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Lessons Learnt

How Failing Fast was Nomanini’s Ticket to Creative Innovation

Vahid Monadjem has learnt that failure is the key to creativity and innovation. Test early, learn fast, create a better product. That’s how Nomanini was built.

Monique Verduyn

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  • Player: Vahid Monadjem
  • Company: Nomanini
  • Launched: 2011
  • Visit: nomanini.com 

Vahid Monadjem missed the world of technology innovation. That’s what made him resign from his position as a management consultant in 2011. Well, that and the huge gap he spotted in the informal market – how to facilitate cash payments.

“Our market was street vendors and retailers,” he says. “There had to be a way to make it easier for them to sell items, particularly as cash transactions are so risky.”

He and his team set about developing a rugged mobile point-of-sale (PoS) terminal which replaced the physical distribution of things like airtime scratch cards with virtual distribution. It’s cheaper, quicker and reduces risk.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: How Billion Rand Business USN Was Launched From a Small Kitchen

Keep It Lean

The Lean Startup methodology is built on the premise that every start-up is an experiment that aims to answer a question. But the question is not, ’Can this product be built? ‘ Instead, it’s ’Should this product be built?’

“We applied the lean approach to development before we even knew what lean was,” he recalls.

“All we saw was a huge consumer market that was not being served. My brother and I convinced a couple of designers and electrical engineers to do some work for us and we cobbled together a vague approximation of what we wanted. It really wasn’t great, but we launched the proof of concept and took it from there.”

Get your product into the market

It was Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn who said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Monadjem had his fair share of embarrassment. Over a period of six months, he employed a team of students to walk the streets of Cape Town and surrounds during the varsity holidays and on weekends to test the product with informal retailers.

“We put the terminals into their hands, gave them a notebook, and told them to go out there, record the feedback and report bugs while we managed the back-end. On day one, the system did not last for more than three hours. But in one week, it was useable.”

Fail Fast, Fail Often

Vahid-Monadjem-Nomanini

Product development based on prototyping is not for everyone, but in Nomanini’s case, it enabled the business to ideate, prototype, test, analyse, refine, and repeat.

“Failure is key to creativity and innovation,” Monadjem stresses.

“That’s what gave us the means to get feedback that was pivotal to the success of our product. In many cases, the students returned with the names and numbers of street vendors who wanted to use our terminals.

“Even though they were not perfect to start with, the vendors were immediately drawn to the speed of the transactions, which is important when you have long queues of people buying products that don’t offer a big margin. Selling a lot and selling quickly ups their profit.”

Learn from your customers

Testing their terminals also gave Nomanini real user insight into their product and stopped Monadjem from making unfounded assumptions about what the market wanted. Although many entrepreneurs are understandably protective of their ideas at first, developing a product in a vacuum can lead to great disappointment.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: It’s Brilliance or Nothing for The Creative Counsel Co-Founders

“Hiding your product form the market until it is perfect may be tempting, but it means you don’t know what customers love or hate about it until tweaking it becomes a difficult and expensive exercise. Exposing it to users early on gives you proof of what people really want.”

By January this year, Nomanini was processing more than one million transactions across partner regions, including South Africa.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

Lessons Learnt

Here’s How Bosses From Hell Helped 6 Entrepreneurs Grow

From control freaks to being unco-operative, founders share what they learned from their worst boss.

Entrepreneur

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In business, sometimes the most valuable lessons come from the worst teachers. We asked six entrepreneurs: What’s the greatest thing you learned from a bad boss?

1. Bring everyone in

“A former boss was very hierarchical and discouraged collaboration. Everyone reported directly to her, and interdepartmental meetings were practically prohibited. It meant that only our boss had the full picture – we missed a lot of opportunity for alignment and cooperation. Today at our company, it’s a priority to hold regular team meetings and foster a strong culture of collaboration. It’s crucial that our team members weave collective sharing into the fabric of their day-to-day interactions.” – Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO, Indagare

2. Be vulnerable

“Don’t be afraid to show your emotions! I worked for a partner at McKinsey who was an incredible person but an awful manager because he kept his feelings bottled up. After a client presentation went awry, our team didn’t know where we stood with our manager. It was tense, awkward and demotivating. Showing vulnerability and letting others know when you’re genuinely upset can help everyone externalise their emotions, build trust and reassure employees that they aren’t alone. It sends a clearer message than stone-faced silence.” – Leo Wang, founder and CEO, Buffy

Related: 5 Factors That Make A Great Boss

3. Lend a hand

“I worked for someone who would never help out the junior staff with their work, even if he was finished with his own – he’d simply pack up and leave early. I now make an extra effort to ask my staff if they can use a hand when my own workload is light. It’s created a culture that feels more like a tight-knit team and less like a hierarchy.” – Adam Tichauer, founder and CEO, Camp No Counselors

4. Move as a group

“When I was a nurse manager, I had a boss with no experience in healthcare. She wanted to change our process for keeping patients from getting blood clots. I knew it was a mistake, but she insisted. Ultimately, the change failed. It taught me the importance of empowering staff to speak up. At Extend Fertility, we collect feedback from customers via surveys. Results are shared with our staff, and together we develop action plans to address negative experiences. It’s the employees who interact with patients on a daily basis who have the best solutions.” – Ilaina Edison, CEO, Extend Fertility

5. Trust your team

“I once worked for a woman who joined our team after I had been working there for a while. Every time I stood up, she’d ask me where I was going, whether it was to the bathroom or to the printer. She had a fear of not having control over my time and work. As a young adult, this behaviour really demoralised me, especially since I had excelled at the job for years prior. My leadership style is less neurotic. Once my team members have my trust, I’m pretty hands-off.” – Denise Lee, founder and CEO, Alala

Related: 5 Leadership Questions Every Boss Should Ask

6. Respect others’ time

“Early in my career, I had a project manager who’d wait until the very last minute to review work, then convey lots of new information and requests. This happened at the end of the day or, worse, after hours, when I was home. It was demoralising, inefficient and disrespectful. In my career, I’m conscious about reviewing work in a timely and complete way so my team can successfully incorporate my feedback without generating a last-minute crisis – or lingering resentment.” – Kirsten R. Murray, principal architect and owner, Olson Kundig 

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

11 Things Very Successful People Do That 99% Of People Don’t

Consistency is a big part of succeeding. The top 1% of performers in the world know this is the secret to their success.

John Rampton

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Becoming wealthy and leaving an impact on the world is not an easy feat. If it were, everyone would go around doing it. At that point, it would not be much of an accomplishment at all.

Rather, being extremely successful requires an extreme amount of work. Especially when there is nobody looking. The best people have developed habits that help them reach their goals. These routines are not necessarily challenging to form, but they take consistent effort over extended periods of time. Creating these tendencies in your own life will propel your success.

Here are 11 things, that 99% of people (myself included) do not do, but really should.

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Lessons Learnt

Brian Tan Of FutureLab.my – Bridging The Knowledge Gap Through Social Learning

Brian Tan a young Malaysian Entrepreneur whom has built the largest social learning platform in South-East Asia.

Dirk Coetsee

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“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” – Pablo Picasso

As a keen observer of the behaviour of successful entrepreneurs I have learnt that:

“You do not attract what you want but you attract what you are”

Brian Tan truly believes in what FutureLab stands for and therefore has attracted the belief of key partners such as Cradle whom has invested in his ground-breaking project.

Brians’ gift is to solve big problems. In unison with his two other co-founders he is giving this gift away in the Form of FutureLab, a company obsessed with learning and more specifically bridging the gap between education and careers.

Brian wants to play a role in making humanity better by applying his knack for solving unique problems and firmly believes that quality and ongoing education is a powerful catalyst for positive change. FutureLab is a social learning platform featuring diverse applications that not only connects mentees to mentors but also empowers several companies to track their employees utilising Futurelabs’ technology as they navigate through development and talent development programs.

Slowly but surely FutureLab is becoming much needed feedback loop between university and industry and brings exposure to people who have not had it before. Brian believes that a lot of people have not fullfiled their potential due to low standards of education in general.

Related: Channeling The Fire Of Authenticity: Asia’s’ Top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh

I fully realised that I was engaging a modern entrepreneur as he described his company culture as:

‘Geeky, awesome & badass.’

He elaborated on that by explaining that his team do not follow trends, that they authentically like what they like, and do what they love in their unique way. When you act according to the Leadership principle of Authenticity you avoid having regrets as you did not apply unnecessary energy to attempt to become someone that you are simply not.

This unique company is founded upon three core values which flows through all the activities that they engage in:

  • Giving back to society
  • Continuous Learning
  • Creating your own reality.

The FutureLab team does not only pay lip service to these values but instead actualise them as a matter of regular practice. Brian gives his team ‘homework’ in terms of things that they need to learn and the CEO of FutureLab himself is engaged in a lifetime commitment to learning. Regular ‘Stand up meetings’ are held were team members give feedback and hold each other accountable.

Brian is a Biochemist by trade whom constantly seeks opportunity to learn more about business and has completed several business programs to learn how to build a company which included spending 3 weeks at Stanford University studying entrepreneurship and meeting teams from Google, Apple, Facebook and Pinterest as part of a government initiative for the top 25 Malaysian start-ups. This young entrepreneur believes that his passion for teamwork has helped him a great deal to transform from being a biochemist to being an entrepreneur. He finds joy in ‘pushing a team forward’, as he puts it and loves seeing his team members grow in self-confidence and belief in the vision of the company that he co-founded. He has a keen knack for finding potential and then helping his team members to unleash their inherent talents.

What follows is Brians’ clear description of how Futerelab obtained cradle funding and how they managed to secure the top universities in Malaysia as clients, in his own words:

“We wanted to prove that FutureLab was solving an actual problem before applying for Cradle funding so what we did was to invite mentors from specific industries (at this early ideation stage of FutureLab it was our own personal networks).

“We started with mentors from Management consulting and posted a google form up on Low Yat and Facebook to see whether anyone wanted to speak to them. Within a couple of days, we had 20 people signup to meet our mentors. At this point, we decided to close the google form since we didnt know what kind of people would show up. We set the meet up at a local coffee shop and only spent RM 50 on buying coffee for the 5 mentors from Accenture, BCG, PWC, Ethos Consulting and Deliotte. We split the mentees into mini groups and they cycled from one mentor to the next, the last stop for each mentee group was with me telling them what we are trying to build, how much we are thinking of charging and how would the system work. We got really good feedback from the participants and the mentors.

Related: Meet Jan Grobler: Serial entrepreneur, Advocate, And Job Creator

Me being a scientist by training, I like to see whether results are repeatable so we organised 6 of these meet-ups over the whole year inviting mentors from different industries, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs, doctors and we even tested on online mentoring session using google hangouts. At this point, we were convinced that FutureLab should exist. This is when we applied to Cradle for Funding along with all the evidence we collected on why FutureLab should exist.

When FutureLab was first launched, we already had 40 mentors and 60 mentees that were waiting to use the platform that we were building. Mentees really enjoyed speaking to our mentors and vice versa for mentors, our growth has been mostly from word of mouth from mentors and mentees eventually universities started being aware of our mentoring community and started asking us to get more involved with their students. Our mentors are big advocates for our platform and they are based in large companies around the world. So they play a big role in opening doors for us.

Yet another key business learning he has acquired is to always guard against complacency and this knowledge is encapsulated by the following quote that he shared:

“What got you here cannot get you there”

Meaning that the same behaviours and habits that got you to this point will not be enough to move you forward, you have to keep on evolving to remain relevant and successful.

Brian is passionate about FutureLab and business in general and reminds us that:“When you are passionate work is the fun part of the day”. His advice to other entrepreneurs is to truly find a project that you are passionate about and truly believe in. He is most certainly passionate about the future of his projects and wants to build an eco-system that generates high volumes of cash that will empower his company to invest in start-up projects.

In general he wants to invest in entrepreneurs that are solving ‘big problems’ and wants FutureLab to become an innovation company. He poses this challenging question to those thinking on starting their entrepreneurial journey:

‘Are you merely attempting to do what others are already doing or are you really solving a problem?”

He finds that many entrepreneurs overthink and then do little. The more you do and if done at a rapid pace the more you learn to become adaptable and will find that there are many ways to solve a problem.

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