Cooking Lessons


Sometimes I feel a bit like a modern-day Cassandra. Some of my ideas have definitely been ahead of their time and for others I am most definitely in the wrong market.

But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and you have to sharpen the knife to survive, right?

One of the people that I met the last few weeks before the start of the “silly season” whereby the whole country shuts down for a month (frustrating for a startup company, but also time for some much needed rest) said that there is a nearly magical element that some people have where they can look at the same set of data as others and see possibility and a plan. Others see nothing, or raw ingredients, or a zillion reasons why something won’t work.

I mostly think of myself as a chef. My two best qualities, when it comes to business at least, is that I can see things other people cannot, and I am very good at getting people to understand how I see the world.



Yeah I’m hardworking, try to be ethical, admit mistakes, course-correct, put the customer first, etc. – all that stuff is kind of table stakes if you will. Not everyone has visions of where to go. I certainly didn’t when I was younger. It’s like a muscle that gets stronger with practice.

Sadly, at least at this point in life, I’m a player not a coach. But I would do so well being the coach of a big team of good players. I’ve always fancied Bill Belichick, but one difference between him and me? He keeps his trap shut. I should be more like that.

Case in point? Out for drinks with a journalist, a vendor, and a spokesman for a mobile carrier. “I’m not going to say any more. I should really keep my mouth shut.” 2 minutes later I was saying what I thought anyway.

One of my favourite flowers

One of my favourite flowers

Anyhow: for me, tactics has always been the easy thing. Ah, we’re going there. Here’s how we go. Most people can’t see that either, but I can do that like rolling out of bed. I’ve learned from some very good people along the way, and I’ve learned from a lot of the failures of others. I observe and absorb what I think is important. If I care, at least. I’m not the best listener in the world if I don’t care.

The last few work weeks of the year brought some interesting new people into my life (it’s not every day you meet a successful entrepreneur at a dynamic spectrum conference who participates in medical rescues (aka alien abductions) of wildlife in helicopters), a reconnection with one of the guys I most respect in the industry (who within 15 minutes had told me his opinions about some things that were going on, followed immediately by a ‘and I could be fired for telling you this’ but then again he’s far too smart for his current employer anyway; damn I love that guy), a massive new opportunity that sounds too good to be true, a guy who at first I thought I might have to murder for his inability to listen but who may well wind up being a very important business partner, a bunch of fintech startups from around the world, an award from my martial arts studio followed by drinking with the boys until 3am and discovering the location of a sweatshop that I’m sure is illegal (but what do you DO??), and another mini-ambush (this time with a million dollar question attached to it that I did indeed see coming), a possibly game-changing Skype call I took from my car parked in a red zone in Rosebank, an admission of something close to love (the professional kind only, let’s be clear!) to my strategic soulmate since our relationship has now progressed to the point where oversharing is actually expected. Damn, I love that guy too.



Yeah, I just love telecoms.

This is also an exciting (or scary?) time in the world as we’re starting to see convergence between massive, previously very separate industries: telecoms, broadcasting, banking, and retail. We certainly do live in interesting times, do we not?

Early December was also a time for reflection of why I am here. One of those existential moments when it all of a sudden comes out in public just how bad the energy situation in this country is due to the actions (or lack thereof) of the state-owned power utility Eskom.

We are told we must get used to load shedding (rolling blackouts) for the next 5-10 years and we must all go buy generators. It always seemed to happen at the worst times too, like when I had a presentation due at 8am and got home at 8pm to find the power out and about 45 minutes of battery left, and one candle with about 1” of length. I finished the presentation but was unable to email it because the power was out and so was my ADSL and my 3G connection was active but no throughput because the MTN towers had been out of power for too long.

Needless to say I went out and bought candles the next day, and what I actually did was turn all the lights on and wait for the power to come back on so I could wake up and finish. Not the most fun.

Nor was MWEB making my airport into a laughing stock!

Nor was MWEB making my airport into a laughing stock!

Then two days later I’m sitting with Neelay at the Seattle Coffee on Woodmead Drive and he’s telling me that Eskom is talking about having to take measures to avoid a total blackout because if there is a blackout it would take 2-3 weeks to restore power. I am quite certain that there would be chaos (and I mean that literally, not figuratively) if there were to be power cuts for 2-3 weeks.

I have never before lived in a country where such a thing was a possibility, however remote. But live here I do.


TIA, after all

And then, amid all the end-of-year hubbub, including even a meeting with a member of the U.S. Foreign Service (who would have thought?), the realisation of the exact implications of a couple of recent court battles between the fibre guys and some municipalities. 2015 is going to be very, very interesting for those telcos with some money, vision, and guts.

I feel like the first shoe dropped in 2014 and what happens next is anyone’s clue.

Well as I was reminded a few years back: the future is none of our business.

  • “I’m baiting him.” “Just tell him he’s a ‘Steve.’” – Ellie & Neelay
  • “Every industry has some super dodgy people.” “Not like telecoms.” – Caryn & Ellie
  • “He’s a political anarchist.” “What’s the difference between that and a Marxist?” – Caryn & Ellie
  • “There’s many ways to skin a cat but you’re …. What did I say? You’re gutting a donkey or something?” – Craig
  • “Gossip is just gossip, until it’s told to you in confidence.” – Ellie
  • “I have, and have always had, total faith in you.” – Adam
  • “Just because you’re afraid of failure doesn’t mean you’re a f*cking coward.” – Jaco
  • “Are you from a movie? Cuz you just told me your house got blown up by the Bulgarian mob.” – Ellie
  • “The answer is in the text you typed.” – Stephen
  • “Geez. That’s a whole lot of unnecessary drama. He needs to relax.” – Anita
  • “What’s that?” “That’s what happened when I took Sébastien out to dinner.” – Sam & Ellie
  • “If your main source of income is the ignorance of your customers, you need to find a new line of business.” – Richie
  • “No! Make him come to Vodacom.” – Ellie
  • “You know too much.” “Pfft. I haven’t even told you the half of what I know.” – Arno & Ellie
  • “No pun intended.” “Are you sure? Cuz it really sounds like you intended that.” – Stephen & Ellie
  • “It’s getting harder and harder to explain to people what it is that I do!” – Neelay
  • “Yeah. No. We’re definitely not a Wi-Fi company.” – Ellie
  • “He’s not stupid. And by ‘not stupid’ I mean he’s really f*cking smart.” – Ellie
  • “You know we could be very dangerous together.” “Uh-huh.” – Richie & Ellie
  • “Anything in life should not be cast in stone.” – Paris
  • “Agreements are obsolete. Covenants are what we need.” – Richie
  • “Who is this Andile something? Do you know him?” ß I actually laughed out loud
  • “Oh! You come from a place where the traffic lights don’t go out every time it rains!” – Standard Bank employee
  • “So. Are you interested?” – John
  • “The system needs to balance.” – Shirfu
  • “Even when Shirfu’s not lecturing, he’s lecturing.” – Brian
  • “A leopard doesn’t change its spots.” – a wise young man
  • “I can’t swing a bat if I’m not in the room.” – Ellie
  • “It’s not a bank.” – Nick
  • “I never actually answered your question.” “You don’t have to right now.” – Ellie & Raj
  • “Don’t kid yourself, Ellie. You are doing this for the money.” – Marnus
  • “That’s the problem with the model. There’s a circular reference in the model.” – Arif
  • “I’ll have three shots of tequila. Then I can go into that meeting.” – Ellie
  • “Yes I love my job!!! Oh wait, this is my volunteer work. I love my volunteer work!” – Ellie
  • “Yeah I only do it cuz I think at this point we have a relationship that supports oversharing. #mytelecomslife” – Ellie
  • “Are you going to do the workout?” “No, I’m doing Jackie. Which is actually even worse.” – Nicole & Ellie
  • “Funny, there’s not a lot of porn.” “Did you just say, ‘Funny, there’s not a lot of porn?'” – Neelay & Ellie
  • “The minute they suck you into the power structure you become corrupted.” – Duncan
  • “That’s going to generate a lot of attention.” “Yes it will.” “So: it better work.” – Ellie & Duncan

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