The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events 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. 🙂

5 happiness hacks everyone should try — November 24, 2015

5 happiness hacks everyone should try

Happiness has become one the sexiest yet most elusive products of our time. You could read the Internet for the entire of your existence and still find another million searches on how to crack the happy matrix. Indeed, happiness is a multi-billion dollar industry.

But what if happiness was a little easier to hack than you’ve been lead to believe? Here are five easy ways you can increase your happiness and lower your stress levels.

Admit you compare yourself to the next person

Most of us are familiar with the term FOMO (the fear of missing out). We feel anxious because we feel like we’re missing out on something wonderful online. And it’s starting to lead us closer to depression and anxiety as a result.

But this is not a new concept, nor is it only a social media issue.

In 1954, social comparison theory suggested we measure our worth against others for the first time. We check the validity of our thoughts, feelings and ideas in relation to other people. And that we can use comparisons to drive us forward to achieve great things, or it can be a source of envy.

Biologically and psychologically, we’re designed to compare ourselves with our peers. And it’s OK to recognize this trait rather than deny it. It could be the first step you take to move beneath the cloud of FOMO.   

Use comparison to your advantage

It’s one thing to know you’ll fall into the comparison trap on occasion. It’s quite another to allow it to fuel you towards great things. Don’t get caught up on denying someone gets under your skin — use it to your advantage! 

Ask yourself 3 simple questions:

  1. What do they do better than me?
  2. What do I do better than them?
  3. What can I learn from their approach?

Turn your comparisons into intelligence gathering. Convert that envied enemy into a valued peer. Or use their impact on you to re-design a strategy that works for you.

Think about what excites you about the other person. Now ask yourself why you’re less excited by your own ideas and change it. Don’t copy them. Find out how you can zig to their zag.

If someone motivates you that much they live in your head, there is always some value you can derive from it.

Focus on accomplishment

We’re so often pre-occupied with what we have ‘to do’ that we forget the amazing things we’ve done.  Yet accomplishment is one of the best sources of happiness. 

So how do you focus on the great things you’ve done between major milestones?

Here are some ideas:

  • Capture what you’ve completed as a ‘done list’
  • Have a chalkboard that displays what you’ve done in a month, quarter or year
  • Save up the things you’ve ticked off your ‘to do’ list in a jar on a scrap of paper and watch it grow
  • Write a thank you note to the people who have given you another great week- and don’t forget yourself in that!

Whatever the mechanism, enjoy the difference that comes with seeing what you’ve achieved. Focus on progress. 

Step outside yourself

Our culture spends a lot of time focusing on what we can get out of life for ourselves. But we’re actually happier when we’re giving to others.

Happiness hacks everyone should try

Volunteering is good for us. It gives us the opportunity to step outside ourselves and think of others. Volunteering and giving doesn’t just give us the warm, fuzzy feeling of doing good. There’s even proof that helping others helps us sleep, make friends and generally feel fitter and stronger.

So if you want to increase your happiness, helping others is a wonderful way to do it.

Go back to the basics

Getting enough sleep, taking enough breaks and exercising all contribute to our happiness.

Working too hard impairs your thinking. We know we have to sleep to reset the clock. Time spent daydreaming and idling helps us with the creative processes. 

Stress also has a productivity cost. Thankfully, exercise is a great stress antidote. Several studies have shown exercising aids in the management of stress and mental health conditions.

There’s no point in squeezing extra hours in the day for work if the work isn’t the best quality.

So if you’re feeling under pressure, sleep, rest and movement can help. Don’t pack each minute with project work. 

The bottom line on happiness

You won’t find happiness at the bottom of a bag of diamonds or at the drinks at an expensive conference. But you can find it in the little things. Being kind to your body, mind and what you achieve is a big part of being happy. 

Give yourself a break and be happy to be you.

About our contributor // Rebekah Lambert is freelance content marketer, Unashamedly Creative. She founded Hacking Happiness to remind busy individuals stress has a productivity cost.

Featured job: Lead engineer at Visually (with a plane ticket to San Francisco!) — November 21, 2015

Featured job: Lead engineer at Visually (with a plane ticket to San Francisco!)

Visually is the leading marketplace for visual content, connecting the world’s best-known brands (including 42 of the Fortune 100) with the world’s best animators, designers, data visualization experts and more. The team is broadening its horizons and looking across the globe for great engineers interested in moving to San Francisco to join the Visually team.

Visually promises an exciting job at a great company where you’ll bring your engineering expertise and leadership to help them ship a great product faster. The team plans to have a welcome packet on your desk containing every suitable-for-work Aussie stereotype: a can of Fosters, gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse, a stuffed kangaroo or wallaby (can’t tell the difference), jar of Vegemite, map of local surf spots known to harbor Great Whites, and for the gentleman, some regular board shorts to replace your budgie smuggler (water’s cold around these parts).

What you’ll do

  • Build, test, deploy full-stack product features

  • Collaborate with product managers and designers on requirements and figuring out HOW features will be built

  • Make architectural decisions on new features

  • Collaborate with and lead a small team of remote developers

  • Perform code reviews

  • Participate in and drive daily scrum meetings

  • Address urgent issues

What you need to be successful

  • Love of coding

  • Extensive knowledge of PHP, Javascript, Linux, MySQL

  • Great understanding of how all layers of the stack interact

  • 7+ years of software development experience

  • Pride writing efficient code and following patterns, best practices, and internal standards.

  • Good knowledge of industry best practices for version control, testing, deployment, security, monitoring

  • Ability to own projects and tasks and to take them to completion with no supervision quickly and efficiently

  • Ability to organize and manage multiple priorities

  • Intrinsic curiosity about developments in the industry

  • Pragmatism to make proper trade-offs

  • Superior problem-solving ability

  • Great communication skills

  • Keen attention to detail

Why this job?

  • The team: Visually has a phenomenal team and plans to continue packing the walls with passionate, exceptional people that believe in the company vision and embody core values. You will work with people who were early contributors at successful companies such as oDesk, eBay, IAC, Optimizely, and Skype.

  • The 1200+ brands that Visually supports: These include some of the best-known agencies, consumer brands, and media companies in the world, including Spotify, The Huffington Post, Twitter, National Geographic, Salesforce, Verizon, Nike, Kayak, Visa, McKinsey, LinkedIn, Hired, etc.

  • Your work will be seen by millions of marketing, design and creative professionals every month.

More about Visually

Visually is the content creation platform that enables businesses to connect with their audiences through premium visual content — videos, infographics, ebooks, presentations, web interactives and more. With over 1000 certified creative professionals and an easy to use online collaboration platform, Visually works with clients to create cost-effective content that clicks, connects, and converts. Visually is backed by Crosslink Ventures, Softtech Venture Capital, 500 Startups and other leading investors.

Watch this video and learn more or browse the company’s amazing work portfolio. The lead engineer position is based in Visually’s San Francisco headquarters near Union Square.

If interested, please apply here: http://goo.gl/Si2jfJ

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!

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