Category Archives: Random Thoughts

My Dream Business

I have been reading two very interesting books in the last few weeks, the first one is called ‘Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter’, by Liz Wiseman.  It is one of the best and most practical leadership books I have ever read. The second book is ‘The $100 Startup’ by Chris Guillebeau. Also a thought provoking read.

Both of these books have made me think about the problems I would like to try and solve in the future, so I wanted to write some of it down.

When starting with a blank page I always like to think about the ideal ending I would like to work towards.  So my dream business would meets as many of these criteria as possible:

Internet App/Software

Clearly I am a really technology junkie, so ideally I would like to find a problem that can be solved by building a web-based application.  I would like to follow a lean startup approach to try and solve it.


I really love Skiing, so finding a problem in the skiing industry that I could work on would be first prize.  I would love to spend at least a few months a year living in a mountain community.  Working on a problem within the ski industry would make that really easy.

It would be awesome to have a business in the ski industry

My dream business would be in the ski industry, then we can spend more time in the mountains.


I am really passionate about learning. Not, go-to-university-learn-some-academic-stuff type of learning, but a more practical learning.  Something like getting people excited about getting better at something to help them improve their lives.

 Challenging myself and others

This ties into the learning angle.  I love challenging myself to do more, even more than I thought I might be able to do.  This is well illustrated in the classic scene in Invictus, where Nelson Mandela challenges Francois Pienaar to figure out how to get the team to achieve more than what they think is possible.

This can easily be applied to working with your own staff inside a business, but is it possible to have this effect on your customers as well?

Customer Experience

I want to be really focussed on customer experience, and make sure the business I build give customers more than they expect.  I also think you can change the world with customer experience, so I would like to give that a good go.

Annuity income

The ideal would be to build something that is focussed on providing annuity income.  My goal would be to build a business where I could be the owner, but only be the operator/manager as long as it fits in with my personal goals.  Thereafter I should be able to easily leave the business without a negative impact on the business, or the cash flow it provides me.

The more of these attributes I can find in my next business the better. My dream business would have them all!

Lifetime Building Startups

I am really enjoying learning to code. It feels so empowering to finally understand more about what goes on under the hood of web applications.  Becoming a hacker is proving to be a really fun journey.  The Starter League classes have been great so far, I have also worked really hard to try and be ahead of the curve, working hard outside class.

Being here in Chicago and learning to code, is hopefully the first steps towards doing a startup.  I have been thinking about what the ideal setup would be if I would like to be involved in startups for the rest of my life.  Forgetting about the actual problems I would like to solve, and their solutions that could turn into businesses.  What is the skill set that I need to acquire, how do I need to set up my personal circumstances to be ideally suited for a lifetime building startups?

One of the keys for me to answering those questions is that I am really leaning towards bootstrapping, instead of raising capital early.  This is a little surprising to me, as I have always been inclined to go for more aggressive growth that raising capital can enable.  Not that I won’t raise capital again, but I would like to try get as far down the road as possible before I do.

I am also of the opinion that you should give yourselves as much negotiating strength when you eventually get to the point of raising money.  The stronger position the company is in the better, and having a real alternative to raising money is essential.

So bootstrapping a startup as long as possible would require keeping expenses as low as possible, so the paying big salaries to founders won’t be an option.  For me that has two big implications, 1) I need enough annuity income to support our own financial needs; 2) I need to be able to contribute in a big way to building the product.

By learning to code I start towards solving the second one.  To really get where I need to be however, may require working as a developer for a few years to really get all the skills I need.  This also gives me the time to make sure I set up the annuity income I need.

Having the skills and no need to ever earn a salary from a startup must be close to the ideal situation to be in! Achieving this in the next 2 -5 years is going to be my goal! In this time I can also look for the right problem to solve. As Robert Pirsig said in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”:

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”

I am looking forward to a lifetime of building startups.

Keeping up with your own Innovation

I love FNB, I have banked with them for about the age of 7, when I got my first BOB card.  It has almost always been a pleasure dealing with them, and over the years they have done some amazing things.  Michael Jordaan has driven the bank to some inspiring innovations.

The online banking is the best, they were the first to release smart phone apps, and they have some great deals on smart phones to help drive the adoption. All very cleaver strategies to drive the ‘most innovative’ bank image and help move customer to more profitable channels.

Unfortunately when you are so driven by innovation, sometimes your feet runs to fast and your body can’t keep up.  Today I had the rude awakening that this happens even at my beloved FNB.  I have been driven to the point of surrender, something I expect from oversized corporates not my beloved FNB.

I never thought my beloved FNB would frustrate me to the point of surrender

I never thought my beloved FNB would frustrate me to the point of surrender

Earlier this week I opened the US bank account. When I tried loading my Canadian account as a beneficiary for FOREX payment on FNB’s online banking last year, I struggled a bit.  So with no time to waste to make a payment time, I immediately email all the docs to my banker and asked for FOREX to load the beneficiary.

That was all done in half a day, so onwards to making my first payment. Nice, this is going to be easy, exactly what I expect from my FNB.  I logged on the online banking added a payment, entered my OTP, oops. Error Message, I need to add the beneficiary bank code. That’s weird; they had all that when they added it.  I try to edit the beneficiary, but no luck.  So I capture the screen and send it to the bank.

A day later I get an email, referring to the change I need to make to another beneficiary, completely unrelated. In this email, they mention I can just call them and they will help me solve it over the telephone. Since it is now Friday afternoon 1400 in SA (0700 in Chicago) I decide it is better to call now, otherwise this will only be solved next week.

I call the FOREX number, speak to about 4 people and spend 30 min on the phone, but I am no closer to getting it resolved. The current FOREX consultant say she needs to refer it to somebody else, I explain that I would prefer to speak to somebody since I need this resolved today, or rather next 2 hours before FOREX closes for the weekend.  I am asked to hold the line, but then the call is either dropped or terminated from their side.

Highly frustrated at this stage I call the FNB private client service suite; they quickly suggest that they set up a conference call with a ‘manager’ at FOREX.  The call is transferred between two FOREX people and I explain the whole ordeal again, they ask me to hold, but then I am transferred to an automated system.  So I called he Service Suite again, since I did not write down the number of the manager I spoke to before, I speak to another one.  He asks me to hold on while he speaks to FOREX, after just checking that I am still on the line, he returns after 20 min.

He reports the FOREX has some system issue and suggest that they just make to payment for me so long and then fix the beneficiary later.  Disillusioned and under pressure to get money transferred I agree, against my better judgment.  Now, it is after 1600 on a Friday in SA, just got an email from my personal banker that nobody is answering the phone at FOREX.  This is wrong.

Adding the ability to do FOREX payments online is a great innovation from FNB.  But if the FOREX department can’t load beneficiaries correctly or help clients make payments, then something is clearly wrong.

Is this what happens if you can’t keep up with your own innovation? I am not changing banks, I love FNB.  I want my bank to do better, try harder and fix the problem.

Solve one meaningful problem

After almost 13 years of being involved with Private Property, I have now sold my last shares and have no formal ties with the business that I helped built.  Since I’ve left, I often get contacted by people looking to discuss a business or idea that they have.  They are usually looking for some advice, contacts, money or help in some other way.  I am always keen to hear what people have to say, and to learn about as many opportunities as possible.  Since I now have full command of my own time, well except for the demands of my wife and kids, I usually meet and listen.

I had another meeting like this on Saturday.  During the meeting I had a bit of the thunderbolt moment.  The old friend of my dad’s was explaining their business idea, and elaborating on all the things they were trying and planning to do.  This in the real estate and mortgage industry, which I had some experience with.  The more he talked the more alarm bells were going off in my head.

It felt like his ideas was all over the place and they were trying to do way too much.  The basic core idea was very interesting, but he breezed over that very quickly and wanted to talk about all the bells and whistles.  I quickly tried to explain a little about taking a Lean Startup approached and focussing on solving one meaningful problem.

By looking for a pressing and meaningful problem you can solve, and do so in an elegant way, you give your business a chance to really make it.  This I think requires all your energy and effort.  You need to learn as much about the problem as possible, try out possible solutions as quickly and cheaply as possible.  In the learning process you get to test assumptions that you did not even know you’ve made that might well be wrong.

The more pressing the problem is you are trying to solve, the easier you marketing will be.  Solving a slight inconvenience leads to products that need big marketing budgets, while solution to real pressing problems become products that can almost sell themselves.  I think Ralph Waldo Emerson was wrong when he said: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”.  It is not about the product, but the problem it solves.

It is not about a better mouse trap but solving one meaningful problem

It is not about a better mouse trap but solving one meaningful problem

I can’t help but think that there are many people like this guy out there, with good ideas buried below a whole heap of fluff that could well work with the right effort and focus.  But they might never see the light of day, because of a lack of focus and the right approach.

Sadly I fear that I did not get the message through this time, but I will keep trying.  Hopefully I can see it as clearly when I am looking to solve one meaningful problem myself.

Do I want to be a hacker?

As you might know I have been reading allot about startups. And I have already expressed my desire to learn to code.  I am progressing nicely with learning to code.  At the same time I have continued reading books about software and startups.

I have found some great posts that were very helpful in understanding the context of learning to code for my intended purposes:

Should you hire a programmer or DIY

6 Things you need to learn to build your own prototype

The first reference to the term Hacker was in the book The Launch Pad. My understanding of a hacker has always been the Hollywood version: young kids trying to break into some system that they are not supposed too. It soon became clear to me that the term Hacker, which many startup and software books refer to, are not the same thing. So now I find myself asking a question I would have never thought possible only 6 months ago: Do I want to be a hacker?

In his book: Hackers and Painters, Paul Graham talks about Hackers throughout the entire book.  He also put me onto an essay by Eric Steven Raymond called ‘How to become a hacker’.  He describes hackers as people who tackle hard problems.  By trying to solve them, hackers help make the world a better place. Hackers are the people who did the hard yards to build the internet.  Not the definition I had in mind.

I now have a much better understanding of open source software and how this culture of hackers is connected to it. It feels like there is another world that I have always known of, but never took the trouble to explore.  Now that I am, I can’t help asking: Do I want to be a hacker?

In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10000 hours to become a master at something… Do I want to be a hacker?

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues it takes 10 000 hours to become an expert in something. This is the argument that Peter Norvig makes in his post ‘Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years’. 10 years… is a long time. Do I want to be a hacker?

I have spent 10 years being in the ’business’ side of software/web business.  The more I read about it, the more appealing this technical side looks. I don’t know if I am ready to make a 10 year commitment yet, but I am warming up to the idea.