Do not Scratch – Customer Service as a Mindset

Many of you may at one point have had a coin rejected when paying for your parking. You try the coin a second time and it still doesn’t work, so you vigorously scratch it against any flat metal space, typically above the coin slot, and lo and behold, the coin works (I’ll explain why this works further down below)

 Yesterday, I took this picture of a parking pay point at Cavendish Square shopping mall: 


Not only do they ask people not to scratch the paypoint with coins, but they also threaten to hold them “liable”. 

As you can see from the scratch marks above the coin slot, it doesn’t seem to work! 

I took the picture, because it was in stark contrast of another parking paypoint I saw in Johannesburg at the Gautrain Hotel.

Faced with the same problem of paypoints starting to look grimy from scratching, they took a very different approach:


Rather than threatening customers with liability, they simply put a steel plaque up so that people could scratch to their wrist’s content. 

It immediately strikes any customer as clever, but it is also done in the spirit of being helpful. At the same time, the paypoint company solves a major headache. Genius in simple solutions.

Explanation on why scratching coins work

All electronic equipment has the habit of failing, and coin readers are no exception. As most people are aware, a simple reboot can fix many problems, whether it is your PC acting up or your Wi-Fi router delivering slow internet for no known reason.

With early electronic parking meters, resetting the machine was a major headache. A technician had to unlock the machine and it would take several minutes before it’s rebooted. As these technicians also weren’t too good at customer service, they would keep people waiting, which would be even more frustrating if you had already thrown half your coins in. 

To make matters worse, technicians would start rebooting machines even in cases when there were genuine problems with coins (such as chips, bends etc).

A professor from UCT’s Electrical Engineering department, who had done some work with remote monitoring of vending machines was called in. The original idea was to have GPRS modems added to each machine and have the machines rebooted remotely, without needing to wait for a technician. 

The professor suggested something much simpler instead:

1. Only reset the coin reader (i.e. restart the driver program running it), not the entire system
2. Have low-skilled on-site staff be able to do a restart with a simple metal tag

A solution was thus built with a cheap magnetic reader (similar to the ones that come with your home alarm system) mounted on the inside of the machine, near the coin slot. Any staff member could use his metal tag to restart the machine by rapidly moving the metal tag back and forth in front of the magnetic reader, thus inducing a voltage change that could be measured by the magnetic reader. (The metal tags were slightly magnetized, thus just moving it in front of the reader would normally start the reset process). 

RFID type tags were originally considered, but as they would get lost and would cost a lot more, simple metal tags won out. 

Of course, staff members quickly realised that they could use ordinary coins, although they looked different from the standard  metal tag (which looked more like a laundry machine token than a coin)

Thus, whenever someone had a problem at the paypoint, they’d call someone, who would then come and simply take the nearest coin and rub it vigorously in front of the magnetic reader. 

As you can imagine, this behaviour caught on like wildfire! 

And THAT is why you may be held liable for scratching the coin at Cavendish. 

Be a Peer to Peer Entrepreneur

I love talking to other entrepreneurs! Whether it’s my YPO mentor running a business with 400 people, helping the 2-man team, spending time talking about life, family & business with my Enablis E-Circle friends or talking technology with fellow members of the Wireless Access Providers’ Association.


In the last few weeks I’ve had magical meetings (mostly involving great food!) with Greg Durst, Sam Paddock, Richard Mulholland, Dilip Naran, Jamii Hamlin, Elodie Kleynhans, Adrian Burger & Gysbert Kappers. All of these folks are rockstars. All of them work in vastly different business to mine, from animation to brick making…


They have all added tremendous value to my business simply by listening and sharing their experiences. But one of the greatest things about spending time with other entrepreneurs is the Small Wins to be had. The little tactical tips. The Aha! moment when another entrepreneur had the same problem and shares the simple solution he found.


If you are just starting out and haven’t had the chance to prove yourself or don’t think other rockstar entrepreneurs will spend time with you, look at joining an entrepreneurs organization, such as YPO, EO, Enablis or Endeavor which have structured entrepreneurship coaching and peer programs or industry associations such as WAPA (for wireless technology companies), SAYTC (for Youth Travel companies), ISPA (for ISPs), ISOC (for anyone interested in internet freedom). All of these involve helping others first and will take time away from your daily activities, and should therefore be seen as part of your long-term personal and business development.

Entrepreneurship is living your life like most people won’t

“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t”

– Unknown

Nokia kills Symbian – Suicide?

As you may have read, Nokia just announced that they will be killing the Symbian OS and start using Windows Phone 7 for its smartphones. 

My question is obviously: Why not go Android? From the Washington Post article: 

At a briefing in London, Elop told reporters that Nokia also considered Google’s Android but didn’t think it could differentiate its phones from all the other Android hardware on the market and on the way.

Wait a minute… Wasn’t the problem to start with that Symbian was so vastly “differentiated”?

Although Windows 7 reviews have been favourable, If Nokia wants to “catch up” it could ride the wave (tsunami?) of an Open Source platform that has a large & growing developer and user base. 

I would think that many of today’s Android developers started out being Nokia users & developers and would continue to use & promote Nokia’s excellent high-quality hardware.

What do you think?





Tech Startup? You need an Animated Explainer!

Video done by BlinkTower, a Cape Town company specializing in Animated Explainers.??

Founder Focus

“But between the founding and the actual PayPal, it was like this tug-of-war where it was like, ‘We’re trying this, this week’. Every week you go to investors and say: ‘We’re doing this, exactly this. We’re really focused. We’re going to be huge.’ The next week you’re like, ‘That was a lie.'”


– Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, from Founders at Work


Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas…

Howard Aiken

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

– Howard Aiken

Should I put a Live Chat button on my website?

People don’t care about your ideals. They care about what you’ve accomplished based on your ideals.

"People don't care about your ideals. They care about what you've accomplished based on your ideals." – Me

Okay, so I'm pretty much just paraphrasing well-worn wisdom here. But I thought it's relevant when writing copy for your website or press releases.??

Now THIS is how I like my soccer news!

Finally you can get quality content on your mobile phone that doesn’t consist of a farting monkey ringtone costing R30 a week. Elodie Kleynhans (@elodiek) this week started shooting the Soccer Babes ( show with 3 presenters providing a daily dose. If you like what you see in this video, you can subscribe yourself by SMSing ‘SB’ to 31904. (R2.50/show – you’ll need a phone that can play video)

UPDATE: You can view the high-res versions on BlinkTower’s Youtube channel:??

Disclosure: I am a minority shareholder in BlinkTower, the production company behind the show.