Florian Aschenbrenner – Scaling from experience

Florian Aschenbrenner will be holding a workshop on how to ensure your infrastructure can grow with your business. It’s something, he says, that not many people think a lot about.

“You start a business, write an app, but you don’t think about how it will handle spikes or increased traffic a few months down the line. For most people it’s about scaling the business not the infrastructure – and that’s what I’ll focus on.”

Aschenbrenner says he will mostly focus on the ecommerce world – it’s where his experience lies. “I’ve worked with Magento, and built similar systems over the past few years that I will be talking about. My 10+ years experience in IT has been mostly about scaling, in one form or another. I’ve had the chance to see a lot of companies grow and had the responsibility to make sure that the systems in use are able to cope with these expansions. I’ve been an advocate of secure, well-documented and user-friendly systems.”

This is his first Tech4Africa, he says. Having worked with founder Gareth Knight over the years, he got interested in the event. “With the topic, and with Africa being an emerging market and more and more start ups coming out of SA… The earlier people start talking about the things you have to do to make a business and its infrastructure scalable the better, and what I’ve learned might be of use to people,” he says.

“I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of people – networking – it’s great to get a lot of viewpoints and learn new things. You might have been working on one thing and missed a lot of other things I can add to my knowledge-base and learn better. It’s great to have a talented pool of people and speakers and be able to see how they doing things.”

Erik Hersman – It’s about the journey

Erik Hersman is the well-known co-founder of Ushahidi, a web mashup built in 2008 to map post-election violence. It’s become a platform and organisation. He’s also a co-founder of iHub – Nairobi’s Innovation Hub – and most recently, BRCK – a rugged solution to connecting in places where electricity and internet access are problematic.

Hersman spoke at the first Tech4Africa, back in 2010, mostly, he says, about the bruises the Ushahidi team had gained on the route to getting where it was at the time. “This time.” He says. “I’ll be talking about the things that happened on the way from Ushahidi to iHub and BRCK – lessons learned – the personal journey.

“I’m also going to talk about how hard hardware is,” he grins. “It’s better to go in with eyes wide shut – not knowing what you don’t know. You need to team up with a lot of people and go through a steep learning curve. We’re still going through challenges, and that’s where the personal part of the journey comes in – dealing with adversity, how to overcome it – and what comes if you stick with things long enough and push – fun things happen after you’ve done a lot of really hard stuff to make it there.”

Having been involved since the first, Hersman says he’s seen the conference evolve into an event that straddles multiple Africa countries, and attended two Tech4Africa events in Kenya.

To first time attendees, he says, “Tell your team/company that you’re going to be doing this event and not answering emails. Be plugged into this thing so you’re there – in body and person.

“Spend time talking to a number of people – a mistake people make is to stay in the crowd they go with. It destroys the opportunity for serendipity that you have. If it’s anything like the first tech4Africa,” he says, “there will be great people there and if you do not get outside your own little bubble you’re hurting yourself.”

Aaron Marshall – What is your purpose?

Aaron Marshall is the founder of Over, one of the world’s most popular photo editing apps. Shortly after the app took off, about 18 months ago, Marshall and his family relocated from the US to Cape Town.

“I like telling stories,” says Marshall, “so my talk at Tech4Africa is going to be some stories from our life and our experience.

Marshall’s talk is entitled: Go Big and Go Home. The keyword, he says, is ‘and’. “I think we live in a really fascinating, opportune time. There are lots of things we can waste our time on. And since life is short, I really want people to be working on meaningful products that are important to them and have a meaningful impact. Not social entrepreneurship – but doing things with meaning and not wasting our best years working on things we don’t care about for people who don’t care.

“I want to inspire people to make things that have real meaning,” he says, “There are so many startups, app this, VC that. It’s not enough to talk about why we are doing something. We need to know ‘what is our purpose here?’ If you don’t have a strong purpose it’s going to crumble and it’s going to hurt. That’s also why I say Go Big and Go Home – there’s no point in building if have no family to go home too. “

Marshall says he’s never been to Johannesburg before and is really looking forward to visiting, as well as having a chance to see (and hug) some old and new friends at the Tech4Africa conference.

Tech4Africa turns five. Feels all grown up and SxSW like.

Tech4Africa turns five. Feels all grown up and SxSW like.

In 2006 when founder Gareth Knight first conceived of Tech4Africa, his vision was to bring SxSW to Africa, so that people wouldn’t have to travel to Austin to soak up the knowledge, inspiration and networking it is well known for.

2010 saw the first event in Johannesburg, and, next week the 5th event will be held in South Africa’s biggest city. Tech4Africa is also in its 4th African city, having been to Nairobi, Lagos and Cape Town so far.

Says Knight: “I’m proud to say that this is the first year where I believe we’re well on our way to being the SxSW of Africa. Because we’ve been able to get the community to submit 258 talks and vote over 14 000 times, we’re able to put out a schedule with 85 speakers in 10 rooms, over two very full days. There’s something for everyone.”

In addition to that, Tech4Africa is putting on a space for people to showcase the weird and wonderful things they are working on – a hacker space, a demo area, a cloud room for people interested in leveraging the cloud, a space for 3d printers, vacuum formers, robots, flying things, solar & green innovations, an electronics showcase, and a BYO (Bring Your Own) product showcase for anyone to demo their products.

Tech4Africa places extra emphasis on networking and social interaction, so, as in previous years, there will be an after party both evenings, and delegates can expect the coffee to be free!

Says Knight: “This year we’ve grown our reach substantially by going to Nairobi, Lagos and Cape Town, and next week in Johannesburg we’re expecting to see 570 people, so it’s going to be fun!”.

The website can be found at Tech4Africa.com and anyone can register at  http://register.tech4africa.com. Tickets are R500.


A note to (all) Tech4Africa speakers

Just written an email about how speakers should conduct themselves…

Published here for reference:

Don’t make the assumption the audience is dumb. Ever.
Do present compelling content.
Do make the time spent worthwhile.
The best content is a story, a case study or a learning.
The best speakers speak from the heart and through experience, not from a practiced powerpoint.
The best content is 20 to 30 mins long, is uncomplicated, has 3 core messages, and has slides with one single point on each, and no more than 10 slides.
The best speakers have the audience on the edge of their seat, or in the palm of their hands, in the first 5 mins.
Do respect the audience, do respect the time they give to listen.
Do remember that everyone is ahead of someone else, and behind someone else. We are all learning every day. No-one has it all figured out. Well, maybe Elon Musk has a little 😉

Be honest, be open, be curious, be humble and most of all make sure the audience walk away just a little richer for the time they gave you.

Don’t do corporate bullsh!t. People see through it immediately.
Don’t do sales pitches. Everyone has heard them, they are boring. The audience is there to learn something, not pay R500 to get sold to.
Don’t do Death by Powerpoint.
Don’t have a speaker who can’t answer questions.
People see right through suits & ties at an event where people are learning. A tie doesn’t infer seniority. Hopefully you’re not wearing a tie right now.

These are all simple things, but believe me I’ve seen an audience of 6k people turn on Mark Zuckerberg in 15 mins when being interviewed by Sarah Lacy (http://www.wired.com/2008/03/sxsw-mark-zucke/) and it was a train wreck.
Put a big brand on the stage with poor content, and the audience will turn and tweet about it mercilessly.
Put a big brand on stage, and give the audience something they can chew on, and they will sing their praises all day.

PayPal did it well last year.
XXXXX sent in a sales guy, and the auditorium emptied in 20 mins because he pulled out a powerpoint and told an audience full of tech people that XXXXXXXXXXX….
^^ above to protect the reputations of people who should know better.

Comments welcome.

Toothbrush vs mobile: how much do you know about your mobile audience?

You audience is mobile but do you really know them?
What they do, what they like, what they think, what they spend money on?

Two weeks before the Johannesburg event my company On Device Research will survey 1000 mobile internet users in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria for a super fresh snapshot of the market. The presentation will share the trends, key findings, and full report will be published afterwards.

Who is this for? If you’re building mobile services or targeting audiences on mobile then it’s for you.

Alistair Hill
Alistair Hill is the co-founder of On Device Research, a global mobile panel and research company. On Device Research uses the mobile internet to access consumer opinions and has successfully conducted over 19 million mobile surveys in 72 countries. Previously Alistair was lead mobile analyst at comScore and one of the first employees of M:Metrics (prior to its $50m sale to comScore). Alistair has held a variety of roles including business development, client services and product management and is a regularly speaker on mobile consumer behaviour and mobile research. Prior to comScore, he worked at IHS Global Insight’s emerging markets mobile practice and at the Financial Times.

A global perspective – Zachariah George – Tech4Africa 2014

U-Start Africa COO Zachariah George has spent most of his career on Wall Street, as an investment banker. He’s lived in South Africa for the past few years, advising investors on business opportunities in emerging markets, like this one. This, he says, gives him a global and local perspective. His Tech4Africa 2014 talk, he says, will be very practical – detailing what international investors look for in early stage emerging market tech ventures, how to build financial plans, strategies for attracting investment – what to do and what not to do, and how to align your venture’s interest to that of an investor.

“It’s very practical and looks at things like ROI and debt versus equity and valuation methodologies, instruments like convertible notes versus equity, dilution laws when you look at rounds of investment. It’s the kind of information an entrepreneur would be well served knowing before get into a roundtable with an investor, for example.”

Attendees at Tech4Africa CT will also be treated to 10 or 15 minutes of walk-through into how ventures are evaluated. “If someone can give me an answer to ‘how do you value a tech company’ I’ll quit my job and go work for them,” he not entirely jokes. The 10-minute walk-through on what Silicon Valley investors look for is usually charged for and represents 10 years of IP, he says. Companies like Pinterest, twitter and Uber were valued with no revenue. How do you do that? George plans to give some high-level insight into that complex equation.

Another thing he’ll get into, he says, is something many entreprenuers don’t focus on – how to make money for their investors. “Are they options to buy yourself out of the business and make money for your investors that way?

If I’m a financial tech startup do I have clear understanding of Old Mutual’s portfolio and could I sell my app to them? Most entrepreneurs don’t think about exit opportunities.”

Tech4Africa is probably one of the few events that gathers entrepreneurs, investors and everyone in the incubation/acceleration space into one common area with interests that serve every stakeholders needs – even banks and law firms, he says, which is why he submitted a session this year.

“I work with tech entrepreneurs every day and there’s no structured forum for them. This is a good forum for people to share opinions and insight. I’m doing my bit and speaking for 45 minutes, but I’m really there to hear the entrepreneurs talk about their experiences, they’re the real rockstars.”