Here is the text of the speech I gave at the opening of Silicon Cape in Camps Bay. I’m not alone in saying that this was an inspiring and well-supported event.
Welcome everyone and thank you all for coming. A special welcome to the Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, Dr Mamphela Ramphele and Mr Johann Rupert. It’s an absolute honour and it’s humbling to be speaking in front of such an important gathering of tech people in this country.
I think we all realise that we’re part of history here. Here, today, history is being made. There are some powerful and influential people in this room – and I think that underscores the seriousness of this event and what we are trying to achieve. Today we have the opportunity to raise the profile of our industry, of our city, of our country, and even our continent. The stakes are this high.
This isn’t a parochial Cape Town thing and shouldn’t be a competition between cities, but an initiative for the country and continent. The famous Silicon Valley is as much “an idea” as a real place of business. As an idea it’s a centrifugal point for technological innovation. The real place: the walls and businesses. The concept and idea: a source of inspiration and aspiration. A concept creates momentum and encapsulates something we can understand and rally around. This is how it all starts. And this is how the concept of “The Silicon Cape” starts.
The web in South Africa
There’s no doubt that the local web is an innovative place. We’re an early-adopter nation. As a country we often see ourselves in international lists as one of the leading country’s on Facebook, or during the early web in the 1990s, one of the top 10 of internet countries. The problem though is that we hit saturation quickly and our relatively small numbers don’t sustain growth.
And we know our challenges. We’re underachievers when it comes to connectivity. According to the OPA: there are about 11-million local and international users accessing SA sites. For SA-only traffic, that figure is around 7-million. Other estimates place it lower. Mobile web access is thought to be double our web numbers, and it’s become a cliché to talk about the incredible, unrelenting growth of the mobile web.
For web usage: We languish at number 42nd in the world. We’re not even the biggest internet country in Africa. We’re ranked fourth behind Nigeria, Egypt & Morocco — this, despite having an economy four times the size of our nearest rival Egypt. Morocco “boasts” internet penetration of around 33%.
But we’re also sometimes too hard on ourselves: We have double the amount of internet users than developed countries like Ireland. We’re on a par with Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Denmark. What I’m saying is that this is a significant market. But it’s a market we know we could be doing much better in. We’re ranked as one of the world’s 26th biggest economies by GDP. We’re the top economy in Africa — more than double that of our nearest rival. So we have to ask: where is our internet industry?
But let’s not dwell on the figures too much, because soon they will be irrelevant. We are in the midst of an unstoppable digital revolution. Soon the internet will be a way of life, and the potential is staggering. We know the internet is on course for massive growth and will be cheap and ubiquitous, accessed by a range of converged digital devices — not just your desktop PC; it’ll be your cellphone, camera, even your fridge or microwave. It’s a question of when, not if. In the future, a digital device not connected to the net will be a silly thing. It probably won’t be usable either. In this country we are now seeing the long-awaited a roll-out of broadband, with various cable initiatives like Seacom, and there is a downward pressure on internet costs. Add to this the new competition in the Telco sector, and it is no secret that it’s boom time for the online medium.
Add to this our world-class internet entrepreneurs: here and abroad. There’s much to be inspired about. Apart from some people in this very room, and on this very stage: there’s our afronaught and Ubuntu chief, Mark Shuttleworth, Paypal founder Elon Musk, Roelof Botha at Sequoia Capital (You Tube, Meebo and Xoom). There’s Gareth Knight who founded Kindo, Brent Hoberman from Lastminute.com, Saul Klein of Skype, Paul Maritz (often said to be the third-ranking executive at Microsoft, behind Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer). Locally we have some companies making waves overseas including: MXIT, Yola and Clickatell. The company I’m with owns one of the biggest IM clients in the world, QQ from TenCent in China. And behind these entrepreneurs are inspiring VCs. These are inspiring companies and inspiring people, and they’re from here. They show it can be done.
Then there’s the beautiful Cape. We won’t talk about the weather or the temperature of the sea, but Cape Town’s beauty is often compared to that of San Francisco. It’s rated one of the top worldwide tourist destinations. This is the reason why some of the country’s biggest online media companies chose to base themselves here. It’s why I myself moved here about a year ago.
The Silicon Cape
So this is the start. As most VCs know: Good ideas are not worth a jot without quality execution, focus and passion. And we’re in the execution phase. We’re focused. We’re passionate. The initiators of this concept, Internet entrepreneurs Vinny Lingham and Justin Stanford, have made it clear that this is not their baby. It’s our baby. It’s up to the community to take things to the next level and drive this to something we can all look back in this room and say that we helped make it happen.
Remember this is the easy phase. Everyone is passionate, everyone is committed, everyone is excited and there is momentum. If Silicon Cape is going to succeed it will need sustained vision and good people driving it.
It’s in our hands and here is what I think here is some of what we should aim to achieve :
- Not just a talkshop. It’s important that today is not just a talkshop, and that we match the big talk with big actions.
- Not operate in a socio-economic vacuum. We should also take cogniscance of our unique context. Ferial Haffajee, City Press editor and former editor Mail & Guardian, recently noted that “One South Africa is tweeting, while the other not eating”. Such an initiative should take note that we have a moral responsibility to build people as we build the industry. It should be an inclusive venture and not one “by the elite for the elite”.
- Vital link between entrepreneurs and VCs. I often hear of entrepreneurs complaining about the lack of VC support. I hear of VC’s complaining we don’t have enough good entrepreneurs. Let’s make Silicon Cape the vehicle to address this. By focusing our energy, good will and networks we have the power to address this.
- Create a local and international network: of interested parties. Silicon Cape.com is a good start (siliconcape.com – tick that box)
- Resource centre. Be resource centre for entrepreneurs needing resources, confidence, direction, mentoring. It should be a place where VCs can find entrepreneurs and vice versa.
- Link with universities. Establish meaningful links and representation with universities: UCT, CPUT, UWC and others further afield. We in business often forget this, but academic research is the heart of most technological innovation. Silicon Cape should be a facilitator between universities and business. Let’s not forget the key link of Stanford University to Silicon Valley.
- Links with big business
- Silicon Cape VC fund. We establish a fund to help small tech entrepreneurs.
- Links with government. Establish meaningful links and support representation with local and national government in the form of investment, marketing, tax breaks. Having the Premier here is a good start.
Thank you very much.
 OPA stats August 2009
 Mobile web estimates via Vodacom Rick Joubert
 Internet World Stats: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm#africa
 CIA World Factbook