“Welcome to the wa plex, your home awayfrom home. Please make your way through the bright, colourful lobby to ourentertainment room. Table tennis, Football, or a game of Pool anyone? No, thenpull up a bean bag and chill. For something more active, why not try our fullyequipped gym, complete with luminous pink exercise balls. Our special on themenu today is grilled line fish with the chef’s secret topping. Need a drink?Your order is ready at the WA Bar, where you can join in a session of ‘GuitarHero III’ on our Wii console.”
This is not a boutique hotel or exclusiveprivate club, but it could be your welcome if you visit 35 Hope Street in CapeTown, the head office of the award-winning Internet Service Provider (ISP) andweb hosting firm, Web Africa. Founded by Matthew Tagg in 1997, while still atschool, Web Africa has grown to over 70 employees serving more than 20 000clients. Impressive growth considering Tagg started the firm by selling acomputer to his teacher and then some laptops to his father’s friend. So, why would a young entrepreneurialbusiness facing the usual monthly cash flow challenges invest around R1 million in an interior decorator? For Tagg it is about creating a uniquevibe that helps attract and keep the best of the best. With a recognisedshortage of skills in South Africa, especially in the technology space, Tagg iscompeting for top talent against his larger, more established rivals.
Sound a bit like Google? In many ways itis. Management guru Gary Hamel’s new book, The Future of Management, talksabout how Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, set out to create acompany where they would like to “hang out – a place filled with cleveroverachievers energised by the chance to work on some of the world’s mostbeguiling problems.” Tagg is similarly motivated by making his own decisionsand doesn’t see himself fitting into large corporate structures anytime soon.The Googleplex in Palo Alto,
California, is famous for its wacky workenvironment and full-time chef, who previously cooked for the band, GratefulDead. Tagg shares Google’s zeal for technology and even admits to a bit of“information deficit disorder”. With his senior team, Tagg is creating anappealing space where the best and the brightest want to spend their wakinghours.
Silver, black and orange walls, however,are not enough. Tagg believes strongly in also creating an open and transparentperformance culture with an obsessive focus on customer service. Performance ismeasured by a large scoreboard for all to see and is based directly on feedbackreceived from customers. Last year, Web Africa won the ISP of the Year awardfor the second consecutive year, with the judges commenting that the firm was“praised by its subscribers for its great service and easy-to-use systems. Thecompany received an overall score of 8,5 out of 10, leading with a rating of9,2 for ease of use and 8,9 for billing.” This performance is supported bytailored service training, including senior members of the team personallytraining newer recruits. It is also enhanced by a relatively flat managementstructure and empowered team leaders who drive the day-to-day customer-facingperformance.
Entrepreneurs often create the new. Theysee an opportunity where others may not and regularly reorganise resources toprovide significantly greater value. Tagg’s team at Web Africa have lived thisdefinition, first with a Windows-based web hosting offering and then with entryinto the ADSL market. Web Africa pioneered pre-paid ADSL technology in SouthAfrica and was the first ISP to introduce DSLSecure to the South African market– an effective measure against bandwidth theft and hacking. As a regular skydiver, Tagg is used toseeing the world from a slightly different angle. What advice can he share fromlooking back at the last ten years? “Start early and give yourself time to gainexperience and develop your thoughts”. Not unlike something Sergey Brin andLarry Page would say if they were to reflect on their last ten years. One canonly imagine where the next ten years may take Matthew Tagg.
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