Traditional media is dead. Long live traditional media

In a world where we see, on a daily basis, traditional print publications shutting down, media houses are seeing the value of Internet based news sites. In today’s day & age, we live in such a fast paced world, that all too often traditional print publications are only reporting on the stories all too late.

Enter the panel at Tech4Africa, aptly entitled “Traditional media is dead. Long live traditional media”. The panel will be looking at how Africa is following the rest of the world, and how African media is affected by the declining worldwide trend of traditional media.

The panel consists of some of the most respected online news editors & publishers in Africa. Matthew Buckland, who recently left 24.com to start up an African Internet news site: Memeburn, will share his views on how the industry is fast-changing. Also adding his knowledge & experience to the panel is Chris Roper. Chris, who has worked for numerous print & online publications throughout his career,  now heads up the Mail & Guardian news site, will give us insight into how the African online landscape is fast playing catch-up with the rest of the world.
Joining the panel, also from Mail & Guardian, is the current head of technology, Jason Norwood-Young. Jason has been an IT Journalist & Editor for the last 10 years and has been published in numerous publications around South Africa. Finally, Head of Digital for AVUSA Media group Elan Lohmann, will also share his extensive experience of the Digital media world having worked in the online industry for numerous years and companies. Having recently launched the Sowentan live news site, Elan will undoubtedly share his wealth of knowledge with the rest of the  panel.

With only 3 weeks left before Tech4Africa kicks off at the Forum in Johannesburg, time is running out to get registered. Our Early Bird tickets have sold out, but don’t let that stop you from securing your seat. You can register & pay for your spot on the Tech4Africa site.

Talking business at Tech4Africa

Building a tech business based in Africa for the overseas market is not as easy as it may seem, but it can be and is being done.

The more pertinent question though is: is it being done correctly? All too often we hear of new ventures, which have a fantastic concept & idea starting up, only to fail a few months down the line. The main reason being… “No business skills”. Business skills contribute to a huge portion of your businesses success, and it needs to be done correctly from the very beginning.

At Tech4Africa we will be hosting some of the top business leaders in the South African startup space, who will be sharing the stage in 2 panels talking about how to ensure your startup is managed perfectly from the outset.

In the first panel, entitled “Are we fundable”, the panelists will be looking at how you need to ensure that you are being realistic about the product you are building and making sure that out there, there actually is someone wanting to invest in you and your idea. Included in the panel are Andrea Böhmert, who serves on numerous management boards of IT companies in the Western Cape. Also joining Andrea, is Director of DNA Economics, a specialist economics consultancy, Gareth Ochse. The Industrial Development Corporation’s (IDC) Peter Van Der Zee is also seated on the panel. Having invested over R220m in 18 early stage companies in South Africa, Peter will bring a wealth of business knowledge to the table. TED Fellow and African Blogger, Nii Simmonds, will also share his views from an African perspective. Nii, who is an accomplished speaker, also serves on a number boards of startups around Africa. Finally, joining the panel is Invenfin CEO & innovation capitalist Brett Commaille. Brett comes from a fascinating background in investing in new companies, and is sure to share his wealth of knowledge with the rest of the  panel.

Later in the day, our second business focused panel, entitled “Building for the global market. Lessons and learnings from the coalface” will share insights & experience from entrepreneurs who have built startups from the ground in Africa, for the overseas market.
Sheraan Amod from the popular Personera, a company who produces personalised calenders from your pictures on Facebook, will give us his thoughts on how his company has quickly gained international success. Malcolm Hall from Cape Town Software development house, Open Box Software, will lend his expertise and experience of managing various IT consultancy teams around the world. Last but certainly not least the panel is completed with Leila Janah, the Founder and CEO of Samasource, a social business that connects over 800 women, youth, and refugees living in poverty to digital work. Leila has done some amazing work with Samasource, and will share her wealth of knowledge with the delegates at Tech4Africa

These are just some of the successful entrepreneurs who will be joining us at Tech4Africa. Be sure to register for your seat as places are running out fast. Our Early Bird tickets have all been already snapped up, and workshop early bird tickets are nearly sold out too. Miss it, and you miss out!

4 new speakers added to the lineup

With less than a month away to the start of Tech4Africa, we are pleased to announce 4 additional speakers to our already impressive lineup.

First up is the current President of Computer Society South Africa, Adrian Schofield. Adrian has held numerous titles in the digital world in South Africa, and will share his expertise and insights as the Master of Ceremonies for the duration of the conference.

Joining the already powerful line-up of panelists on the “Are we fundable?” panel, Invenfin Venture Capital CEO, Brett Commaille, brings a wealth of venture capital and startup investing knowledge to the table. Brett, who advises on the board of several start-ups in South Africa will share the ins-and-outs with prospective entrepreneurs and help them achive their ultimate goals.

Managing Director of one of Tech4Africa’s foundation partners, Internet Solutions, Dereck Wilcocks, will also be sharing his thoughts during the opening remarks discussion on the first day. Dereck has been part of the IS family almost since day dot, and will share why Internet Solutions, is so excited to be part of the Tech4Africa family.

Last and certainly not least , Wesley Lynch from Cape Town based web agency, realmdigital, will be sharing his mobile knowledge with other the other panelists on the “All you need to know about the mobile market” panel. The panel will be taking a look at how the mobile industry is changing daily and how we can overcome the sometime tricky challenges we are faced with.

For the full bios of these and all the other speakers at Tech4Africa, be sure to check out our speakers page.

Naked CEO: Where we are with Tech4Africa

Please note that I’m writing this in the spirit of the “naked CEO” theme 😉

About 8 weeks ago I sat down to write a blog post entitled “Why do Tech4Africa?”, primarily dealing with the negative sentiment around the lack of “diversity” in the speakers and my frustrations with what I consider a limiting and naïve point of view. After re-reading it a few times, I decided not to post it, even after 4 hours of writing until 2am on a Sunday morning.

Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed both how much positive feedback there has been, by how positive our partner discussions have been, how willing people have been to help, and by how great the team is that we’ve assembled to make it all happen. Writing something that was in response to a small part of the overall discussion felt lame and defensive, so I didn’t.

So this blog post is about why, where we are, and where we’re going.

So, why are we doing TECH4AFRICA?

A lot of people have asked why do TECH4AFRICA, so here it is:
Africans are natural innovators and entrepreneurs, and I think that gradually the conditions are aligning to create an environment where a combination of access to cheap bandwidth on cheaper hardware, and readily available commodity infrastructure, is going to spark the innovation that will create products for large local and global markets.

My thinking is that Africans can compete by being innovative and creating products that are either global in scale, or that solve problems for large local markets (note that I said a “large local market”, not just “local market”).

So after 4 years of trying to get it off the ground, where the reasons have changed depending on where I was as a person, I think it boils down to anger and pride.

Anger at how far Africa is behind the US and Europe (wrt technology of course, I’m not commenting on anything else) in a 200+ million people market full of frontier opportunity, and why the tipping point seems so far away.

Pride because I can see the potential in the people I speak to, the products I’ve looked at, the interns I’ve hired and the honest intent I’ve witnessed.

So, we want TECH4AFRICA to help precipitate that innovation, give people the global perspective, awareness, skills and knowledge needed to execute their ideas, and the connections to make things happen. We want to light a spark, to let the world know that Africans can build great products.

I would derive great personal satisfaction from knowing that two engineers, a UX person and an angel met at TECH4AFRICA in 2010, and they went on to build the next 37Signals, Amazon, CraigsList, DropBox, eBay, FreshBooks, Gumtree, Jobserve, MailChimp, Mimecast, Moo, MyDeco, MyHeritage, PayPal, Salesforce.com, Skype, SongKick, Thawte, Twitter, Wonga, WordPress or any of the current Top 10 iPhone and Android apps.

The jury is still out on a lot of current local innovation, but we’re hopeful that in the future they will be shining lights of what we can be done.
That said, the conference is not about technology for sustainable development, technology outsourcing or BPO, but it is about driving innovation on the web and mobile in Africa.

We’re bringing out international speakers so that delegates can learn from the best in the business

The hardest part of doing a conference like this for the first time is that you have to “ham and egg it”. As well as dealing with cashflow limitations until there is enough partner participation to make cashflow less of a problem, you have to get great speakers lined up so that delegates and partners take you seriously. I’m happy to say we’ve done that.

I’m extremely proud of the speakers we’ve got coming to Africa (many for the first time), because they are amongst the best in the world at what they do.
I’m really confident that anyone attending TECH4AFRICA is going to walk away better off, simply because we don’t get access to these kinds of people, thinking and experience in Africa. So I would encourage anyone attending to be like a sponge, and soak up as much as possible.

Take a peek at our international speakers.

We’ve got great local speakers too

The above notwithstanding, we’ve also got great African speakers that really do give inspiration for where technology in Africa is going.
It’s been incredibly tough finding good people who understand what we’re trying to do, as well as finding speakers who have demonstrable real world experience and success behind them. I think that we’ve struck a good balance and that our speaker lineup reflects that.
Bottom line is that for the first time in Africa, we’ve got around 70 speakers talking about cloud, infrastructure, mobile, web 2.0, social media, search, funding and startups, so there is going to be a lot of great content for delegates.

Take a peek at our local speakers.

We’re actively going after the outrage

Jason Fried asks “where is the outrage”, and I agree with him mostly, so in this regard we’re actively trying to stir the pot a little, to ruffle some feathers and get some real conversation going.

I’m a firm believer in great debate, so the conference is an attempt to bring global perspective to a small market (active users, revenue; not people) which I think for the most part lives in an arrogantly myopic bubble, lacking the fundamental skills and experience necessary to build great products. And that’s aside from government and large institutions that seem blissfully unawares of how far behind they are falling.

For me, that perspective is found with people who have real global experience and thinking, and also from people that aren’t necessarily blogging and tweeting about it, but are actually doing it.

So we’re trying to get to the bottom of some important issues, not pat everyone on the back and say “well done”, where we’re still left in the same boat we were in yesterday. We want to shake up the status quo, ask the tough questions, shine lights to show the way, and join the dots for people.

We’re stepping away from the circle jerk

I’ve had many people mention the familiar (South) African circle jerk of the same speakers at every tech conference, so we’re actively trying to avoid that and find speakers who are able to get to the real brass tacks of the issues we face at the bottom end of a dark continent, without pulling punches.

Again, often the people that are doing stuff worth talking about are not on Twitter and are not blogging, so we don’t know about them on the social web, but they are around and we’re doing our best to find them so delegates can learn from them.

We want our audience to derive real value from the event, so the combination of great speakers, going after the outrage, and stepping away from the circle jerk should go a long way to create that value.

Take a peek at our schedule.

We’re creating inspiration and momentum for the doers

A week or two ago we announced that SeedCamp will be at Tech4Africa this year.

The reason I’m so happy about this is that there is a very clear disconnect in the venture funding lifecycle in Africa. It should be something like: start -> friends & family -> seed -> angel -> Series A VC -> Series B etc VC; but there seems to be a disconnect at the seed / angel / Series A VC phases. At the same time, the costs involved in taking products to the global market are almost inaccessbile for bootstrappers or organic growth, and the local market is not big enough to use cashflow from that to go overseas and be aggressive. The result of which is that it’s much, much harder to be inspired, create momentum, build and bootstrap a product to a point where VC’s can step in and help scale.

SeedCamp addresses this issue, has done so successfully in Europe, and I’m hoping will be a step in the right direction for innovators in Africa.

Find out more about SeedCamp.

We’re creating opportunities for people that should be there

This week we announced that through Old Mutual, we’re able to offer 17 seats to people that could otherwise not afford to go, which is fantastic.
Of course, we’d love to make the conference free for everyone but that’s not realistic, so this kind of opportunity really does level the playing field somewhat.
I’m hoping that next year we can add another 13 spots, and get formal mentorships going for all 30 folks.

Find out more about the Old Mutual Scholarships.

We’re modelling TECH4AFRICA on SxSW

I’ve had the good fortune to go to SxSW 3 times since 2006. I can categorically say that it really did change things for me at that stage of my life, and I can point directly to lifechanging events and thinking that was precipitated by SxSW.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences in the last 10 years, and the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most are Future of Web Apps (FOWA), and SxSW. They were enjoyable because they were relaxed, informal, the speakers were accessible (I can remember having a great discussion with Evan Williams about start-ups, when he still had a ponytail and was doing Odeo), had great content, and I met great people. The best conversations were in the hall, and at the parties.

The conferences I didn’t enjoy either had too many exhibitors, too little content, too many suits and ties, the speakers were aloof and there were not enough opportunities to meet people.

So that’s why we’ve chosen the format we have for TECH4AFRICA. We’re implementing a “no ties” policy. We’re encouraging speakers to mix and interact with delegates. We’re creating spaces where people can meet each other to talk about stuff. We’re making sure there is 15 mins at the end of a talk / panel, for delegates to ask the questions relevant to them.

Next year we’ll open up a panel picker for people to offer their own topics which other folks can vote on, and we’ll look at adding another day if it makes sense.
I’ve grown up a little more

I’m as frustrated as the next person by the lack of “diversity” candidates when looking for speakers that can sit down with globally recognised individuals and talk turkey with them (people who “have already done”, not “busy launching” or “talking on twitter”).

But I’m also fundamentally against the idea of adding people to the lineup that are simply not at the same level for whatever reason. Can you imagine what it would feel like to sit down and talk with speakers who really have cut the mustard, and realise that you’ve got absolutely nothing to add to the conversation when the microphone is passed to you?

As an inherently positive person who generally sees the good in things before the bad, I was quite taken aback at how critical or arrogant some people were with little or no real background information to inform their criticism or comments, about the above, and other issues.

But right now I’m not letting it bother me – we’re doing our level best to address all obvious concerns one might encounter when setting up a tech conference in Africa – and that’s going to have to be enough.

We’ve put together a great team to make it all happen

We’re on top of the enormity of a conference this size, with so many speakers (circa 65) and minute logistical details to attend to, and it’s only through the team that we have involved that it’s all coming together quite nicely.

Added to that, the partners that have come on board (which will be announced over the coming weeks) really have displayed a commitment to an African renaissance built on the knowledge economy, and after almost 9 years in London waiting for things to align, it’s exciting.

Thank you Bakhona, Brett, Brondie, Craig, Chrissy, Dorothy, Eve, Gerritt, Gugu, Ian, Justin, Neli, Nicolas, Sphamandla, Stephen, Tania and Thando, it really wouldn’t happen without you all 😉

I can’t wait for August 10th!

Global experts to share knowledge at Tech4Africa workshops

Some of the world’s leading minds in the fields of technology architecture, user-interface and product development will be sharing their experience and skills in four full-day workshops ahead of the Tech4Africa conference, on the 10th and 11th of August.

The professionals in charge of the workshops have extensive experience of working on products or systems that enable them to compete globally. These intensive workshops therefore aim to impart practical skills that the delegates can apply in their own products and projects.

* Andy Budd, will be presenting ‘A masterclass in Usability and Accessibility’ to help delegates understand the requirements in planning, organising and moderating usability tests. As MD and User Experience Director of UK-based ClearLeft web design agency, Andy is a regular speaker at international design events such as SXSW, has helped judge several international design awards, is on the advisory board for .Net magazine, and is the author of the best selling book, CSS Mastery.

* Jonathan Snook and John Resig, will be leading the workshop on architecting applications for the web. The former is a widely-recognised expert in his field, He is currently working at Yahoo! as a front-end engineer on the company’s web interface. The latter is a JavaScript Tool Developer for the Mozilla and the creator and lead developer of the jQuery JavaScript library.
They will be sharing their knowledge on best practices for developing applications and how to do so while letting developers work faster and with greater agility without sacrificing robustness or security.

* Erin Caton, a Senior Engineering Project Manager at Apple, will be presenting a strategic look at the digital project implementation lifecycle. The focus will be on acquiring project management skills and methodologies, effective use of different software and platforms and client and development team communications and management.

* Sarah Blake, head of optimisation at Quirk eMarketing, a local Internet marketing consultancy, will be dissecting the proper and effective use of Google Analytics and how to gain maximum benefit from this service.

Delegates can expect to gain essential knowledge that they can apply in their own environment, and that the workshops are designed not only for developers, but also for business users who wish to improve their knowledge.

Registration for each workshop is now open. Be quick! Don’t miss the discounted tickets for early birds, or get R500 off if you buy a conference and workshop ticket together.

Cloud Computing in Africa

A few years ago large companies were faced with the dilemma of having to upgrade servers and mainframes and ensure their online businesses didn’t collapse as demand rose. This would often lead to increased expenditure, and downtime to existing platforms. Today, as the web grows, online businesses are starting to  worry less and less about this with the concept of “Cloud Computing”.

The concept of “Cloud Computing” is a relatively new one in African terms, and at Tech4Africa, we will share our insights with a couple of experts who will be taking a look at how you can ensure that your business and online presence is “always on” and available.

First up, ex Digg Lead architect, Joe Stump, will take show us that scaling in any online business is crucial to it’s success, in his talk titled “Every Cloud has a Silver lining. Scaling to infinity and beyond”.
Joe, who now holds the title of CTO at SimpleGeo, a web based GIS data provider, will take us through the process of scaling your servers to ensure minimal downtime, and ensuring your business has robust & scalable infrastructure in place.

Also taking a look at cloud computing from an African perspective is Fred Baumhardt from Microsoft South Africa. His talk, “A contrarian view to cloud computing and virtualisation”, takes a reality check and looks at the issues of the African relevance of the virtualisation and cloud computing phenomenon currently sweeping the world. He will offer advice on how businesses can take advantage of these relatively new solutions.

South African tech journalist and host of the popular ZA Tech Show podcast, Simon Dingle, will also chair a panel of local & international experts on the topic, in a panel discussion called “Is Cloud Computing Relevant?”. The panel will discuss how “The Cloud” is relevant to businesses as well as the average consumer in Africa. The discussion will also focus on what mistakes to avoid when taking the plunge into “Cloud Computing

If your company needs to start implementing these solutions,be sure to register for Tech4Africa now. Places are running out, so be sure to register soon.

eMarketing for your business

Fact: Your brand is key to any successful online business.

Your brand is often associated with the product before the person, and making your brand stand out is of utmost importance in the race to be number one on the web. But how do you do this cost effectively yet with the best results ?

One of the must-attend talks at Tech4Africa will show you how to do this. Titled “Brand Building Online”, Super Digital Ninja, Alex Hunter will show you the key to ensuring your business gets ahead and stays ahead of the pack. Hunter, who previously served as the global Head of Online marketing at The Virgin Group, takes us through his experiencing in taking Virgin America to one of the top brands in the Unites States. He now serves as a brand consultant and micro-venture capital investor to numerous companies around the world, and will be sure to share his do’s and dont’s in the world of online marketing and branding.

Later in the day a panel of South African digital marketing guru’s will be sharing the stage to chat about “Search and the Enterprise”. Panelists will share how to ensure your business is number in the search stakes. The panel includes top online marketing agency, Quirk eMarketing CEO Rob Stokes, as well as Tom Van den Berckt from Cape Town based Clicks2Customers. Completing the panel is Pete Brooke-Sumner who gained a local insight while setting up the local Google office, and now runs the Cape Town office of The Media Image.

South Africa’s marketing maven, Walter Pike, will also share his expertise in a panel discussion “There’s an elephant in the room. Embracing the new, social web”, which takes place earlier in the day on the 13th.

Tech4Africa will also host a full day workshop focused on eMarketing, The workshop, titled “Google University” will be facilitated by Sarah Blake from Quirk eMarketing will show delegates the wonderful world of Google Analytics and Google Adwords. Sarah will take you through how to optimise these tools to gain the best return for your business.

With a lineup like this, you will be sure to walk away from Tech4Africa knowing your online marketing skills will be fully enriched.

Be sure to register for the conference soon, as time, as well as places are running out.