Wednesday, 31 October 2007

One million cometh

by Ronnie Apteker

We are very excited here in Vottle land. The traffic on this cool site (we think it's very very cool) is now approaching a million page impressions a month.

Check the big V this coming week - some very cool new things are happening !!!


by Ronnie Apteker

Does one have to invest big to make it big? Perhaps if you are playing blackjack, but investing is not the same as gambling. Yes, luck is always an important factor (some would argue the most important) but there is more to it than that. Also, where, or rather, what we invest in is not always that obvious.

There is no correlation between the effort/time you put into something and the rewards (financially speaking) that you may possible get out. And also, there is no correlation between the money you invest in something and what the possible returns could be. Yes, if you were investing in a shopping mall then the numbers would be rather large I would imagine. But, intellectual property, on the other hand, does not necessarily require a big financial injection.

Consider a musician or a film maker, or someone sitting at home writing software on their laptop. They could be even be sitting on a beach somewhere doing their thing. Yes, consider this for a moment. This is really a function of time, effort and talent, and of course, inspiration. Ultimately, it is a function of a person, or a group of people. And that’s what you are investing in, people.

A hard-working, enthusiastic, talented person can hide away behind their computer and the end result could be magic. The next big thing could be developed in someone’s bedroom and this is what is happening in the world today. When it comes to investing, look towards someone’s character. Remember, personality opens doors, but character keeps them open. And, when exploring your opportunities out there, consider who sees themselves as an Alchemist.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Some people spend time to save money, others spend money to save time

by Ronnie Apteker

Time is more valuable than anything. I know, I am stating the obvious but when it comes to time I am becoming more and more selective about where I spend it. Perhaps it was turning 40 this year that triggered this, or perhaps I am just too busy these days and I am desperate not to waste any time. And perhaps I just need a break. Hang on, do I have time for a holiday? Ok, now I am wasting your time. Let’s move on.

I have invested a lot of time and resources into various computer projects and movie ventures this past year. And I am always intrigued when I hear film makers talk about the risks they are taking. Let’s see, I work from sunrise to sunset 7 days a week, and I put in the money and then, I keep hearing about the risk that everyone is taking. What risk?

Now I am not trying to trivialize anyone’s role or contribution, but I do battle to understand how a 21 year old university graduate can say that they are taking a risk by making a film. If the film doesn’t work (which is the case most of the time) then I lose some money and life goes on. What risk did the film maker take? I, on the other hand, am not straight out of university, and I have opportunities thrown at me each week. When we embark on a new project that means I have to turn these opportunities away. There is a cost to this. But, I am often told how we are all sharing the risk. It almost sounds like we are all in it together as equal partners.

Let’s assume for this discussion that we have indeed split the costs. Let’s assume that we have all made a financial investment. Yes, then we are all at risk But in terms of the time factor, how does one put a value on the time they have invested? One simple answer could be that if you are offered a job opportunity that pays, say, a million dollars a year, and you turn it down, then your cost for that year could be said to be a million dollars. But if you were unemployed, straight out of university, and you spend a year on a new project, then what opportunity costs have you foregone?

My conclusion is that it is most often very difficult for people to understand the true costs of doing business. People in different situations with different track records cannot value their time the same. Yes, an hour of my day is the same as an hour of your day. But, if I had the potential to earn, say, a million dollars an hour, and I took an hour off, then that million dollars would have to be considered. And, if another person was earning say, 100 dollars an hour, and they took an hour off, then the financial component here is quite different. And this is the point I am trying to make. Yes, I know this requires a great deal of sensitivity as people get very defensive when you imply that someone’s time may be more valuable than yours, but this is a very real consideration. The value of human capital is not an easy thing to understand and we all tend to sell ourselves short.

I once heard a saying which said that some people spend time to save money while others spend money to save time. I have been very fortunate in my life to have been financially independent from a young age. I always look to spend money to save time because I really battle to find the time to process all the opportunities that exist around me.

I have people telling me every other week about how they don’t like to have their time wasted and yet it is often these same people that will then go and get stuck in traffic for hours going to pick up their dry cleaning. This makes no sense to me. I would rather pay someone to collect my dry cleaning because that time that I save is more valuable to me. But, I guess one needs to understand the value of their own human capital or potential and then one would not be so quick to voluntarily get stuck in traffic.

Now consider those who travel business class. I do sometimes, but not too often. I would rather give the money to those who need it. Business class, like many other privileges, is not about saving time. We all arrive at our destination together, at the same time. Business class is about comfort and status. It is about luxury and relaxation. This is not to be mistaken with saving time. It is always intriguing to me that the same people who allow themselves to get stuck in traffic for hours also put up a big fuss when it comes to air travel.

Today’s piece was just something I often battle to put in words. I hope I have sparked some food for thought. As someone who is trying to lead people, I often have to challenge people’s thoughts and ideas. Yes, time is indeed the most valuable thing we have, and when people are aligned it certainly saves a lot of hours.

Monday, 22 October 2007

The death of the traditional cellphone operator

by Greg de Chasteauneuf

Today you buy a cellphone, insert a SIM Card and you are locked in to only make calls with that specific Mobile Network Operator (MNO). You may have the ability to roam between all available MNO's in your area, but you are still stuck to high call charges on those GSM networks. As the handsets evolve they begin to offer more advanced data capabilities (3G, Wifi and soon 802.16e - Wimax) the voice capabilities of the phone really just becomes another application on an intelligent device. This evolution starts to separate the applications on a phone to the underlying data bearer or carrier. The mobile phone is evolving into a device very similar to the PC, where the hardware and software are independent from each other and the voice provider you choice is merely an application or configuration on your mobile device.

Traditionally, the phone manufactures would embed a basic operating system, which would lock out third party developers from tapping into a mobile phone's resources. As mobile phones are becoming more and more intelligent and the mobile phone manufacturers are using operating system which allow programmers to develop applications for them, this is allowing startups such as*), and (to name a few) to develop applications which uses the phones hardware (such as the microphone, speaker and data bearer components) to make voice calls bypassing the traditional 'voice' GSM functionality. This is a huge leap forward and it challenges the voice providers; for the first time we now have access to a previously "locked down" handset. The user now has the ability to decide which voice provider they would like to use - this could be as simple as a pure price decision or access to value added features such as presence or Internet Messaging. This empowers the consumer to decide who they want to use as a VOIP provider. This maybe the actual MNO who is supplying their customer with data services but could also be an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

All this leads to a few interesting long-term changes in the mobile voice space:
1) The traditional MNO will continue to operate but might just become a data carrier
2) At some point calls will no longer be metered using time as a unit of charge but rather bytes
3) VOIP providers can offer voice services to a previously "locked down" customer
4) 2008 will see the introduction of Wimax (802.16e) handsets in the market; this means that Wimax providers will be able to offer IP carrier services to a handset for voice and data services
5) Providers who have access to Wimax (802.16e) spectrum can offer voice and data services seamlessly
6) Coverage is key in the voice space; new providers will need extensive Wimax or even Wifi coverage. Rooftop real-estate is become an even more lucrative business.

What this ultimately means is that prices will drop and value added features will flourish (goes without saying). The cost of operating a VOIP / Wimax network is substantially less than operating a traditional GSM/3G network. Besides cheaper costs per Mhz on the local-loop, new-age mobile voice providers will leverage off cheaper technologies such as Metro Ethernet back-hall, IP soft-switches, IP-IP interconnects (no expensive ss7), more efficient multiplexing algorithms, and enhanced features at a fraction of the traditional cost.

* In Fring's latest versions of the software the company have embedded a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) stack, which in essence allows its users to configure any VOIP provider they choose. Not only can you make Skype calls via Fring you can also use your selected VOIP provider to make calls directly from the Fring application to any fixed or mobile number globally.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Of mice and menus

by Ronnie Apteker and Greg de Chasteauneuf

The traffic on Vottle this past month has been fantastic. We are very excited about our trajectory. We had, until the start of this month, a modest Google AdWords campaign in place. And, at the start of October we turned up the juice and we have been overwhelmed at how the traffic has intensified.

It is interesting to note that the biggest referral we get from Google is around the area of “Jobs”. In my view, this is suggesting, that here in South Africa, there is still a lot of opportunity online in the area of recruitment. But it is not just in our “Jobs” category that we have seen a marked increase, but also, in the number of daily registrations and the number of daily postings.

We also rolled out a new motorbike feed this past week which is part of our aggregation journey. Between Jobs, Property and Motor Vehicles, our Vottle classifieds service is certainly finding its grove; or; as the new speak would say, we are gaining some traction.

This past month’s education with Google is something everyone should take note of. Unless you know this already, because, for me, I am still amazed. It is more clear to me now why Google is the world’s largest media company, and the Internet icon of this day and age. They pioneered the pay-per-click methodology and the evidence of its success is something we are witnessing this past month on Vottle.

Its also interesting to see our ranking on Alexa climbing week on week. Alexa computes traffic rankings (combined measure of page views and users) by analyzing the Web usage of millions of Alexa Toolbar users. Here at Vottle we like to use Alexa as a barometer on how well we are doing. Currently, we are sitting in 504th position here in good old SA. Our goal is to get into the top 100 Alexa ranked sites in South Africa in the next few months.

Make sure to check Vottle again around this time next week – there are some very cool new features that are coming your way.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Seqouia Venture Capital Visit

MBA Global Elective: Seeing the Wood for the Trees – 11 October 2007 11/10/2007
by Justin Spratt

“Venture Capital in the United States contributed 17% of GDP over the last 35 years and 10mn jobs,” according to Roelof’s presentation to us today. In contrast, venture capital represents only a tiny portion of private equity raised – 0.2% in 2006 (Venture Impact 2007, Global Insight). Clearly, this type of investment class is highly effective. From a financial theory perspective, it debunks the returns relative to risk postulate. For every dollar invested, venture capital in the USA created $5.45 in revenue over the same 35 years. A phenomenal achievement by any standard.

Meeting Roelof, a senior partner at Seqouia (a coniferous tree, a name given to the company in the hope that it would outlive any individual partner), was inspirational for all of us in the venture group. A South African, Roelof spent some time at McKinsey in both South Africa and Ireland, before coming to America to attend Stanford’s GSB ( While at Stanford doing his MBA, he was forced to start working with the rand depreciation (around the R10 to one time) and his savings falling in toe.

Ironically, this was quite fortunate because he started working at a then small internet payments company called PayPal (, later acquired by ebay ( for $1.5bn. He was the CFO before and throughout the buyout and this exposure, plus some new found wealth, opened a door to a partner role at Seqouia, where he now works along with 6 other partners. Seqouia was an early stage venture capital investor in PayPal and arguably reigns as the leading Venture Capital company in the internet space, if not the entire country.

Some of the Sequoia Investments

The presentation gave many of us food for thought on how we can do this in South Africa. Clearly there are many obstacles, most of which are camped in the Portarian theory of competition and clusters. The US government involvement at the enablement level is superb – infrastructure, pro-company laws (bankruptcy especially), education, tax incentives, and so on – while at the same, keeping actively uninvolved. The positive economic externalities of this enablement flow into the technology space in Sillicon Valley and result in a turbo charged economic engine. Once established, clusters like this provide a virtuous symbiosis, reinforcing the positive elements that established it. It appears to us that the South African government should scrap the expensive MIDP and similar government meddling and spend its time, money and effort at the enablement levels. Until such time, it would appear that a replication of a Silicon Valley in South Africa is Herculean task at best. A couple of us will probably give it a try though, which should be fun.

Speaking of fun, we spent time in San Fran yesterday seeing Alcatraz (1576 prisoners over 29 years), after our Ideo ( visit; the Bay areas, the famous Lombard Street, before stopping in the city for a couple of drinks, close to Union Square. Today we also went to Stanford University.

Prior to San Francisco we were in Seattle. There we visited University of Washington, a serial entrepreneur Bill Bryant, Boeing, Pike Place market, a Seattle Mariners game and the Space Needle.

Tomorrow morning we are off to New York. We will send another update from there before we head back to South Africa.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Location, location, location

by Ronnie Apteker

The physical world and the virtual world are alike in every sense. Real estate is all about location, both in the analog and digital domains. So, one of the things we are currently looking at on Vottle in more detail are locations.

We recently rolled out a major enhancement to our search facility; in particular when it comes to specifying one’s location. But, we are now looking at providing a bunch of “hot links” on our home page whereby a user can simply click on an area, like Cape Town or Johannesburg, say, so that you can see what’s on offer in a particular location. It sounds simple, but there is actually quite a bit of coding involved to get this seamless and smooth. Hard coded city links, right from your first glance, are what we are going to be putting in place soon.

One of the ideas we had right at the start of our Vottle journey was the ability for a user to compare two, or more, communities side by side. This is soon going to be a reality. It would be amazing, for example, to be able to compare the price of real estate by comparing two locations on the screen at the same time. This kind of information will give us insight into the cost of living, community trends, social behaviour, etc.

By providing hot links to specific areas and hence tying a user to their community, we not only bring people in touch with potential sellers directly in their own back yard, but we also narrow down the search results which will hopefully help you find what they are looking for even more quickly. Furthermore, if you are looking for a particular product or service in your local community, and if you can’t find it, perhaps then it is available elsewhere in another city, and we can then proactively tell you about it. So if you can’t find what you are looking for in Cape Town, say, then you don't manually have to go and search Durban and Johannesburg for the same product – if it’s available in those regions we will tell you.

So, stay tuned. There is a lot more Vottling coming your way.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Vottle Empowers its users by Aggregating Data

by Ronnie Apteker

Vottle hit the 30,000 mark this past week. And the number of daily postings are on the rise. In fact, at the start of the week we had over 200 postings made in a single day. If things continue in this direction we could be looking at over 5000 new postings a month. And this does not include our aggregation, which is the subject of today’s discussion.

5000 new postings a month is a lot of user generated content. But, it is the aggregation that is really giving Vottle an edge at this point in time. We have feeds from leading vehicle, property and recruitment firms, and it represents a fantastic win/win scenario for everyone involved, especially for our users. Take the motor vehicles category, for example, Vottle provides a convenient one-stop-shop when it comes to looking for a bargain on a used car.

We don’t charge our partners for the publishing their data on Vottle. And we don’t own their potential leads or customers either. If a user is interesting in a vehicle, say, that has been fed to Vottle via one of our partners, then, if the user pursues this opportunity we simply put that user in touch with the partner company.

Our mission here is aggregate content, in an effort to empower the bargain hunter at large. Our aim is not to own the customer or the data or the potential revenue that could be derived from a sale. Our strategy is to provide our users with a compelling platform to hunt for good deals. If we do this well we will attract more and more users, and ultimately, more and more content by way of more adverts.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Team Buying

by Ronnie Apteker

It has often been said that life is a numbers game. Well, there is certainly power in numbers. And speaking of numbers, the traffic on Vottle continues to grow at a very compelling rate. All of this adds up to one thing: community. We each new posting, and with each new person starting to use Vottle so does the community grow. And with that, the potential for team buying becomes more of a reality.

One of the aims of a classifieds is to expose the public to potential bargains. Well, imagine you wanted to buy a new car, or a big screen TV, or something else that costs a fair amount. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could find, say, another dozen people out there wanting to purchase the same thing. If you went to buy over 10 big TV sets you would be in a good position to negotiate a discount. That is what has been going on in China for a long time now. It is a cultural phenomenon known as team buying. A group of people all meet at a designated place at a specific time and demand a discount for bulk buying. Enter Vottle.

We are very excited about the potential here with Vottle. If we continue to grow the Vottle community then the potential to bring people together with similar interests represents a fantastic opportunity for team buying. We could put up a “notice board” where people list things they want to buy. We could then ask like-minded people to sign up and once a certain threshold is met we could put everyone in touch with other and then the team buying could begin.

We are hoping that sometime in the new year we will reach the critical mass needed to make this kind of service a reality. Watch this space.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Software that will get you laid

by Ronnie Apteker

Our Vottle team reads as much news on the Net as we can. About a month ago one of the Vottlers sent out an article which spoke about which platforms were the ones to bet on. In short, it spoke about developing software that gets you laid. The gist was, from my understanding, is that social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace get people laid, and this is what the world wants.

The conclusion, again, from what I gathered, was that web sites that get you networked, or laid, as the author put it, are a good bet. Well, I think this deserved some commentary. And the comment from my side is, this seems logical and sensible. People are always trying to meet other people. And yes, getting some is always a primary motivation. So, it makes perfect sense to invest in online dating sites, social networking initiatives, etc.

We are quite excited about the potential on the Vottle side with this in mind. And, when I say potential, I don’t mean to get laid, but I mean to network people. Vottle is not a social networking site, it is a trading portal, and the end result is all about connecting people. And, who knows, perhaps you could buy a bottle of wine on Vottle, or some theatre tickets, or something romantic, that will in fact help you to get laid.

Getting laid generally requires some driving. A car would be a necessity. So, if it cars you are looking for the Vottle is the place, er, space to be. Also, one should have a house to go to if getting laid is on the cards. And, of course, having a job helps. Yes, you guessed it. Check out the property and jobs categories on Vottle.

In short, if software that will get you laid is the next big thing then Vottle is definitely worth checking out.