what it means to really care about your team
- Sam, for always being there with therapy in the form of Chenin Blanc, for raising my profile, and for letting me vent openly about all my various telecoms dramas and keeping them all secret no matter how good the story
- Sébastien, for not only respecting me but trusting me even when he barely knew me, for giving me something to aspire to, and for helping set my new company on a good path
- Tristan & Megan, for showing me that everything I thought I knew about analytics and decision-making was … incorrect, and making me see the world in a whole new way as a result
- Mom & Dad (last but not least) for coming all the way to France to see me, and giving me all the support I could ever ask (and more that I didn’t) during a pretty rough time in my life
What’s the general theme? People were there for me when I needed them. And I needed them a lot in the last year. It was an emotional rollercoaster, from the high of partnering with Orange to the fear of nearly losing ICCAT which would have been a disaster of note to the shoulder injury to the bullying by Boingo to leaving Skyrove to partnering with Nomosphere to falling in love with telecoms policy work through WAPA to moving to Joburg to scraping my ego off the floor at Regionals to Paris to where I sit now.
I alluded to it above but one thing I absolutely hate in life is the feeling of exhaustion. I can take being physically tired and pushing on, I do CrossFit for heavens’ sake. But when your brain isn’t working because you’re so tired and you feel mildly ill from exhaustion? Not fun.
I think a lot of people go about in a state where this is normal for them. I just cannot imagine. Oh, wait, I can. It was my old life, where I used to nearly fall asleep while driving (!). I once actually did, and woke up seconds before driving off the road, all of 200m from my house.
The worst is when the brain shuts off, and you can feel it doing so. The end of last year (between Africacom and summer break) was dreadful. I’m not sure why; I think stress had reached a high point. I was making bad decisions.
I can also pretty safely say it was my first year being comfortable as an executive. I’m very happy with the way that I’ve learned how to look at all the angles of a negotiation, because most are not zero-sum games.
I’ve learned how to analyse a value chain enough to be able to explain competently how our company fits in, and set us up in such a way as to reduce channel conflict.
Wiser in some ways, I suppose. It is breathtaking how much has happened in a year.
What else did I do my birthday week? Had lunch with a journalist, met a few guys trying to help the banking industry innovate, met with an ICT policy panel at the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, flew to Cape Town, spent some quality time with the great folks at Ellipsis on two consecutive days, and had a little …. Wine tour aka CEO therapy session with my fantastic friend Riaan.
The latter bit was quite probably one of my favourite days of the year: driving through wine country in early spring in his convertible, and talking about how we both plan to take over the world. Oddly enough, it’s the same generic strategy but two very different tactical approaches. For both of us, the next 18 months will be telling, I’d say.
It’s hard to explain just exactly how beautiful the Stellenbosch countryside is in early spring. It just doesn’t come out in the photos, any more than the rugged beauty of a New England autumn where half the magic is the feel and smell of the air.
Warm sun after a long winter = priceless.
- “This weight is getting heavy. Oh, sh*t. That is a lot of brownies.” – Ellie
- “Yeah but that’s not really possible, is it? Because in this industry everyone talks to each other.” – Russell
- “What do you mean they didn’t know they had to connect the cross-connect? What did they think it was for? Decoration?” – Ellie
- “Is that your boyfriend?” “No. That’s my work.” – Gavin & Ellie (my work husband actually, making me laugh, as always!)
- “Your passion for the telecoms space is infectious!” – David
- “You’d be scratching just to keep the lights on. I’d rather shoot the lights out.” – Ellie
- “This should be interesting for me because it’s the first one. Can only say that once.” – Ellie
- “Yeah. No. Telecoms is not a game for people who don’t know how to play it.” – Ellie
- “If you under-deliver on even one campaign, you’re toast.” – Dave
- “You think he’s happy? He’s smiling a lot!” – Donovan
- “If I didn’t drink coffee or alcohol I’d be a lot healthier.” “You’d also be a lot less connected.” – Ellie & Enrico
- “It’s a burning platform that’s burning very slowly. But the whole damn thing is burning!” – Ellie
- “Monday is my two year anniversary in telecoms.” “My. How far you’ve come.” – Ellie & Dominic
- “I ordered fish. And I got a bowl of fish guts and sauce.” – Riaan
- “He said to me in Afrikaans: ‘When people behave like this it’s because they do it themselves.’” – Riaan (funny how all three of us thought the same thing … great minds!)
- “I’m building a sensory deprivation chamber.” “… Because … that’s what you do in your spare time?” – Riaan & Ellie
- “Don’t kill us! —- will kill you!” “My shareholders would kill me!” – Ellie & Riaan
- “DD has asked MWEB what is their business case for Wi-Fi.” – Hein (at this point, Neelay and I did the boardroom version of burst out laughing at the irony)
- “How original is that?” “Unoriginal enough that I guessed it.” – Neelay & Ellie
- “He says its ours to lose.” – Neelay