Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stepping out of the closet... for Barack Obama

My first title was just "Stepping out of the closet" which I thought would be catchy and provocative. On further thought however, I decided to add the latter part, as there was also a danger that some might not read further than the title and proverbially judge a book by its cover. No offence intended to those who are in/out of the closet in the narrower sense of the word. I'm quite open-minded and I don't judge any one by how they like their eggs.

So back to the topic, yes, Barack Obama.  Finally writing that makes me question whether I shouldn't just retreat back into the closet. You see Obama is undeniably the biggest news story of 2008, a historic candidate for POTUS, an inspirational story of achievement, and a potential 'leader of the free world'. Let's not forget that as a Kenyan I share some heritage with him (sarcastically: heck I could be his cousin!). These circumstances should require... no ... demand that I spend a respectable amount of time talking, writing, and discussing Obama. 

However, when in presence of others I have done the exact opposite. I avoid blogging about, invoking, or referencing Obama, I extract myself from conversations which bring him up, I change the channel when he comes on TV; all in the pursuit of an outwardly nonchalance about him. However in my 'closet', I voraciously read news stories about him on NY Times, CNN, and occasionally, Fox News, I wake up at 1 am to watch Situation Room on CNN, I have read Dreams From My Father, I contemplate his story and wonder, if I could be as dedicated and inspirational in the pursuit of my dreams. 

Why the charade you may ask? 

Well upto this point, I have - like many others - fallen into the false belief that "whether he is elected as POTUS or not, it won't add any sufurias of ugali in my house" In short, it doesn't matter to me. 

I'm coming to doubt that notion, and I think it does matter to me and that's why I'm stepping out of my closet today, waving my Obama 08 flag proudly. I now believe that whether or not Obama is eventually elected, his quest for the most powerful office in the world has profoundly shaped the course I'll pursue to fulfill my own dreams. If I would be so corny as to use two proverbs in one post, his case is one where its the journey and not the destination that matters. Of course, if he is eventually elected, it will add more weight to his story's influence on millions of people, but as is, Obama has inspired me to see and believe that I can be much much more.

Monday, September 29, 2008

...I can't complain

Back in 2001 when I was still in college, had one pair of overworn jeans and was hustling this Nairobi for web design jobs I had the good fortune to be introduced to a senior executive of a leading Kenyan company who is now its very powerful CEO.  Needless to say, I was intimidated, and not just because of 'Bob' my erstwhile pair of trousers (which with its worn denim looked more of an attempt at covering my nudity rather than a rebelious 'geek culture' fashion statement); but because I didn't have a clue what I'd say and this executive was widely travelled and widely knowledgeable. 

Fortunately I realised that I really had nothing to lose and with that confidence I pitched my services as I walked with him (and his entourage of assistants) from his office to the basement car park. It wasn't easy; we met three different people (colleagues and building-mates) along the way each of whom wanted to 'seek his counsel' or just make pleasantaries. This meant that my pitch was broken  more than once and I had to fight to keep on message. I guess I can't blame those individuals though, I think they were just pandering as they might have known he was next in line for appointment as the CEO. One comment from one of those fellows however has remained with me since that time. It went something like this:

PANDERER: Hi Mr. Soon-to-be-CEO, how is business?

MR. SOON-TO-BE-CEO. Well, you know... I can't complain.

Now lets put it in perspective, this was the year 2001. All everybody was doing was complaining.No jobs. No business. Bad politics. Thuggery. Poor infrastructure. It was also tough for me, I was just coming of age and had a desire to take off like a rocket, but business was really hard to come by. I used to be so broke, that I actually became anemic from a daily diet of chips (which was the most affordable meal). 

With this mindset, I was amazed that there were people who 'can't complain'. Such was the significance of this short reply to the question "how is business?" that I decided it would become my own mantra. I started using it, every time impressed by its effectiveness. It sounded modest without sounding complacent,  it deftly sidestepped without coming off as rude, it could be used both when doing well and when doing badly. I employed it every time I was faced with that question, and was always pleased with the effect which resulted. 

Today that response is as relevant as it was in 2001. Times are tough right now, food is up, electricity, fuel, rent. People are hurting, businesses are hurting, employees are hurting, the unemployed are hurting. The glaring disparities that are resultant from capitalism can hide no longer. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. People are getting fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, having their electricity disconnected, leaving their cars at home, getting their property auctioned off. If we were to come up with a list of things we'd find that right now in Kenya (and probably in other places) there is plenty to complain about.

But should we complain?  Should we complain if we know that as bad as things are, they could be much much worse? Should we complain when we know that at the end of the day, we still have the rejuvenating beauty of tomorrow? Well, I'll choose not to complain. So if you meet me today, and ask how business is, you know what I'm gonna say "I can't complain." Have a non-complaining day won't you?

Incidentally Mr. Soon-To-Be CEO did give me a contract to develop his website, and that allowed me to finally rest Bob in peace.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You read it here first

Well well well... once again here I am, the self-appointed critic and fan of the m-commerce industry in our beautiful Kenya. My fly on the wall has been working very hard and I have gotten further confirmation about the burial of Sokotole, but wait there's a surprise....

Yes, sokotele is as dead as a dodo but it is to be resurrected with a new name, new features who aims to become a formidable competitor to M-pesa. Very keen to see what those Zain Kuwaiti oil dollars are going to crank out. 

Watch this space for details.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sokotele is DEAD!

A reliable fly on the wall says that this venture from Kencell/Celtel/Whatever is drawing its last breath. I guess they had it coming considering the business model they took. 

One of my favourite business books "An Innovator's Solution" says that the key to successful products is to find out what job consumers are trying to get done, and develop a product that gets that job done. Hate them or love them, thats what M-PESA did, and what Sokotele failed to do, and now they will be punished for it.

I believe Sokoteles biggest mistake was tying-in the service to K-Rep (although I hear that this was because the service was actually a K-Rep idea!), and making the service simply about money transfer instead of the more job-I'm-trying-to-get-done 'liquid money storage' service that M-PESA is.

Oh well, lets see if a rejuvenated Telkom can create some waves with their own moribund money-transfer service (any body know what its called) under an Orange brand.