The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
It’s been my privilege to know both the Alan Knott-Craig’s well. Senior, the former telecoms engineer who started and built Vodacom into South Africa’s leading cell phone network. And Junior, the 38 year old technology entrepreneur who is the subject of this fascinating special podcast. Our friendship began more than a decade back when the young chartered accountant Alan returned from a spell in New York. We played some golf together (a game he still obsesses about) and formed a fast friendship. Alan has picked up more business scars than someone twice his age, but despite being exposed to the worst of human arrogance and greed, he retains that critical character trait all entrepreneurs need – bouncebackability. And as you’ll hear in this fascinating interview, he remains an optimist, especially about the land of his birth. He hates being called a serial entrepreneur, but after Cellfind, iBurst, World of Avatar, MxIt, Project Isizwe and now Hero Telecoms, the cap seems to fit. With a war chest of R80m after two rounds of funding, Alan is determined to redefine another sector of the developing New Economy. Here’s his story. – Alec Hogg
I’m here with my old friend Alan Knott-Craig who’s living in Stellenbosch nowadays. We’re sitting in Rosebank in the sunshine at Motherland. Is this one of your favourite haunts?
Yes. Motherland makes a decent cup of coffee. Johannesburg’s getting better coffee than Stellenbosch nowadays.
I guess that’s not too difficult. Alan, it’s an interesting story. You’re busy with another new venture but the last time the public knew about you, was at the Mxit… You’d built this company called World of Avatar. You seemed to be going places. Then you did a big deal on Mxit, and then you left pretty quickly. For the record, what actually happened there?
World of Avatar started in 2010 and we bought Mxit in October 2011. I left Mxit and World of Avatar in October 2012, so I was actually only at Mxit for about year. It’s been exactly three years since I left but it was very much, my last big entrepreneurial endeavour. There’s a long story and there’s a short story. The short story is my partners and I had a fallout. We just couldn’t agree on how to run the business and ‘where to from here’. I didn’t win that fight. It wasn’t the best moment of my life but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me because I’ve subsequently gone onto doing some great, exciting things. Although I do still look at Mxit with some fondness and I still believe, it had an opportunity to be the WeChat of Africa – bridging that gap from feature phone social networks to smartphone social networks.
I had the same experience in a company that I was running (and then departed). You do learn a lot and I guess you learn a lot about yourself.
You learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about your wife. You learn a lot about partnerships and what’s important in a partnership. I learned a lot about how to run a business. I think I was making some fundamental mistakes. I have three big rules in my life now when it comes to business. I’m very frugal. I always under-promise) and I have a tendency to exaggerate, so it’s difficult to under-promise) and I focus. I have to concentrate on one thing at a time. If nothing else, I learned some big lessons out of all that.
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Alan, you have had international experience. You did your Chartered Accountancy here in South Africa and then, went and travelled the world. At that point, when you left Mxit, it wasn’t exactly a high point in your life. Did you consider leaving the country and working somewhere else?
Absolutely. We actually packed our kids on a plane and we went to America. We hired an RV and drove for two months. At the back of my mind, I thought to myself ‘maybe I’m just not cut out for this. Maybe I’m just not supposed to be an entrepreneur, or maybe I’m not good at tech’. I went to the States, came back, and realised that South Africa is the land of opportunity and our network is here. We have an edge here. The opportunity is here. The problems are here. America might have opportunities but there’s a hell of a lot more competition. The nice thing about that little break (for me) was that it really confirmed in my mind that in my opinion, South Africa’s probably the best place in the world to be an entrepreneur. The opportunity in Africa is so big and I was on the right track around what we were trying to achieve. I’d just (perhaps) gone about things in slightly the wrong way and I decided that I was going to try it again but this time, learn from my mistakes.
It’s now taken me almost two-and-a-half years before I’ve really, had the guts to plunge myself back into entrepreneurship. With this new business at Telecoms, I think I have another good shot.
We’ll talk about that in a moment. Between here at Telecoms and Mxit, you got into a Wi-Fi program, helping municipalities – if I remember – in a non-profit.
Yes. We started a non-profit called Project Isizwe and the pitch was basically, Internet access should be a utility like water and electricity, and every South African should be within walking distance of free Wi-Fi. Municipalities should take responsibility for that, as they take responsibility for water, electricity, sanitation, and roads. We actually had some luck in Tshwane and within the last two years, Tshwane’s gone from nothing to the continent’s biggest public free Wi-Fi network.
It has 750 sites, so about 22 percent of buildings in Tshwane are now within walking distance of free Wi-Fi. By the end of the year, over one million people would have connected to the Wi-Fi. It has average speeds of 15mbps, so it’s not poor Wi-Fi. It’s pretty good Wi-Fi. By 2017, every citizen in Tshwane will be within walking distance of Wi-Fi, so it’s been a huge success. For me personally, it’s helped me build my confidence in my own abilities as well as given me confidence in our government (to be perfectly honest). I feel that the guys I deal with are the kind of guys who can run the show and they do run the show well, so I actually have a lot more hope for the future of South Africa.
How is it affordable?
Well, there are four big components to a telco network – cost components. (1) Labour. We use cheap Wi-Fi techies. (2) Property/renting land. If you work within your disparity, you can use their buildings without paying rent. (3) Equipment. Wi-Fi equipment is about R2500.00 per base station versus 3G, which is about R150, 000.00 per base station so that’s an order of magnitude difference in capex. The most important thing is (4) bandwidth/fibre. What we do is we go to telco’s with a lot of fibre already. We cut a deal where they give us discounted for fibre that’s not being used (and is running through townships and rural areas anyway), and we give them marginal income on a sunk cost. All of that together, results in a total cost to the City, of 19 cents per Gig. To put that in perspective, you’re paying about R2.00/meg on Vodacom 3G out-of-bundle pre-paid in a township, which is what everyone is using. R2.00/meg.
One megabyte is 1000 times smaller than a Gig, so the City of Tshwane pays 10,000 times less than retail rates for data and offers a 15mbps experience. That’s why the City can do it because financially, it makes sense.
Do you get feedback from the people who are actually using it?
Let me tell you. For the City of Tshwane, it’s been the most feedback they’ve ever had on anything. We’re talking youngsters here who want Wi-Fi. If I want to punish my kids nowadays, I take away the Wi-Fi. I make them watch TV. Kids need Wi-Fi. They need to be on the Internet. In Tshwane, they call it ‘Sputla Wi-Fi’, which is the nickname for the Executive Mayor of Tshwane Ramokgopa. His nickname is Sputla, so it’s Sputla Wi-Fi. You’ll drive through townships in Pretoria and you’ll see people randomly standing around on their phone, laptop, or tablet and they’re on the Internet. They’re emailing their CV, downloading a textbook because it wasn’t delivered, doing their homework, or just doing something I’ve taken for granted for 15 years. For them, it’s a game changer, so it’s hugely popular from an on-the-ground- perspective. For us, it’s quite nice.
What about other parts of the country?
Well, we’ve done some deployments in Thohoyandou in Limpopo. We finished a deployment in Lusikisiki in Mafrere in the Eastern Cape, which is as rural as you’re going to get. We’re doing some stuff in KZN. We’re hoping that PE’s the next big one – Nelson Mandela Bay, which is Despatch, Uitenhage in PE. We’ve done two sites in the Western Cape. With any luck, the Government adopts the Tshwane free Wi-Fi model and by 2020, everyone has Wi-Fi.
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That’s an amazing story Alan, but now you’re moving back into entrepreneurship – back into your own business.
Yes. Project Isizwe is no longer a start-up. We’ve become pretty big and the truth is, I shouldn’t be allowed near something very big because I’ll break it. My tendency is to take risks and we have too much to lose now to bet it all. I have a fantastic partner – Zahir Khan. He’s been my Chief Operating Officer for two years. From early next year, he’ll become the official CEO and I’m going to spend a lot more of my attention trying to get HeroTel off the ground. HeroTel was an opportunity, which we saw. I was dealing with all these wireless Internet service provides whereby we believe there’s an opportunity to create the equivalent of Capitec, but for the telecoms industry. Consolidate all these small wireless providers and create (overnight) some kind of big residential broadband provider with a national brand, and we’ll call it HeroTel.
That sounds like a big, hairy, audacious goal and something, which is going to get up quite a few people’s noses.
I have a few enemies. For some reason, some people don’t like me. For the most part, you would think that other telco’s would see that as a threat. We actually position it as a value proposition. At the end of the day, for the big guys R100.00 or R500.00/month doesn’t really move the needle for them anymore, but for a small WISP (wireless Internet service provider); they’re all over the country. They’re doing the dirty work. They’re connecting people to the Internet. They’re putting your house on the Internet. They’re giving you broadband. When it goes down, they fix it on the weekend. They’re charging you R500.00/month but they’re making 28 percent net profit margins. That’s pretty cool. They could not be doing that if they did that the way Vodacom or MTN does things because you have to be frugal. These guys have figured out a way to be frugal and offer a decent broadband.
In my opinion, what we’re offering is a way to consolidate this fragmented market, bring it to a big telco that we can buy the data from and ultimately, we can [inaudible 09:08] one of those guys. Who knows? Maybe we’ll buy one of those guys but at the end of the day, we are going to be making a play in the residential broadband place and if you wanted to pick a competitor, it would probably be iBurst.
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Where are you in the process? IBurst: that’s your old company.
Yes. It is, actually. I used to run iBurst and I left there in 2009. That’s what we were trying to do. For those years, we were trying to build an alternative to ADSL but there were some massive problems with iBurst. (1) Proprietary technology. (2) Licensed spectrum. (3) Very expensive capex. (4) A centralised head office model. All of those costs just add up to a situation where you can never make a profit. Greater networks are done with the luxury of being cross-subsidised by voice and voice minutes have super profits where data doesn’t have a lot of profit. If you’re a data-only network, you really need to be frugal. I think the WISP’s figured out that model better than we did it when I was at iBurst. Whilst I was at iBurst, WISP’s were my enemy. They say if you can’t beat them, join them so I’m now with the WISP’s and we’re trying to consolidate them.
Getting back to that original question, how far along the process/road are you?
Well, the brand’s not officially alive. We had to make some announcements recently just to clear some rumours in the market, but we already have three WISP’s on board. One in George, one in the Western Cape, and one in Gauteng. We’re just getting another one on board in KZN. We have another three so I’m hoping that by April next year, we’ll be ready to go live with an 80 percent national footprint. In two years’ time, we’ll have done and dusted most of it and then we’re just getting into the game of offering more value to customers. I guess that what I’m trying to say is what we do isn’t really technical. We’re trying to solve a consumer problem. You want broadband at your house. You don’t want it to be complicated. You want to be uncapped. You want to pay a fixed amount. You don’t want ‘bill shock’. You want it to get faster every year and you don’t want to pay more money every year, and that’s where we’re trying to get.
The value proposition for the consumer: why would I switch from Telkom ADSL, to you?
To be perfectly honest, I think ADLS is a fantastic service. I don’t think you can compete with fibre or with decent ADSL if you’re using wireless, but there are only one million landlines in the country and five-million households pay for DSTV. If I look at the market, I’m saying that five million can afford R700.00/month broadband connection. One-million of them are ADSL. A maximum of 400,000 are going to be fibre. That leaves three-point-six-million people multiplied by R700.00 per month – every month – who could potentially be a wireless broadband guy. I don’t see more copper being laid on the ground. I see it all being wireless, so our market is not so much stealing other customers as it is going into this untapped market.
Your funders. Have you gone to the bank? Have you used your own money? Have you found people to support you?
Yes. Fortunately, I do have some people who still support me. We had a first round early last year where, just to get it off the ground, I had some rather credible guys from the banking industry invested. We finished another round now. We raised about R20m, which we can gear up to about R80m so we have about R80m cash now in the bank. We also have some big names (in my opinion), some credible guys who help me strategically as well as giving me confidence that we’re not just smoking our socks. They kicked the tyres. They looked at the business models and they feel like we’re onto something. I can’t mention names. I’d rather not talk about the individuals.
That’s proper money, Alan – R80m.
Yes. I don’t think its big money in the big scheme of things but in my small scheme of things, it’s a lot of money.
It sounds like you’re almost a ‘Silicon Valley’ type here. First round of funding. Second round of funding. Will there be more to come?
I don’t think so much ‘Silicon Valley’. I think more Capitec. When Capitec was growing, it had a first round and then a second round, and every round was actually to fund loans/deposits. They want to lend more, so they need more money to lend. They tried to fund it through deposits but at the end of the day, a lot of funding was required for that. What we need… We buy businesses at 4 PE’s and then turn them into 1 PE’s within a year-and-a-half. It’s expensive to sell equity to do that, so I don’t know if our next round is going to be equity-funded. It’s probably going to be debt-funded or pre-funded. We’re going to need more money because really, it’s a question of ‘why are we not moving faster’. Once the model’s proven, you’re making money, and you’re turning things around, you just want to go as quickly as you possibly can.
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No business is better than one where, if you throw the money at it, you know exactly what’s going to be coming back. In this case, you believe that will be the instance.
Well, a year-and-a-half ago, it was a theory. Now we’ve done it with two businesses. We’ve turned them around completely, helped the entrepreneurs that started them (they’re making more money than they ever did before. They’re part of a bigger story. It’s a big story and with an exit down the line) so that they don’t have to be on a treadmill for the rest of their lives. I don’t think it’s that risky anymore around the model. We’ve executed on the model and now it’s just a question of whether we can carry on executing. It’s not me. I talk a lot but I’m not really doing a lot of the ‘on the ground/boots on the ground’ work. I have fantastic partners. A guy called Corné de Villiers is the CEO. A guy called Van Zyl Botha as a CFO. I have Francois Wessels. I have a couple of wisps from Botha. We have a great team, you know and I know that with that team we can probably pull it off.
Are you becoming a serial entrepreneur?
I don’t like that word serial but I would say that my wife worries that I go from business to business. I don’t stay long enough in things. In my first business, cell phones, I existed in 2007 for cash. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse and I actually realised, in retrospect that it was a mistake because that business – I just thought it was too good to be true. We were making too much money and I thought let me just get out while the going is good. It’s like when the shares are going up and you think ‘it’s too good’ and you sell.
Hold onto something when it’s going up. Get out of something when it’s going down. iBurst I didn’t make any money. World of Avatar and Mxit – I should have made money but that ended prematurely for me, so this world of mine, Neotel and everything we’re going. I don’t necessarily think I’ll be running Neotel forever but I’m hoping to be part of that story for a very long time but my real talent is getting things off the ground and started, and then handed over to guys who can run things.
And writing – you’ve just written a book. How’s that been, well first of all, why?
Well that is my fourth book, and my first book was the bestselling book in South Africa that year of 2008 – ‘Don’t Panic’, subsequently I haven’t done so well, so my sequel to that, ‘Really don’t Panic’ and ‘Moenie Stress Nie’ didn’t sell out but ‘Mobinomics’ was the story of Mxit. It was a good story but it didn’t really sell very well. This one is called ‘So you want to be a Hero’. It’s been a bit more iterative and we really started internally and now it’s being published – Quivertree are publishing it, and it might even be in Exclusive Books in November. Who knows where that goes but that was really just an attempt to – we were like trying to brainwash new employees. When people come in – we repeat ourselves 100 times, about what we expect from people so we created this employee handbook, called ‘So you want to be a Hero’. Well this is what you have to do to be a hero, and if you don’t want to be a hero – fuck off you can’t work for us.
This thing was shared a little bit, and some people started ordering their own copies and we printed some more, and then a publisher got hold of it and said, “Can we publish this?” It’s a bit tamer the consumer version but yes, now we’re going to publish a new book in the New Year. I feel I want to publish a book every year for the rest of my life.
It’s interesting, your choice of publisher. That’s Tim Noakes’ publisher as well, isn’t it?
Yes actually, the publisher was quite a tricky one because I’ve always been quite loyal to a lady by the name of Louise Grantham she’s published all my other books. She uses a distribution company, which I completely detest this company. As it’s the most useless book distributor, I’ve ever come across. I said that I would only publish with you again if I don’t have to use these people and she said she couldn’t change, so we had to part ways.
I ended up with the publishers, a lady by the name of Ingeborg Pelser, who is at Quivertree (who were the guys doing Tim Noakes. I know Tim Noakes’ new book is not with them but his original one, the one that hit it out of the park, is them. Hopefully we’re in there next and hit it out of the park.
Alan, what about your background – entrepreneurs are supposedly born that way. Your dad started or ran Vodacom. Then went and ran Cell C as well. Is it a bit about the apple not falling far from the tree or were there other influences?
My dad is a legend and I’m very fortunate to have a guy like that in my life. Like an on-tap mentor. He doesn’t like talking to people but he has to talk to me. I’m like, “Dad, you have to talk to me. You have to give me advice.” I’ve been very lucky but he never owned equity in a business ever, so if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from that – I want to control my destiny. Financial freedom only comes from equities, so I want to be, in that sense, starting my own businesses with my own equity and taking my own risks. My dad has never actually every said I should be an entrepreneur. Every time I’ve wanted to start a business, he said it’s stupid. Including my last thing – he said it’s stupid. You’re wasting your time. You’re going to lose your money, so I’ve gone a little bit against the grain on that stuff. I wouldn’t say I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I used to sell ices on the playground when I was a kid and I always had a weekend job.
How old were you at that stage, selling ices?
Well, I used to run the book for the Betting Club. We used to bet on Premier League, in school, so I ran that from when I was about 12. I sold ices from about the age of ten, for ten-cents an ice. I bought them for one-cent and I sold them for ten-cents. Second break, in Pretoria, in summer – it’s hot, so you sold a lot of ices.
What did you do with the money?
I spent it. Part of the reason I need to make money is because I tend to spend a lot of money. I need money, so I can spend money. Some people want to make money to put in the bank and look at it. I don’t want to look at my money. I don’t want to put it in the bath and I don’t want to bath in it. My brother is a bit like that. He’s like very conservative. I just want to spend like crazy and I need money to be able to spend. I need to be able to put my kids through school and I want to be able to go on holiday once a year. I need to be able to make money and I don’t think I’m unemployable. I didn’t ever think I’d start my own business.
When I qualified as a CA – I worked in New York for a while. We came back to South Africa in 2003, and I couldn’t get a job. I was looking for a job in the bank, and nobody was hiring. It was the recession of 2003, and I had a chance to start a business and I started a business and now I’m damaged goods. I can’t go back.
Alan, I spent September in London, talking to many young South Africans who, like you, went overseas, played around a little bit. Thinking about coming back to South Africa but worried that like you, they won’t be able to get a job – particularly the white guys. Would you have any advice or suggestions for them?
My first piece of advice is come back and, sadly, even in South Africa we only get negative stories, so in South Africa we get this kind of feeling that it’s not as good as… We look around and life is amazing, but we read the papers and life is terrible but at least you can look around and balance from what you’re getting from traditional media. Then if you’re living in America, Australia, or in London – all you’re getting is that negative and you’re not actually seeing that actually, it’s better than it was 20 years ago (or ten years ago or five years ago) – it’s better. Every day it’s better.
I know we have problems. I know we have blackouts. I know we have corruption but it’s still better, on average, for everyone. Everyone – not just the poor or the rich, or anybody – everyone is better, so it’s a good place to live but it’s not a good place if you don’t want to take risk. If you want to have a comfortable life and get a pension and just be cool and don’t have any worries – then probably there are better places in the world to live but if you want to make a difference. If you want to make money but, more importantly than making money – if you want to make a difference, if you want to move the needle, if you want to help people – you’re not going to find a better place in the whole world to help people because this country has got third-world problems with first-world infrastructure.
It’s hard to make a difference in Kenya because you can’t get from A to B – there are no roads. South Africa has roads. It has electricity. It has telecoms. It has banks. It has systems. It has everything and you can live a comfortable life. Your kids can go to a decent school, and you can make a difference and I think you can make a lot of money.
So you can almost apply the benefits of being in a third-world infrastructure to a frontier economy.
Yes, third-world opportunity – first-world infrastructure.
Are you, at some point in time though, wanting to get hard currency because all of that’s great. However, in a South African context, we have a sliding Rand, for reasons that are too many for us to start discussing now but it does mean that in a global sense; well your finances are becoming weaker every year now.
If your plan is to live anywhere else then you’re in trouble because the Rand – it’s hard to live anywhere else on the Rand but if you’re living in South Africa – the Rand is a great currency. If you want to go on an overseas holiday regularly – it gets expensive, so those are the negatives. I think a weak Rand is good for our economy. It’s good for manufacturing. It’s good for exports and, in general, it’s actually pretty, good. Not so good if oil prices start going up.
I don’t have a plan-B. I don’t have another passport. My plan-B is my chartered accountant qualification. If it really goes pear shaped I’m hoping somewhere in the world they want me but I don’t think I need a plan-B. I think South Africa, 20 years from now, is going to be better than it was 20 years ago and today, so I don’t think we need a plan-B. I do think we’re going to go through a bit of an economic storm in the next five years, but we’re going to get through it, like we always do, and there’s going to be massive opportunity in the middle of that storm for people like me, who are comfortable with risk and uncertainty and taking advantage of chaos. But it’s going to be better than that afterwards.
When I was in New York in 2003, the Rand was R14.00 to the Dollar. Then in 2008, it was R6.00 to the Dollar. Guess what. We’re back to R14.00 to the Dollar, so all those guys took their money offshore in 2003, and then they brought it back in 2007, so they keep halving their money because they’re running with the crowd, instead of just taking a view. My view is South Africa is good to go, the land of opportunity. Maybe if I’m 55, I’ll be thinking differently. Maybe my risk frame is different but I’m 38. I can take risk.
What’s interesting is we sit here in the Rosebank zone and there’s an economic downturn upon us and yet, this place is full. We hear trolleys going past us and people all over the place but most of all, for those who are listening to this in London – we look up to a bright sunny sky, which we seem to get many days of the year. Did that ever bother you when you were outside of the country, the weather? We often talk about the weather as being a big magnet for South Africans.
Yes, in my time out of the country the things I missed the most were – in America you can’t EFT, so you have to post a cheque. That irritated me a little bit, so I take that for granted that in South Africa they can just EFT you. The weather is a massive thing. New York and London – they have terrible weather. Sport – I couldn’t watch cricket and rugby. I missed cricket (a lot of cricket) but the biggest thing is people.
South Africans are our people. South African blacks, South African Indians, coloureds, whites or Muslims – it doesn’t matter how you look or what God you prayed to. We had the same sense of humour. We have a bit of sarcasm. We understand irony. I’m not sure that’s a word in the American language. We can laugh at ourselves. We don’t sell all the time, like in America – they sell all the time. The U.K. is probably quite similar, in terms of that self-deprecating attitude but in England – it’s as if the system is like locked in. Like, you’ll never break into the system. At least you can break through – you can get into the game here, in South Africa. I just missed the people. I think that’s what South Africans miss. I would miss that the most if I had to ever leave the country – people, South African people.
Okay, some quick answers. What car do you drive?
Honda Jazz 2003.
Where do you live?
On a wine farm in Stellenbosch.
Because I want my kids to grow up on a farm and we have chickens, and I’ve got an amazing view and I rent because that’s the cheapest way to live on a wine farm.
Well, Piet Viljoen would agree with that. Can the Springboks win the World Cup?
Of course, the Springboks can win the World Cup. I don’t think they deserve to win the World Cup, on form, and I don’t think the Springboks have transformed, so actually, to be perfectly honest – I’m not a Springbok supporter anymore. I’m more a Proteas supporter. I buy into the Proteas. Like I like AB, Amla, and this Rabada guy – I like the dynamic and I like those SA rugby players but it just doesn’t feel like it’s changed. I just think this country has to change, in every way otherwise, it’s going to die. You can’t have fucking 50 years of what happened and then just carry on the way it was. Some things have to change, and some people have to make sacrifices.
Who’s your favourite other executive, not a person that you work with?
Well, in my opinion, the number one, living entrepreneur in South Africa is Christo Wiese.
Your favourite football team, (soccer side), in the U.K.
Man United. I started supporting Man United in the 80’s, when nobody supported Man United, and then they beat Crystal Palace in the ’89 FA Cup Final 3 – 2 and that’s when they started the ride.
Your favourite rugby player.
Ever, probably Ruben Kruger but I like Bryan Habana.
Your favourite soccer player.
There’s this Ajax guy. I can’t remember his name now. He’s playing for Bafana-Bafana – he’s amazing but probably my favourite soccer figure ever was Alex Ferguson. I think he’s an incredible coach.
Have you read that book?
Yes, well his recent book. He’s written a few now.
Well, the most recent book on leadership.
I’ve just read his latest biography, about a year ago, so I’m not sure if it’s recent or not.
I think this is even more recent than that because now he’s at business schools and lecturing at Harvard, I think on leadership.
Managing an English Premier League team, like Man United is like managing Mxit. It’s a tech company. It’s full of very creative, talented individuals. There’s a whole lot of very good guys, and there’s always a star and you need to have that star, like Ronaldo or David Beckham. You need them but you need to keep them in check, and inevitably, they can become bigger than the team. You have to keep all these egos together and you have to keep them moving in the same direction. If you don’t have people like that, you can’t innovate and then you’ll die. Then you’re just like a bank, a boring bank. The way Alex Ferguson managed Man United was I think the template for how people should manage tech companies.
Where did you go to school?
The Glenn High – it’s a government school in Pretoria. It’s like a feeder school for Pollsmoor.
Elon Musk – do you have a view?
I have a lot of respect for him. I’m not a big fan. I think where we’re different is he, kind of seems quite pessimistic about the world, which is why he wants to go to Mars. Whereas I’m very optimistic about the world and I would want to solve the problems in the world. I really like Steve Jobs though. Whenever I watch those Steve Jobs interviews – I just, I get incredibly horny, like excited. That guy was an amazing guy – at the second iteration, when he was the new Jobs. He’s an amazing guy. If I could be one-tenth of the guy, that guy was I would have achieved my entrepreneurial dreams.
IOS or Android?
Windows or Apple?
Alan Knott-Craig, it’s been a privilege.