Silicon Cape Feedback

Tonight there is an open feedback session for the Silicon Cape initiative over in the Alba Lounge at the V&A Waterfront. I can’t go because it’s my good wife’s night at hockey and the kids have had enough babysitters this week! However, I thought it good to stick a stake in the ground for what I would have said had I been there and this post is it. Maybe someone will see it and represent these points if they agree…

 The Caveats

Firstly, it’s very easy to sit on the side and criticise a non-profit community initiative like this. Just like the 1000’s of couch-based Stormers coaches every week that know “just how things should be done to get the right results”. But it’s much harder to get stuck in and help move things forward in a way that benefits others and not just their mean selfish interests or ego.

Secondly, I’ve only been in Cape Town since January 2011 and therefore only been to three or four Silicon Cape run events and have no idea of anything before that.

With those things in mind…

 Where’s The Foundational Winner?

I’ve always had a sense that the name “Silicon Cape” set expectations way too high and this was really brought home to me by an excellent Fred Wilson post on the New York tech scene called “The Darwinian Evolution of Startup Hubs”. In it he reminds us all of the multi-decade history of Silicon Valley with its roots and branches and wealth generating successes. Those successes begat future successes and so forth but it takes a winner to make that happen. That first seed has not yet been harvested in the Western Cape and its not obvious (at least to me) who it could be.

 We’re In Africa

When at the last SC event I went to about the SA eCommerce opportunity, I made a point that I think is worth repeating in this context. US and European models (however successful) are not guaranteed to work here. I think the local phrase is TIA, This Is Africa. Why do people want to be like US/Europe with their boom and bust mentality? Companies are people all the way down and this ruins lives every time the cycle repeats. Sure there’s great and attractive opportunities globally but who can serve the African continent better than the people who have a much better understanding of the local cultures and constraints. Again the Silicon Cape name encourages a global push that I think unhelpful.

 Everything and Nothing

It seems to me (again, remember the caveats) that the initiative, though well intended, stepped on a few toes when it started. Now maybe those bridges are mending but creating something with a wide intention and remit can seriously annoy those involved in running more focused groups that also seek to stimulate growth in local success. Trying to be everything to everyone usually leads to being almost nothing to everyone. This is not an irreversible situation

 People are Idiots

Lastly, there’s some real tools out there. Seriously, some of the questions that the audience make at events are beyond silly. No, I’m not talking about the infamous questionguy here (who I see was the first to confirm attendance at the feedback meeting!) because though his questions are long they actually have an ounce of thought. I’m talking about the tools wrapping a pitch for their non-existent start-up in a pseudo-statement-question. I’ve talked to a few people that I want to be at events with because they help me stimulate follow-up discussion and conversation beyond the events and they don’t want to go because of a lack of tolerance for the idiots who dominate. The only way to stop this is strong moderation.

 Be Positive Mike

So, now I’ve got all that off my chest I can focus on some positives! What would I ask they do more of or start doing?

 Developers, Developers, Developers

Channeling my inner Steve Ballmer I think the core of it needs to be that the Initiative finds a way to build stronger bridges into and across the developer community. I would argue that the heart of the success in business comes not from great ideas but from great execution and in a drive for a greater tech hub, that engine room of execution of that is developers. Developers are not a resource to be used and abused in a desire to get your <insert US Success>-clone built. Hey “business people”, you’re not all the same, take the time to understand developers aren’t too.

 Find a Strong Voice

The other thing that I think would be really good is to have a strong and knowledgeable advocate for tech business in local and national government. Lets be honest, that successful first-seed we need to generate the cash for a knock-on effect is not going to be HQ’d themselves locally so lets make it attractive for SA companies to stay HQ’d here and not set-up most assets abroad ready for acquisition. This is not simple, I have no expertise here, but I know it can and needs to be done.

 Promote the Ecosystem

I believe this has started to be done given recent events around legal advice for start-ups etc. but the reason hubs take off is because the whole ecosystem supports that mentality. Legal, finance, banking, offices, infrastructure services, logistics, etc. All of those need to cut the paper work/red tape down and make themselves start-up friendly.

 In Closing

Thanks must be given to the steering committee who’ve got Silicon Cape this far. Don’t quit, but don’t be afraid of a radical change. Do a few things and do them well. Please.

 
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