Township Entrepreneurship and Naked Kings

(Originally appeared on 11 December 2005 at yeahfi.com)

Mark Twain once said that any time he found himself in the majority on any given issue, he always reevaluated his position.

One of my favorite stories of all time is “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The main character is a vain king with a particular affection for fine clothing. He gets swindled by two tailors who sell him a suit made of material so fine and pure that it was invisible to the foolish and the unworthy.

Of course, there is no material, but as the king and everyone else don’t want to be exposed as fools, they all keep quiet. When the king parades his new suit in front of his subjects they all cheer and make comments about how ‘fine’ his new suit is. Until a little boy points at the king and shouts out “The King is naked!”

People started realizing the trick, but the king continues the parade, telling himself: “I must go on pretending. I cannot stop now”

I’ve often felt like the little boy, pointing at naked kings of all sorts. There is a particularly large amount of ‘naked kings’ being sold to the public these days through the insane amount of advertising, marketing and branding being forced upon us. But who is to blame? The ‘swindlers’, or the public who accepts their lies?

Luxury goods (think of a $100 rolled-up tobacco leaf) in particular is a whole ‘naked empire’ in itself. And it’s particularly interesting when marketers try to sell a ‘naked king’ to a group that isn’t used to buying ‘naked kings’.

For example, I recently went to a wine-tasting in Gugulethu. For those of you who don’t know, Gugulethu is one of Cape Town’s infamous townships, and when I was invited for a wine-tasting in Gugs, I thought my leg was being pulled.

But it appears Mzoli, an intrepid entrepreneur who owns a butchery, hair salon, restaurant, cellphone shop and shebeen all in one small building, was launching his own wine label. (The up and coming black middle class is a major new target market for the South African wine labels.)

Everyone at Mzoli’s got free samples and Pieter, the wine maker, explained to a crowd of about a 100 black people how to drink and “appreciate” wine in the correct fashion.

He then asked the audience if they could identify the subtle hints of guava and tropical fruits in the Chardonnay and if they could taste any other fruits in the wine. “What else can you taste? What else can you taste?” he shouted at the somewhat rowdy crowd.

And the crowd answered as one: “Grapes!”

Cut Your Site In Half

(Originally posted on 9 Dec 2005 at yeahfi.com)

We finally launched our first public Beta Wi-Fi hotspot this week! However, feature-wise, it’s very much a stripped down version of what we envision. And that’s a good thing!

Because I believe one should start simple. The really funny thing is, even though our new service does something very ‘simple’, the interface is anything but. To sign up as a new user to our service, you have to go through 11 webpages!

Our current design was done by developers, for developers”. I.e. the webpages were actually built just as “test” pages so that our developers could test the working of the back-end system.

So we went back to the drawing board (literally) and realised straight away that we could cut out 3 of those webpages immediately before any major re-design or development.

Ironically, even though our design is already convoluted and the usability needs much improvement, we’re already talking about extra features and in which priority we should be adding them to the existing webpages…

Then I saw a comment by Jason Fried on his Signal Vs. Noise blog: “As sites mature they should be getting smaller, not bigger. Fewer pages, not more. Fewer words, Fewer paragraphs, Fewer options. There’s too much on too many sites.”

Back to the drawing board again…

Update: Today the entire process has been cut down to 1 step and 3 steps for vouchers and credit cards respectively.

Mate of the Week – EverNote

If like me, you struggle to keep your notes and thoughts together, you might want to take a look at EverNote.

EverNote is like Google Notebook on steroids. Google Notebook is being phased out as we speak. They are no longer signing up on new users and both EverNote and Zoho Notebook are helping users to import their notes from Google Notebook.

The beauty of EverNote is that it syncs across phones (but not S60, yet), PCs and Macs! I find their Mac application to be wonderfully slick and much more responsive than the Google Notebook plugin for Firefox ever was. It also helps that I can easily add notes and photos from applications other than my web browser to EverNote.

A nice little feature on the desktop app is that I can easily paste from the clipboard into Evernote (Ctrl-Command-V) or take a screenshot that gets copied directly to EverNote (Ctrl-Command-C)

Have a look at the video below for a tour of Evernote: