Silicon Cape Must Die. What Must Rise?

I love Cape Town.

I love South Africans.

I love technology.

I love business.

I love crazy people willing to start from nothing.

I love fighters.

I love honesty.

I hate Silicon Cape.

That might sound a bit harsh but rather than talk about what is wrong with it though (I’ve done that before), I’m going to outline what I think Cape Town needs from an organisation that is meant to champion the growth of technology businesses.

Focus, focus, focus. #

If Silicon Valley is what people want to become then please go back and read its history. It was not the place it is. It was not diverse, its early success grew from a focused ecosystem of related companies. This is the number one priority for the City of Cape Town.

We need to be known for something.

We need to be great at something.

We need people being poached from company to company for their relevant experience (not just code-monkey-code). We need people who have had an exit in a particular market investing both capital and knowledge into disrupting the very business they sold.

My belief is that we should build hubs for eCommerce and Creative Product companies (not agencies, they have their hipster havens already). Both of those are already strong, but let’s “double down” on them.

An ecosystem umbrella organisation (the “not Silicon Cape”) should be driving the long term support structures for these two focused hubs. Relevant education, industry placements, infrastructure, removing tax and legal barriers, lobbying at a national level. Not generic, focused on the very specific needs of those sub-sectors and their specific needs to grow in Cape Town. Also, not for just for new startups, for businesses that have ploughed hard for many years, grinding away growing organically not on some crazy boom and bust cycle.

If we did one thing, this should be it. But there’s other things too but they’re more to do with the people side of this.

Realism. #

KnifeCap runs a great course called Find, Make, Grow, Realise and when I recently attended it really brought home to me the uphill battle to hit key milestones in all these stages in South Africa. It is possible, but it is harder. Start-up and growth capital is there but you need to work twice as hard to get it and harder still to put it to work constructively. We need to acknowledge how hard it is, not celebrate the fund raise like it’s the end game but rather really support those willing to quietly grind and hustle.

Honesty #

The continent of Africa has always been labelled with the Fake It Till You Make It badge and while Cape Town has a lot less of it that than J'burg it’s still prevalent in certain circles. We need a commitment to honest talk. Don’t be ashamed of your failures. Don’t let them suck you down. Just learn something from them. Please don’t say “we’re profitable” if you’re not paying yourself and digging a personal debt hole to fall into.

Humility #

If you make a dent in the universe, or even in your community, just stop for a moment and realise how many people got you there. Sure, you worked hard, but just reflect on the quiet giants whose shoulders you’re standing on. We need to be (and be represented by) people who are humble and wise.

Diversity #

Sexism, racism, ageism, xenophobia, we have them all here in sunny Cape Town. I’m a white, middle aged (sob), middle class, well educated, Englishman but I don’t want to work with people Just Like Me. In order for us to improve we need be open to being uncomfortable. We need to be willing for the pendulum to swing the other way for a while before it finds a more natural resting place.

Stickability #

The Lean Startup movement is inspirational if you read it, understand it and adopt all of its component parts. It’s utterly terrifying if you just take the “pivot if you’re not winning” part of it. The leaders of the companies in the ecosystem need to fight the good fight for years, not months. The leaders of the representing organisation fighting for relevant education, industry placements, infrastructure, removing tax and legal barriers, lobbying at a national level need to have a multi-year battle plan and follow it through.

What now? #

In between me drafting this and getting around to publishing it, they announced Silicon Cape is getting R3M in funding from Fnb! I guess now is the time to make serious changes, or maybe it’s too late as now expectations are set. Who knows?

The status quo is not going to get us to where we need to go.

If you have opinions counter to mine, I’d love to read them. Put them on your blog and hit me up on Twitter with a link.


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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!... Continue →