September 30, 2012
MIT's Jodie Wu, an Inspiration & Force Behind Change in Tanzania
Enough people know I love Africa and the fact that I have spent time there and lived there.
Combine these known facts with her entrepreneur and technology work and it makes sense that we'd have a lot to talk about.
I also love meeting women CEOs who are an inspiration to be around and in the midst of all this background, did I mention that she's only 25?
She was a speaker this September at the event, the second year I made my way across country to Louisville Kentucky to meet interesting people who are help shaping the world.
Her company Global Cycle Solutions is a social enterprise developing bicycle attachments that improve the lives of smallholder farmers. In May 2009, as an undergraduate in mechanical engineering at MIT, she led her team to win the MIT 100K Business Plan Competition, and in August 2009, she moved to Arusha, Tanzania, to launch her company.
Her vision is to end "cycled poverty." I had an opportunity to spend time with her before and after her talk. She says, "so much money is going into foreign aid and it's not being spent effectively. The typical person just needs tools and investment in their education. If they buy it, they need it, if they don’t buy it, then it isn’t good enough.
Fair enough. Even if the technology is advanced and might work in the U.S. or Europe, if Africans don't buy the product, then it means its not solving real needs they have every day.
In Tanzania, Bernard their inventor, is creating water pumps, grinders and pedals and working on designing a better bike for Africa.
Her favorite product they're working on right now is the solar lantern. She says with a smile, "it actually bounces like a ball but it doesn’t break. The most significant thing about the light right away is that when people use it, their productivity goes up right away. People can charge their phones at their houses rather than them having to walk five kilometers just to charge their phone, which is what people are doing today."
When she was asked by someone from the audience about how they decided on price, she said that narrowing down the "right price" was difficult, because it depends on their harvest and the timing of it. In other words, $50 is not a lot but they may not have the money to buy it until their harvest comes in. They are testing the pay per use model and when they have all the money, they can opt to buy their own.
Not a boat load of MIT graduates take off for Africa to start a company. Why Tanzania? She says she asked herself after graduation, “is it really going to make me happy working to make a larger corporation richer? What I love about working in Africa, you can see the impact of your engineering immediately – there’s an immediate satisfaction."
Having lived in Africa myself, I resonate with her sense of satisfaction and the immediate reward. I also remembered such a stronger sense of gratitude and appreciation than we have in the west.
On lessons learned? The best advice she received from one of her MIT mentors was “Just do it.” She also learned that change doesn’t happen instantaneously. She thought she’d be in Tanzania for two years and then move onto other countries, but she learned that two years wasn’t realistic at all. Jodie thought that they'd break even in two years, but they’ve been there for four years and she thinks she probably has another two years before she can move her projects into other African markets.
Other great advice she received along the way is one that everyone can learn from: “if any one task is taking more than 20% of your time, delegate and outsource it.” I laughed out loud when she talked about experiences hiring: “if I don’t love you during the interview process and want to go to lunch with you next week, then I won’t love working with you.” It's so true and yet sometimes we are blinded in the interviewing process because we think of skills more than we think of synergy, at least right away.
Jodie apparently pays all of her employees through her phone. She sees so many opportunities in that area and countries like Tanzania are miles ahead. “LEDs are becoming so efficient and that could change things dramatically for Tanzania and other parts of Africa. Remember that 90% of the population is off the grid,” says Jodie.
They’ve set up a group of village ambassadors who have become their evangelists. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of a virtual sales force but it’s organic...the way it should be.
Jodie is an inspiration and it's great to see her MIT education and knowledge pouring into an eastern African country that needs it so much.
September 20, 2012
Former Facebook's Kevin Colleran: Insider View Mixed with Humor
In Kentucky, that's not the case, nor is it the case in other parts of the world.
I was surprised I had not run into Boston-based Kevin Calleran, Facebook's 7th employee in my circles before now....now being this past week in of all places, Kentucky. That said, I met the CTO of the White House for the first time in Louisville at Idea's Festival annual event - same time, same place a year ago.
Kevin did a l'il history of Facebook to a less social media savvy crowd than he may be accustomed to in Silicon Valley or Boston. Most people in the room were Facebook users however, which was a mix of high school and college students, academics, innovators, technologists, researchers, artists and local business owners.
Kevin's a natural sales guy and no surprise that its his background and raison d'etre. He's a great storyteller and adds a lot of humor throughout his talk, all done in a very informal style. In the early days, he ran the East Coast office out of his New York City apartment for months before meeting Zuckerberg for the first time. He laughed as he shared stories of the first two years, most of which captured humorous early stage moments.
He moved onto memories....you know, the Facebook kind. Showing a video of a Facebook employee who captured every moment of his life in his timeline (from birth and graduation to marriage, his child being born and beyond, Kevin notes that his only recollection of his grandparents is the four black and white photos in his house.
While he's no longer officially at Facebook, he's certain still a positive spokesperson for the company. He says of Mark's vision: "Mark never wants 'that to ever happen again. Mark feels that every piece of our life should be chronicled."
He then went deeper into the company's history, what Facebook was and where it is today. A few of the latest stats according to Kevin's data:
- There are now 955 million active users
- Instagram just passed 100 million users
- 552 million daily active users on average
- 543 million monthly active users who used Facebook mobile products in June 2012
- Facebook is now translated into over 85 languages and has nearly 4,000 employees.
He also heavily encouraged hackathons and believes every company should do them. He says that some of the best products they have ever shipped have come from an all nighter coding event. In other words, "academics meet coder types all night long and great ideas have come out of it."
In addition to a trend of people moving to more of an 'asset-free life,' he shared some of the Emerging Themes are in technology:
- Rent or lease only: rather than own something, almost everthing is available to lease or rent, so there's a trend away from owning material things.
- The world is moving mobile. 31.5% of U.S. households are mobile only and users log on an average of 77 minutes per day using apps on their smartphone.
- 40% of Facebook's traffic is mobile-specific.
- Uber (see my review on Uber when it launched in Paris)
- Parking Panda (shows nearby parking garages and space availability)
- Lyft (ride-share program)
- Zip car (rent by the hour for when you need it)
- Airbnb (is doing a million room nights, people are renting out their homes while they're on the road)
- Spotify (there's no reason to own music anymore when you can pay $10 a month to have access to any music you want)
Distributed Workforce: (technology enabled entrepreneurship/self employment & task entrepreneurs)
- Task Rabbit (you can outsource work to people who can do a task for you within your zip code)
- Cherry (a new request a car wash app. The idea is that you park your car at work or home and you put up the address where your car is parked and someone will come and wash your car for you)
- Instacart (you can get people to your shopping for you)
Now in its Third Year, Tech4Africa Hits Johannesburg Next Month
Now in its third year, Tech4Africa is a premier mobile, web and emerging technology event held in Johannesburg on October 31-November 1 at The Indaba Hotel, Gauteng.
The theme is “Unlocking the next billion consumers” and sessions will be focused around mobile and content, the enterprise opportunity, entrepreneurship and financing, social business and innovation.
The Developer Day and Hackathon on the kick off day includes three tracks: a day on Agile
software development, a Hackathon with sessions on Ruby on Rails, Python,
Raspberry Pi, PhP etc., as well as workshops for social media marketers on apps
ecosystem and monetization.
Keynote speakers include IBM's Tom Rosemalia and Ralph Simon of Mobilium, with other speakers being Amolo Ng'weno, MD of Digital Divide Data in Kenya; Neal Ford, Director, Software Architect and Meme Wrangler at ThoughtWorks; Vérone Mankou, CEO of Way-C in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Emma Kaye, CEO of Bozza, Josh Adler, social entrepreneur and others.
A Google G+ Hangout will be held live at the conference so that tech hubs from around Africa can be part of the conference and so that delegates can interact with a panel, asking questions and finding out more about what is happening on the ground in Senegal, Liberia, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Kenya, Congo and other parts of Africa.
Disclosure: we are a media partner of the event.
September 01, 2012
Support "Founders Less Than Three:" Funny, Sexy Novel About Startups
The author? Boston-based Halley Suitt Tucker who doesn't think that there are enough entrepreneurs starting companies and creating jobs. Especially women entrepreneurs.
The novel is a funny, sexy story about a Boston-based accelerator where female and male founders and their teams fight it out to make their start-up company the next big thing.
It's a book with solid entrepreneurial advice, adventures, laughs, love and all the twists and turns starting a business involves, as they race towards their demo day, when the teams show off their start-up ideas and see who gets the best deal.
Halley says, "I especially want more women to become entrepreneurs because I think they are well suited to the unpredictable path a new business usually takes and I want people to learn the lessons of entrepreneuring via a novel, not a business book, and not a textbook."
Her book aims to inspire female and male entrepreneurs alike and make them all say, "I can do that!"
Help make her book a reality through Kickstarter. Any pledge that you make will contribute towards an editor, a proofreader, a book cover designer and as well as create a small budget for book promotion when the book is launched. $15,000 is her goal however even a pledge of $1.00 will get you a preview copy of the book in digital format as soon as it's done.
How cool is this? Some of the pledge levels let YOU write part of her book whereby you can create a fictional start-up, write their elevator pitch and give birth to an imaginary CEO. A pledge level above the imaginary company level is all about REAL start-ups, meaning, she'll mention your actual start-up company in her book and your CEO. As she says with humor, "My character will drink your soda."