PL: What are the top five tech companies to watch for globally, innovation wise?
AM: In global tech Facebook, Google, Amazon, Elon Musk and Alibaba. (Andile originally included Netflix, but then decided Alibaba was higher on the list.)
I want to also point to African companies that are doing amazing things. However, in looking at global tech, there is a concentration in power, but in speaking about them we can see where the promise lies for smaller versions or competitors of them in developing markets on the continent.
1. Facebook, the social media company turned media company, has become an ubiquitous part of our lives in an unexpected, useful and questionable way.
2. Google, because it is the consummate platform player. Think 10 to 15 years back when they were founded. They did not have any idea how they could monetise. Now they have become part of how we navigate the internet, find what we need, send e-mails and more. Just the way they have morphed into everyday life and successfully monetised their advantage in the realm they have pursued. Following their growth model they are the most default option for you to do the most things. For example, Gmail had the foresight, patience and money to wait it out before they could monetise.
3. Amazon, because they own e-commerce globally. They build solid cash-flow businesses to innovate, to create consumer reliance. Their ability to sell us and leave us begging for more and through its web services, taking on mainstream retail and physical spaces, among others. They leverage business efficiencies, which is incredible to watch.
We see African e-commerce players take a great deal of pressure and we are seeing investors divest.
4. Alibaba, the e-commerce Chinese retail firm.
We are seeing faltering steps from many would-be commerce firms towards the likes of Amazon and Alibaba. Taking on these two firms in a global space is daunting globally. If Amazon and Alibaba truly flex their muscles they may be the last two e-commerce firms standing. There are questions around their dominance. (The podcast deals further with Africa and the e-commerce model.)
5. Elon Musk, because I think he more than most entrepreneurs in big tech today manages to catch humanity’s imagination on what is next.
For example, this notion that we should at this point be able to get to anywhere on the planet in less than half an hour
There is a dreaminess in how he approaches tech and business.
He plays a role in turning the space industry and solar on its head the driverless car industry and his disruptions there.
His somewhat unique, maverick approach to problem solving or trying to do things no one else seems to be interested in doing is built on little bits of pieces of innovation that people have put in place in order for this to be possible. I am going very philosophical here.
PL: Is he a pioneer?
AM: He is a pioneer, but it depends on where you live and where it is applicable. Innovation needs to be spoken about in the context of what really matters and merit-based within the context, ie Africa has more basic innovation needs like running water, roads, electricity, etc.
If we are talking about Musk’s role in how we all have to think differently in how to get around on the planet, the impact on the planet and how we need to be actively shifting to renewable energy; and understanding space then he is a pioneer among many. But in the context of knowing what the technology needs are in an African village and what technology could be there, who is Elon Musk?
Someone might be listening in varsity, or a kid growing up, who might be on the verge of patterning their entire careers or innovation thinking or concepts of what innovation needs to look like around an Elon Musk or one of these mainstream headliners of global entrepreneurial success.
We can glean and learn lessons from them, but we are here on the continent (Africa). We need to be relevant to the needs we have. I chose to judge innovation’s brilliance based on how well technology in its truer sense answers questions that make an impact in a certain context.
That will look different to you in Rwanda, or Morocco, or Berlin, or the US.
In the context of where America is, it is a consumer-crazy economy.
What Elon Musk has been able to achieve in that market is to export ideas to the rest of the world.
If you consider how unsustainable the US was chowing through energy and how the car industry was until Elon Musk and its fuel trajectory then you can’t help but admire the brilliance of what he is doing.
Again we need to push our innovators and enterprise tech players locally to be just as disruptive and not to just ride on the wave of what happens globally and to what it means for us. As much as we learn these technologies for approaches then, yes, I am interested.
With e-commerce we need financial literacy. Many captains of industry do us all a disservice by projecting their commercial endeavours as an altruistic thing they are doing for the world
The deal is these firms are here to maximise shareholder value and this is true for every listed entity in the world. We want to see that in the rhetoric we are treated fairly and intelligently, what is your interest here?
What is your true intent or underlying rhetoric, Jeff Bezos?
To his credit, Jack Ma often gets a shout out from me.I feel he is often more refreshingly straight forward about the profit motive and giving a balanced scorecard of the benefits and the potential risks of not just buying into the ideas he is spinning, but also doing business with him.
We all need to start having these conversations. It’s basically financial literacy.