A Man, a Dream, & a Money Machine

Back to Main Issue Button2_40X150

It isn’t easy to leave your homeland and make it big in the tough streets of London, but here’s a story of a South African whose can-do attitude turned an innovative idea into a money-spinner. Sadly, he didn’t get to see the revolution he started, but his legacy holds lessons for us all

By Alec Hogg

In my year since arriving in London, I’ve met some really impressive South Africans. And many very successful ones. The Calvinistic work ethic, can-do attitude and cultural affinity makes my countrymen well suited to this great cosmopolitan city.

But one of them stands head and shoulders above the rest. A visionary and an inspiration who I was privileged to get to know as a friend. But, sadly, someone no longer around for one of our lengthy chats.

I met Jeff Paterson through a pal who had moved to London to expand his horizons. While scouting around he’d came across a couple of fellow Saffers who were in the early stages of revolutionising the retail currency exchange market. And he wanted to work for them.

My pal wasn’t actually employed by Fourex when he arranged our meeting, but encouraged me to come along. I took my microphone and spent a fascinating hour learning about the business called Fourex, which Jeff and business partner Oliver du Toit were building into today’s world beater.

Like many great business ideas, Fourex was based on the dream of replacing something expensive and wasteful with a cheaper and better alternative to everyone’s benefit. The business model was a combination of what academics term “disruption” and “shared value”.

The idea was sparked by the serial entrepreneur duo’s travels. They were irritated that most bank notes and coins they brought home were worthless except in the country where they were issued. When local banks did ordain to accept some notes, they charged hefty fees to exchange them. Money changing kiosks dotted around High Streets are even worse.

So for six years Jeff and Oliver collected bits of money from all over the world and charged some of the smartest engineers on earth to develop the technology.

The result was their ATM-like machine that exchanges 30 000 different notes and coins, no matter where they come from, into Pounds, Euros and US Dollars. Okay, maybe not old Zim Dollars. But pretty much everything else.

Today as you walk past a queue at one of the many Fourex machine scattered around London, it seems such an obvious business idea. But until 18 months ago, apart from Jeff and Oliver, nobody else seemed to believe it could work.

So the two of them invested everything they owned, borrowing where they could and encouraged each other to keep going after yet another potential investor wrote them off as crackpots. What seemed so obvious for them just couldn’t gain traction with the cynical majority.

Then Jeff hit on the idea of entering Virgin’s high profile “Pitch for Rich” competition. But getting attention required votes. So the Sandringham High Old boy called up Radio 702 and told John Robbie, who loved the story of the two London-based Saffers who wanted to change the world.

He interviewed Jeff on his breakfast show and listeners made an impact, contributing enough of the 685 000 votes to get Fourex into the competition’s final nine.

After that, Jeff told me, it was up to the judges. But this time he got tell the story to fellow entrepreneurs who lapped it up, just like Joburg’s radio listeners had. Fourex triumphed as the Best “New Thing”, one of three Pitch To Rich categories, the big break they needed.

The prize of £50,000 came in handy, as did the counselling from the head of Richard Branson’s family investment operation. But Jeff said it was the marketing spinoffs that really counted. After the long drought, potential investors started knocking on the door. They opted for South Africans, tying up with Larry Lipschitz’s Genesis Capital Partners. And the rest should have been happily ever after.

Excepting that real life rarely has a fairytale ending. On the one hand, Fourex’s future as the dominant player in its field is assured. But Jeff’s wasn’t. Soon after the Virgin competition he was diagnosed with cancer that required the amputation of his leg.

A week after the operation he was travelling around the London underground checking up on the newly installed machines. But it was only the start of his battle.

We met shortly afterward that and became friends. Jeff possessed a zest for life, an enthusiasm for learning and a gloriously open mind that made people warm to him. He was a seeker, ever probing, always asking questions, obsessed with getting to the truth.

He tackled cancer the same way – head on, refusing medication which promised only to prolong his life at a lower quality. Jeff took up the challenge of beating the disease, switched into investigation mode and experimented with everything from pulse machines and frequencies through to diets and meditations.

Jeff promised to let me write his story. But only after he’d conquered the disease and given the world one more gift, a cure for cancer. There were some notable successes. But in the end he just ran out of time. His strong body had been too weakened by the quest. But in all of that he never lost his sense of humour. And towards the end, gained the gift of peace.

Like everyone else who got to know Jeff Paterson, I’ll miss him. My pal, who got the job and thus worked closely with this gifted entrepreneur, says that his passing has left a huge hole in the rapidly expanding business. And in many lives as well. Because people like him are rare. Leaving footprints that never fade.

* Alec Hogg is the founder of Biznews.com.

This article first appeared in The Comet, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

Divan Botha interviews Schalk Malan on kykNET’s Winslyn

BrightRock’s entrepreneurial journey and the major milestone of Sanlam’s pending majority stake in our business was in the spotlight when our CEO, Schalk Malan, appeared on the business and entrepreneurship show Winslyn on kykNET on 21 February 2017.

Schalk was interviewed live by Winslyn-presenter Divan Botha, who – as a successful entrepreneur himself – unpacked interesting insights into our business, as well as a host of ideas and tips from Schalk to help aspiring entrepreneurs start their own successful businesses. Watch the interview below:

BYOD! And Other get-down-and-dirty advice for Wantrepreneurs

Back to Main Issue Button2_40X150

Build Your Own Desk. It’s a hands-on, do-it-yourself mantra for anyone who wants to make a success of their own business. Here are some other handy tips and bright ideas from Stacey Vee, who runs a small and fast-growing content agency in Johannesburg

The Internet zings with advice for entrepreneurs. The 20-something CEOs of disruptive startups moonwalk the stage at TED talks, in their limited edition Nikes.

They leave audiences feeling electrified, pumped up with one-sentence epiphanies. “People don’t buy what you do,” they say. “People buy why you do it.”

It’s become a cult. The only thing people talk about more than the highs of entrepreneurship, are the lows. And even the lows are glamourised. “Fail fast” is one of these start-up mantras that comes to mind.

What no one really talks about is what happens in between. For the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve been running my own agency. My business partner and I are in the comfy phase where we’re not too concerned about sinking, and we’ve figured out where this ship is headed. I guess this phase is called ‘growing your business’.

It’s an awkward period where you’re steadily plodding towards your goals. You’re wiser, more realistic, and have settled into a daily routine instead of flying by the seat of your Spanx. Here’s what I’ve learned:

 

Plan for profits. In the beginning, you’re focused on trying to pay overheads and salaries. We closed off our books recently, and were pleasantly surprised that we made a modest chunk of moola (yay) and we have to pay company tax on it to the vogons at SARS (boo). Now we need to decide what to do with our earnings. Reinvest it in our business? Take dividends? Invest it? Don’t be caught with your profit pants down.

Make your get-shizz-done hour untouchable. When you’re running a company, there’s always someone popping their head into your office to ask something. You’re busy all day, hummingbird-style, but get bugger-all done.

I solved this problem by blocking out my most productive hour in my calendar. I don’t take meetings in that time, I close my office door, and I sure as shish kebab don’t waste it by catching up on emails. Answering emails is not work.

Think about the wheels on the bus. That’s the stuff that makes your business go round and round. For instance, every time we hire an extra person, we need to buy another desk, chair and laptop. BYOD – build your own desk – has become an amusing part of our culture at Content Candy.

But we’ve reached the point where we have to make some expensive upgrades to things like our phone points (we’ll need a proper switchboard soon and not just a single line), our DSL network and investing in one of those Hulk-size printers. This is not cheap, and you need to put in in your budget well in advance.

Don’t stop getting your hands dirty. I’ve helped build every single chair in our office. There are photos of me, on the floor, assembling desks, with my underwear sticking out. When you start out with a small team, everyone gets stuck in, even the boss.

But the bigger you get, the less time you have to help out with the day-to-day stuff. I think it’s a mistake not to roll up your sleeves occasionally and work in the trenches alongside your team.

But remember, you’re not friends. This has been my toughest lesson. I want everyone to like me, so I overshare. But with more staff, comes more responsibility. Those first few months of getting your business off the ground are so intense, it’s impossible not to bond with your employees on a personal level.

Now that we’re bigger, I need to hold myself in check – because you can’t be presiding over a performance review when the person you’re evaluating knows about your secret KFC hot wings addiction. It’s just not professional.

Clone yourself. By this I mean, you want to be able to step away from your business completely and it’ll still run like clockwork. This comes down to finding a person/people with the same skillset as you – my clone is my partner Brendah – and building processes that keep everything ticking along when you’re stuck in back-to-back client meetings.

These are some of the hard-won lessons I have to share with you. Excuse my lack of snazzy PowerPoint slides. But I did wear my Nikes while I wrote it, promise.

For more advice and insight on starting and running your own business, visit the Change Exchange, our breezy online portal for everything you need to know about the Big Change Moments in life: Tying the Knot, Starting a Family, Landing That Job, and Making a Home.

* The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.

This article first appeared in The Comet, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

The Happy Art of Finding Joy in Your Job

Back to Main Issue Button2_40X150

There’s more to work than working for a living. If your job isn’t giving you joy, could it be because you’re in the wrong job? Three brave job-switchers share their stories of learning to live with change, and loving it.

Love. It’s what you feel for your partner, your children, your pets, your country, and maybe even, on a good day, your national soccer or rugby team. But your job? Well, that’s another story.

If you’re like most people, your job is what you do for a living, not what you do for a life. It’s a way to earn the money you need to do the things you love to do, such as wave goodbye to your workmates as you head off on the holiday of your dreams.

But for some people, a job is not a chore, a penance, or an excuse to watch the clock. It’s an opportunity to find fulfilment and put your passion to work. As Confucius once said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

He knew what he was talking about, because his jobs included bookkeeper, teacher, politician, editor, philosopher, and caretaker of sheep and horses. It’s probably safe to say the latter was the job he loved the most. But what about you?

Is it really possible to find joy in your job? It is necessary or compulsory to “love what you do, and do what you love”, or is that just a handy motivational slogan coined by Human Resources?

We asked David O’Sullivan to find out, by inviting three hard-working, work-loving, upbeat and inspirational South Africans into the BrightRock studio.

He spoke to Catherine Constantinides, a former Miss Earth SA, who is leaving her job as a Lead SA executive to teach social media to women in a refugee camp in Algeria; Michal “Loopy” Luptak, who quit his job as an accountant at a major auditing firm to run a community centre for children at Ponte City; and Trudi Makhaya, former Deputy Commissioner at the Competition Commission of South Africa, who now works as a consulting economist and media commentator.

What they have in common is that have taken a giant leap into the unknown, and restlessly pursued opportunities to reinvent themselves. That takes courage, says Catherine, who started her own marketing company while still at school, and dropped out of her Law and Anthropology studies at university when she lost her bursary.

“I carried a chip on my shoulder for a long time,” she says. “You map out a path for your career, but it may not turn out the way you think it will, because there are certain passions and callings that you have to allow yourself to open up to.”

Michal likewise slogged through his studies, got those two powerful letters after his name, and then decided that he didn’t feel like a CA at all. “The defining moment was when I sat down and thought, is this going to be it for the rest of my life?”

He felt trapped by the routine, predictability, and hierarchy of accounting. The toughest part of his job was having to sit behind his desk, doing nothing, when there was a whole world of possibility waiting outside the door.

“I firmly believe that it’s your choice in life to suffer,” he says. “You are the one who signs that employment contract.” He broke free, moved into a penthouse apartment on the 52nd floor of Ponte, and redefined himself as a social entrepreneur and inner-city activist. All very well, but how does he account for the substantial dip in earnings he took when he left the firm and went up in the world?

“Money will always become a consequence of doing the things you love,” he says. “You’ll be surprised at how little you need.”

For Trudi, who holds five degrees, starting afresh as an independent economist and consultant allowed her to live up to her dream of “marrying creativity with analytical skills”.

She concedes that it isn’t alway easy or possible to find a job you love, “but you can find ways to expand your horizons”. See your job for what it is, she advises. Put it in the proper place in your life. “It doesn’t have to be the sum total of who you are. You have relationships, you have spirituality, you have so many other avenues to express yourself.”

But Michal argues that if you’re looking at your job as a job, then you’re probably doing it wrong. “Every single day of your life,” he says, “do something that scares you, because that’s where the magic happens.”

Finding the joy in your job may seem like a tough ask for some of us, but it all begins with finding your purpose, says Catherine. “What are the things you love?” she says. “What are the things that feed your passion? Put pen to paper and jot them down. Then find a way to utilise your strengths in the space you’re in.”

As for our presenter himself, David confesses that he found “absolutely no joy” in the job he was doing on commercial radio. He approached Ruda Landman for advice, shortly after she had raised anchor and set sail from Carte Blanche.

“Ruda told me to step into the void,” says David. “Let the bridge come up to meet you.”

You have to have confidence, you have to have courage, and you have to be prepared to start all over again. But if you get it right, the perks will be greater than that steady pay-cheque and that office with your name on the door. You’ll love what you’re doing, and you’ll be doing what you love. And the joy of your job will be its own greatest reward.

*For more on how to find the joy in your job, watch the full BrightRock iris Session on the Change Exchange, our breezy online portal for everything you need to know about the Big Change Moments in life…Tying the Knot, Starting a Family, Landing That Job, and Making a Home.

This article first appeared on The Change Exchange, an online newsletter by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

 

Kick it! 6 Life-Changing Lessons for Wannabe Entrepreneurs

  Back to Main Issue Button2_40X150

Edition_13_846 X 300_HEADINGS44

 

So you want to kick-start a startup? There’s no better time than now. Here are some valuable lessons from two top South African entrepreneurs who’ve made it happen.

According to the Grand Fable of startup entrepreneurship, if you want to make it big and change the world, all you have to do is get into a garage with your pals, tinker around with spreadsheets and computers, and voilà – you’re the next Apple Inc.

In the real world, it takes a lot more than that to make a startup work.

It takes guts, toil, chutzpah, a lot of sleepless nights, a product or service that can solve a real problem and make a real difference, and of course, a fair bit of venture capital to get it off the ground.

We held a BrightRock Connection Session to hear the war-stories of two South African entrepreneurs who have dared to work their way to success.

Ravi Naidoo, founder of the Design Indaba, and Ernst Herzog, who runs a venture capital company called Action Hero Ventures, in Stellenbosch.

You can hear the full session in podcast form at the Change Exchange, our online portal of advice, information, and opinion on the big “change moments” in life: Tying the knot, Starting a family, Landing that job, and Making a home.

In the meantime, we’ve distilled some key lessons to help you get your startup started.

Learn to Love Change – it Could Change Your Life!

260 X 200_SPARES21

The days of settling into one job, and making that job your living and your life, are long-gone. No matter what your qualifications, don’t be afraid to step out and try something different, challenging, and new.

Ravi was a scientist, working on painstaking research in a lab, before he wrote a “wacky letter” to advertising agencies, and landed himself a career in marketing.

Ernst studied Engineering and got himself an MBA, before deciding that his job in the “cubicle farm” at a healthcare company wasn’t what he’d dreamed of doing with his life.

So he moved into venture funding for startups, and now devotes his days to the quest for the next entrepreneurial Action Hero: “People who are brave and adventurous and want to have a bit of fun in the process of taking over the world.”

A dream job, helping to make the dream jobs of others come true.

 

Don’t Expect People to Care About Your Business

“Do what you love and love what you do” has become a mantra in the startup world, but it is possible, says Ernst, to fall too deeply in love with your product.

“It can be dangerous to have too much passion” he says. He also cautions against the expectation that everyone you meet will automatically share your enthusiasm and vigour for what you’re doing.

“Generally, people don’t really care,” he says. The trick is, you have to make them care, and sometimes the best way to do that is to understate your ambitions, rather than to over-promise your plans to conquer and change the world.

260 X 200_SPARES23

Learn to Work Within Beautiful Constraints

260 X 200_SPARES22

A haiku must consist of exactly 17 syllables, spread over only three lines. A tweet may contain no more than 140 characters. A photograph on Instagram must be cropped to fit a square format.

Working within strict constraints, paradoxically, can be a spur to the type of fresh thinking that shatters boundaries. Ravi likens the process to the art of growing and pruning a bonsai.

“I place a lot of store on work-life balance,” he says. “As soon as it gets too unwieldy, I start pruning. I run a happy little bonsai. You need to have beautiful constraints to work with.”

Find a Real Problem, and a Real Way to Solve It

From content solutions to technology solutions to integrated service solutions, it seems everyone is in the solutions business these days.

But beyond the marketing buzz-speak, few businesses are really built on providing solutions to actual, real-world problems.

“Many people come up with a product,” says Ernst, “and then they start looking for a problem to solve.”

Rather begin by solving a problem, and then build your business around that.

“Find a real, tangible pain that people care about, and focus on that,” he suggests. “Don’t try to be everything to everyone.”

 

Read a Lot, & Not Just the Business Books

Reading is a vital life-skill, a gateway not just to learning and knowledge, but to other ways of seeing and understanding the world. But just because you’re in business, doesn’t mean you should limit your reading to the business shelf.

Asked what book has meant the most to him as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Ernst quickly answers: “Lord of the Rings”.

The epic adventure by JRR Tolkien may be set in a mythical land of hobbits and evil overlords, but the lessons it offers can be of great help in the real world.

“It’s shown me that with patience and perseverance and by doing the right thing, you can have massive success and beat the odds,” says Ernst. Just watch out for that conniving little Gollum along the way.

 

Pitch the Heretical Proposition

One of the big lessons of business, in more ways than one, is that Life is a Pitch. First, you have to pitch up for the job, and then you have to come up with a pitch that makes the job worth doing.

The secret is to think like a heretic, says Ravi. His big breakthrough as a marketer came with a “rather heretical proposition” to Alan Knott-Craig, the CEO of Vodacom, in the early days of mobile technology.

The product was simply a magazine for Vodacom subscribers, but Ravi smartly pitched it as a “Trojan horse”, a way to kick-start conversations with customers and make Vodacom stand out in an age of product parity.

The strategy worked, allowing Ravi to live his dream as an entrepreneur: “I wanted to have an umbilical cord to corporate South Africa,” he says, “and also be a hired gun on the fringes.”

 

*Listen to our Startup Connection Session, featuring Ravi Naidoo and Ernst Herzog, at https://changeexchange.brightrock.co.za/change-moments/landing-that-job/kick-start-your-own-business

This article first appeared in The Comet, an online newsletter by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

 

 

Elon Musk’s Guide to the Galaxy

  Back to Main Issue Button2_40X150

Edition_13_846 X 300_HEADINGS4

 

Hailed as a cross between Thomas Alva Edison and Steve Jobs, Elon Musk is one of the greatest entrepreneurs of his age. He’s come a long way from his days of being bullied at school in South Africa, and today he holds the key to the future of space travel, the motorcar, and solar energy. What can we learn from his incredible journey? By Alec Hogg

260 X 200_SPARES4

When declining a recent invitation to see one of the State’s showpiece projects, I explained that running a young business requires constant attention.

The bureaucrat responded by wishing me luck with my PEP – what he called a “personal employment programme.”

I’m still not sure whether this was in admiration or sarcasm, given that the self-employed contribute to the tax base, which public servants absorb.

But it did get me thinking that some people are quite comfortable living off taxpayers. Others take orders from bosses for the security of a regular salary. Then there’s around a tenth of humanity who require independence. Those we call entrepreneurs.

Google it and you’ll find many definitions of the word. All do agree, though, that an entrepreneur is someone who works for themselves. People happiest rowing their own boat because they see a better route to shore.

I’ve been among the entrepreneurial class for two thirds of my career. Staying in corporate would have been a considerably better financial proposition. But no regrets on that side.

Where much improvement could have been made, especially in my earlier years, was learning through others.

Wisdom, you see, grows when we’re able to study and apply lessons from our fellows, in contrast to mankind’s usual road of learning only from our own experiences.

Which brings us to the focus of this article, 44-year-old, Pretoria-born super-entrepreneur Elon Musk.

 

260 X 200_SPARES2

Although relatively unknown in the country of his birth, which he left at 17, Musk is a household name in his adopted America. Described in leading US media as a mixture between the great inventor Thomas Edison and Apple founder Steve Jobs, had inspires the brightest youngsters in Silicon Valley, who profess they want to “be like Elon.”

Musk spends his week between the two companies he built and controls, SpaceX and Tesla. The first, a business that delivers supplies to the International Space Station and sends satellites into earth’s orbit; the other, a revolutionary maker of electric cars.

He is also chairman and major shareholder in SolarCity, a R60-billion business, the US market leader in building and installing solar panels. SolarCity adds almost 800 MW a year (what Medupi hopes to supply next year) to the American electricity grid. It is growing at over 80% annually.

 

The three Musk companies have delivered the biggest advances in decades for the world’s motor, space and solar power industries.

When Tesla shares were listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2010, it became the first motor manufacturer to go public in over half a century. The company, founded only a dozen years ago, is now valued at R425-billion, double that of SA’s venerable, century-old Anglo American.

Musk is personally worth R150-billion. For context, that’s 15c of every Rand paid in South African taxes during the whole of 2015. By comparison, Musk’s wealth is 50% above that of the Ruperts, this country’s richest family.

The story of Elon Musk has a long way to run. But there are already key lessons the rest of us can take from his experiences. Here are three that stand out:

 

1)  Keep re-investing in what you believe in

At 24 and fresh out of university, Elon Musk founded an Internet start-up called Zip2. Described by biographer Ashlee Vance as a primitive version of “Google Maps meets Yelp”, it was sold by Musk four years later for $307-million.

He reinvested the $22-million he got from that sale into a new company then merged into global payments start-up PayPal, where he became the biggest single shareholder.

When PayPal was sold in 2002 for $1.5-billion, Musk injected every cent into his three new businesses: $100-million to SpaceX, $70-million into Tesla and another $10-million into Solar City, managed by his cousins from Pretoria, Lyndon and Peter Rive.

Musk is the purest example of an entrepreneur you’ll find. He regards money as energy whose purpose is to change the world for the better. Definitely not something to be hoarded.

 

2)  Never, never give up

With his companies now flourishing and his wealth exceeding that of a small nation state, it’s easy to forget Musk did it the hard way. Six years after starting his new businesses, all the cash he’d invested into them had been used. He even needed to sell his car to help fund on-going losses.

Musk went through the fire, personally and financially. After the first three SpaceX rockets exploded, literally incinerating tens of millions of dollars, he kept on trying. When problems with Tesla cars delayed their launch for years past deadline, he never wavered.

Even after Musk had burned through all his money – and plenty more borrowed from friends – he still believed in his dream, refusing to compromise.

Just when all seemed lost, the fourth SpaceX rocket flew straight and Tesla’s all-electric car became a huge success. In 2012, Musk was suddenly an “overnight sensation”. But not before absorbing pressure which would have buckled many a lesser being.

 

260 X 200_SPARES5

3)  Read, read, read

Growing up, Musk was geeky and possessed a reserved personality. A late developer, he was bullied mercilessly at school. One of these incidents, where a gang attacked him, put him into the Sandton Clinic for two weeks, where his face needed reconstructive surgery.

He took refuge in books. At 14, Musk discovered Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He devoured other sci-fi classics like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Hard Mistress.

It wasn’t unusual for Musk to read for 10 hours a day. The youngster eventually ran through everything he cared to consumer in his school’s and neighbourhood library. So he worked his way through Encyclopaedia Britannica.

His voracious reading, combined with his photographic memory, bred in him a love of knowledge, and insights that served him well during the years to come. And look at where that has taken the boy from Pretoria.

 

* Alec Hogg is the founder of Biznews.com, started in August 2013. It is his second online publishing business after JSE-listed Moneyweb, which he created in 1997 and left 15 years later.

** This article first appeared in The Comet, an online newsletter by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.

 

 

 

Ringing in the Changes

  Back to Main Issue Button2_40X150

Edition_11_846 X 300_HEADINGS4_28

 

Meet Alan Knott-Craig Jr, BrightRock Change Agent and African Internet connectivity evangelist

Alan Knott-Craig Jr. Now there’s a name that rings a cell.

A Chartered Account by degree, Alan found his true calling in the perpetually restless world of mobile telecommunication, as co-founder or funder of 17 companies devoted to connecting people and communities.

Now the former CEO of Cellfind, iBurst, World of Avatar and Mxit has embarked on his biggest adventure yet: helping to bring free WiFi to millions of people across South Africa.

At the helm of a Non-Profit Organisation called Project Isizwe (Xhosa for Nation, Tribe, and People), Alan has a vision of Internet access as a basic human right, as ubiquitous and essential as water and electricity.

Already, the project has rolled out free WiFi in Stellenbosch and Tshwane, with plans to connect at least 3-million people by the end of next year.

At home in the beautiful dorp of Stellenbosch, with his wife and fellow Chartered Account Sibella, and their three young daughters, Tara, Juliet, and Sarah, Alan puts the principle of “Love Change” into everyday practise.

We caught up with him for a chat on how he copes with change in an ever-changing world.

Q: If you could change one thing about yourself for the better, what would that be, and why?

A: I’d like bigger calves. Also, I’d like to be more patient and less judgmental. Otherwise, I’m pretty content with what fortune sent my way.

Q: What do you love most about change?

A: You never remember the days that were just like the day before. Change means memories, and memories are the sum total of life. No change means I won’t have much of a life to look back on.

Q: What would you say is the most radical change that parenthood has brought to your life?

A: It’s taught me patience. And of course, I’m far less selfish than I used to be.

Q: Where do you go when you feel like a change of scenery?

A: I like walking on the Sea Point promenade which is, in my opinion, one of the country’s most amazing public spaces.

Q: What’s your own personal formula for coping with change in your life?

A: Don’t panic. Be grateful for the good stuff. Keep moving.

Q: What do you think is the most exciting change that technology holds in store for us?

A: Bridging the digital divide. For me the true tragedies are when youngsters with smarts and ambition can’t escape their circumstance, for no reason other than they can’t get on the Internet to find a job or learn a new skill. The democratisation of the Web will make the world a fairer place.

Q: How do you think Africa can change the world?

A: As the continent gears up its communications, transport and financial networks, it will be able to take advantage of the latest technology and it can leapfrog the legacy systems of the West.

Q: What advice can you give to new fathers about the art of changing a nappy?

A: Suck it up.

Q: How much change do you have in your pocket right now?

A: R3,14.

Q: What does it take for you to change your mind?

A: It depends. My core values will never change. But when it comes to superficial matters like “What is the best wireless network technology?”, then I follow wisdom of John Maynard Keynes. When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?

This article first appeared in The Comet, an online newsletter by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.