5 Lessons Learnt in Lagos

Tagged in: Blog  Opinion 

5 things I learnt about doing business in Africa’s biggest city

There’s a disco ball spinning and the little flecks of dappled light slowly make their way around the sea of dark-skinned faces staring at me. They’re dressed in disco gear, seated, eating from full plates of food. A government official of sorts looks up at me slowly while prodding a fish head on his plate with his knife and fork. I’m standing in the middle of the room with three other, equally uncertain white guys. We’re joined by a local dude in full traditional Nigerian dress finished with some knock-off tortoise-shell, hipster reading glasses with Poco Robane printed on the lens. He shoves the microphone in my face and asks me something in Pidgin English about my favourite dance move. Oh God. My head hurts so much from just everything, but clearly it’s my turn to be ridiculed by the Nigerian MC. And I did – as anyone in my position would have- the Robot.

This was my second business trip to Lagos. The first was with the mandate to determine if M4JAM was ready to expand to Nigerian soils. It wasn’t. This time, it was with one of UNO’s clients – OLX. We consult on the product team that manages 6 sub-Saharan African countries’ apps, websites and mobile sites. As you can imagine, each country has it’s own locally-specific nuances that change the way people use the platform. People use OLX for completely different jobs in the different regions, which makes life very interesting for us and the OLX product guys in Cape Town. For instance, earlier in the year we joined the product team on a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, where we got to understand how OLX is being used as way for farmers to sell their small crops of potatoes online, as contrasted by how South Africans would use it, to say, sell their old iPhones.

The trips to Lagos have been eye opening and I’ve learnt one or two things. Some of which may apply to you if you’re going to travel to Nigeria or are just interested in a white boy’s take on doing tech business in the biggest city in Africa.

1. IN NIGERIA, EVERYONE IS A HUSTLER

You’ve probably heard countless stories along the lines of an overweight English woman out in Sussex fortuitously stumbling upon a Nigerian prince that needs some money to unlock his fortune of which he’d happily share. You also probably know how that story ends. If you’re not sure how that story ends yet - please do contact us - we need a small deposit to unlock a fortune of our own.

On the first trip, the very first thing that my colleague said to me when I got to Nigeria was “Everyone is a hustler” (Please know that this term is not interchangeable with ‘scammer’ or ‘fraudster’. A more accurate synonym is probably ‘resourceful and relentless entrepreneurs’). I believe that this a product of population density. With all these people around you, the opportunity is everywhere too – for a small payment, people even get other people to do their shopping for them.

With all these people chasing all these other people for money, wouldn’t it make sense to try and get in on the hustle? OLX, being a C2C (consumer-to-consumer) platform, is perfectly positioned for this. It allows someone who wants to sell second-hand phones to reach a potentially larger audience. However, when I mentioned earlier that the word “hustler” is not a synonym far scammer, the terms are not by any means mutually exclusive. Enabling people to buy and sell stuff from each other can be a dangerous game when it comes to trust-based safety - and Nigerians, all too aware of their own notoriety as scam artists, need additional checks and balances in place for this facilitation. To solve this, OLX now goes so far as sending a “Champ” to an ad lister’s house to check the items still exist.

There is always opportunity in the hustle. But it’s still a hustle. So play safe.

2. YOU KNOW NOTHING JOHN SNOW

I’m sitting on a child’s stool in a strangely empty classroom looking hall in the depths of the Unilever campus in Lagos. A very sceptical, very stocky Nigerian man is looking down his glasses at me on the other side of the plastic table. “We can pay people to buy CloseUp toothpaste with the M4JAM platform”, I say, proud that I’ve done some homework on what Unilever’s biggest product is in Nigeria. “This way, you don’t need to pass discounts on to any retailers or wholesalers, but you can move product in slow moving areas by directly incentivising the consumer.”

Unilever Lagos
Unilever Lagos

Surely he’s sold, the value proposition is flawless. Apart from the massive flaw in my own assumptions, that is. All that the users needed to do was take a photo of their printed receipt that they received when they purchased their beloved Colgate. Except that the majority of FMCG is sold in transactions with absolutely no paper trail whatsoever, using cash only. No retail. No slips. No proof of purchase. And no pudding.

Don’t try your usual user story approach. It’s fraught with assumptions. Rethink everything.

3. SOMEONE NEEDS TO WET GROUND FOR YOU

Towards the end of my first trip, Idemudia (the head of WeChat Nigeria at the time) and I were talking in the taxi. We were wrapping up our action points and I reflected on the number of back-to-back meetings we’d had with the right people at the biggest banks and telcos. He reiterated the importance of the opportunity present for our two businesses and encouraged me, “We gotta close these now - I done wet ground for you”. By this, he meant he did all the hard work - getting to the right people at the right places. When I think of it now, in every office someone stood up and greeted the guy, be it from a corner office or from the bullpen. Either way, every meeting was a warm one - and what a difference it made. Before going I’d recommend that you scour your LinkedIn and favours book for someone who can be your ally on the ground.

Nigerians are friendly to friends. Get one.

4. NIGERIANS CAN DANCE AND SO SHOULD YOU

Apart from the cringe-worthy experience I mentioned earlier, Nigerians are pretty amazingly open to just standing up and shaking what their mamma gave them. Whether it was at Bottles or at an office party, they have no time for non-participation. The pace of Lagos is phrenetic. Get up and get moving or get left behind. It’s really important to show that you can move - not to earn street cred, but to show you’re up to their pace. Remember, that this too is a reminder of the shuffle they do every day. Nothing stands still. Not their jobs, not their titles, not the companies they work for, and not the number of users or revenue they’re reporting to you. They’re dancing and watching to see if you can keep up.

If you can, learn an amazing dance move, just in case.

5. THEY’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE

“Hi I’m {{white person's name}}. I’m from {{developed country}}. We’ve recently launched {{self-professed revolutionary software/business model}} and our market has shown amazing growth. There are MILLIONS of people here. We see that you have access to {{X Million}} of that population. If you help us, we can help you and we’ll all be rich”

☝️ This was me on my first trip. They’d all seen this before. A copy-paste attempt of an existing solution. They see these so often that most of the time, they’ll wait to see if there is traction in Nigeria first, before joining in. No one wants to be the launch partner. They are like penguins standing at the shore. Just looking at the black, icy water. No one wants to be the first one to take the plunge. Because there’s no massive benefit for the first penguin in – but there is a risk. If that first penguin dives in and stays, there are probably fish a plenty and the rest will join in. If the water instantly turns red, well, poor first penguin.

There might be some companies though, that are mid-hustle, and see your solution as a tool fit for their hustle-belt. If they are keen, get ready to move. Keep up the momentum. Start the tango. And if you can help it, don’t go home. Stay there. Or get some reliable people on the ground, like Brandworx, who can help keep the music playing.

Be (very) ready for them. Just in case they’re ready for you.





Posted on October 27 2016 by Stephen van der Heijden
Stephen is the founder of UNO Digital. He loves digital products, digital people, and people in the digital world.


3 reasons water restrictions don't work

Tagged in: Blog 

Although a terrifying prospect, the current water crisis offers a perfect example of a poor strategy choice by the Cape Town government.

In a recent PSA delivered just before the end of 2016, a substantial increase in water usage was reported. This happened despite numerous efforts (the efficacy of which I wish to discuss) to curb it. Residents, in response to water regulations it seems, went ahead and racked up a daily water usage in excess of 900 million litres, surpassing the set daily target by more than 100 million litres. So, why on earth did this happen and how can we stop it from spiralling further out of control?


The two reasons cited by the Cape Town government’s PSA for these numbers are as follows: (1) Ignorance and (2) the increasingly warm weather. Right off the bat, I have to disagree strongly with this overly simplistic diagnosis, firstly because it lacks evidence or logical reasoning and secondly because it hints of scapegoating. The later particularly rings true in light of their coming direct-mailer, educational drive, the outcome of which will be: “[with information now in hand] … there will be no excuse for ignorance or water wastage.” I am quite taken aback by this level of reasoning, not to mention the solutions that have stemmed from it. But, this second part might almost be forgiven – because how can you expect someone to solve something that they’ve misdiagnosed. Treating a misdiagnosis, it may be argued, may even exacerbate the problem – and in this case, I think it has.

This (evidently) impotent system is based on restrictions, resulting in incrementally increased tariffs based on usage (read fines) that basically amount to warnings and reprimands. This strategy is patently a fallacy, based on the premise that people are rational machines and can be expected to behave as such with the correct information in hand. And so, when we tell someone “Don’t do this, or else”, we should not be surprised when the exact opposite behavior is produced than was expected – as it appears may be the case with the 900 million litre a day figure. And there are some very good reasons for this.

1. Reactance

Reactance occurs when an individual feels that their choices are being eroded or that their range of alternatives is being limited. The Cape Town government has limited residents’ volume of water consumption as well as what they are allowed to use that water for. This will likely produce the desire to perform the exact opposite of the desired behaviour, which may well explain the increase in usage.

This contrary reaction allows the person to feel as though they have taken back their perceived loss of control. Are we then surprised that someone may actually cut off their nose to spite their face – or waste precious water, knowing full well its detrimental effect on the greater population? We do this all the time – some of us on a daily basis. One study even found that people were more likely to taste fatty foods when there were health labels explicitly warning them otherwise.

2. Rebound

Rebound is the effect produced when a person is asked not to think about something and, in doing so, ensures that all they can think about is that restricted thing. The relevance here is that by constantly hearing about water shortages, residents can’t help but think about water and all it’s related uses – like watering their wilting gardens, or filling their evaporating pools. This also explains the increase in consumption.

3. A fine is a price

A famous study found that, by introducing a fine for late parents, a child day care facility actually increased the number of late comers rather than decreased it. This is because parents were now able to put a value to having 15 minutes extra to leave the house and not face the stress of dropping their child off on time. As long as you paid the fine, being late had now become an affordable and guilt-free option. What we can learn from this is that, in order to incentivise the desired behaviour, the price must either be repulsively high or not be there at all but, that even then, there are those who will still be able to afford it.

Going forward one thing is clear; it would be highly beneficial for the Cape Town government to review its strategy for addressing the current water crisis. Whatever the intervention of choice, the efficacy would be immensely improved if it incorporated a few easily implementable behavioural science learnings. The most applicable, in this instance, coming from the Behavioural Insight’s EAST Framework, namely, “make it social”. People tend to react better to a message that is framed socially – that is, it suggests the possibility of social ostracisation if someone were to break the restriction. Another relevant insight by the above mentioned insights team also found that removing anonymity through printing people’s names on correspondence for traffic violations, it improved the efficacy of getting people to pay their fines. The short of it is, that more can be done by taking responsibility and learning from failures.





Posted on January 12 2017 by Lee Blake
Lee has a fresh way of looking at things, driven by his constant hunger for discovering different approaches, information and points of view.


Enter the Intern

Tagged in: Blog  Opinion 

Having recently graduated, I don’t have the relevant work experience to apply for the jobs I want. South Africa’s unemployment rate is currently at a 12 year high, and so, unsurprisingly, months went by without signs of work opportunities.

Understanding this current economic climate, I knew that I would need to knock down doors - instead of graciously waiting for them to be opened for me.

This drive brought me to UNO Digital’s offices, where Jason was kind enough to introduce himself, and I promptly asked for an internship possibility.

Two days later Mel and Stephen called me in for a “chat”. I was so confused; what does a chat even mean? Is it an interview? How prepared do I need to be? When I showed up to the “chat” Stephen was wearing flip-flops and a T-shirt with a rainbow pooping whale. I had no idea what to expect. All previous interviews were so formal; I was very unfamiliar with this indifference, yet, super excited for the opportunity.

My first week of my internship was challenging – I wasn’t used to their comfortable company culture; but this is also what makes them so great.

They have inspired me to embrace my youth and who I am, as well as to never be limited by the knowledge I don’t have – because, what I don’t know I can still learn.

During my internship, I want to observe and learn as much as I can about the industry and their clients’ projects. I hope to become so comfortable with the programmes they use, to one day run campaigns independently as successfully as they do.

It is a blessing to work with such an amazing team of friendly and talented people who encourage each other to become the best they can be.

I am excited and grateful to work among these people who will help me grow and push myself past my limits.





Posted on December 12 2016 by


Beware of B2B

Tagged in: Blog  Research 

Want to build honest products? I reckon stay away from B2B

Last week I went to the Gartner ITXPO. It’s aimed at CTOs and CIOs of multinationals and parastatals. Now, I’m not a fan of suits at the best of times, but I’ll never turned down an opportunity to meet some important people – so, needless to say, I worked the room. If you’ve ever watched Silicon Valley, this was a hall of ”Keith, from North-East Regional” selling on-site storage boxes. It was everything that I despise about the tech industry. SAP were there with a solution for which you had to pay them to figure out how it works. Samsung were there – soundly confirming that they’re the new BlackBerry. Some lady even cornered me to tell me that I needed to be PCI s2.3 subsection zXvoetsek compliant and that a POPI regulator had been appointed (and she looked mighty smug about it too). As she rambled on about subsections and bylaws, my hands rapidly accumulated high-gloss flyers – not to mention the treasure trove of branded notebooks, pens, and the obligatory USB drive. At least some stands enticed visits with free fudge and ice cream. The most popular was a stand with a commotion of people around a television, playing Gran Turismo on a PlayStation (nobody knew what they were selling though).

I looked around at these middle-aged men and women, sitting on the couches and bar stools. My ears started ringing and as I was struck by a sense of vertigo. While this was probably due to the combination of the multiple coffees I drank just to look busy, as well as ice creams and fudge because, well, they are ice-cream and fudge, I prefer to attribute it to the fact that this simply was the antithesis of what I believe is and hope for my industry. If I had run the printed collateral from those stands through the bullshit calculator, it would need to upgrade it’s #cloudcomputing servers. The room was filled with people with massive budgets, and infrastructure software salesmen that say things like “This guy, he makes the meanest cappuccino this side of the city” about the caterer dude with white paper hat. But, there was not a single responsive web page in site.

Check the sign. That shit is real.
Is your business ready for #digital #buzzword #transformation?


I can confidently estimate that some of the biggest ICT spend deals in the country were made at that conference, or at that type of conference, or on a super luxurious train or at some fancy restaurant. What I do know for sure though, is that those deals were made between people that were never involved in building the products they represent, and people that will never be involved in executing the implementation or operationalisation of those products. All the decision makers in that room seemed to need was to be able to say to his boss “I went with {{Reputable Brand Y}}. They are highest on the Gartner Magic Squares for innovation.” and to his mates “They have the best yacht in France and the thickest stack of 1 euro bills”. Point is, there was very little product evaluation going on in that room, and there didn’t need to be. No one was going to switch product, even if it was more user friendly. There was no crowd around the stand with the most beautiful user interface. It’s the scantily clad promo girls that draw that crowd in that kind of room. An it would be that software or server or service that I’d end up having to implement back in the real world, if I worked at one of those corporate institutions. Even if I found a better product, with faster implementation, with better security, and with a pool of accessible resources to maintain the technology, I wouldn’t be able to instigate the switch. Purely because I wasn’t on that train or in that room.

In contrast, imagine a teenager lying in bed on a cold winter’s day, browsing for apps in the app store on her phone. She already has a mail app that works. And a bunch of photo sharing apps. The app store shows her that 189 of their friends have a new app called Snapchat. One of them is her crush and the other is her older sister. She reads her sister’s review. “Way cooler than Instagram. :Heart-emoji:. She downloads the app, and falls off the instagram monthly active radar. To her, the cost of switching is close to zero. She moves between apps based on the sole criteria of where her friends are and what ‘feels cool’ to her. To her, the *only* thing that matters, is whether she likes the idea of the app enough to try it and that it delivers enough value for her to continue using it. To the app developers (and their salespeople if they had them), the only thing that matters is that their users love their product. They have to be honest, real, attentive, careful and innovative. They have to listen to their users and move quickly to satisfy them, otherwise they will die the quick and quiet death of irrelevance.

As a product owner, I can think of nothing worse than putting my heart and soul into a digital product whose fate lies in the sweaty hands of a software salesman and a government fat cat at a strip club. For me, if you’re building a B2(big)B product, here is where you’ll end up – in a room full of people that couldn’t care less about product quality, because of their blind dedication to self-interest in the form of their own position and an ambiguously defined budget. If on the other hand, you’d prefer to live in a world where the success of your products is not a function of who you know or what your conferencing budget is, let’s go build consumer-facing stuff together. But be prepared, consumers are a fickle lot.


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on October 27 2016 by Stephen van der Heijden
Stephen is the founder of UNO Digital. He loves digital products, digital people, and people in the digital world.


Brands in the balance

Tagged in: Blog  Opinion 

The story of consumer origins

I recently read an insightful piece by Walter Pike, whose constantly-questioning mind I greatly admire. The piece was about how brands can win over non-affiliated consumers. He wittily illustrated this by delineating the comparison of a common political spectacle that happens about once every four years here in S.A. – that is, the far from noble, election campaign. Within this usually hollow hubbub, the various parties’ loyal followers are not, as common wisdom would have it, the contentious targets of the parties’ campaigns (neither as retention, nor acquisition from an opposition’s base). This is because they are already within that party’s orbit, and to remove them from it would be incredibly difficult, depleting much needed resources. It is actually a far more easily swayed object that influence is more readily exerted upon; it is less of an endeavour to nudge the undecided, swing voter towards you or away from your opponents.

Pike’s strategy for brands to acquire this fickle vote is to go back to the beginning, to cleverly abstract the focus from that of the brand to that of the category it falls within. Pike says “... instead of being interested about how they group around the brand, we need to be interested in how they are grouped around the category[, because the] community they belong to is interested in the product/service ...” I agree with Pike that the way to do this is to take ownership of the category space, as well as by understanding the dynamics dividing these groups – and to do that requires facilitating conversations around the “social object” or “camp fire” of that category, thereby enabling the influencers in that ecosystem.

I think Pike does not abstract this far enough though – does not got back to the real beginning. I contend that what Pike is broadly circling, yet never quite nails down, is empathy. He speaks about understanding the dynamics, about consumers’ interest in the category, but does not describe how this came to be. He should, but disappointingly doesn’t, advocate understanding the context in which people come to need the category. What are the pathways that led into the category’s system? Why are these consumers here to begin with?

Maybe I am being unkind. Maybe the suppressed premise of Walter Pike’s argument is the “social object”. Maybe we are simply saying the same thing in different ways. For instance, my partner doesn’t drink Coke for refreshment, she drinks it for the caffeine, which provides her with relief from migraine pain – she drinks water for refreshment. I too only drink water for refreshment – I will, however, on occasion drink Coke in social situations if I do not feel like drinking alcohol. You will notice here that I am making a correlation versus causation argument. My partner and I both share a correlation with Coke, but with different causes – however, we share both correlation and cause with water. The cause (refreshment) is therefore the entry into the system. We share a campfire that values water as a refreshment, but we are in different camps when it comes to drinking Coke. The cause is the determining factor for which campfire I choose to congregate around, and the correlation is merely a byproduct of this cause.

I maintain then that unpacking the various causes for entry into the category is the only way to really understand what will be attractive to a swing voter. Once you understand the many causes or reasons behind the entries into your category, then you can begin to understand how best to steer and facilitate the entire context for your own purposes.

Want to know more about making waves in your category?

Say hi

Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on October 20 2016 by Lee Blake
Lee has a fresh way of looking at things, driven by his constant hunger for discovering different approaches, information and points of view.


The creative cold war

Tagged in: Blog 

To win hearts and minds, we must build bridges, not fortresses

If you’ve been watching the Republican party lately, specifically during and since their national congress, you’d notice something strange was happening; they’ve found their feelings. And, no, not in a good way. The Republicans have discovered what advertisers did decades ago; dress your bullshit as feelings, and people will not/ cannot question the accuracy, relevancy or applicability of your claims. Checking the facts, it seems, is becoming irrelevant, when hearts are Trumping minds. But this eventually it got me thinking: where don’t feelings, or, more accurately, intuition, belong in a process like advertising? Especially today, as the industry begins to feel uncertain about its future, with the development of AI looming, not to mention clients demanding rational, data-measurable ROIs. What are the instances in which intuition and/or reason are best deployed? Upon ruminating I kept returning to the obvious several times: intuition and reason are opposites – perfect opposites, in fact.

“The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.”

– Niels Bohr

Opposites have always been a big deal for philosophers. At first, as with the ancient Greeks, they were thought to be at war with one another; cold versus hot; or, wet versus dry. Less ancient Greeks like Hericlitus preferred to see them as a continuum of change – that is to say, they exist at the same time. This can be better understood by his famous aphorism, “The road up and the road down are the same thing”. But does this mean that, as opposites, reason and intuition are equally valid? Sure it does.

In advertising, a strategy is the rational skeleton that creatives dress with their intuition; and one without the other cannot work. Strategy is the reason behind the execution; it’s why a thing is done, and the creative execution is how it is completed, in this case through feeling and intuition. We are first and foremost emotional beings – emotions motivate us into action, while reason tells us which emotions to appeal to; and we can never truly escape either. Take the work of Jackson Pollock as an example. It seems to be the least likely to be informed by a reasonable objective; and yet, on a second level, there is buried the objective, to appear as though there is no objective. Art for art’s sake is what Oscar Wilde, and others before him, called Aesthetics. Wilde, and others forwarding the movement argued, “art was not meant to instruct and should not concern itself with social, moral, or political guidance.” This is why advertising can never be purely aesthetic –not just because it is impossible, but because it is against its very nature; in advertising there is always a job to be done. I call on Wilde and not Kant or Goethe, because Wilde wrote an essay on the topic called ‘The Truth of Masks” in which he concludes, much like Bohr, that ”a truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.” It can only be through reason that they both arrived at this exact thought, albeit through entirely different means of expression.

Put simply, we are all living along a constantly changing continuum; every decision we make lands us somewhere between two opposites. In our professional lives then, as creatives and/ or as strategists, or clients even, if we consistently make biased choices, it will begin to reveal itself in the quality of our work.

“Life is the sum of all your choices”

– Albert Camus

If creatives react the way I think they are going to in the coming years, or as they are already are, they’re going to find themselves knee deep in a dark age. This is because I fear creatives are building fortresses, rather than bridges between reason and intuition. In an age where reason is finally finding it’s feet with the aid of big data and brute computational force, it’s not time to oppose it, but to synthesise with it. The research and predictive modelling that goes into an evidence-based strategy can be cold, is cold; and, so, it takes great skill to interpret, and further, to execute this data for an audience in an appealing way. To feel the data, or as the leading economists of the day are calling it, to employ data storytelling (sound familiar?).

The rigidity of dogmatism will eventually fracture, it always does, because data does indeed trump opinion – whether you like it or not. Ideas are tested in the world, not in your heart; always test an idea/ feeling by letting it get a taste of the outside world. If it survives, then scale it. The number of clients saying they don’t want to know how much brand awareness was raised by a campaign is increasing by the day, because it can’t be measured – not in the real sense of the word anyway. Clients want real ROIs. Let this scare you; because fear is the greatest of all the emotional motivators. Get out of your fortress of feelings and embrace reason; become flexible; question and test your assumptions. Creativity, after all, is for the brave; and courage is not the absence of fear, but the facing of it.


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on September 15 2016 by Lee Blake
Lee has a fresh way of looking at things, driven by his constant hunger for discovering different approaches, information and points of view.


Digital Agencies are Full of Shit

Tagged in: Blog 

Trying to Crawl Out of the Poo Pile

It’s been about 3 months since I took the proverbial leap and started my own thing. I distinctly remember sitting with Mel and Lee in a pokey little office borrowed from a previous boss, explaining the concept of the Envelope on the wall (that’s a story for another day) and that we were going to start a business for the right reason. Although we didn’t quite spell out exactly what that reason was there and then, we seemed to all be on the same wavelength that no matter what that reason was, it was more important than the ‘what’ we were going to do.

We’ve spent the last three months exploring (rather than ‘trying’ to figure out) what it is that we want to do and dabbling in schools of thought and praxis. I’ve taken a 5 month contract as Consulting Product Owner at OLX for Sub-Saharan Africa, which has allowed us to afford a bit of this exploration. Over and above that, it’s exposing us to product development at scale, and is a great opportunity for us to learn and define our future. While I’ve been doing that, we’ve been on a ‘what we do’ journey to explain to people ‘why’ they must give us their money. This is our journey so far:

“We’re a digital agency”

We know quite a few people that can code and design. We also know people that are looking for people that can code and design. So why don’t we introduce one to the other and take a cut?

At first, we thought, sure, we could justify this as a business model, in that we manage the product or in that we are introducing people to others, as many other digital agencies do. We could even pretend that we are developing the products ourselves. When I was at 4i Mobile, I distinctly remember working on a project with an agency (let’s call it Prekult). We were building an app for a client and we needed to speak to the people that made the design decisions at the clients. Prekult were so precious about the fact that their client belonged to them, to such an extent that we were not allowed to contact them directly to request something so simple as an image. We weren’t even allowed to put their logo on our website. The point of this story is that Prekult, in this scenario, were charging the client a shit load, paying us probably less than half, and adding absolutely no value of their own that I could see. In fact, they increased iterations, delays and miscommunications, so much so, that I honestly feel that these losses should have been tallied and charged to Prekult as opposed to paying them for their “services”.

If we’re going to work with suppliers and clients in the tech space, we weren’t going to be agents. We weren’t going to be a proprietary directory of developers nor a façade for others. We believe in transparency and making money only where and when we add value.

“We’re a front-edge digital agency”

So, if we were not going to be the traditional agency, what were we going to do? Well, what do we like doing? We like playing at the cutting edge. Our ideal job would be to travel the world playing with the newest toys on the block. We know a good number of people that build some really amazing 3D Models, some guys that do really awesome Augmented Reality, and even, guys that have just started VR companies. We are also quite disenchanted with the way that new tech is exposed to consumers for the first time - and again, we blame the agencies.

Agencies, in a quest to be seen as innovative, often go about using new technology in the wrong way. The wrong way, as we see it, is to start with the form, rather than the function. Take the QR Code for instance. Instead of using it for something useful like payments, it was initially used in countless terrible ways to charge clients lots of money for something that was not useful. How many QR codes have you seen on business cards, billboards, and ice tea cans that you never scanned? No, we wouldn’t be that agency, charging a client thousands of Rands for something you can generate on http://www.freeqr.com.

Our approach to front-edge technology would be different. Instead of fixating on a specific, new, hyped technology and seeing what we could do with it and who would pay for it.We would put horse before cart; we would put problem before solution. Our strategy was (and still is) to explore the new technologies and product methods of the world and commit them to our memory banks and their usefulness to our product development armory. That’s why we (and we really do) spend 20% of our time researching the stuff that takes our fancy.

We want to be in the position that, when we are dealing with a digital product or business, we have the necessary knowledge of all the available solutions at our disposal, so as to ensure that we deliver the most effective of the lot; and, most specifically, the one that does the job the best - the one that’s fit for purpose.

This was a fine place to be, and we begun building our network and sitting with potential clients. It was during the these client meetings that we started to feel a bit uneasy. Yes, we were approaching new and cutting edge tech in the right way, but when we pitched it to clients, the reason why you would part with your money for new tech was just not crystallising. Most of our clients were so far from understanding the “Why” behind new technologies that we realised that “Front-edge technologies” was a How, and we didn’t want to sell how. We knew that there was a way for us to approach a business and for us to get paid for helping them ask why, and once we got the why, the how was just a matter of consequence.

“We are a nudge unit”

I’m not saying we have a bible at UNO, but if we did it would probably be “Inside the Nudge Unit” by David Halpern. Lee and I started a book club very early on after meeting each other, and this is one I traded him for the Social Animal by David Brooks (another must-read). In short, Inside the Nudge Unit tells the story of the rising acceptance of Behavioural Science in British government, and how it is used to influence projects to get real results. It’s not the kind of stuff where they advised someone to use a different picture and they got more likes or positive sentiments as a result. This is the kind of stuff where they change one line of copy on a tax collection letter and save the British Government millions of Pounds. This is the kind of stuff where they look at the way people are doing things and come up with a hypothesis to improve the core metric, or why they are doing it.

If, they hypothesise, we give people the option to opt out of a scheme rather than to opt in, then the number of people participating will increase. In order to do this, they need to know how to do a couple of things. Firstly, they need to know what the current participation numbers are and how to establish them. Secondly, they need to know how to test the hypothesis in such a way that there is enough volume to make a measurable difference to the result, but do it in a cheap and efficient manner. At the same time, they need to ensure that they are testing only the input variable and that all other variables are kept constant. Lastly they need to know how to measure the experiment and make a decision on whether to implement it based on the results.

At UNO, we’re sick of people doing things for the sake of likes or fuzzy feelings. We’re sick of agencies charging to build a website because they were asked to. We’re done with the days of doing things because some dude with 15 years experience thinks it’s the best idea. We’re done with believing small surveys and arbitrary feedback from our friends and family about how they would use our product. We believe that the only way to increase conversions is to proceed in a calculated, measured, comparable way. The scientific way.

“We’re Conversion Scientists”

We know we need to do the research, glean experience and do some hasthag innovation to come up with an idea of how we’ll increase the conversions of a website or marketing campaign, but the idea is just the starting point. The idea is the hypothesis. The idea is the “what if”. The idea is where we begin. We take the idea, isolate the one thing that it purports and test that in the real world, in live environments. We then measure that against the control group or starting point and compare the results. We test what businesses do, or want to do, or what we think think they should do. If it makes them more money or helps them grow, we do more of it. If it doesn’t, we don’t.


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on July 19 2016 by Stephen van der Heijden
Stephen is the founder of UNO Digital. He loves digital products, digital people, and people in the digital world.


What is Product Ownership?

Tagged in: Blog  Opinion 

If your business is actively operating across multiple digital channels, but ultimately lacks a consolidated message, you may be in line to bleed more than just customers.

Finding order in the chaos

It’s no coincidence that we have symbolised knowledge with light. Much like moths, people are drawn to the illuminated beacon of order and simplicity that emerges from the darkness of natural chaos. Order makes the complex appear manageable, and convenience is always appealing to human nature. The universe is an unpredictable and scary place, so much so that when we tell a story that has the capacity to explain the universe more easily, people sleep more soundly.

Concentrating and reducing the overwhelming into digestible, bite-sized chunks was once the domain of wise men, druids, shamans and priests – they carried the beacon and provided insight through storytelling.

Way back in the day

When humans first started to curate order, we had it really easy. For instance, twice a year, the Celtic druids (the marketers of old) had a single medium at their disposal with which to brand one of their major clients, Bel, AKA the sun. Although we’ll never know what the message was, we know that the medium and consumer touch-point was Stonehenge. The gathered audience of wildlings watched as these druids channelled a single of the sun’s rays into the henge, as if poured purposively from the heavens (although, it probably helped that they were high on mushrooms and mead).

The druids exhibited order and predictability in the chaos of the sun’s oscillating annual journey and therefore personified a celestial body into a god – something almost human and therefore understandable. In so doing, onlookers were rendered awestruck, leaving smug smiles across the bearded faces of these early hipsters; stonehenge, magically illuminated, is the kind of majesty the more recent ad agencies have been capable of manufacturing for the brands they represented, albeit on a larger scale (and slightly more flexible calendar).

But the golden age is over.

The only similarity between a modern day brand’s message and the pure morning sunlight in a Stonehenge Solstice ritual is that it originates from a single source. What has happened since, is that with the constant division of labour, comes ever more and newer technologies, which, in turn, brings with it more mediums requiring yet more division of labour, which are all just more and more opportunities for disconnects to occur in your brand’s message.

Let’s put metaphors aside for a second – you need to market your brand; but, the list of mediums and touch-points as well as all the specialists working within them is growing on a daily basis. How will all of these specialists understand what your brand’s golden thread is as well as express it in such a way that there is relativity between each execution when they are operating in what might as well be different planes of existence? Apart from broadening our reach, all these channels are doing is making it easier for the dispersion of a simple message to occur (like a massive and expensive game of broken telephone).

What happens is that each specialist only operates on single specific wave of the original ray of light; and, so, every specialist that is introduced into the process further divides the original meaning into an even more dispersed spectrum. And this is supposed to happen. Because it provides the message with reach. However, what should occur (and often doesn’t) is that the individual waves must be able to be re-consolidated back into the original ray at a single point of arrival – without any disconnects. This single point of arrival is your product. Your E-store, your website, your app, or whatever behaviour it is that your message is intending to drive consumers to perform. They must all arrive at this point and feel that their journey was one smooth trip without any transitions. If the transitions and channel switching are palpable and obviously disconnected, consumers will experience that as chaos, and you will experience drop off. Expectation must equal reality.

Apart from the exceptions who can provide a full-service offering as described above, many agencies just can’t handle this kind of dynamism on their own – and nor should they, because it has the potential to turn them into circuses, not temples. At the other extreme are a handful of disconnected specialist agencies developing separate products that are broadcast across numerous mediums to a variety of audiences in a highly detached and complex manner. And so, if a single agency can’t handle the dynamism, and numerous agencies can’t handle the single message, what is the solution?

The Prism System

An unbiased, central proxy, ensuring that each agency, along with their different speciality mediums are correctly aligned to a strategically simple, overarching message – in other words there is product ownership. What we need is to embrace the simplicity with which the druids exhibited a single ray of sunlight as well as technology’s division of it into an ever wider spectrum – thus ensuring that flexibility and structure are contextually relevant at all times. In other words, if you want your message to reach far and wide, you must be more like light and be both at the same time.


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on June 16 2016 by Lee Blake
Lee has a fresh way of looking at things, driven by his constant hunger for discovering different approaches, information and points of view.


Losing my VR virginity

Tagged in: Blog 

I attended the SenseVirtual VR Event hosted at the Bandwidth Barn in Woodstock a short while ago. The organisers had to move the event to a bigger location due to the overwhelming interest, unfortunately more people did not spark a magical delivery of more VR gear. Nevertheless – hard core enthusiasts didn’t mind the longer queues – we all knew that this was a rare opportunity and were grateful for it.

My first encounter was with the Nokia OZO.


It’s been very easy to forget about Nokia’s existence lately, unless you’re one of those who struggle daily with your Lumia phone. So – if you’re wondering what they’ve been up to since releasing the Lumia – this is basically about it. For a cough-worthy $60,000, you can own one of these bad boys to live stream content to your VR heart’s… well… content. Check out the Nokia website for the specs for more details, and what this hefty price tag buys you.

The live streaming demo was an out-of-body experience. The camera was right next to where I was standing, and I saw a 4 second younger version of myself through the Oculus DK2 headset (FYI: the view was quite pixelated on the developer’s kit, unfortunately the retail version “got caught in customs”, but the captured quality was amazing). The eight wide-eyed lenses on the OZO camera ensures that the stitching is 98% flawless – if time equals money, the less time that’s spent on editing is a win for client and supplier. The content quality was also incredible – but the camera does come with quite a few limitations. Besides the obvious bank balance issue, the camera can’t be used in excess of 25°C – this is problematic though, as to ensure the highest sound quality, noisy cooling fans were a no-go. For more insight on this product, check out Andrew Williams’ interesting article.

From here – I joined the HTC Vive demo queue.

The queue was an experience in and of itself – chatting to companies conducting research to gauge market interest on possible product offerings, watching others experience VR immersion for the first time, and also realising how many demo guides are necessary for one person! Assistant numero uno initially assists you with the headset and earphones, and then eventually hold the cables away from your body to ensure a tumble-free experience. The second person mans the PC, starts the demo and calls you back to the grid if you venture too far (you can see it in your view – but, its function isn’t always apparent to the first-time user). The last person is a friendly who answers any questions from those in the queue. I also tried the Samsung Gear VR in the queue, but had to take it off after 30 seconds due to severe motion sickness.

And then it was my turn to try the HTC Vive.

Mind. Blowing. It’s incredibly difficult to explain to a VR virgin how intense your ‘first REAL time’ is. I’ve played around with Google cardboard before – it was a kinda, maybe sorta, not really sure if it was my first time, first time. But, OH MY WORD, HTC Vive – *rolls over in bed* - thank you! The demo was an underwater shipwreck experience, standing on the bow of the ship, peering over the edge. I don’t do heights. I was just about ready to tap out with my sweaty palms when a whale swam past. I first heard him calling from behind me, and did NOT expect to look directly into his eye when I turned around! You’ve not experienced VR until you’ve experienced binaural sound. As I took off the gear, I realised that I was wearing goofiest smile. It was such an incredible experience - and we’re making it our mission to bring this to as many people as possible.

So watch this space, VR sluts and virgins alike.


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on April 28 2016 by Mel van der Linde
Melanie has brains in her head and feet in her shoes. She is the most organised person on the planet and keeps the team and suppliers in check.


From Print to Digital

Tagged in: Blog 

We recently had the immense pleasure of meeting Bielle Bellingham, the editor of ELLE Decoration South Africa, along with her managing editor, Megan Schuman. Shortly before the meeting I discovered Bielle’s quote: “We don’t need more, we need better”, and this is exactly why we love ELLE. “Better” can only be accomplished by the continuous process of reviewing and effective measuring and the quick thinking and implementation that is driven by value. It’s immediately evident that this is the only path to success in their minds – and we LOVE that.

Most people are of the opinion that print is dead; a magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work; digital is the new black; moving to the cloud is the path to disruption, blah, blah, blah. We don’t need to argue the numbers – it’s clear that humans are adapting to the digital information age. In the US, the total daily digital media use in hours exceeded the total time spent viewing TV back in 2013. It’s immediately obvious to me that Bielle and Megan are not at all deterred by the challenge that the print industry is facing – on the contrary, they’ve decided to rise to it; in fact, it’s as though they’re invigorated by it!

Even though the threat to print, specifically magazines, is real enough – history is of the opinion that a mutual co-existence will likely emerge at the end of the day. Look back, and you’ll notice that the invention of the car did not cause the extinction of all horses, the invention of the light-bulb did not extinguish the candle production industry, and the invention of TV did not kill all the radio stars. It was inevitable that the change in the market would affect behaviour, and, in turn, affect revenue. Understanding, coercing and harnessing this behavioural change are the key ways to moving your revenue streams towards existing behaviour, not other way around.

In South Africa, the pressure of the digital movement has not fully affected print media as it has in Europe and the States – but this is of no consequence to Bielle and the way that her team operates. They have recently introduced AR into the magazine through the Layar app, and are also exploring other exciting ways to introduce digital experiences to their readers. This will assist them in moving their digital tendencies to online properties of which they’re still in control. Readers are going digital whether print likes it or not. When readers stop flipping through magazines and start swiping through apps and clicking on links, we believe only the most adventurous, ballsy and visionary publications will be there, waiting to welcome them. With Bielle leading the charge, we believe ELLE will be there, doing not more, but better, much better, than the others.


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on April 19 2016 by Mel van der Linde
Melanie has brains in her head and feet in her shoes. She is the most organised person on the planet and keeps the team and suppliers in check.


Today is a tyrant

Tagged in: Blog  Opinion 

How to get to tomorrow first

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is exactly that we do here at UNO. And I came to the conclusion that I like to think of UNO as a rocket. Because rockets are awesome, brute momentum machines (and because I read a lot of Tin Tin as a kid). One of the first things you need to know about rockets is the “rocket equation”, derived by the renowned Russian rocket scientist Tsiolkovsky. He argued that rockets are governed by just three variables. Most interesting [excitedly licks spittle from corners of mouth] is that if two of these variables are given the third is implied [self-consciously repositions glasses on bridge of nose].

I’ll try not to bore you too much with the details, so I’ll reduce everything you need to know into the following sentence. The variables “change in rocket velocity”, “exhaust velocity” and the propellant needed, together are able to break and free us from gravity. The OG of tyrants. Original Gravity, if you will.

Just like the “rocket equation”, UNO too has three variables by which it is governed, of which we also believe that, given two, the third must be present. These are V-shaped People, Square Deals and The Circle of Life. It is our goal to harness these in order to free us and our clients from another ye olde type of tyranny – the tyranny of today, along with its fear-inducing henchman, conservatism.

The amount of energy required for a rocket to fight tyrants like these depends, like all revolutionary travel does, on your destination. In UNO’s case, we have set course for tomorrow, because we don’t want to wait for it to come to us. This will take an immense amount of patience and courage as propellant, the likes of which not one of us alone could possibly possesses – but, at the very least, two of us might.

To get there at a quicker rate we would also need more like-minded individuals producing more of this fuel; those banner carriers already within established organisations who believe in the promise of innovation and progress. These are the unique individuals who see value in the tension between the safety of today and the promise of tomorrow, .

And that’s what I think we’re doing here. Our dream is to be the first to explore the cosmos of tomorrow. We want to discover and embrace the future, using today what others will only know of tomorrow; and, if this gets you more excited than scared, then it’s clear you’re already on board. A luta continua, vitória é certa!


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on October 20 2016 by Lee Blake
Lee has a fresh way of looking at things, driven by his constant hunger for discovering different approaches, information and points of view.


At Kirstenbosch with OMAM

Tagged in: Blog  Research 

Do you like Icelandic Music? We like Icelandic Music. Don't you like Icelandic Music, Baaaaby?

So we have some nice friends over at Catchatiger Design who let us play with their Ricoh Theta S last week at Kirstenbosch Gardens while watching Of Monsters and Men. The show was incredible and the late summer weather played along. Check out the 360 images below and see if you can spot yourself if you were there!

The late afternoon crowd


Of Monsters and Men


VR Video - lights


Want to find out more about this camera or how we took these photos?

(Here’s a clue: One camera, one click of a button).

Drop a comment or contact us - if you holler, we won’t let you go.


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on April 06 2016 by Stephen van der Heijden
Stephen is the founder of UNO Digital. He loves digital products, digital people, and people in the digital world.


Why I’ll always start with “Why”

Tagged in: Blog 

A reason based business approach

I always used to be jealous of the type of guy whose occupation was predestined by his circumstances. I’m talking about the guy whose father was a mechanic, whose father’s father was a mechanic. Whose first toy was a little plastic wrench and to whom the smell of oil and the sound of pneumatic drills are the sensory comforts of ‘home’.

It just always seemed appealing to me that this guy had a path in front of him. Sure he could do something crazy and not become a mechanic, but at least he had a base to start from. Perhaps he could become a marine engineer, or a mechatronic engineer, or a racing car driver. He could become any of these things, but in all likelihood he’d fulfil his destiny as a motor head.

You might think that this would be a boring existence that would be devoid of too much decision making, existential introspection, or any type of freedom. To me though, this sounds like a life with a lot less stress and anxiety — mainly because this person would never have to truly ask themselves the question:

What am I going to do with my life?

They might challenge the nuances of their field, but not their entire occupation — “Who” they are.

The reason that this has always been so appealing to me is that if this motor head did not have to continuously ask himself what he was going to do with his life, he could focus on other things like his family, bass fishing, drinking beer and all the other things motor heads do when they’re not motor-heading.
I’ve been in a couple of different start ups, have education in two very different fields and truly feel like the proverbial master of none. This feeling has always left me to do a lot of work on “what I should do with my life” and moving between companies or travelling hasn’t helped me get to that same peace of our bass-fishing motor head. The internal struggle has constantly plagued any moments of future planning or evaluations of my own happiness.

Forgetting the “What”

There are times in my life that I’ve consciously done things that I don’t agree with. I’d overridden my values (my “Why”) because I was in pursuit of product success in the hope that said success could define the “What”. I’ve similarly neglected my “How” and worked in conditions, hours and management structures that don’t sit well with me, in pursuit of career success to define what I do.

I knew I had to start my own business. This would take away any excuse I might have of not having control of these aspects, and taking this leap would force me to ask myself:

“Okay, you can do anything you want. Now WHAT do you want to do?”

I sat with a pen and paper and wrote with a fervour, putting my thoughts down on my new business. After almost 30 minutes of noting all the things that were really important to me I realised I hadn’t answered the question. All of the sentences and doodles were things like “Mutual-respect”, “Discovery”,“Learning”,“Work with people I love”, “Values-based approach”, “Work-life balance” and the word “Trust” circled multiple times.

I had a startling, deep, true, existential (and every other adjective that describes that this had fundamentally shook my being) realisation that my mist had cleared. All I had answered was the “How” and the “Why”. The “What” simply doesn’t matter to me.
I want to work in a beautiful place, with people that think like I do, and that I can trust. I want to approach people with a set of values and methods rather than with a prediction of the future “What” of my business. I want to answer people when they ask me “So Who are you” with stories of my family and my friends, of my town and of my passions, rather than answering with my occupation. I want to be able to spend the hours I need or want to in the pursuit of wealth, and the hours I need to in the pursuit of happiness. I want to treat people with respect. I want to challenge, and to be challenged. I want to know that every decision I make, in conjunction with others or alone, has been made with a fundamental reliance on the Reason and the Method, or the “Why” and the “How”.

Something touched me deep inside,
the day the “What” died.

It’s the “Why” and the “How” that really make me my “Who”

You might be thinking, “Yes, Yes. You can’t always get what you want.”

Well this is me taking the leap.

This is me trying sometimes.

You might just find,
that I get what I need.


Enjoyed this post? Please share it with your network




Posted on March 31 2016 by Stephen van der Heijden
Stephen is the founder of UNO Digital. He loves digital products, digital people, and people in the digital world.


More Blogs

Contact Us

What are you sinking about?