I’ve resigned as Head of 20FourLabs to focus on building a new Cape Town and Joburg-based startup. I joined 24.com in 2008 from the Mail & Guardian Online, initially as the GM of Publishing and then went on to set up Labs.
I’m going to miss 24.com and the Labrats. My resignation is as a result of a long-standing need to go on my own and start my own thing. I’ve lost count how many times people have asked me “why aren’t you on your own?” — so I’ve decided to finally take the hint
20FourLabs has been a special experience. Probably the most recent highlight for all of us was scooping the continent-wide Nokia Innovators Competition for our Afridoctor app — one of those ideas sourced organically from within the division and then the sizable award money split amongst staff. There are now some plans afoot to take the app to the next level, but to top it all off — it’s a mobile app that potentially can make a real difference to millions of lives.
I feel I can write a book about starting and running what is essentially an entrepreneurally-minded division in a corporate setting. We got some things right, many things wrong too. This is not a particularly new phenomenon: These types of Labs’ initiatives are popping up all over the world in big corporates under various guises and names, but all have the same goal at heart: build quickly, build cheaply, cut the complication, cut the crap, go for simplicity. As companies get big, controls and processes are necessary to manage complexity. Although necessary, they often can work against innovation and add cost to innovation, which in turn reduces appetite for risk. So it’s question of working out: For which projects do you change these rules and at what stage in their lifecycle?
We also know the barrier to-entry, particularly when it comes to online business and online publishing, is plummeting. We just don’t have the distribution and production costs in an online environment that traditional businesses face. It means that garage start-ups have the potential to go big, quickly and on a shoestring. A low-cost startup can make it huge, and to some extent has the same opportunities as a resource-endowed giant. That’s the theory. Of course it doesn’t always work out like that. The benefit of being part of a multinational group is being part of a big, influential human and resource-rich product network. The entrepreneur-corporate partnerships are often the partnerships that flourish.
It’s been an amazing experience — and I thank JP Farinha, 24.com CEO, for continuing to give us the room to experiment and for showing faith in the division. I enjoyed working with the 24.com exco — notable for meetings filled with robust discussion and debate. I’ve also enjoyed the “hands on” approach and the several ops meetings we’ve had with the Naspers and Media24 executive, including Koos Bekker, Antonie Roux, and Francois Groepe and co. I’m pretty sure I did the first ever Prezi presentation for one of these meetings too
Being part of the Silicon Cape also played its part in pushing me to make this move and forge my own destiny. We don’t need to look far to see how many inspiring entrepreneurs there are here — and I get a real sense that it’s a sector that is starting to take off. We’ve been a bit behind. We’ve been shackled by poor broadband that underachieves when stacked up against the middle-income weight of the country’s economy and many world-leading industries here. But this is starting to change…
Kevin Cupido, the Labs’ Ops Manager, now takes over as the acting head of a division of some of the most talented people I know. There are more than 30 product managers and developers that make up the division, which also includes the guys at Blueworld. Labs now has more than 20 projects on the go — probably a bit too many — but we just couldn’t help ourselves :-).
Imminent launches include a new Air-based desktop content-sharing app — championed by Blueworld — which has become a remarkable workshopped evolution in content-sharing, from what was initially conceived as a basic RSS reader. Other projects include Utterbuzz, a Twitter aggregator, the new 24.com, 24.mobi, 24.com mobile sites and Letterdash — and some more. The current products are being optimised and expanded, including Afridoctor, flirtaroo.mobi and the various mobile applications we built. I’m sad not to see the fruition of the Hub, which is coming along nicely, but it’s in extremely good hands and evolving in a unique direction.
Creative Spark and Memeburn.com
And so after 24.com, I’ll be dedicating my time to establishing a relatively new venture, Creative Spark — a new digital agency and consultancy based in Cape Town and Joburg. More will be revealed about the venture and the people involved when appropriate. I’ll also be taking some time to focus on the various companies and ventures I have interests in.
Also watch out for the launch of Memeburn, a new resource on tech trends, innovation and startup news covering the emerging market sector worldwide. It’s aimed unashamedly at the tech elite and those interested in innovation — think of it as a Mashable/Techcrunch for emerging market tech. It’s been the result of many nights and there are some industry leaders associated with it, including some big international names — again which will be revealed at an appropriate time.
Lastly, I want to say thank you to everyone at 24.com, Media24, MIH and Naspers for some great working relationships and times. It’s been an inspiring time and I’ve worked with some inspiring people. There is no doubt that our paths will cross again and again and again.