Get an online personal assistant, it will make your life easier

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The shorter version:
Checkout Online Personal Assistant. I recommend it, it’s saved me time and made my life easier. Best part is you can use it from wherever…
Try it, tell Ed you got there from here, and he’ll treat you nice ;-)

The longer version:
OK, so I’m the first to admit that I often find myself with too many balls to juggle. I find that having more to do actually makes me more productive and when I get in the zone, things happen and it feels good.

However, when you’re starting a business, or working on something important to you, and you decide that it is the highest priority in your life, then other things slip down the priority order, and they simply don’t get done.

Cases in point:

  1. I’ve needed to get a UK drivers license for at least 3 years now
  2. I’ve needed to renew my South African passport for over a year now
  3. I’ve been serious about taking up Kendo, or a Japanese Sword Art, for at least 18 months
  4. I’ve needed to sort out health insurance for a long long long time
  5. I wanted to organise a birthday bash for myself this year, for precisely the reason why it didn’t happen last year

I think you get the picture…. Basically you keep your life together somehow until something threatens to break, then you mend it so it doesn’t break in the short term, then you go back to being focussed. I know not everyone is like that, but I am, hence this post! ;-)

Anyways, I’m not really into recommending or plugging services that I don’t have a lot of exposure to, mainly ‘cos I get too many emails so it’s hard to decide whom to spend an hour for getting to know a service, and also ‘cos people don’t really read my blog for that reason ;-) I’m not Scoble or Arrington or Kirkpatrick, and neither do I want to be.

Back to the point – a while ago my friend Ed setup a service called Online Personal Assistant, and after a bit of nudging I decided to give it a try. My @Inbox was overflowing, and I really just needed to clear some stuff that was important, but not that important it could go above Kindo.

So I sent a list of stuff to my personal assistant Kevin:

  1. Book Geek BBQ venue for summer in London
  2. Book karting venue for my birthday delebration
  3. Book bowling venue for my birthday celebration
  4. Find me health insurance
  5. Find me Tai Chi schools close to where I live
  6. Find me Kendo schools close to where I live

As you can see, they’re all time intensive tasks that would mean me spending a few hours online for each one, at some point, getting to a place where I can make a decision and then do some actions… Getting my passport and drivers license require me to be somewhere in person, so I needed to do that.

Where we are now is that Ed’s team (thanks Kevin!) has spent about 9 hours doing all that stuff for me, for which I’ll pay an hourly rate. Everything is documented and tracked in an online workspace (not Basecamp), and I’m happy with the results. I have a few things to tie down now, but basically all the research is done, and all it requires is another booking, or an action on my part.

Bottom line – I’ve saved 9 hours of my time (which I value more than what I’ll pay for it), thereby enabling me to focus on things more important to me now, so as far as I’m concerned I’m a happy biologist.

I happily recommend the service, and am going to continue to use it.

South African bandwidth at ‘fraction of today’s cost’?

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From Tim (he who has no blog or site or anything to point to):
_ Business Day – News Worth Knowing

THE price of international bandwidth will plummet 80% when the Seacom undersea cable goes live on June 17 next year.

Seacom will be the first of several proposed cables to finally reach African shores and local universities have already been promised international bandwidth for just 2,5% of the fee they currently pay.

Seacom president Brian Herlihy said the $600m, 17000km cable running up Africa’s east coast, then on to India and France, was on track for a “dead-certain delivery date”.

Its bandwidth will cost as little as R267 a month per 1MB, compared to between R3500 and R11000 to use Telkom’s bandwidth on the existing Sat-3 cable, or a punishing R231000 for satellite connectivity.

So, is this good news or what?? Thoughts? Will SA people based in SA be able to take over the world now? ;-)

What’s happenning to Tech for Africa?

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I’m the first to admit that I’ve had my head in the sand the last few months, and have received many emails asking what’s happening with Tech for Africa... So I thought that posting something public would be the best way to communicate what’s happening for everyone to see ;-)

Must say that the last few months have been a blur…
Since January of this year, Technovated has gone from 4 people, to 10, to a venture funded project with 14 people in all, over three office moves and many many late nights and long weekends.

There’s a blog post coming up about it all soon, but the long and the short of it is as follows:

  1. I’m responsible for getting our venture funded application out the door soon, so I’m stacked as it is
  2. I’ve battled to find dates this year that get the right mix of African and international speakers together at the same time
  3. I’ve battled to find the right kind of sponsorship early, which would mean the difference between something good and something mediocre – mostly related to point 2 (since sponsors like to be linked to speakers and topics)
  4. I’m convinced that it would be a loss maker if we didn’t get the right speakers – there’s a very fine line between raising enough sponsorship to make the cost for attendees affordable as well as afford to bring out good speakers; all before you have fixed numbers that are all paid up… and without a pot of cash to dip into, it’s harder to take risks

So, in truth I’m not 100% happy about it ‘cos I’ve been talking about it for a while and I’m the kind of person to do rather than talk wherever possible, but I’ve taken some good advice from people who are helping out, and the consensus is that we should be aiming for around March / April next year rather, to give us more time to get points 1 through 4 above right. I certainly don’t want to spend time, effort and potentially my goodwill only to get great speakers out to SA and the event is a dismal failure and costs me more money than I have or can afford!

Anyways, this isn’t a sob story if you were thinking you were gonna be reading one.

A lot of people have either told me to give the idea up, or told me that I’m crazy, but I believe that they’re wrong. I’m pretty sure now that the original format and idea that I had bubbling in my head is going to have to be re-thought to take into account the difference environment, the cost of long trans-Atlantic flights, and the relative expense that something like this is when compared to someones monthly salary.

That said, I think the direction to take is to adapt and give more time to finding the right dates so that the right speakers can congregate for the event. Once that is done getting sponsorship will be easier and therefore the chances of success higher.

So, bottom line is that I’m still personally 100% committed to getting this off the ground and happening in Africa, even if it has to be delayed some – I would rather delay by 6 to 8 months and make it a good one where everyone benefits, than rush to make it work in October and end up with something that is mediocre…

So, I ask you to bear with me, and to stay tuned. It will happen.
;-)

Naked CEO series: Fighting fires and differing perspectives

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Lately it seems that what I do is fight fires all day long. I can’t remember tha last time I sat down for a full day and cranked something out, much less a full week. No complaints at all, it keeps life interesting, but it is hard to manage. Good thing too that we’ve got a truly great team of people in the same space.

Primary problems are around the expectations of the inputs I have coming in, and then the corresponding outputs. Typically an email comes in, and the sender requires some sort of response and / or action. The challenge is that my priorities are often vastly different to the priorities of other people. Coders want to write great code, PM’s want to stay in budget, clients want stuff yesterday, I want to be able to pay salaries on time. Fundamentally, paying salaries is my primary drive every day, and it’s very hard to keep on track when you’ve got so many inputs to deal with.

So, I end up fighting fires to keep them from enveloping us all, and if I had to write myself a job description toay, it would be three things:

  1. fight fires
  2. keep everyone happy
  3. speak to people

And that’s it.

Sod php, css, svn, mysql, etc etc etc – going from project meeting to project meeting all day long means I inevitably end up answering emails and getting stuff done in the TV or radio induced noise of my living room at night, currently occupied by my cousin Dave (Hi Dave!) just off the boat from SA, and my brother Morgan. Tonight I got home from the gym, guzzled some chicken for protein and fruit juice, then settled down to clear about 50 emails from the day. This blog post is the last thing I’m gonna do before hitting the floor (still no bed yet – sleeping on futon mattress). So where’s the glamour? I don’t see no hot chicks waiting for me in skimpy neglige… ;-)

~~~

The other thing that has become blindingly obvious the last 4 months, but an important component of the above, is that we’re all coming from different perspective, and even though we’re all part of the same business, and we’re all trying to do the same things, we often suffer from thinking that everyone has the same reference point or point of view when dealing with an issue.

The point is that I constantly have to remind myself that everyone thinks differently, and thus needs to be approached differently, but it’s bloody hard ‘cos a one size fits all approach works so much better. Clearly, that’s not the case though… I’m not sure what the answer is here, except to say that it’s a work in progress.

Any thoughts / observations / comments?