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Picking up where we left off yesterday, the Pioneers were making fear of failure their best friends…
Craig Wing knows much about failure, and how you treat it can determine the rest of your path. When he found out that he had failed his first year of engineering, he was caught between choosing to quit or carry on. He might not make much use of it, but his engineering degree proves to him at least that determination in the face of adversity is the key to moving forward. From the time he left school, he became a force to be reckoned with, starting up four businesses, registering two patents and helping over 1000 budding entrepreneurs through a programme he headed at Wits. One thing that helped him on his journey was not thinking outside the box but rather thinking in multiple boxes. Gaining vision from all different perspectives has allowed him to create solutions for problems in a creative and innovative way.
Sometimes the problem is not as obvious as finding a way to enable visually impaired children to read off of a computer screen. In the case of the opening of the Kalashnikovv Gallery in Braamfontein, it is a matter of creating a space for people who are not comfortable with the saturation of white cube gallery spaces in Johannesburg. MJ Turpin and Matt Dean did just that, using the creator of the AK47 as their inspiration. The reasoning behind that is quite simple: the AK has been used as a symbol for evolution since its invention. It is cheap, reliable, functional, and in terms of art it represents freedom as a weapon. Kalashnikovv Gallery represents all these things. From the different formats they use to display the art, to the different forms of art they involve themselves with, to the way they empower the artists that they do create shows for, they are seeing their (r)evolution appear before their eyes.
One entrepreneur who is on the cusp of one such evolution is Michelle Atagana. As a tech journo in Africa, she is paving a way for all Africans to know more about what is happening all throughout Africa in terms of the technological revolution. As she states, we were late to the tech party as a continent but instead of nursing a beer in the corner, we have started our own after party. Using examples from Tanzanian kids creating an app that has helped reduce the infant mortality rate in their country by tracking the gestation period for midwives, to mxit creating a database for South African school kids to access their school textbooks on the social media network, she and her team at Burn Media have shown the world and other Africans that we are more than what we think we are. Even though her family still feel that what she does is some sort of full-time hobby, she is still passionate about Africans and the story she gets to tell about what Africans are capable of doing.
One man who knows the value of a hobby is Uno de Waal, founder of Between 10 and 5. Uno imparted on us the 4 P’s of Creativity that he found through the process of bringing 10and5 to life: Passion, Process, Play, and Proximity. Passion for any creative person is evident through their hobbies, activities that they do without wanting payment through them at first but develop into a full time activity. Turning a passion project into an income, however small, is a feat that Uno achieved over three years with 10and5. It started as just a blog where South Africans can find out about any work done within the arts and culture and the industry of creativity.
After having started four other projects (including The Dane Network), Between 10 and 5 began to receive a much bigger fan base throughout South Africa. The processes he went through with the failure or dissolution of three of the four businesses he was involved in took him on a journey of exploration. Knowing what works and what doesn’t work for his target market was the key factor in making 10and5 a success. What makes this whole process a lot easier to handle is Play.
Uno has two rules for life: 1 – don’t be a dick, and 2 – never take yourself (or your business) too seriously. The fact that his hobby was his business enabled him to see 10and5 exactly as it was: a space for the creative to share creative work. Being surrounded by a good mix of people and having random collisions throughout his professional life formed the last part of his creative process. Proximity, or rather propinquity, is the final and most important piece to this cheesecake. Nothing is done in isolation, so being able to engineer these serendipitous proximities is a great way to let your creativity flourish. And as a bonus point: “If you find yourself asking the question, ‘Should I quit my job?’ the answer is always, ‘YES’.”
Catherine Ohlson De Fine said yes after she spent months helping to make Neighbourgoods the must-do event of any Jo’burgers weekend. After helping set up the inaugural Sanlam Food Wine Design Fair, she was asked by a Pioneer we didn’t get to see (Adam Levy) to come work or him and Play Braamfontein and help establish Neighbourgoods in Johannesburg. Once she saw the gap in the market (lack of space for the excess demand from vendors) she decided it was time for her to move on to The Collective. Moving on is something that she was accustomed to though and she had come to realize that that was the only way to build the skills necessary to fulfill her apparent purpose in life.
Andre Hugo had thought he had already found his purpose in life – one that brought him relative happiness and a lot of money. But when his grade 9 son came to him for advise on what subjects he should choose for the upcoming year, Andre said to his son “Do what you love” realizing at that very moment that he was being a hypocrite. So a few weeks later, he quit his job and gave up his yearly bonus for a chance at making other people’s lives better. He got a license agreement with an American company called Gigwalk that offers people a chance to do odd jobs using their smartphones. On launching the Money4Jam app on WeChat, within a week they had reached their monthly target and when a problem arose with the payment system they had set up with Pick ‘n Pay, the people who had used the M4JAM app were the ones to train the tellers and thereby earning a bit more cash than they had initially set out to receive. Andre and M4JAM avoided what could have been a complete disaster and pretty much brought an end to what was set to be a very successful company within a week of launching had they not adapted quickly to the situation. Fail quickly; adapt on the fly…
Another way to put it is “Be shit so you can learn”. Lebogang Rasethaba knows much about being shit, as most creatives do. From that period of being not very good, he managed to make it to Beijing, making beautiful videos for interesting people, such as DJ Wordy, Sexy Beijing and even Damon Dash. Once the longing for home got too much for him, he started to notice a change in the youth culture of South Africa on his laptop screen. This was not enough for Lebogang, who wanted to be a part of this paradigm shift and record it for future generations. So, he packed up and returned home. From his excitement to be back and with the ability of seeing Jo’burg through outsider’s eyes, he filmed with I See A Different You, adidas Originals, STR CRD and “Gwababa”. He has also released a documentary on the electronic music scene in South Africa – Future Sounds of Mzansi – with the help of Spoek Mathambo, a long time friend of his and equal enthusiast in the evolution of Johannesburg.
Lebo owes a lot of his success to the importance of collaborating with other people. All the Pioneers do in fact. The main things I took from the day are: collaboration is key, fluidity in failure, quick adaption to various situations, an open mind, and a very strong will seem to be the most important factors in becoming a truly successful entrepreneur and a very interesting human being. Don’t let your fear get in the way of your dreams; they urged us almost like parents watching their children take their first steps. Fall on your ass, so you can push yourself up and become stronger on your feet. Don’t be discouraged because you’re doing something that deviates from the norm. “Be a victor; be a pioneer. Go forth and conquer.”
In case you missed it, see Part 1 here