The Fetch Blog

The best events and reads for professionals

Coffee talk: Betty Enyonam Kumahor, catalyst for African businesses — December 6, 2015

Coffee talk: Betty Enyonam Kumahor, catalyst for African businesses

Betty Enoyonam Kumahor is an inspiring, dedicated and dynamic individual. Her professional expertise ranges from developing software to working as a founder and CEO. She’s a featured speaker at this year’s YOW! Conference in Melbourne, Australia, where she’ll talk about frugal innovation and overcoming unique challenges in her home continent of Africa.

How did you get to where you are today?

I didn’t plan to become a software developer, systems analyst, product manager, management consultant, CEO, entrepreneur, business owner, public speaker, or to wear any of the other hats I’ve put on. But I always planned to do three things:

  1. Notice the opportunities that came my way
  2. Work hard at them
  3. Return the favor

The journey that these simple three rules have taken me on is beyond my imagination and has been great fun. I got to where I am today by taking chances, working hard, and paying it forward.

You founded The Cobalt Partners, which helps African businesses with productivity, growth consulting, design thinking, software development and more. What inspired you to create the company?

It was merely a practical solution. I had just left ThoughtWorks with the plan to take a six-month sabbatical. Before I had informed anyone, I was already receiving requests for advisory assistance in one form or another. Within two weeks of requests coming in, I had started a spreadsheet to list them all. I counted 21 asks on my growing list.

The common thread was that increasingly more organisations and leaders — both foreign and local to Africa — were looking for growth catalysts. I had a unique blend of technology, productivity, and consulting experience, along with the leadership style and access to needed talent.

It was clear that there was a gap in the market, so we formed The Cobalt Partners in hopes of being catalysts for pan-African businesses in need of help applying technology, design thinking, and productivity consulting.

You’re doing incredible things. What’s the most challenging part of your day-to-day routine? What’s the most rewarding?

The most challenging and the most rewarding are actually one and the same: solving problems. I’ve always been a management consultant at the core. We seek clients, projects, and strategies that differ by their nature, so there isn’t necessarily a playbook for replicated success.

Betty Enyonam Kumahor

Every day presents a new challenge — whether it’s internal (such as, “how do we reach a new audience of small medium-sized enterprises who don’t even have email or social media services today?”) or for a client (“how do we formulate an innovative collaboration platform for makers in Ghana’s largest e-waste dump?”). It can be frustrating to formulate a thoughtful and robust solution, but it’s certainly rewarding when you see a solution in action.

Which obstacles do African businesses face most often today?

The challenges are big. I’d say talent is the most significant, especially for knowledge roles and business. The African context is unique in that it’s unlike both the East and West. Because of this, solutions in African context must be heavily tailored — but they should also leverage experience and knowledge gained from other parts of the world. Finding people who can do this is both competitive and difficult.

There are other challenges, too. Access to capital, even though capital is available, is still very difficult. Infrastructure costs such as power, transportation, and telecommunications also mean that the cost of operation in many African locations is comparatively higher than elsewhere.

But possibly even more important to address than all these is the challenge of the outdated narrative of Africa as a struggling (war-torn and disease-ridden) continent.

That narrative is myopic and truly ignores the riches, possibilities, and achievements of the continent. The more that this narrative starts to change, the more we’ll see more partners from the East and West working with us on the solutions that solve all current challenges.

You’ve spent your life and career change the age-old narrative. What are some the creative and innovative solutions you see happening already?

Those of us who grew up on the continent can tell you that we always saw creativity and innovation around us.

It was the pool table made completely out of wood and mud; the radio made out of spare parts; the bicycle that was able to transport an entire family to work and school.

We’re currently involved with a simple barcode hospital record filing system that has reduced wait times in clinics from an average of more than two hours to a mere 10 minutes. This solution boasts many innovations, using the elderly in the community to collect abandoned files, nine data points to uniquely identify patients (even if they show up with a different name or are fraudulently using another person’s insurance), to one-hour power sources in the event that  there is no electricity (ensuring new data is not lost and patient intake/checkout can still occur).

You’re speaking at the YOW! 2015 Conference in Australia. Why this event? What are you looking forward to most?

When it comes to technology — and in particular, software development — I’ve had several interactions with Australian conferences, technologists, consulates and businesses (especially in South Africa). Each has been so positive that I believe there is much opportunity to collaborate together in this space.

I am most looking forward to having conversations about what’s been happening in the Australian software development space within the last year, along with what’s been happening in Ghana. I hope we can do more together.

Who do you admire?

I admire my parents. My father was a pioneer in the Big Four Accounting and Advisory firms in Africa. But more importantly, he balanced his work with being a generous person. If I can have a quarter as much impact in my chosen field and in my extended family as he has, I will be in great company.

My mother is one of the most brilliant medical doctors I know and demonstrated her management skill in the African context as a hospital administrator in Ghana. She expanded the polyclinic for the largest health district into an award-winning hospital, accomplishing all of this while raising five children. 

In terms of well-known people, I point to Steve Jobs and Carly Fiorina. Steve Jobs had tremendous success, but more importantly, marched to the beat of his own drum. That takes tremendous strength and character. Carly Fiorina did a stint at my high school and went on to be a prominent female CEO in technology. She takes on challenges with poise and competence.

Where can we find you online?

Find me on Twitter, @enyok, or Facebook.

Last, how do you drink your coffee?

I avoid caffeine — I get enough from life, I like to think — so no coffee or tea for me.

My favorite drink is water, but not just any water. Must be still not sparking. In a bottle, not a glass. Spring not distilled. Dress it up with some Crystal Light (especially Raspberry Lemonade) and watch me grin. 🙂

Coffee talk: Adrian Cockcroft, technology fellow at Battery Ventures — November 15, 2015

Coffee talk: Adrian Cockcroft, technology fellow at Battery Ventures

Adrian Cockcroft has enjoyed a long career working at the leading edge of technology, having helped Sun Microsystems, eBay, and Netflix build and scale their systems. When he’s not serving as a Technology Fellow at Battery Ventures, he writes and speaks extensively about a range of subjects, including his fascination with what comes next. We talked with Adrian about keeping up with technology trends, what makes something intuitive, and which innovations that have surprised him during the last decade.

How did you get to where you are today?

I started out wanting to know how everything worked and got a Physics degree in London. After, I wrote software for a living until I joined Sun Microsystems and spent my time there explaining how Suns worked to customers. I moved to the USA and wrote a few books in the 1990’s including Sun Performance and Tuning. I spent time at eBay learning about large scale web services and moved to Netflix as they launched streaming in 2007. In 2010, I became the cloud architect for Netflix and started explaining cloud-native architecture to everyone else. In 2014, I moved to Battery Ventures to help find interesting companies to invest in and help our portfolio companies scale.

You’re speaking about complex technology at this year’s upcoming YOW! Conference in Australia. What about the event are you most looking forward to?

I attended YOW! 2013 and found that unlike most conferences, the speakers at YOW! Conference travel as a group from Melbourne to Brisbane to Sydney and really get to know each other.
brisbaneThere is also an opportunity to evolve and tune the content, as well as its presentation. I’m really looking forward to hearing new things and making new friends.

Tell us: how do you define something as ‘complicated’?

Complicated things have lots of moving parts and relationships between them, which are initially confusing to try and understand.

In contrast, what makes technology intuitive?

When we have a mental model for how something should work it becomes intuitive, we can manipulate it and the behaviors become more predictable.

How are complicated and intuitive related, if at all? Is there a specific use case you often share to explain the relationship between the two?

Things that start off looking complicated can be learned over time by individuals and groups of people so that they eventually become intuitive. For example, driving a car is very complicated, not only controlling the vehicle, but navigating roads and around other drivers, but it has become intuitive to many people.

You’ve done some incredible work at well-known companies during your career. What, if any, innovations have surprised you?

When Apple released the initial iPhone, it wasn’t a surprise, but the quality of the user interface experience was so deeply intuitive that it surprised everyone.

I saw a two year old using one of the first iPhones, and that was the inspiration for a hack-day project I did at Netflix to create a Netflix for Kids on iPad demo.

This helped the real Netflix for Kids product get started.

What’s the most challenging part about keeping up with your rapidly changing industry?

I’m constantly exposed to new people and ideas, so the challenging part is to figure out which ideas are going to take off, and which will fade away.

What other industry events, courses, and reading do you enjoy?

YOW! Connected, a conference for developers, by developers

I focus on two kinds of events: developer and DevOps oriented conferences that discuss and communicate the state of the art, like the GOTO conference series, DevOps Days, Monitorama and Gluecon; and management oriented events like CIO summits where my focus is on how to setup an organization to be innovative.

To keep up with the latest news, I use Twitter and listen to podcast interviews with interesting people e.g. SE Radio, The Cloudcast dot Net, The New Stack.

Where can we find you online?

Find me on Twitter @adrianco.

Last, how do you like your coffee?

I love cappuccino.

YOW Connected! is a conference for developers, by developers. Learn more about Adrian’s upcoming panel and register for this year’s event here.

Coffee talk: Rena Tom, passionate connector and master curator — October 22, 2015

Coffee talk: Rena Tom, passionate connector and master curator

Two years ago, we talked to San Francisco local Rena Tom who had just cofounded the Makeshift Society, a coworking clubhouse for creatives. Today, we caught up with Rena to talk about how the community has grown, where she’s found new inspiration, and why she continues to put people at the center of her work.

We chatted back in 2013, but would love to get your early story on the record. How did you get to where you are today?

Circuitously yet fortuitously! I wandered from web design to print work and jewelry design, to owning a store and finally to coworking. I really have no idea what’s next for me, though I am looking for work if anyone still wants a generalist/community builder/event planner. 🙂

The Makeshift society has grown so much since we last talked. But tell us: when did you first develop the idea of a place ‘for creatives, by creatives’?

I sold my business in early 2011 and was ramping up my consulting business. I found myself working at cafes, trying to find a quiet place to call clients on Skype, and a bit lonely. Basically, I need a place to work and socialize so I invented it with the help of Victoria Smith and Suzanne Shade.

We wanted to provide a safe, creative space for people to be their best selves. 

What has been the most rewarding part of running the Makeshift Society?

It’s been great finding the best way to explain to people what we do — basically fine-tuning our mission statement every time we talk to prospective members.

Photo by Sarah Deragon

The members have truly shaped our results, and I’m proud of that. I’m also super proud that they continue to do so, to find ways to collaborate and enjoy their own work while supporting others’ work too.

How have you continued to find freelancers, creatives and teams to fill the beautiful space?

We have great word of mouth and because we are friendly to all freelance fields who touch the creative industry, it’s a nice diverse mix of people and professions. We’ve learned to use social media a lot to showcase the space and the members and that brings in new people all the time for our classes and events. We’re indie and very “human” and it shows with our words and images.

How do you describe the vibe and people at Makeshift Society today? What kind of person is drawn to the mission and the space?

San Francisco has come to reflect the West coast well — the vibe is very casual, DIY, and a little bit bohemian. The community started at the maker/blogger/photographer end of the creative spectrum but now includes more design studios and programmers.

Makeshift Society: A clubhouse for creatives

When the Brooklyn location was open, we had more writers, architects, and the like — they loved the more polished, industrial and modern feel of the space. It’s not surprising that the SF space was a little more like me, while the NY space a little more like my business partner there, Bryan Boyer.

Last time we spoke, you told us about the business side of owning Rare Device, a design-led shop in New York City and San Francisco. We’re passionate about curation, so we’d love to know: how did you curate the acclaimed in-store selection?

Rare Device really came from searching the Internet as I initially scoured the web to find products from small designers and international makers who were not represented in the US. Eventually, I attended the trade shows — but doing as much independent research as possible made Rare Device quite unique.

I’m a fan of minimalism, so simple, functional shapes in a limited black and white palette was my signature, as well as incorporating textures like wood and felt to warm things up.

When I partnered with artist Lisa Congdon for our second shop, her vintage sensibilities meant more great graphics, patterns, and bright colors, while still hewing to the Rare Device look.

Which designers, curators, shops, and museums are your favorites?

For influences, I’m currently a fan of MOMA, Canoe, and the ladies at Sight Unseen.

What events and classes do you love and recommend in Brooklyn or San Francisco?

In San Francisco, I like Workshop Residence and the artists they choose for their residencies. They make work for sale but also hold workshops so you can learn techniques, too. Brooklyn (and NYC in general) has a great design festival, NYCxDESIGN, and I read http://whrw.hn/ for a curated view at cool events.

Which Makeshift Society classes have been most valuable to you in the last couple of years? Why?

I liked taking our calligraphy class and a ceramics class. The hands-on classes let me get out of my head and let my hands do the thinking.

Where can we find you online today?

Mostly I’m on Twitter and Instagram, but you can also find me at renatom.net and makeshiftsociety.com.

Last, how do you like your coffee?

I used to drink it with a little cream and no sugar, but lately I’ve switched over to chai. My stomach thanks me!

Coffee talk: Payal Kadakia, CEO of ClassPass and artistic director — October 19, 2015

Coffee talk: Payal Kadakia, CEO of ClassPass and artistic director

If you follow Payal Kadakia, the co-founder and CEO of breakout fitness startup ClassPass, on Twitter, you’ve likely been inspired by her work and the powerful quotes she posts regularly. Blown away by her fast-growing company, dedication to her dream, and unbelievable passion for dance, we talked with Payal about how she made the leap to build her business — without a Plan B. 

How did you get to where you are today?

I have to credit dancing for being a huge factor in my success. Not only did my passion for it drive the business idea for ClassPass, but always having to rehearse my whole life for performances taught me a lot about dedication and ability to change, which is very much ingrained in my work ethic to this day.   

When did you realize that you could turn your love of dance and fitness classes into a business?

My love from dance has been a constant journey in my life from the time I was three years old, to starting an Indian Dance troupe at MIT, and eventually founding my own dance company — it has given me the confidence I needed in myself to realize that I should go after the things I’m most passionate about.  

Payal Kadakia, creative director and dancer

As it relates to ClassPass, I was looking to take a ballet class after work — after hours of searching on the internet only to be left discouraged, I realized that there was a pain point in finding classes and wanted to help remove the friction that often times gets in the way of people doing the things they love. ClassPass is the latest chapter in my journey as I aim to help people find in their lives what dance has always been to me.    

What was the first step you took toward making the idea a reality?

Quitting my job without a Plan B! It can be a scary first step but the moment you put what’s important to you first so many doors can start to open.

We’re inspired by your abilities to be both incredibly creative and business focused. Do you find any similarities in the way you work as an artistic director and as a CEO/founder?

Absolutely! In fact, this is something I actually feel strongly about. So often we have made such a huge separation and distinction between being business oriented or being creative, but it’s not a matter of one or the other — I truly believe that it’s at the intersection of the two where really incredible things can happen.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on your journey to date?

I’ve learned that it’s incredibly important to be true to yourself and lead in a way that is authentically you.  

It’s so easy to get caught up in living up to certain expectations of how you think you should be acting, but I’ve found more success by trusting my intuition and representing myself in a way that is uniquely my own.  

Who do you admire? Why?

Alvin Ailey and Mira Nair — they have both been such powerful influences in sharing their culture with the world through something they love to do.  

One of the best things about a ClassPass Flex membership is the ability to use it in a variety of cities. Which ClassPass studios and/or classes earn a spot on your list of favorites?

ClassPass Flex: unlimited, boutique fitness classes

I’m a big fan of Exhale and Flywheel in most cities, but part of the appeal for me is discovering brand new studios when I travel — so I always try to mix it up! I love just walking into new barre and dance studios wherever I go.

What activewear lines and gear do you love, rock, and recommend?

I’m a big fan of Outdoor Voices and Lululemon, especially their gym bags – and I just got a pair of really awesome Nike shoes that I love. I also love sporting studio-branded gear. I always find myself shopping right after class.

ClassPass has officially announced plans to launch in the land down under. Why Sydney and Melbourne?

There is already such a vibrant fitness culture in Australia, especially as it relates to boutique fitness, so it seemed like an obvious choice as we continue to think through our expansion globally.  It’s exciting that we’ve already partnered with over 250 studios there, and we’re excited to engage with members and studios alike in Sydney and Melbourne.

What events or meet-ups do you regularly attend in NYC? 

I went through Techstars when I launched Classtivity, the first iteration of ClassPass, and it was such a valuable experience that I learned a tremendous amount from. I’m still active with Techstars and attend many of their ongoing events, as it’s been an important network for me. 

Last, how do you like your coffee?

I actually drink tea! I start my day with a giant green tea, my favorite is the Jade Citrus Mint from Starbucks. I sometimes brew my own tea (Kusmi tea!) in the office in the morning as well.

Coffee talk: Jordan Bishop, flight hacker and founder of Yore Oyster — October 12, 2015

Coffee talk: Jordan Bishop, flight hacker and founder of Yore Oyster

He turned a love of flight hacking into a successful business; he crowdfunded a wildly popular mystery product; and he recently launched a beautiful content site designed to share inspiring travelers and their stories. Today, we talk to Jordan Bishop about his personal journey and how he turns ideas and dreams into reality.

How did you get to where you are today?

I think it’s important to first define “where I am today”, which I think is a curious person who refuses to accept the rules and self-imposed limitations that govern most of society. With that in mind, to get to this point, I try to do everything backward first, and then only revert to the norm when its opposite has been proven wrong. I think it’s an effective, or at the very least, an interesting, way of living.

What was the hardest thing about leaving Toronto in pursuit of life as a digital nomad?

I think my undying love for Toronto is what made it so easy to leave. I grew up in a small town a few hours outside of Toronto, so seeing how quickly I fell in love with the city when I first moved there at the age of 19 gave me the confidence that I would have similar experiences in other places, too. A few months later I moved to Manhattan on my own, and since then I’ve lived in a couple of different cities each year all around the world.

Toronto, Jordan Bishop

It sounds crazy, but sometimes I miss the cold, and more specifically, the fresh feeling of cold air running through your nostrils on a wintry morning. And I miss a few people, but not as much as I thought I would. I’m pretty good at living in the moment, and I try to keep my relationships of the moment as well.

How does your routine vary while traveling? Do you have tips for staying healthy, productive and focused while moving around so much?

I try to keep my morning routine as stable as I can, since that sets the tone for the rest of my day. I start every day by making my bed, followed by 21 minutes of meditation, and then a high-protein breakfast. If I’m in a good writer’s groove, I’ll also write for as long as I can before eating breakfast. Eating makes me think differently and often distracts me from my first few clear thoughts of the day.

I don’t normally go to a gym since I’m often in a place for less than a month at a time, so instead I do bodyweight exercises to maintain good blood flow and athleticism. Push ups and sprint training are my two favorites — the two of them combined make for a good full-body workout that requires no equipment and challenges both endurance and explosive power.

You turned your love of flight hacking into a business by founding Yore Oyster, a company created to help travelers get the best flight deals. What’s been the most rewarding part of working on it so far?

Helping others to explore the world.

Rio de Janeiro by Jordan Bishop

It’s extremely rewarding to hear from clients, many of whom become friends, how life-changing their trips were. I get nostalgic every day when I send people to places I’ve been and loved.

You also just launched How I Travel, a brilliant site that focuses on sharing travelers’ stories. What do you hope people will get from it?

As humans, we’re hardwired to learn most effectively when information comes to us through a story, so the obvious solution to accelerate our own growth is to document and transmit as much information as possible through highly compelling stories. How I Travel is my answer for current and prospective travelers.

Jordan Bishop, Yore Oyster and How I Travel

Columbia, by Jordan Bishop

How I Travel is also designed to inspire people to get out and take the trips they’ve always wanted to take. Travel is a gift that benefits you for a lifetime, and I want everyone to discover it in the ways that I have.

A man of many ideas, you’ve even tried your hand at crowdfunding. With your unique campaign, you got more than 1,000 people to buy something before they knew what it was! What was the secret to drumming up buzz?

I read, write, and think a lot about human psychology, and at that time I was curious to see if any of my friends trusted me enough to buy something I had created before I told them what it was. I never intended for anyone but my closest friends to get involved — but when others did and strangers started trusting me, I realized something much larger was happening.

We are witnessing an early indicator of how trust is quickly becoming a new global currency.

Strangers trusted me not because I had “won” their trust, but because they knew that with the way information travels today, I couldn’t afford to breach their trust. The Internet is no longer the place where you can betray someone’s trust behind a veil and get away with it, but actually the opposite; somewhere reputation is easy to discover and matters more than anything else.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as you continue to push yourself out of your comfort zone and experiment with ideas? How have you applied it to your life and work?

I was at a really low point when a guy I know told me, “Blow kisses to the haters.” The more you achieve and the higher you rise, the more people are going to try and break you down out of jealousy, a lack of understanding, or a generally negative attitude toward life. It’s not easy, but I try my best to ruthlessly eliminate any negative people from my life.

You’ve obviously done your research when it comes to travel; which sites and social accounts do you look to for inspiration, reliable information, and trip-planning tools? Where can we find you online?

My flight hacking company Yore Oyster, which has saved hundreds of travelers tens of thousands of dollars in the past year. I also love the Mike & Jay Explore YouTube channel; they always manage to perfectly balance beautiful cinematography with unique travel insights. I have a list of my go-to travel resources on my site. And I’m a huge Airbnb fan. I’m going to do an Airbnb tour of Asia soon — there will be lots of pictures from that on my Instagram account.

Jordan Bishop, traveler

Which global events, meetups, and groups do you love and recommend?

I’m a part of hashtagnomads.com, which is hands-down the best way to meet other digital nomads (people living abroad and working online). It’s how I’ve made my closest friends over the past 12 months.

I’ve been trying to push myself way outside of my comfort zone, and that’s how I’ve met skateboarding buddies in São Paulo, philosophical adversaries in Chiang Mai, and lifelong friends in Cartagena.

I’m a big proponent of meeting friends of friends (discovered through Facebook) around the world, as well as meeting others spontaneously — wherever you are. 

Last, how do you like your coffee?

I don’t drink coffee! But I’ve never turned down a cold chocolate milk. 🙂

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