Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Life on the frontline

Last week I attended the SiMODiSA forum set-up for South Africa’s entrepreneurs and investors to help promote the conditions necessary for entrepreneurial activity to flourish – something South Africa desperately needs. Malik Fal from the Omidyar Network opened up with some powerful numbers:

There are 50 million South Africans of which 15 million are economically active. Of these, 10 million are employed with only 5 million earning sufficient income to be registered taxpayers. This is a ticking time bomb, as he said.

Ultimately, this trajectory will not lead to a stable and prosperous society unless something dramatically changes. While small pockets of VC funding exists, our local VC industry is still in its infancy and there is not nearly enough capital available for them to invest in the promising businesses they see, particularly for funding rounds greater than R20m.

At Triggerfish, we were fortunate to raise development funding from the Business Partners Venture Fund who stepped-up to the plate after we approached over 130 investors in the last two years. Their funding gives us the resources we need to continue with our development work so that we don’t lose momentum.

Triggerfish is already a significant scalable global business, with multi-million dollar revenues, producing a world-class product into a multi-trillion dollar industry undergoing rapid change. We have distributors around the world and there is simply no company better placed than us to change the way the world sees Africa - tens of millions of people in over 70 countries will see our movies.

Despite all of this, it was still incredibly difficult for us to raise money. One significant corporate investor turned us down because they couldn’t accurately calculate their Return-On-Investment. This is impossible to calculate for a high-risk, growth investment. Instead the focus should be on whether or not the opportunity is real and the management team.

I believe the funding problem exists across the entire SME sector including the township fruit-vendor to middle-class kids working on the next big thing from their bedroom. Apartheid effectively put a bubble on South Africa’s economy and even though it’s ended, the bubble remains. The political and economic environment is not conducive to the growth of SMEs. At Triggerfish we have bumped up against every hurdle from constrictive IP regulations to exchange controls and funding. We know how hard it is.

Besides the difficult regulatory environment, the shortage of risk capital is probably the biggest challenge we face. We cannot expect to build the economy we need unless we start to believe in ourselves and invest in our own entrepreneurs. If people are unable to feed their families or find decent work, social unrest quickly follows. There has to be the hope that people can do something for themselves. Small business will be key to South Africa’s future.

Koos Becker is stepping down from Naspers after finding incredible success with Chinese entrepreneur, Pony Ma, who founded Tencent. News24 reports that he hopes “to travel to places like Seoul and San Francisco where the future is being manufactured, and see if there are new technologies we should be trying out.” I would love to invite Mr Becker to come visit us at Triggerfish to see how we are manufacturing the future not 20 minutes from the headquarters of Naspers. 

If we’re not prepared to invest in local entrepreneurs, our future will look more like the riots in Venezuela or the Ukraine. South African corporates and investors need to enable funding to SMEs to kick-start growth. They need to boldly lift their appetite for risk. 

At Triggerfish we are putting in place a plan to raise further funding from overseas. The risk capital we need is not available here and we cannot wait any longer. Great businesses are not started off the back of great spreadsheets. On paper it will never make sense. Like climbing Everest, it is a bloody-minded act of the will that starts with the heart and we need to find investors, with the resources and risk appetite, who understand this. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Be my Valentine

Stop by the flowerbeds
And smell the petal scent -
The blood red rush
Of roses
In the verdant air.

Tear the roots
From the soil,
And let the thorns
Pierce your skin

Deeply

With the urgency
Of pain.

Don’t flinch -
This is what
My love for you
Is like.

Displacement.
Red
Blood
Red
Pain.

by Jean-Michel K.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Dreams

It is later than late, 
the simmered down darkness 
of the jukebox hour. 

The hour of drunkenness 
and cigarettes. 
The fools hour. 

In my dreams, 
I still smoke, cigarette after cigarette. 
It's okay, I'm dreaming. 
In dreams, smoking can't kill me. 

It's warm outside. 
I have every window open. 
There's no such thing as danger, 
only the dangerous face of beauty. 

I am hanging at my window 
like a houseplant. 
I am smoking a cigarette. 
I am having a drink. 

The pale, blue moon is shining. 
The savage stars appear. 
Every fool that passes by 
smiles up at me. 

I drip ashes on them. 

There is music playing from somewhere. 
A thready, salt-sweet tune I don't know 
any of the words to. 
There's a gentle breeze making 
hopscotch with my hair. 

This is the wet blanket air of midnight. 
This is the incremental hour. 
This is the plastic placemat of time 
between reality and make-believe. 
This is tabletop dream time. 

This is that faint stain on your mattress, 
the one you'll discover come morning, 
and wonder how. 
This is the monumental moment. 
The essential: look at me now. 
This is the hour. 

Isn't it lovely? Wake up the stars! 
Isn't it fabulous? Kiss the moon! 
Where is the clock? The one that 
always runs ahead. The one 
that always tries to crush me with 
its future. 

by Lisa Zaran

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Into Air

I saw the stars
twisting through the void
in great purple clouds
of dust and magic.
I heard the universe
breathing in sunbeams
washed in rolling shores
and cloud.
I saw shooting stars
speak of paradise
across the mountain tops,
and the desert tree
celebrate the burning sun.
I heard the footsteps
of light fall
on ancient rock
whispering stories from
this end of time to that.
And somewhere,
I lost my mind
between midnight
and first light
and you were singing
in space with words
that vanished into air.

by Jean-Michel K.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Nailed to the Sky

I love the intensity of this poem by the writer Robert Warrington ...

Nailed to the Sky

If only I had any idea what you did

on hot blue Saturdays

If I knew where you were likely to be

I could create the conditions

to run in to you by accident

Not knowing

not even being able to guess

I walk from the suburbs of purgatory

to the bus terminus from hell

hoping for a miracle glimpse

of your skittering, jittery shadow

on latter-day pavements

with medieval beginnings

or that the crowd

drifting towards the shopping centre

with the stained glass windows

will part and reveal you

standing like an icon

in the exact spot

where hawkers and peddlers

once sold splinters of the true cross

But there are no places

marked with the X

of your sainted bones

only the X

of my petrified hopes

and calcified desires

You’re somewhere else

moving on glittering heels

through someone else’s summer
leaving mine

to visions of high street vendors

with onion ring halos

and no one’s selling anything

that can fill the you-shaped hole

Even the council begonias

become instruments of torture

Their stems are nails

Their petals nail-heads

You hammer them in by being elsewhere

You hammer them in without meaning to

All summer long

I hang above the town

nailed to the sky

suspended

in a clear solution

as acrid as alchemist’s

sulphurous clouds

You put me here

and only you can get me down

Only your cool

claw hammer fingers

can pull out these nails

that open and flower

(by Robert Warrington)

Thursday, 18 July 2013

You Are The Sun

My homage to Billy Collins' "Litany"

YOU ARE THE SUN

You are the sun. You are the sky.
You are the stars that shine
With the midday moon.
You are the sun. You are always the sun.
You are beautiful.

You are the clouds that dance
With the wind. You are the wind.
You are the never-ending silence
Of the storm sky
Before it breaks the rain.
You are the sound
Of thunder.

You are the earth. You are the sky.
You are the colour of flowers.
You are the first glance
In the crowd
When lovers meet.
You are the stars.
You are definitely the stars.
I am the moon.

You are the teardrop -
The lingering sadness
Of the half-forgotten moon.
You are the morning’s first light.
You are all the sunsets.
You are the fire. You are the flames.
You are the storm.

You are the sun I am the moon.
You are the last thought
Before I close my eyes.
You are the sun. You are the stars.
You are the night and I am the moon.

by Jean-Michel K.