Top of Mind. There are days when working in big tech feels special to me – anticipating a product launch, an acquisition or congressional hearings, aka my super bowl. But then, there are days where I have incredible experiences speaking with people making the decisions at companies that shape the ecosystem.
This week, I spoke to Tomiwa Aladekomo, CEO of Big Cabal Media – publishers of TechCabal and Zikoko Mag, on big bets, industry trends and TechCabal’s mission to delight audiences.
I am certain you’ll enjoy reading this as much as I loved writing it.
In today’s edition:
- TechCabal’s big bets
- Amazon’s million pounds waste problem
- Google’s Sundar Pichai faces tough criticism
3 big things…
TechCabal is Africa’s most important tech media company
TechCabal is Africa’s most important tech media company. I think of them as the pulse of tech culture, its third eye. They’ve been at the centre of industry trends and covered innovation, triumph, losses, and made bold predictions about Africa’s tech ecosystem for years.
By the numbers: Big Cabal’s portfolio reaches nearly a million people a month and about 20 million people across platforms. Zikoko and TechCabal’s newsletters reach almost 200,000 readers. In addition, TechCabal is read in over 30 countries and read by investors in Silicon Valley, Europe, and Asia.
I had a delightful time interviewing TechCabal’s CEO, Tomiwa Aladekomo, on his big bets, TechCabal’s future and what it means to create joy.
The toplines from our interview:
On TechCabal’s design strategy and new look: Content absolutely matters. It’s why people come to the website. The experience of consuming content is important. We think about everything – from the experience of reading a newsletter, the experience of reading our website, the experience of watching one of our live interviews or coming to our events. All of that has an impact on the way people consume information and receive information. And so it’s a constant goal of ours to improve the process of engaging with our content and make sure that every touchpoint feels special. It feels differentiated, and it feels like somebody thought about what the experience is for the audience.
On delighting the audience: We defined our values, defined our voice, our tone, and the kind of audience we serve. And one of the big things that came out of that was a line that says delight the audience!
What’s great as a business is when you define a cultural value and people own it. I give props to our Head of design, he took that, and he owned it – and he thought, what elements will blow people away? What will make people feel really special about this? We liked our old site, but it was pretty busy. Some things could be done better, and this time we focused on delighting the audience and making sure that this was served practically. And that’s the inspiration behind this. That is the thinking behind this.
On expansion across Africa: We are making a big effort to ensure we’re covering the entire continent. We’ve been recruiting writers, and we’re keen to have more depth in East Africa, Francophone Africa and Southern Africa. So that’s the path we are on as we can cover content decently, just sitting in Lagos. But as we recruit, there’s the opportunity to deepen that coverage and deepen our connections within these markets to be really informed across the continent.
On covering the tech industry: Empathy is important to us in the ecosystem. We understand we give people a voice. So covering technology and working from inside an industry, you will come upon people behaving badly or in controversies. Being empathetic means, we give people a fair hearing. Sometimes you got to say this is bad behaviour, but we’re not in the game to play “Gotcha”. We want to report honestly, we want to keep the ecosystem honest, and we are optimistic.
We are optimistic about the impact of technology on the continent. We are optimistic about where it’s taking us. We want all of these companies to succeed. We want the founders to succeed. We want the investors to make great returns. I want to see technology that will make Africa a great place to live and work for its citizens.
On the brilliant team at TechCabal: I love the people I work with. They are a super switched on team. They are amazing. They get the mission, they are excited about the mission, and they drive it forward excellently.
On what he’s most excited about in tech’s ecosystem: I’m excited that we’re building the infrastructure that allows a lot more to be done. For example, the work that’s being done in FinTech enables people to do more in health tech, in edtech, etc., and all the infrastructure upgrades are exciting to me in terms of creating a bedrock where other things could work much better.
Anytime I see people doing things in hardware, it’s exciting. I see people do things beyond pure code, look at new problems and new industries, and apply technology to make things happen.
I’m excited that more people can create lives that matter for themselves and build international connections.
I’m excited that young people have this thing that gives them a sense of optimism, connects them to the world and allows them to build great lives for themselves. That’s important to me.
On next steps: Technology is the key influencer of business across the board, and at TechCabal, we will become the catalogue of the future of business. Ultimately, the ambitious goal is to be the most important business publication because technology is the most important business influencer on the continent.
TechCabal will be the publication that helps you understand technology and business. We would capture stories from a human interest perspective and understand how people’s lives are changing on the continent because technology is absolutely integral to that.
On if Radar is coming back 👀: Oh, God. Okay. Radar was an excellent product, an excellent forum. Important in its time, I think it could be important today. But, from a business perspective, Radar took a bit of a dip in 2017. We had a bit of rockiness as a business. And in 2018, we made a couple of attempts to reboot it, but forums are super tricky.
It was one of those things we kept meaning to get back to, and it just never felt like the most urgent thing or the best use of our resources. So I think there’s still some value in it. But it is something that we’ve just not got back to. Maybe one of these days, we might resurface Radar again, but it’s not been a business priority.
On fundraising: We are funded by angel investors and one institutional investor, who came on board last year.
We are building the future of media in Africa and very likely to talk to investors worldwide. We have huge ambitions from a technology perspective, and there are special insights that we can bring to the market. It’s a huge long term play, and it will take funding. So yes, we are having those conversations.
On TechCabal potentially getting acquired: Every time we talk to investors, they ask, what’s the exit plan? Yes, there will be acquisitions in the future. But we’ll get there when we get there. For the moment, it’s time to build, and we are building.
On creating joy: We exist to create joy. We exist to create happiness. Africans deserve that as much as they deserve great healthcare, you know. So yes, I’m looking forward to the crop of companies building for fun, not necessarily to solve a problem. Hopefully, we get to a place where people have the money to build and sustain fun companies like that, just because they can.
Amazon destroys millions of pounds worth of unsold items
The update: E-commerce giant Amazon destroys millions of pounds in unsold stock every year from one of 24 fulfilment centres in the UK. This came after an undercover investigation by ITV and some anonymous Amazon workers.
Scale of destruction: I had heart palpitations at this discovery. Macbooks? iPads? Good lord. No product in its inventory is safe from the carnage, no matter the price point. Unsold items are dumped in large bins and carried off to either recycling centres or buried at landfill sites. Luxury goods like the Macbook, iPad, Smart TVs, and drones were not spared. Smaller items like books, headphones, head dryers and thousands of sealed face masks were also marked for destruction.
By the numbers: An ex-employee noted that the weekly target for destruction of unsold items is 130,000. Some months vary. For example in one week in April, 124,000 items were selected for destruction, and other times 200,000 items make the cut. Let’s say only £20 items are marked for destruction. If the £20 items were disposed off in a week with 200,000 items marked for destruction, that totals £4 million in losses. Wow.Why isn’t this donated? This should be the obvious choice, but from the numbers above, only 28,000 items are earmarked for donation to charity organizations. Which sounds crazy if you think about it, but for Amazon it is much cheaper to destroy the items than make arrangements for donations –
Here’s why: Amazon’s e-commerce business is successful in part to the fees vendors pay to warehouse their goods in Amazon’s fulfilment centres. Inventory storage fees are charged monthly based on the daily average volume for the space a vendor’s inventory occupies in Amazon fulfilment centres.
Additional inventory storage fees apply to products classified as dangerous goods, and for units that have been stored in an Amazon fulfilment centre for more than 365 days (long-term storage fees).
What it means for vendors: It’s a tough place to be in as a vendor. You want to sell your goods, but the longer it remains unsold, the more you pay. And the price varies based on volume and type of goods. Eventually, it becomes cheaper to destroy the goods than store them indefinitely.
Climate organizations weigh in: Amazon says it is working towards a goal of zero product disposal with priority on reselling, recycling or donating to charity organizations. Climate org Greenpeace posted a call to action on their website’s home page and is tasking the government to introduce legislation to tackle what it describes as an unimaginable amount of unecessary waste.Bottom line: The UK is pretty serious about environmental issues and is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. If climate orgs are serious enough, they could get legislation passed that will see Amazon slapped with heavy fines and taxes.
Google’s Sundar Pichai receives a vote of no confidence
What’s happening? Anonymous Googlers revealed that CEO Sundar Pichai is facing internal backlash for his leadership style and moving slow in an industry with the “move fast and monopolise.” mantra.
Why it matters: Among the laundry list of highlighted issues, executives at the company stated that as the company has gotten bigger, there are increased levels of bureaucracy, lack of decisive action and poor treatment of staffers of colour – most notably the controversial exit of Timnit Gebru, co-leader of its Ethical A.I team and one of its prominent black leaders.
By the numbers: In the last year, 36 Vice Presidents have left the company citing risk aversion powered by endless amounts of needless research, lack of alignment on technical decisions and general disregard of feedback from vice presidents.
Even more: In 2018, more than a dozen vice presidents wrote an email to Sundar Pichai to warn about the slow growth of the company. Some Vice Presidents were angry about Google’s failure to purchase Shopify, passing up the chance to compete with Amazon in the e-commerce space. Mr. Pichai reportedly said Shopify was too expensive to acquire at the time, but some of his executive team believe he copped out.
Cautious of Anti-trust: I can understand Mr. Pichai’s hesitation to purchase Shopify. While that would have been a great acquisition for the company, it would have raised more scrutiny on Google’s influence and its monopoly of a significant piece of the e-commerce marketplace.
Regardless, Google and Shopify are partners now. I wrote about the new partnership last week. Shopify will do great all by itself, and consumers deserve to experience companies succeed without an acquisition.
Bottom line: Sundar Pichai’s leadership style is more conservative and staying laser-focused on the consumer products driving Google’s bottom line – YouTube, Android, Search, etc. Google execs will rather be more daring and innovative. Still, Google is at that place that big tech companies get to when they get bigger. In this case, remaining conservative is rewarded by less scrutiny from the alphabet club – SEC, FTC.
Google’s current conservatism is good for the company. It doesn’t hurt its revenue so no losses here. It can do better by fixing its internal culture and the issues its employees have been so publicly vocal about. Its business side is good, it is its people side that needs work.
I enjoyed my interview with Tomiwa so much that we hosted an “Ask me Anything” with his brilliant team on Twitter Spaces yesterday. We talked about African startups, tech industry trends, and what joy looks like in our lives. It was 90 minutes of brilliance and great entertainment.
NEW FEATURE SPOTLIGHT
Twitter launched its monetisation product – Ticketed Spaces and Super Follows this week to allow people monetise content directly from their online interactions. Users can now sell tickets to people participating in Twitter Spaces, its audio tool. And if you like a content creator, you can choose to subscribe to their profile to receive exclusive content as a Super Follower.
Twitter users can now apply to use these new features, with a few requirements:
- Have at least 1,000 followers
- Hosted at least three Twitter Spaces conversations in the last 30 days
- Be at least 18 years old
My two cents: I don’t know that I’ll be any user’s super follower or pay to get access to a paywalled Twitter Spaces conversation. I don’t follow anyone exciting enough to make me part with my coins. Unless Jay Z shows up and charges for the chance to hear him speak. If not, I trust I’ll get the audio or experience the content some other way 👀
NEW PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT
I am a big fan of Spotify’s Greenroom!
Last week, I gave a teaser of Spotify’s spanking new audio product Greenroom. I needed some time to dig into it to see what I liked about the product.
First off, the basics:
Greenroom is Spotify’s new social audio app that lets you host and participate in live conversations with communities across music, sports, and tech. Spotify did something different from its rivals by going to market with an iOS and Android version, compared to Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces that launched with iOS versions first.
Native recording: Greenroom is the only social audio app that gives users the power to record conversations in-app. For example, when a conversation ends on Clubhouse, you cannot retrieve the recording unless you were recording with a different device.
Twitter Spaces recently released an update that lets you request your recorded conversations from your archives, but it’s not exactly a native feature.
- You can opt into receiving the recorded conversation in your inbox
- You can activate the text chat to have discussions as the room is ongoing. Think Zoom
- Unlike its rivals, you need to select a group to set the context for the conversation you’re having before you go live. For example, I selected tech in the image below, but you can select any other groups, e.g. UEFA, NBA, NFL, cooking, etc.
Greenroom has its own status feature, Gems.
“Gems are a way of liking something a speaker says. When a host or speaker says something compelling, you can double-tap their profile icon to give them a Gem. The number of Gems you receive when you’re speaking in a room will show on your profile icon, and your total Gem count will show on your Greenroom profile.”
As expected, some Gem rooms have started popping up all over Greenroom, where people join to give themselves Gems. This is no different from “follow for follow” rooms on Clubhouse. It’s become a symbol of status on the app with these kinds of room exhibiting spam behaviour. I wonder how Greenroom intends to curb this, it will need to get some machines to learn this behaviour and stop it before it overtakes the app.
My verdict: I’ll be spending some more time on the app and connecting to new communities. Maybe the excitement wanes at some point, maybe it doesn’t. But till then, it’s a great app with an excellent UI and opportunities for Spotify to curate dope experiences for users and prominent sports figures and artists.
This week’s industry trends covers anti-trust bills targeted at breaking up big tech, trillion-dollar market caps, acquisitions, a government’s crackdown on crypto mining and the death of one of tech’s most controversial figures.
- America’s House Judiciary Committee pushes bills to limit the powers of big tech companies
- Microsoft joins Apple in the exclusive club of trillion-dollar companies
- Amazon doubles down on its podcast endeavours by acquiring Art19, a podcast hosting and monetization platform
- China cracks down on cryptocurrency miners and instructs banks to stop digital currency transactions
- Anti-virus software entrepreneur John McAfee was found dead in his Spanish cell after extradition approval to the US to face tax evasion charges
That’s it for this week. See you next Sunday!
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