Category Archives: Frogfoot

How to start a business

Figure out what service you are currently buying from somebody where.. something pisses you off and you figure you can do it better, a niche, something you are passionate about, a new focus (value layer abstraction), a new category, where you can be a leader, maybe a bit geeky.. but ready for general adoption, something that allows you to take a bit of risk (ahead of the cure).

I’ve kinda done the above 3 times already.

It helps if people tell you it can’t be done. Good motivation.

Another way to read this: Your customers are your future competition.

Holding our breath for an Open Telecoms Market

Remember, remember the 21st of November..

Good news for SA telecoms: on Friday 31 Oct the High Court denied the Minister of Communications leave to appeal a recent judgement that gave all VANS license holders (ISPs) the right to build network infrastructure.

Now, if the Department of Communications could just get out of the way and do the right thing, South Africa will have a very different telecommunications services market after 21 November 2008.

There has been a lot of good press about this. I’ll just add a few ideas..

Why is it important that VANS get (I)ECNS licenses? Well it would be pretty cool if smaller and more dynamic businesses could build their own networks to serve the telecommunications needs of their communities. The business case for building infrastructure differs with scale. Maybe it makes sense for us to interconnect 10 farms or support a community driven surveillance system.. now we can.

IECNS licenses allow wireless network operators to apply for frequency spectrum. A new licensing model will give a lot more structure and clarity to the outdoor fixed wireless market. We can start thinking about lightly regulated or shared frequency licensing models. We can share and we can make it work.

IECNS licenses allow us to lay fibre. How? Well we simply inform the municipality that we are going to start digging in 30 days. How cool is that! Start thinking about things like community operated Metro Ethernet networks. We can dig up roads now.

Most importantly.. we’ll have to start thinking about telecoms infrastructure in a new way: Yes, we can.

I’m holding my breath. Well, kinda.. Amobia has been thinking this way for a while now.

iWeek 2008

Once a year the South African ISP industry gathers at iWeek for 3 days. We listen to presentations, exchange ideas, network and socialise. The event is organised by the ISPA.

Have a look at the program and listen to the podcasts.

I attended the first iWeek in back in 2002, 06, 07 and 08. It’s well worth it.. and it’s free.

iWeek confirms the un-conference “paradox” that free is better.. community driven and democratised events are of more value than expensive and restricted conferencing events.

It was a busy few days. The food was good.. too good, snacks, lunches, dinners every night. I met a number of interesting people.

This year the top three sponsors where all from Cape Town. Amobia and Teraco (new branding) were Gold sponsors. WAPA endorsed the event. Amobia and WAPA had stands in the exhibition area.

I was invited to a panel discussion on the Wireless day as the WAPA chair. I think the wireless session went well.. we had good feedback.

I was elected to the ISPA management committee at the AGM.

Thanks to Elaine, Debbie and Cheryl (WhereNext Event Management) for organising the event. Thanks to Uniforum and the ISPA for the two dinners.

ps. I figure I should just get an Apple laptop again.. it’s a much better road warrior tool than the Ubuntu/HP. Seems the E71 was the toy to have.. bumped into at least 5 very happy new E71 owners at iWeek.

The Fat Lady Sings.. the wrong tune

It’s not over yet..

Today was the last day for ICASA or the Department of Communication (DoC) to appeal the judgement that VANS may self provide infrastructure.

The DoC appealed. WTF!

At least now we have clarity on where the obstacle to an open and deregulated South African telecoms market is. I guess one positive thing is that the market started thinking about how they would use the new licences if they were to get them.

“The digital divide was created and is maintained by African Governments.” — William Stucke, over lunch at iWeek

You have to wonder in who’s interest the DoC are acting.. Infraco? Telkom? Neotel?

We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the 27 VANS marked to received IECNS licenses in the Government Gazette. Will that be revoked? Seems the process is frozen again.

The WAPA case is still pending. Altech have deep pockets. The plot thickens.

I am Joe’s total sense of humour failure..

Quick Update

Themes of past weeks’ updates.. running-geek, golf-geek.. trance-geek, well almost, but it was a bit rainy on Sunday..

  • Monday, good news: Frogfoot and Amobia to get IECNS licenses, drinks at Neighborhood bar.
  • Tuesday, lunch at Caveau at the Josephine Mill in Newlands, we kinda started a peering point (again), a wet and windy Mouille Point run with Lindi, drinks at La Vie for George’s birthday, met a tshirt designer.
  • Brilliant Zapiro cartoon about O.J. Zuma.. presumed guilty in the “pantoffel” justice system.
  • Wednesday, upgraded my (7) blog farm to WP 2.6.2, Amobia exco meeting/dinner at Jamaica me Crazy, mid week trance party at Roots in Obs.
  • Thursday, house shopping in Fernwood and De Waterkant, lunch at Waterkant Village Cafe, WineX, Asoka, met somebody from Zeeq.
  • I seem to be on a successful retox program – it’s safe to say I’ve had at least two drinks every night for the last 2 weeks.. then again I know somebody who can claim a 5 year retox program. “The price you pay for the life you choose” — used to be on the wall at Caprice, Camps Bay.
  • Friday, UCT GSB talk, milkshakes with Mia and the ~ex-wife in Somerset West.
  • Saturday, Biscuit Mill Market with Cath, Parri and Georg, watched My Blueberry Nights (Natalie Portman), one of those relaxed white wine afternoons, gym, swim.
  • I made up my mind: The Darjeeling Limited mostly sucked, but Hotel Chevalier was enthralling.
  • Sunday, pondering an early morning (rainy) Earth Dance mission, gym, swim, Vida, watched Finding Nemo, Waterfront.. maritime museum, toy store, frogurt, scratch patch. Dinner at the Mexican Kitchen in Long Street, fajitas and margaritas.
  • Try some pineapple and cinnamon with your next shot of Tequila.
  • 250th Crackbook friend.
  • This week is iWeek 2008.. I’ll be in Joburg from Tuesday to Friday.. representing WAPA, Amobia and Frogfoot. Will try to keep you up to date on interesting happenings. A good opportunity to use the GPS features of my new phone.

Have a fun week crazy kids.

Amobia and Frogfoot receive I-ECNS licences

Amobia and Frogfoot are both on the list of the 27 VANS who will have their licences converted to Individual ECS and Individual ECNS licenses this month. This list was published in the Government Gazette on Friday.

..2 out of 27 ain’t bad (-;

For those who have not been keeping up with current events.. an I-ECNS licence is the same license Telkom, Neotel and the major GSM providers will have. Yes, it’s a big deal.

ITWeb Article: ICASA resumes licence conversions

Individual ECS and ECNS licence-holders, in terms of schedule A of ICASA’s regulations, can receive their licences from 22 to 30 September.

Schedule A licence-holders consist of a list of 27 companies that includes Altech Autopage, Amobia Communications, MTN Network Solutions and Internet Solutions.

It’s been a long and interesting battle on many levels to get to this point. WAPA took the initiative by first seeking clarity on the rights of VANS. Long hours of writing business plans as part of the ECA conversion process. Lobbying, spreading the word, PR, blogging and general bitching and moaning. A whole industry collectively knowing the right answer, holding its breath for ICASA and the DoC to “do the right thing”..

..and then, we won.

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. — Yoda

A victory for the little guy. Victory for the forces of reason and progress.

I have to confess to a few feelings of disbelief when I finally read Amobia and Frogfoot’s names in the Government Gazette. Did IQ’s just skyrocket? Did common sense somehow penetrate the confused minds defining policy in the local telecoms market?

In some ways the news that VANS can self provide is almost too obvious and logical. Do you remember when VoIP was illegal in South Africa? Do you remember when it was illegal for VANS to build (wireless) network infrastructure?

So now that we have all this freedom, all these new options.. what next?

We have to create an environment to nurture our young network infrastructure providers. A few supporting projects will be important to our new IECNS players:

  • Undersea cables and open/neutral landing sites for undersea cables
  • Infraco or other national dark fibre or layer 2 fibre networks
  • City dark fibre projects for Metro Ethernet
  • Vendor neutral datacentres
  • Peering points
  • WAPA’s self regulation and management of ISM frequency spectrum
  • Efficient usage of national frequency spectrum resources
  • Clear policies on how to gain access to municipal property and highsites

I’m working on 3 of the above.

We should see much more pressure on ISM frequency spectrum soon. I’m hoping ICASA will see the light and allow WAPA to play a more active role in keeping the ISM wireless access market sustainable.

Internet Solutions joined WAPA this week and WAPA now has 40+ members. WAPA will have to up its game.

You could say that the WISPs have had an advantage because of the past regulatory uncertainty and their appetite for risk. A small number of WISPs (or outdoor fixed wireless providers) like Amobia now have networks of national scale.

Some will say this is a good time to sell these businesses to larger players in the market.. and some will say the new regulatory environment opens a door to major investment. Amobia will have to up its game.

Interesting times.

Joe on IOL Technology

I was quoted in an IOL article: Landmark judgment liberates VANS

It’s going to be interesting how many new national telecoms operators pop up… 3, 6, 10? You need a good chunk of change to build network infrastructure.

Reminds me of a theory from iWeek a year or two ago.. somebody commented on why the ISP/ICT industry was not “representational” (too many white faces).. he figured that smart BEE investors would not be interested in telecoms: too risky, unstable, low margins, fast moving, hard to predict.. and very capital intensive.

It is ridiculous to call this an industry. This is not. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I’ll kill ’em, and I’m going to kill ’em before they kill me. You’re talking about the American way of survival of the fittest. — Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s

Comes down to a simple question.. how long do you need to have that fibre in the ground before you recover your costs and what else could you have done with your money?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with the news that VANS get IECNS licenses, but this is the very beginning of a long journey..

Joe on ITWeb

Spotted an article about Teraco on ITWeb : Ex-Storm investors in data centre deal

A few comments..

Teraco aims to be the first co-location data centre company in SA.

Teraco aims to be the first vendor neutral co-location data centre company in SA.

This means any business that needs secure data storage can use it without being locked in to specific hardware or telecommunication vendor’s services.

I’d say connectivity is a bigger factor than secure data storage.

The Cape Town site will have 228 cabinets, in which any range of storage devices can be located.

Naturally, you can host more than just storage devices… like servers and routers.

..supplemented by three generators and three uninterruptible power supplies.

The design allows us to start with this and add more units as the DC fills up.

Johann Botha, a director of wireless network provider Frogfoot

Frogfoot does a bit of Wifi, but Amobia is the wireless company. Frogfoot’s focus is on corporate Internet and carrier services.

Abz got left out. You have to love his website. The three initial founders of Teraco were, Matt, Abz and Joe… for the first year or so.

..everything has to be bought twice to ensure proper redundancy.

The idea is N + 1, as in.. Needed plus one. Which is not the same as 2N, though some parts of the design are 2N redundant.

I still need to write my “The brief history of Teraco” post as part of the story series. I have a few notes somewhere.

PS. Yes, the Teraco website is a bit lame at the moment, but it’s useful to have something up, if only for SEO reasons.

Frogfoot Office and DC

The new Frogfoot office is taking shape. It’s actually rather peaceful there at the moment. Nice high ceilings in these old buildings.

I think the drive from Gardens to the new office is a bit shorter and I have under cover parking again. The Waverley business park is very different to our previous office. Much more of a community feel to it with lots of small businesses around. I’ve discovered a nice lunch spot (a 1min walk away). Lots of smokers manning every exit sadly, but I guess that’s a general trend.

Discovered a few geeky tshirts we made a long time ago in the process of moving.



 

I visited the Frogfoot datacentre in Great Westerford yesterday to see if we can host a cabinet or two as an interim solution for Teraco customers. It’s scary how long its been since my last visit.. months. The joys of remote admin and a stable OS I guess.

The DC (aka Frogtown) is rather impressive. Pretty much full. Nice to see how it’s grown from humble beginnings in 2002 when Abz and I built it, painting and cabling over weekends and a few late nights.

End of an era. New beginnings. Now all I have to do is find a new place to live from Sept onwards and most of the big changes will be complete. Change can be scary, but as they say.. can also be as good as a holiday.

Quick Update

..things I write which I kinda know only friends read. Yes, it’s a bit sad, especially when I assume they read these posts.. I skip the “how was your week” stuff in conversations and move along to the “what does it all mean” parts.

  • Monday, had lunch at Rhodes Memorial with Jonathan and visited the the Old Cape Town Zoo.
  • Turns out Mia had chickenpox over the weekend, at least the worst was over by Tuesday. She’s a tuffy.
  • Amobia’s touch rugby team, won 10 – 4 in the final.
  • Turns out I’m a hero (implicitly), maybe I’ll get myself a “single dad” tshirt.
  • Tuesday, Lions Head. Put on my (mildly gay) long running tights and went for a run along the table mountain cable car road. Had sushi. Watched Get Smart. Nice movie, had a few good laughs.. man, Anne Hathaway is hot.
  • Wednesday, Frogfoot office move.
  • The VANS self provisioning case was heard in court 29th-31st.
  • Watched The Dark Knight. I enjoyed it. It’s a bit more James Bond than Kung Fu like the the previous one was.. and the penthouse was a bit more American Psycho, but I still like Batman Returns. Inspired me to wear my Vivienne Westwood shirt the next day.
  • Thursday, Web Africa brand launch at Relish and GeekDinner at De Capo with Cath. Met an interesting tailor who made suits for a number of presidents. Now I know where Fabiani sent my jackets.
  • Met Charl and Jade at the GeekDinner. Big thanks to Perdeberg wines for their GeekDinner sponsorship.
  • Friday, blogging. Gym.. trust me, newby parents need strong lower backs to keep up with a 2yr olds. Mia. Tea with the ~ex-wife at Manna. We’re working on being friends. Like the Joker said in The Dark Knight.. I was “like a dog chasing a car.. wouldn’t know what to do with it if I finally caught it.”
  • Saturday, watched parts of Babe for the 14th time. Stellenbosch Wine Festival with Georg and Mia. Long, busy, crazy day. Bumped into Max.
  • I love Vanilla Tea and honey on a laid back Sunday morning.
  • Glen Beach for a bit of sunshine and a few photos. Maybe I’ll see you at Fandango for some jazz at 20:00.

Thought for the week..
“the real breakfast of champions is a low information diet”

Frogfoot++

Big changes all around. Frogfoot moved offices and announced the sale and migration of its consumer client base this week.

You can read the official announcement and story here.. but I figured I’d share some unofficial and personal thoughts.

Brief history

We started Frogfoot in July 2000 with a simple business model. Internet services for businesses. The two founders were both working full time jobs at the time so it made sense to have a niche operation. Frogfoot was the reason we could play with new and interesting toys and tinker with open source software. It was all good fun.

Four years later we moved into our first office space. Frogfoot became our full time gig… a day job. We hired a number of people. Let’s call this Frogfoot 2.0. We started diversifying and growing the consumer side of the business.

This week, eight years later we moved into our second office space and we are making a fresh start, in some ways going back to a very similar point from where we started. Frogfoot 3.0. Back to basics, lean and mean.

A few changes

  • No more software development
  • No more Stellenbosch office
  • Staff numbers went from 20ish recently to 6 people
  • Client numbers went from 1000+ to the 100 range

A few observations.. wisdom and perfect hindsight

  • Focus. Don’t get side tracked. It’s often hard to walk away and say no but it’s a very useful discipline to master. If you come across a new cool idea.. ask yourself if the idea is good enough to be a business on its own, then start a new focused business.
  • The 80/20 Rule. If you know 80% of your profit is coming from 20% of your customers and the other 80% use up most of your time.. find a way to work with the clients you want to work with.
  • The call centre model sucks. It’s a back breaking endless war zone. The best support is no support. The only way to provide mass market support is to have fully automated self-help systems and smart customers who know how to use them. Call centres and support help desks are an HR nightmare. You really have to have the personality for it. Personally I think all call centres are doomed.
  • Make sure you have solid business foundations. Make real profit.. 20%+ or walk away. If the industry starts selling the same commodity service you sell below cost.. drop it and run, as fast as you can.
  • Do the stuff you are good at. Don’t play catch-up.
  • Don’t work harder, work smarter. Your time is worth more.
  • Finding the right people is hard. Keeping people motivated, who are not naturally self motivated is even harder. People like stability and predictability. Keeping them motivated in an uncertain environment is painful.
  • Internal communication is very important.
  • Some personalities just don’t work well for managing people.
  • Pride only hurts. Make rational decisions. Place your bets and stick with them.
  • Decision making is the ultimate power. I remember driving in a taxi in Barcelona. We suspected we were going the wrong way. The meter is ticking. There is a major language barrier. Do you go along for the ride or do you cut your losses and say “take me back to the start”?
  • Option paralysis and Occam’s razor. The simple answer is usually the right answer, not making a decision is always the wrong answer.
  • Walk away from sunk costs. Especially software development costs. The software development game is messy. It’s like patching a broken fishbowl while driving on a dirt road. The more silicone gel you use the less you can see the goldfish. Avoid software development if you can.
  • Don’t count your chickens… At some point I figured it’s a bit depressing growing a business for 8 years, yet finding myself sucked in more and more and not being able put a price tag on it that motivated 8 years of efforts. What I realised is that Frogfoot was an excellent learning environment. A stepping stone. Frogfoot gave us the skills, experience, time and flexibility to start a number of other ventures.. and if I add all that up, I’m more than happy with my 8 years of effort.

That turned out to be a longer list than the quick brain dump I had in mind.

See you on the flip side kids.
Rock ‘n Roll.