Barefoot CEO: You get 5 types of people

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I was listening to a talk recently where the speaker talked about the 5 types of people. I’ve understood this intuitively, but for the first time I’d heard it explained in a bite sized, easy to understand way.

Basically, the speakers assertion was that in any business you get 5 types of people, and when you ask them to do something one of the following things will happen:

  1. They don’t do it
  2. They ask “how do I do it?”
  3. They ask “can I do it like this?”
  4. They just do it
  5. They do it without being asked

By and large, I’ve found this to be true and think it’s a pretty good way of thinking about how people in my business are contributing.  As a leader, I see my role as continually living in group 5, if only to lead by example.

His further assertion was that the proportion of people who belong to group 4 is about 1 in 25 and group 5, 1 in 50.  Youngsters or entry level people should always be in group 3 and up, and you should always look to hire people from group 4 and 5.   And then lastly, groups 1 and 2 should either be let go or managed out.

Of course, this is all easier said than done, but again a pretty good way to frame a hiring process which unearths these people.

Lastly, he brought up an interesting way of looking at talent and performance, which is explained below.

Employee 9 boxes

Employee 9 boxes

Basically, anyone who is red should be let go / managed out, yellow people need to be improving, and green people are the ones you build a business on.

Which one are you? ;-)

Walking in the shadow every day

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Long time since my last blog post. The last few weeks have been fucking hectic, so thought I’d write up something as it’s gnawing at me. I’m going to commit to more regular blogging once one or two more operational things are in place, so until then it’s as and when I can ;-) If anything, from now on, the stuff I write here will be for me and me alone. If anyone digs it, then awesome. If not, then I’ve got something to reflect back on.


So the last while has been an immense, epic, fucking monster entrepreneur roller-coaster. I’m cursing not because I’m an ineloquent person, but because I’m trying to get a point across in a blunt way.

On one day, we hit milestones and numbers that make my eyes water. I mean, I’m sweating blood for 3 years, delaying gratification for pretty much anything one can delay gratification for, and then in 4 months we start to grow in a way that I was dreaming about 3 years ago. We’re hitting metrics that show we’re growing, and fast.

Then on the flip side, we start hitting operational growth issues that are slowing us down, and creating a lot of pain. Everything is fast, everything is a firefight, everything is aimed at keeping the growth going so that we get to profitability faster. But it’s cool. Those are the good problems, those are the ones I’ll wake up at 4am to conquer any day of the week. Those are the problems I want.

It’s the fuckoff big other stuff that crops up at exactly the same time, which makes you wonder whether you can cope with it all. It’s the people you trust that let you down when it really matters, that makes you wonder whether you’re ever going to trust people from the get go again. It’s the mistakes you make when you’re so tired from firefighting all day long, that you really wouldn’t make usually (I left my wallet and phone on a train after no sleep; this is after identity theft and credit card fraud), which just complicate things further.

And so from one hour to the next on the same day, literally, you’re dealing with epic shit that doesn’t sit on normal people scales. Almost 99% of people I speak to just don’t get it. They can’t relate, so I don’t say anything anymore. I just say I’m in IT and Wedo ecommerce.

So what’s happened is that my tolerance / ability to deal with things has changed massively. This is a good thing, and this is part of why I’m writing this blog post. You learn shit about yourself when you think you really have nothing more to give. It’s also taught me that it’s something I have to become comfortable with to keep growing, and to become the person I know I am inside. I’m going to change and push the growth even more so I deal with stuff better.

But, it feels like almost every day my universe is at threat in a fundamental way, like I’m walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death every day, and it’s fucking hard.

And that’s all. My internalisation.
There’s no getting away from it ;-)

An open letter to African technologists

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PASSION = BRAIN FUEL.
DUMB BRAIN FULL OF GAS ALWAYS BEAT SMART BRAIN WITH EMPTY TANK.
SMART BRAIN WITH FULL TANK BEAT EVERYONE.

Dear African technologist, hacker, developer, geek, product guy, dreamer, thinker, tinkerer, manager, CEO, multi-national-organisation-in-Africa,

We’re at the beginning of a shift in technology usage, where mobile adoption and usage is quickly going to become more prevalent and ubiquitous than the PC. Bandwidth is getting faster and cheaper for both PC and mobile, despite the monopolies that have held everyone back for years. Infrastructure is now massively cheap and easy to scale. There are toolkits, API’s, platforms, frameworks, services and stacks for almost every technology need you may have. It’s easier now to create something, and innovate, than it ever has been. Not moving forward means you’re being left behind.

The traditional approaches we’ve been using for years are dying. People are looking for authenticity, value, engagement, real’ness for want of a better word.

Dream. Find something that provides value. Help people to get some of that value. Make it great. Remove the crappy stuff.

Stop banging the same drums. Stop thinking you’ve got it all figured out. Approach problems differently. Give your people space to think and tinker. Innovate.

Get massively hyped about your product or service. Tell everyone you know. Let go of any conservativeness you may have, because if you can’t get excited about what you do, then no-one else will. If you’re working for a crap company, leave it. There are better things to do with your precious time.

We can learn a lot from places like Silicon Valley, New York, Berlin, Israel, London, Austin, Chile, Singapore, Ireland and India. We can learn even more from the people who live in those places, how they work, what they do with their time, and ultimately the success they create. We can also learn from the people we live among, by asking them about the problems they face.

There is no shortage of investors or money, only shortages of good people, scalable and executable opportunities. Be the person who can execute and scale, and do it with a product that people will use, and the money won’t be a problem. But don’t use a perceived lack of investors, internal or external, as an excuse.

There are no accidents, only trying, failure, and then ultimately succeeding. As a technologist, today, your greatest asset is the time and technical gifts you have. Use them wisely.

There are many problems people face in emerging markets, and they all need elegant solutions. Find the value. Supply the demand for that value, by doing something that makes you get up in the morning with a spring in your step and a whistle in your tune.

In short, there are no excuses or reasons not to do something awesome, other than the ones we limit ourselves with. Africa has the potential to be one of the largest mobile markets on the planet.

What are you doing about it?

Attention to detail

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I’ve found myself obsessing over a few pixels for the better part of a few hours now, and while doing it I’ve been thinking how I can slim things down so just the most important is left behind, so the user see the attention to detail we’ve put in.

Too often we pore over every detail in the hope of everything being 100% perfect, everywhere. I know that’s my natural tendency. I think this is something almost unrealistic to expect, or manage for.

Instead, why don’t we think of making 100% of the 20% that counts, perfect; rather than 80% of the 100%, which leads to noise?

That way we end up with something which is slimmed down, but the attention to detail will be obvious to those that see the result of what has been done. And then the opportunity is to gradually increase the 20%, or keep it that way. Most often, people only use 20% or less of a product anyways, it’s just the way we are.

This is nothing new, so I’m not claiming original thought here – more than anything, this is a little line in the sand to remind me every time I start going down rabbit holes!

;-)

Execution is everything

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Some quick thoughts on execution, and speed:

Sometimes the temptation to be perfect is overwhelming.

We work towards perfection because we’re told that it’s worth aspiring and achieving. The problem for you and me is that perfection for some is rubbish for others, especially when your product reaches beyond the early adopter pool of people.

There are so many cliches around this thinking, some of which are below:
Release early, release often
Minimum Viable Product
Lean Startup Thinking
Ship it!
etc etc

What they all say is that getting out the door with something working is favorable to pretty much everything else.
Just get your shit out there for people to use.

It’s something I have to remind myself of every day, because the temptation is to labour over every pixel, every word, every line of code, so that it’s perfect. But perfect doesn’t pay the bills.

To me, that is execution.

* I guess one caveat to this is not to build up so much technical debt, or otherwise, that you can’t recover.

Do you want it enough?

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I’ve come across many people who talk a good game, who want the acclaim, who want to be the rockstar. Very few are prepared to do the work to get there. Even fewer are prepared to keep doing it when success isn’t immediate.

So when you look at what you’re doing in your life, do you want it enough, to go the distance, to complete the race, to finish it, or are you just a hobbyist?

If you can’t answer yes to the question above, then what do you get out of bed in the morning for? What fires you up? What makes you do what’s necessary?

The world is full of people on the same treadmill, following the same herd. Which direction are you moving in?

Food for thought.

SxSW Podcasts: Crowdfunding: How The SAfrican Community Financed Online Businesses

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The story of how otherwise unconnected South African citizens pooled together their money and resources, and thus helped seed over a dozen online businesses in South Africa – when no other realistic options of finance existed. The presentation will cover lessons learned, and tips for replicating the model in other regions.

View the page on SxSW. Listen to the podcast here.