The Fetch Blog

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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. 🙂

Product update: Introducing The Fetch’s new design and newsletter — September 16, 2015

Product update: Introducing The Fetch’s new design and newsletter

We can’t believe believe that so much time has passed since we successfully funded our re-launch on Kickstarter, helping us bring The Fetch to you lovely folks everywhere. Today, we’re excited to share our progress so far – along with a first look at what’s coming next!

A refreshing, new look

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We kicked off efforts by updating our existing style guide and re-designing The Fetch’s homepage. Designed to make submitting and finding events easy, we focused on simplifying the site to surface information Fetchers will need. You’ll see simple, clean pages in our signature, city colors – a fun, streamlined experience. If you want to secure your username aka vanity URL – make sure you head along to register now!

More focused media

In the new and improved version of The Fetch, we’ve separated local events and media. Dedicated to doing both things well, we’ve created a global reading list in addition to the regular, local event-based email (coming soon). The weekly global reading list will give you much of what you loved in former The Fetch emails: top stories, inspirational professional profiles, and all of the can’t-miss things that caught our team’s attention during the week. Haven’t subscribed to the new reading list yet? Join us here!

An incredible, updated curator community

Just as before, our curators remain an important part of The Fetch community. We’re grateful for amazing representation in the first of our five re-launch cities: Sydney, Melbourne, New York, San Francisco, and Berlin. We’re still taking applications, and would love to hear from you if you know what’s on and think your city needs The Fetch!

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What’s next

Now that we’ve made it possible to submit events on site, we’re heads down on the next few major milestones:

  • Local events digest: We’re so close to bringing back the local events digest for our first five cities, which will feature the best happenings from the new platform neatly rolled into a weekly email and sent to Fetchers who live there. Our curators will begin testing this week, so expect to see local events in your inbox soon!
  • Individual event pages: Tell or learn more about an event with a description, image, and tags. Each page will have space for an image, along with social sharing functionality and calendar integration. Get a sneak peek here.
  • Event search functionality: From community breakfasts to programming workshops, you will be able to find events by type, category, or skill level.

Our goal is to help you crush your work-life with the best events and great reads with each email, so please continue to share your feedback as we move along. Thanks for your continued enthusiasm – we love hearing from you!

A new, digital destination: the ultimate pop-up guide to Rome, Italy — September 15, 2015

A new, digital destination: the ultimate pop-up guide to Rome, Italy

Italy’s capital is a stunning place of age-old history and monuments that meet the eye with awe and wonder. Less obvious, perhaps, is the quickly growing ecosystem of technology and creative work. As one founder noted in 2012, the startup scene is “exploding faster than a tomato in Fruit Ninja.” Turns out these folks are putting out much more than some of the world’s best pasta plates. So what’s Rome’s digital life like? Here are some observations and learnings after an escape from the San Francisco startup scene to a summer of freelancing in the Eternal city.

The vibe

I’ll admit, the growing digital and tech scene feels a little bit secret as it can be easily lost among the tourist traps and obvious draws to the city. There are certainly cultural aspects that make Rome feel different than other well-known tech hubs like Silicon Valley. For example, Romans have much less trust in fin tech applications (many people don’t pay bills online or exchange money using technology) and little interest in on-demand apps or the gig economy. With the latter comes a bit of “old-school” thinking — and far less Uber rides.

Fiat 500s rule the road, a pop-up guide to Rome

Let’s just say that getting to work looks a bit different, with smartly-dressed professionals whizzing by on scooters and driving themselves in cute little cars like a Smart or the Fiat 500. Other things, like an engineer’s growing stomach (as a result of long hours at the office) seem to be universal. “The more tummy, the more skill”, I was told over a huge, late night pizza.

Education for future employees

A healthy mix of Italians, EU citizens, and expats help bring Rome’s digital scene to life, many of them young, talented and ambitious. Long admired for the sciences, Rome is home to many universities that provide a solid engineering education. La Sapienza, one of the world’s oldest public educational institutions, is highly regarded. Roma Tre and Tor Vergata, two other public universities, also graduate students who have meticulously studied for careers in internet related disciplines, like programming, privacy and security.

Luiss Business School, a pop-up guide to Rome. Photo by Luiss Business School

For marketing and entrepreneurship, Luiss Business School, Italy’s first MBA program, is a popular, private option. The school boasts a partnership with the Confindustria, making it a prime place to network and find a career-worthy, post-graduate position in Rome or other Italian cities. An excellent school, Luiss Business School is also a relatively inexpensive choice for an English-taught MBA when compared to similar US institutions.

Engineers and entrepreneurs who studied outside of Rome still have much reason to bring their business to Italy, as the country has recently provided a unique set of laws to encourage economic development.

Government initiatives and new laws

Italy introduced the startup visa in 2012. A result of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development’s agenda, the country’s startup laws were specifically designed to bring investment to promising, developing companies. While Milan is undoubtedly Italy’s technical capital, Rome’s central location, history, and proximity to diverse landscapes make it an ideal choice for a place to start up.

Rome city center, a pop-up guide to Rome. Photo by Krista Gray

Financially speaking, Italy’s new flexible labor law (which is applicable to a startup’s entire four year life cycle) has made it easy for startups to offer temporary contracts to employees, as well as issue performance-related pay — two things that vary from earlier law. Companies hiring ‘highly qualified’ employees without a time-sensitive contract (options range from 6-36 months) can take advantage of an outrageous 35% tax credit as reward. Talk about saving on salary! As far as stock and equity goes, startups in Italy are also able to offer external consultants stock options with ‘privileged tax treatment’ or the option to work for equity.

Foreign freelancers also have the possibility of living and working in Rome, with application available via a second visa. The freelance visa, known as a visto di lavoro autonomo, is a bit more difficult to get as it requires first obtaining a nulla osta in Italy. This tedious process involves meeting income requirements along with sharing a statement of work and a proven place to stay. However, it can be a good option for non-EU creatives or industry professionals who are dedicated to taking advantage of Rome’s growing digital scene.

Accelerators and investment

With government initiatives set to support new business and startups, Italy has become a valuable place for investors and accelerators. Not only do corporations, investors, and venture capitalists benefit from the second highest tax relief in the European Union, but Italy is the first country in the world to introduce special rules for equity crowdfunding. With such a specific set of regulations, many investors have taken to startups based in Rome.

Several accelerators cater to helping companies kick things into gear, including Luisse En Labs, which supports startup growth. Club Italia Investment is also known as a well-positioned ‘accelerator enhancer’, a newly modeled vehicle that helps supplement startups’ accelerator funding.

Startups

Rome is home to more than 150 startups, as noted on Angellist. Listed with an average valuation of 2.5 million, companies range in size from small founding teams to mid-size and larger. Much like in some of the designer offices that make the press from Silicon Valley, culture rules and perks keep employees happy.

The EUR District, a pop-up guide to Rome

Pi.campus is a solid example of what Italian startup life can look like, the office complex located in Rome’s bustling, green EUR district. Pi.Campus’ website shows an exclusive club dedicated to providing ‘the best work environment for talented people’ and counts top startups Filo, Chupamobile, and Wanderio as its inhabitants. Though not in residence at Pi.Campus, hot startups like Pathflow, LuxuryEstate, FaceSmash, Netlex, YepLike!, and UnFraud also call Rome home.

Coworking

Smaller companies, remote workers, freelancers and creatives who don’t have space in a place like Pi.campus have plenty of opportunities to co-work. While the list of spaces I put together isn’t as extensive as what some I’ve seen for New Zealand, Australia, London, or San Francisco, there’s no shortage of great places to get stuff done:

Cowo360 coworking space, a pop-up guide to Rome. Photo by Cowo360

  • Cowo360: A favorite coworking space in Rome. The location is visually stunning, with sleek, leather furniture and sophisticated artwork.
  • Impact Hub: Desks in a space dedicated to social interaction. Impact Hub is a great place to meet people and freely exchange ideas.
  • Spqwork: Customized spaces have access to Spqworks’ FabLab, which offers 3D printer use, among other perks.
  • Regus: A familiar name with worldwide locations, Regus offers office space and coworking rooms for startups, remote workers, and freelancers.
  • Let’s Make: A beautiful, creative space for programmers and makers.

Though Roman coffee shops are more of the standup bar variety, it’s not unusual to find folks with laptops in places like Romeow (which is also an impeccably decorated cat café!), La.Vi (bonus points for the roof deck) and Café Café (just steps from the Colosseo).

Romeow cat bistro, a pop-up guide to Rome. Photo by Romeow.

Community, events, and groups

Folks flock to Rome to see some of the world’s most impressive architecture and art exhibits, but those in digital disciplines will be pleasantly surprised at the smattering of community groups and events available in the city, too. From blogger nights to Instagram meet-ups, programming groups, and major conferences, Rome’s scene offers true variety. Here’s a handful of cool, upcoming events:

Though not specifically Roman, the Facebook group Italian Startups is a good place to connect with founders and employees in many cities, and currently counts more than 20,000 members. A second group, Italian Startup Events, caters specifically to happenings and counts 8,000 people (many Romans) as members.

Ready for Rome? Would love to hear your thoughts, questions or experiences in regard to the ancient city’s transition to a technical hub. Leave your notes in the comments!

Featured image illustration by Jen Reyn.

Coffee talk: Brianna Haag, San Francisco events extraordinaire and Mr. Marina founder — August 17, 2015

Coffee talk: Brianna Haag, San Francisco events extraordinaire and Mr. Marina founder

Brianna Haag knows events! Not only was she Eventbrite’s first City Marketing Manager, but she created Mr. Marina, a philanthropic event that’s raised more than $500k for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in the last four years.

Today, she shares her favorite networking icebreakers along with tips for organizing an event that people will love and remember.

How did you get to where you are today?

Raised in San Diego, I first became a Northern California convert when I went to school at UC Davis. I spent a year post-college as a traveling consultant for my sorority, so I lived out of my suitcase while visiting a variety of college campuses. Once that wrapped up, I unpacked my bags and made the move to San Francisco.

Seven and a half years later, I still call San Francisco home. I’ve been fortunate to work at some innovative startups in sales and marketing focused roles. I spent two years at Yelp as an early employee, four years at Eventbrite as the first city marketing manager, and have been at Tilt for the last year and a half. I’m a member of the Growth team where we’re currently focused on expanding our college community. Everything has come full circle!

Your work at Eventbrite helped many San Francisco organizers host incredible events. What makes attending valuable for guests?

Three things:

  1. The guest list. A room full of interesting people is valuable for everyone.
  2. An experience as promised. To attract a great crowd, an organizer must secure ticket sales or RSVPs and factor value into ticket pricing. All details should be communicated to potential guests to set event expectations. I once attended an event that promised unlimited cupcake tastings, but they oversold the tickets and therefore ran out of food in the first 20 minutes. The majority of the attendees were upset that they didn’t get what they paid for, and the vendors were upset that the amount of food they were told to prepare wasn’t nearly enough. 
  3. Flawless execution. Whether it’s a small bachelorette party weekend or a huge tech conference, details can determine how often (and in what context) the event is remembered and discussed. 

What’s your best icebreaker/networking tip for someone who hasn’t been to many events?

If you can peak at the guest list prior to attending, that can be really helpful for preparing. Striking up a conversation at the bar or the food table can be an easier way to approach someone, as is mentioning something you notice on a guest’s name tag.

Another networking tip is to set a goal (how many business cards to hand out or collect, or number of quality conversations to have), and to be comfortable taking off if you feel you’ve talked to everyone you wanted to connect with. There’s no reason to waste time if it’s a bust! 

You created the Mr. Marina Pageant, a well-known philanthropic event that’s been featured everywhere from the Marina Times to E! and raised $525k for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society since 2012. What’s the toughest part of pulling it off every year?

Mr. Marina isn’t an easy event to pull off. I’d say the toughest part is recruiting the contestants, which allows us to scale our fundraising efforts in a massive way.

It’s a unique person who can not only commit to 10 weeks of fundraising, but is also willing to get onstage in front of an audience of 1,200+ people. Each year the group of contestants continues to raise the bar, and we’ve been so lucky to have so many awesome, passionate, and truly impressive people involved.

What other San Francisco events are you looking most forward to this year?

Right now, I’m really looking forward to the San Francisco Symphony’s Opening Night Gala on 9/24. The San Francisco Symphony sets the standard for excellence in musical performance and shapes cultural life throughout the spectrum of Bay Area communities — and opening night is the biggest event of the year, toasting to the new season.

Brianna Haag

Opening Night is also my favorite San Francisco black tie event, and this year I’m lucky to be co-chair for the Symphonix Dinner Party. Tickets are almost sold out, so I know we’re going to have a great crowd!

So many events, so little time. What’s the best way to handpick and prioritize which ones to attend?

There certainly isn’t time to go to everything, so I try to prioritize events where I’m confident there are attendees I’ll want to spend time with — whether that’s friends, people I’ve been wanting to meet, or an experience I’ve been meaning to try. I used to scoot around San Francisco on my Vespa, trying to squeeze in two or three events in a single night — but that’s exhausting! I’m much more selective now.

Where can we find you in San Francisco?

Barry’s Bootcamp. The SOMA location is right by my office, but the team is opening a new location in the Marina this fall which I know everyone in the 94123 is excited about! When I’m not working out at Barry’s (or various studios in the ClassPass network) you can find me sharing apps at Delarosa or sipping wine at California Wine Merchant.

Last, how do you take your coffee?

Usually with unsweetened almond milk (or a delectable treat is the house-made almond+macadamia milk from Saint Frank!)

10 online/offline communities taking the globe by storm — July 17, 2015

10 online/offline communities taking the globe by storm

Digital communities can be just as powerful as real-life ones, bringing together like-minded people to share knowledge and create change. Today’s brightest communities make use of all channels to be exceptionally engaging:

  1. TED
    Renown for TED Talks, this nonprofit is dedicated to sharing ideas and sparking conversation. From science to global issues, community members can reap the benefits of powerful ideas in more than 100 languages.
  2. Creative Mornings
    People in 117 ‘creative cities’ participate in a monthly breakfast with a short lecture, covering topics like music, design, and new technology. The offline meetups offer members a chance to learn something new while meeting like-minded peers.
  3. Travel Massive
    Travel Massive counts travel industry insiders, leaders and innovators in more than 95 global cities, hoping to connect insiders and empower change in travel. Community members meet, learn and collaborate at events all over the world, helping move the mission forward.
  4. Responsive Org
    In-person meetups take place from Brussels to Brisbane, bringing together those interested in creating a fundamental shift in the way we work and organize in the 21st century. Examples of Responsive Organizations that fit the Community’s manifesto include Google and Tesla.
  5. Social Media Club
    Founded nearly ten years ago, Social Media Club remains one of the world’s most digitally connected communities with a mission to expand digital media literacy and promote standard technologies. Knowledge transfer happens at meetups, which take place at events that range from ‘Content and Coffee’ to ‘Happy Hour with Chipotle.’ Membership levels range from educational to professional, offering flexibility for anyone interested in joining the Club.
  6. Girl Geek Dinners
    Breaking down “old fashioned stereotypes” is no easy feat, but Geek Girl Dinners is intent to do so by empowering women (and men) to talk about their experience and knowledge in the technology industry — over a fun dinner! Founded in the UK, Geek Girl Dinners hopes to make technology accessible for anyone, ditching outdated myths about women and young people in the field along the way.
  7. Startup Grind
    More than 200,000 entrepreneurs take part in shaping this incredible global community, which counts local chapters in 175 countries. Designed to educate, inspire and connect founders and creators through events and discussions, Startup Grind continues to grow and thrive by attracting the best and brightest.
  8. Product Hunt
    Product enthusiasts around the world delight in reading about the latest and greatest gadgets and innovations, surfaced daily by Product Hunt. Hailed as a ‘must read’ for those in technology and startups, the site has amassed a cult-like following in a few short years.
  9. PassionPassport
    Writers and photographers make up this passionate traveling community, created for sharing tales of completed trips and sights seen. An impressive Instagram feed boasts more than a quarter million followers, with photos garnering tens of thousands of likes along with countless comments. Contests encourage friendly competition, but members remain consistently supportive and inspired by one another.
  10. SoulCycle
    Sweating it out is serious business for SoulCycle riders who attend class in more than 30 global cities. The philosophy in each location is the same, inspiring riders to be strong and give them confidence and courage for personal and professional endeavors. Community is at the heart of what SoulCycle does, and its rides are at the center of many friendships.

What, if any, other communities belong on the list? We’d love to learn about them in the comments.

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